Apart from the fact that it was always a beautiful day in the neighbourhood, Fred Rogers taught us a lot of subtle and valuable lessons. His place was generally tidy. He got ready for what he was going to do. He took his time. He showed us how to be gentle. He liked people and animals. He made it okay to be curious.
Underneath that red zip-up cardigan there was always a passionate message. Journalist Eve Johnson, who came to Mister Rogers as a young woman during the stress of her mother’s early dementia, wrote, “He brought luminaries such as Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma on the program, but it wasn’t to expose children to classical music, or ask them to marvel at the great musician’s skills. Fred would try playing the cello, too, earnestly, with enormous pleasure, but not well. And then he would turn to Yo Yo Ma and ask if he always knew how to play the cello, only to establish, once again, that none of us are born knowing anything much, but that if we try, and practice, we can get better at whatever we choose to do.”
Fred didn’t project himself as a TV personality — he wanted to be just a friendly neighbour who came in the door. He was the real goods, the genuine article. He taught children — and adults — how to share, how to deal with anger, even how not to fear the bathtub by assuring them that they’ll never go down the drain. He told children that they would always be okay. He showed them how to be quiet for ten seconds. He deconstructed stereotypes. He made homes safe for creativity, for listening, for loving — all good things for artists, young and old.
In our family I’m sure he was responsible for a great deal of our collective mentoring. By the time they were in their early teens, David, James and Sara were teaching guitar, sailing, and art. Once, on our summery patio, I watched Sara guiding a half-dozen madly crayoning tykes. She was singing to them: “I like to take my time.”
Marking the 25th anniversary of his television show in 1993, Rogers said, “It’s not the honours and not the titles and not the power that is of ultimate importance. It’s what resides inside.”
Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer last week at the age of 74. Our neighbourhood’s not going to be the same.
PS: “There is no one in the world exactly like you, and people really can like you just the way you are.” (Fred Rogers, 1928-2003)
Esoterica: Mister Rogers’ Playbook explores the nature of play, why children play, and why play is such an important part of their development. Also more than 300 activities, games, and projects are included to help children and adults play together, and encourage their self-expression, curiosity, and creativity. “Rogers could fill gallery walls, floor to ceiling, with the artwork rendered with crayon, construction paper and raw enthusiasm.” (Barbara Vancheri)
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
by Karen Phinney
Mister Rogers gave children a precious gift when he told them they were OK just as they are, and that everyone is different. Today more than ever, there seems to be among young people, a fear of being outside the group. But creativity comes from following our own inner voice, and becoming “who we are meant to be.”
Healing for all ages
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Yes, it is a sad day in the neighbourhood. I used to think that Fred Rogers was patronizing to children. (After all, nobody could be that nice, that kind, that understanding). After many years of personal therapy, I learned that it is hard to let yourself be loved and that Fred Rogers was genuine. When my children were younger we watched a lot of Mr. Rogers’ neighbourhood together and I continued to heal, and we learned together how to deal with life’s vagaries and count our blessings.
Featuring young artists
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA
I remember watching Mister Rogers with my son almost 17 years ago thinking that even back then it was the best children’s programming on television. I grew up with Howdy Doody and Crusader Rabbit. No comparison. Mister Rogers explained life to children and encouraged them to explore through play a whole manner of arts and activities. He was an amazing human being whom we should be trying to emulate as the arts will only live on through children. Those of us that have web sites can help encourage children to draw by sharing their work. A few kudos can do some amazing things for kids. I started featuring young artists a while back and love showing kids’ art. It is simple to do. (A few pictures, a brief write up and a permission slip) Here is the art of a high school youth who is my current “Featured Young Visual Artist”: http://www.artsoul.homestead.com/ChrisTucker.html
(RG note) Myriam Lipson is also doing something similar at: http://www.artotake.homestead.com/Rossart.html
by David Lloyd Glover, West Hollywood, CA, USA
Most people don’t realize that Fred Rogers turned first to the CBC Canada to produce his original version of “Misterrogers” as it was called then. But as “nerdy” as some people thought he was, Mr. Rogers was actually a hipster. He loved jazz and often would have a jazz cat drop in to his neighborhood and perform on the show. My sons watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood way back then and still are jazz fans (and players) today. Did Mr. Rogers sow those seeds? Hmmmm.
Slur on “Dogs”
by Joe Blodgett
You ought to be ashamed of yourself for using the word “dog” in reference to failed paintings, and encouraging others to do the same. Our canine friends deserve better than to be associated with your lousy work. It is a slur. Emily would be upset to know that you used the term in such a way. We look to you to take the high moral ground.
(RG note) I apologized to Emily and now officially to all others of her race. The unpleasant connection had slipped my mind as Emily was out of town (with Dorothy) for a few days having a winter beach vacation on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. But I need a new word. Any ideas?
by Cathy Flandermeyer, Amarillo, Texas, USA
I have recently been displaying some of my work at local restaurants and have blank note cards for sale at the register with my pictures on the front. If one of my pictures sell, do I still have the right to continue to sell the cards of that picture? What if I were to have posters or prints made, would I still be able to sell them once the original picture has sold? Who owns the rights?
(RG note) You are the owner of the reproduction rights to your paintings whether they sell or not. The only exception is for commissioned work — where someone requests that you paint a certain thing for them. You are free to sell as many reproductions of the work as you wish — until 50 years after your death — or until your heirs give up or sell the copyright.
by Lauren Schnarr
My last commission was a 7 x 2 inch canvas for a decorator with whom I had done business for about 5 months. She commissioned me to do a painting that was to be as close as possible to a smaller version I had done. We both had pictures of the image and she had seen the original 14 x 18 painting. She requested that the painting be complete by Dec. 24/02. During Dec. 2002, I tried phoning her several times and left messages that the painting was nearing completion and she was welcome to come over and make any comments on colour, etc. She did not respond. In early January I was able to track her down. She and her husband came for dinner and viewed the finished painting. They both not only loved it but were ecstatic about it. The next week, she told me to deliver the piece downtown without any further payment (4 hours drive from where I live). I politely emailed her back and told her that my schedule was completely full through April and I would not personally be able to deliver the painting. Further, delivery was never discussed in our talks and not factored into the price (I had already given her 50% off because she was a decorator and I had done business with her). At this point, I did tell her that it may be possible that my husband could deliver the painting within 4 weeks but I would have to check with him (He, like myself, is a very busy guy). If this was not suitable, she was welcome to make her own arrangements to have the painting delivered. Within a few days, she did just that & had the painting picked up by a delivery service. The same day, she emailed me to tell me that the painting “did not work” in their new place and she was going to try and “sell the painting to art galleries.” She also offered me to buy back the painting at full price. I did not respond to her for a week and before I did get a chance to respond, her next email was very abrupt, demanding and rude. Essentially she was demanding that the painting be purchased back at full price from me or I sand down the painting and do another painting of her choice with the agreement that she did not have to accept the painting if she didn’t like it. I responded and the situation has gone from bad to worse. I have basically asked her what she didn’t like about the painting and she hasn’t responded. I have also reminded her that custom work is non-refundable and non-exchangeable. Robert, as this has never happened to me before, I am going to have any agreements signed by both parties from now on. I want my clients to be happy with the paintings they have ordered from me. In normal circumstances, I would have asked a client what it was they didn’t like and then try to work with them to come to a happy ending. In my mind a happy ending would be that they end up with the painting they want at no extra charge by me. In this case, I was never given the opportunity to be gracious and work with the decorator in fixing any problems she found in the work. Yes I asked her how she thought the painting should be different and how she thought it should look but did not come right out and offer to take the painting back and work on it. Why? because her emails were so demanding and unreasonable that I am afraid I would be working on her commission for years and she would never be happy with it. She really made it clear that she no longer wanted the painting. I have been paid for all but $200.00 for the painting. I do not care about the $200.00 at this point. The decorator has made several threats to take me to small claims court. Do you have any advice about this situation as I have described it?
(RG note) Deals like this leave a bad taste that can jinx an artist for years. Inasmuch as you sold it to her at half price I would say it would be in your best interest to give her money back and take back the work. As she has not fully paid your price it is still your property. You might put it into the gallery system yourself or sell it privately later. The main thing you have to do in the future is to be prepared that clients can be difficult and change their minds. Contracts don’t help much. I always insist that if the commissioner doesn’t like the work he or she can give it back with the understanding that I might give it another try at another time if I feel like it. The problem has been with us for a long time. A previous twice-weekly letter told about a rotten commission deal that Michelangelo had with one of his customers who happened to be a pope. It and the responses are at http://painterskeys.com/commissionedart/
by Nicole Best Rudderham, Prince Rupert, BC, Canada
I think the buddy system is a great idea. I live in a very small and semi-isolated community — art-wise! I really like the thought of being able to communicate and be exposed to someone who likes to do the same things, and the opportunity to share different locations through an art medium. It’s a small action with huge interactive possibilities! It sounds great and if anyone wants to do it I’m open to the idea! It would be very inspirational for all sides, and something to look forward to.
From instructor to buddy
by Claire Evans
Your letter on the “buddy system” couldn’t have been more timely. I recently rented a second studio and put out the word to a former student that I was thinking of having a painter’s salon every Thursday morning for two and a half hours, where four people — all I have room for comfortably — could come and paint or draw in any medium, talk art, and perhaps critique each other. The word spread and within two days the salon was filled, with two extra artists waiting for a second one to open. It’s also an enjoyable way for me to afford the rent on my new painting space. After teaching art for over forty years, it will be difficult to let these painters flow with each other, and just offer experience and support instead of overt teaching! I’m looking forward to a happy, rewarding experience this Thursday!
Oh — about recycling old dogs — watercolor paper can be washed out in the sink, allowed to dry, can be painted over in a solid color, and used as pastel paper. It can also be gessoed and used for oil painting, if it’s good quality rag paper. That’s why I tell my students to never skimp on art materials.
What’s the best type of artists’ community?
by Annette Waterbeek
What do Artists find to be the most conducive system for their connection within the Art community? What are their thoughts as to the advantages and disadvantages of the chat rooms… art groups, societies, federations… buddies. There are groups within groups. And levels within groups. There is kind of a feeding frenzy that goes on. It would be interesting to hear our community’s thoughts… ideas… and experiences both positive and negative about all the systems.
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