My earliest adventures in art read like a baby boomer’s TV guide. I began with “Winky-Dink,” an interactive show, in which viewers drew the starry hero to safety on a magic screen. I colored by number with luscious, Venus Paradise pencils. The official “John Gnagy” drawing kit presented me with authentic tools of the trade. (For those of you under 45, these things are now considered “vintage.”)
But there was something about my first camera that gave me a much grander experience of artistic vision – and with it a taste of autonomy. At the age of 11, a family friend gave me his old Brownie Bullet. Nothing unique, just another black, Kodak box. Not even a flash. Still, for me, it was an artifact from the adult world, given in trust, like the passing of a baton.
From the moment it was in my hands, I was recording my world, both real and imagined. I went around sneaking candids of family and friends. Click. My father’s “grouchy” look. Click. The neighbor’s squalling kid. Click. My grandmother coming up the walk, all feminine grace.
In warm weather, I was out on the porch, arranging my old “ginny” dolls in scenes of domestic bliss. Under the willow tree, I staged tableaus of my little sister, a living manikin, dressed in mother’s petticoats and pop-it beads. Now bride, now widow. I became director, producer and costumer maker, putting frame after frame around my creations.
One winter I remember taking “action” stills of my best friend and her Flexible Flyer sled. A study in three acts. Lonely girl trudges up hill, dragging sled. Girl slides down hill, waving arms frantically. Girl lands at bottom, in an arranged heap, but triumphant. The visual joke was that our “hill” was nothing but a small bump of snow in the backyard!
Years later as an adult, while preparing for a move to the city, I found the camera in its original box. I would have little space for memorabilia where I was going. To make room for the new life, I had to let go of some of the past.
As I reflect on it, I feel touched that this small cherished object should again symbolize independence and artistic growth, but in a different way. Now I was passing the baton, trading up for a larger vision of myself as an artist, as a teacher, as a person.
Artist and teacher Barbara Diane Barry lives in New York and is the creator of “Art for Self-Discovery” workshops. She is the author of the book Painting your Way out of a Corner.