The Tour Begins: Amherst MA, my hometown

Uncategorized May 9, 2013

Having moved to Amherst in 1961 working my way through college at UMass, I spent a lot of time here.  During the tumultuous 60s and 70s, like most colleges around the country, the protests against the Vietnam War dominated campus life.

All these decades and life experiences later, I’m returning to my hometown because six of the portraits are of men who had ties to Amherst and served in WW II.  But it was also with the sense of going into a bit of the lion’s den of anti-war sentiment.  There’s a reason this place is referred to as Happy Valley and/or The Bubble.  The struggle for a perfect society still lingers as I see the aging hippies and radicals, now white-haired and worn, coming and going to the Jones Library where I’m situated.  In the center of town, it’s a mecca for all types who want to read, have their kids entertained and in general hang out.

Recently two people wrote in my guestbook, angry diatribes about the paintings -which was not unexpected. But still, for me, it was a shock because I’ve lived in the real world. For the last two years, I was surrounded by the comings and goings of the military at the Women’s Memorial.  I’ve worked as a USCG artist around the world, mixing and mingling with all service branches.  Thankfully the ideology for most of the country separates those serving from the policy makers.   Not so here.

But that said, the bulk of the reaction has been from those who either served or had family members who did.  I am loving working on-site to hear their stories including one yesterday from a doctor whose father served in England tending to the wounded as a surgeon.  “My father had RAF pilots who flew over the hospital after their recovery, wagging their wings in thanks.”  Even the smallest stories are worth remembering.

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For over three decades my profession was as an author and illustrator of children's books. Firefighters A to Z (McElderry Books/S&S) was chosen as a "Best Book" by the NY Times (2000). Over 100 titles are attached to my name. In 2011 my life changed the moment I saw a photo of a WW II fighter pilot. Nineteen year old Griffin Holland, P-47 pilot stood erect on the wheel of his plane, staring off into the distance, cocky as all get out. The need to paint that photo and Griff's tearful reaction to it as an 88 year old man set this journey in motion.

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