Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 19: William Hart, Art in His Blood, White Wednesday

Michael Sims, in his book The Story of Charlotte's Web, writes about E. B. White's grandfather:

[E. B. White's] maternal grandfather, Scottish-born William Hart, had been a successful landscape painter, a member--as was his brother James McDougal Hart--of the loose affiliation called the Hudson River School.  William Hart's legacy to the family was about nature as much as art...

E. B. White came from an artistic family.  During his lifetime, William Hart's landscape paintings sold for close to $5000.  Recently, one of his landscapes sold at auction for $134,500.  Hart is the real deal.  An artist of the highest caliber.  And the grandfather of one of the most beloved authors of the twentieth century.

E. B. White grew up with art in his blood, and he also inherited a love of nature from his famous grandpa.  It seems like it was in the stars for Elwyn Brooks White to take up some kind of artistic pursuit.

I don't have any idea about the source of my literary talents.  My maternal grandfather died at a very young age of stomach cancer.  My mother was still a little girl when he passed away.  My paternal grandfather was a farmer and, later, plumber.  I would love to say that Walt Whitman is my distant cousin or W. B. Yeats is my great, great, great uncle.  I can't, though.  My background is totally working class.

When I was a kid, I worked summers with my dad and brothers.  I helped them install water heaters, dug up broken sewer lines, unplugged toilets, cabled blocked drains.  It wasn't exciting.  In fact, sometimes, it was pretty disgusting.  I remember the day I decided I was not going to be a plumber.  I was wearing a brand new pair of Reeboks.  My father unscrewed the cap to a clean out and removed it.  Several gallons of raw sewage spilled out of the pipe onto my black high tops.

As I stood there, watching my new shoes get soaked in water and urine and shit, I said to myself, "I will not be doing this for the rest of my life."  And I became a writer.

That's the genesis of my poetic career.  It's not as exciting or sexy as E. B. White's connection to William Hart.  But I did get something pretty important from my grandfathers:  a strong work ethic.  Translation:  I work my ass off for everything I have.

That's what Saint Marty has in his blood.

William Hart landscape

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