Make yourself comfortable, this is long.
My story begins in 1954. I remember the day of my conception. I went to a picnic with my Father and came home with my Mother. Nine long months later, a Rex was born and my parents instantly suspected that something wasn’t quite right.
Drawing was my first love and I took every opportunity to express myself with pencils, pens and paint. My cartoons adorned every scrap of paper, cardboard or church bulletin I could get my hands on. But drawing was only a diversion from my full time job as Class Clown at Rawsonville Elementary School in Ypsilanti Michigan. I studied ventriloquism and puppetry to augment my comedic skills and was often called upon to perform at classroom parties and church banquets.
The academic pursuits required by school were always secondary to the creative pursuits I would later need to make a living.
Things started getting interesting during my freshmen year in High School. My family had moved to a new school district and I enrolled with every intention of changing my scholastic trajectory. Equipped with a clean slate, I avoided Art and Music classes, opting for the traditional three Rs. I would be a serious student and not distracted by the frivolities that had helped me achieve and maintain my ‘C’ average.
As the story often goes: you can take the boy out of the art room but you can’t take the art room out of the boy. After a few weeks in my new role as serious student, my drawing skills were discovered in the margins of worksheets and on desk surfaces. My English teacher brought my “work” to the attention of the Art teacher and I was quickly drafted into an advanced art class.
Though my report card said ART 1″ (a technicality to work around the prerequisite for advanced art), I was spending fourth hour each day in a Painting/Sculpture class. That meant Painting the first semester and Sculpture the second semester.
My teacher was a free spirit named Andrea Morguloff who took me under her wing and nurtured the misfit and future Freelance Loafer. (Andrea: I will never forget your love, support and belief in me. I am forever grateful for the role you played in my life) Going by the name of Mrs. Wilson at the time, my art teacher had a unique approach to teaching me. I had been introduced to her as a cartoonist and she loved my cartoons. During the first semester (Painting) she encouraged me to paint my cartoons. The next semester, she wanted me to sculpt my cartoons (see what’s coming?)
During Christmas break in 1969, I got a phone call from Mrs. Wilson asking if I wanted to go with her to the studio of a local artist who made â€œPeople Potsâ€. She had borrowed the school’s reel to reel video recorder and camera and had plans to tape the experience to show the kids in art class when they returned from break.
I agreed to go with her and we set out to spend the day with Ann Arbor artist, J.Robert Black. It was an extraordinary visit with an extraordinary man. Bob Black was a jovial character who bore a strong resemblance to trumpeter, Al Hirt. (anyone much younger than me will have no clue who Al Hirt was) Bob worked at lightening speed and whimsical sculptures seemed to magically materialize before our eyes.
At the age of fifteen, I knew I wanted to make art for a living.
After High school my dreams of being an artist faded. I worked as an attendant nurse at our local mental hospital and got married. Soon, I was reunited with Andrea and taught a ceramics class with her at a non profit art center (the now defunct “Art Worlds”) in Ann Arbor after work. In my spare time, I created clay characters on my kitchen table in our small apartment in Belleville all the while dreaming of a career as a radio announcer.
My big break came when I signed up and exhibited in my very first Art Fair. I had never been to an art fair but I had heard about one in neighboring Ann Arbor Michigan. It sounded like a good way to make the money needed for Disc Jockey school.
Following an all night wait in a line that wrapped halfway around the Michigan Union on the University of Michigan campus my name was prominently scribbled on a red sticker and placed on a map indicating my very own booth space at the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair. If I could only find out what a “booth” was I’d be in business.
Two months later with a lot of help from friends , family and others, I rolled into my first Art fair in a borrowed Datsun pickup truck with 150 clay artifacts ready to be sold. A career was born.
I was instantly transformed from a wannabe disc jockey to working artist. My time working with the mentally ill would soon be over. (apologies to my customers who are mentally ill, I’ll still work with you.)
I am currently assisted in my studio and at art fairs by my son Corey “Dak” Benson who does staining on the clay pieces and performs a number of tasks in the completion and sale of sculptures. The 2009 Ann Arbor art fair will mark my 35th year. Lots of things have changed and evolved. I raised two children (Sarah and Corey), have met thousands of wonderful people and created an unimaginable number of offbeat clay creations.