Tribute to a Muse

by Alden Cole on February 6, 2015 · 0 comments

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow beings.” – Herman Melville (1819-1891)

GirlFriends1&2WPSo where did these teenage drawings of fashionable sophisticated women come from? Was there a muse in my world who provided the inspiration for them?.
Arel-Photo&PencilPortraitWPAbsolutely, although I didn’t recognize it at the time. Her name is Arel Johnson née Dolby, a widowed friend now living in LA, whom I last had the pleasure of seeing at our 50th high school reunion in 2012. I was not aware at the time that she was my muse, as I was not really attempting to portray her consciously. The one exception is a single colored-pencil portrait on 14″ x 11″ paper, shown at left, which I drew in a sketch book during freshman year at RISD, based on a 3-1/4″ x 2-1/2″ senior picture of her. It was the most ambitious of several I drew copying small b&w senior photo-portraits of high school friends during my difficult transition into a new life as an art school student, trying to hold onto a past which seemed more comfortable that this brave new world I was launching into unawares.

1962SeniorAwardsWPThe fashion drawings were my art therapy, projections of what I wanted to be. Arel and I had known each other in passing since freshman year, sharing many classes, but we had gotten to know each other better senior year, due to a couple circumstances, including working together on the Tripod, our yearbook – she as Editor-in-chief, myself as Activities Co-editor – a committment which cemented our friendship. The experience was my first taste of publishing – being part of a team putting a book together – an enjoyment that has stood by me through the years.

NationalHonorWPWhatever new sense of sophistication emerged in my drawing at the time was most likely attributable to her influence. Our friendship senior year became a mainstay in my life; the dichotomy between real world with approaching responsibilities came into conflict with the world of fantasy that I had concocted for myself in the first sixteen years of growing up queer in the country, not an easy path to negotiate emotionally in Maine in 1962. During our last year of high school when the reality of “What’s Next?” was rocking our worlds, she became as close to a confidante as I allowed myself at the time. I was still living in denial, so our conversations remained pretty superficial. I envied her sophistication, intelligence, wit, and beauty, but had no clue as to how much a deep part of me would have jumped at the chance to change places with her – to body switch – to be other than who I was.

LatinClub1S800WPAh, the joys of pretending: at left a photo from the Roman Banquet that our Latin class hosted in our Junior year, with the encouragement and dedication of teacher Harriet Patrick, my first mentor. I’m the photographer capturing my classmates in a goofy moment with an old brownie camera. The professional group photos above include the yearbook picture of National Honor Society inductées, as well as a newspaper clipping from our spring awards assembly just prior to graduation, showing those of us who received recognition for a variety of achievements, including scholarships to pursue our educations elsewhere, in many different directions, including art. How many of us really knew where we were going, or what we were going to do when we got there?

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