The word, mentor, is thrown around a lot. (Sort of like the word, collaboration, but I’ll save that one for later.) Kirby and I returned this afternoon from New Mexico. We went there to attend the opening of an exhibition of the work of Garo Antreasian at Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe. Garo has been a part of my life since I was three or four years old. He is an internationally known artist and teacher. He is not the sort of person who was common in my childhood. I would more likely have met working men, teachers and housewives in my everyday life. Through example, enthusiasm and kindness, he has been my mentor for many years.
It was by accident of proximity that my family knew Garo and his wife, Jeanne, their two sons, David and Tom, and their two nieces Vonna and Jackie, who lived with them. To make a long story short, they lived about four blocks from my home and Vonna, their younger niece, was my age, attended my elementary school and was in my Girl Scout troupe and that is why I occasionally spent time at their house.
Garo turned ninety years of age this past January. He is still the gracious, kind and sharp-witted man I have always known but he is so much more to me. He is my ideal of what it is to be an artist. It’s not his work that I love (though I do) but the way the art comes out of his very being. I can’t imagine his not making art. After the passing of his beautiful and loving wife, Jeanne, several years ago, he continued his usual habit of working every day. His far-ranging conversation continually circles back to art. It is his wellspring.
I am an artist today in part because of Garo and Jeanne. I remember walking into Garo’s home studio when I was in single digits, smelling the turpentine and oil paint and thinking that it was magical. More than anything, I felt that this was his place where he had control and that there was no reason for anyone else to be there. Every thing in the studio had a single purpose and that purpose was to make art. His own art. Jeanne was a weaver and her studio, full of shelves of various colored yarns and beautiful looms, was the clincher. Of course, I didn’t really know it then, but the experience of those two places affected me so deeply that, when I was ready for it, the feeling supported me in making my decision to pursue art as a life. The idea that one could be a normal person and a fine artist was powerfully portrayed by these two lovely people.
Through the years, Garo and Jeanne have cheered me on, introduced my work to a gallery that was very important in my emerging artist days (Clay and Fiber Gallery in Taos, New Mexico), and generally regarded me as a fellow artist. A real artist. In moments of doubt, that is probably the most important thing a person can hear from a mentor.