During the massive job hunt, I packed up the studio and stopped working on art. There was no one using the studio space during the summer so I moved most of my large paintings to a back room and brought my paint, brushes and materials home. After talking briefly by phone to the Chair of the Art Department at Pembroke I was very excited to accept the invitation to interview for a Printmaking position. He said they would make the arrangements for the interview and be back in touch with the details. He called a few days later with flight and ticket information and it was set. The truth is I was more than excited about this opportunity. The whole interview thing was a little scary. I had never even flown before and I was about to fly over 1200 miles to interview for the one and only job available for me this year. Scary. . .terrifying! By the time I was scheduled to leave I was a wreck and I had a bad head cold. I boarded that plane determined to do my best. The flight was about a three-hour flight to Atlanta where I had to change planes for the final flight to North Carolina. Remember, this was my first flight and I had no idea what to expect or how difficult it would be to change planes in Atlanta. Well, everything went well except for the head cold. I was so congested that my ears never equalized in the ascent from Oklahoma City and again in the descent into Atlanta. Talk about a headache; in addition to my head about to explode, I lost my hearing. I realized that I couldn’t hear when the plane was on the ground and taxiing to the terminal, I looked over and out the window and saw the lady sitting next to me. She was a middle aged black woman and she was obviously talking to me but I couldn’t hear anything she was saying. In a panic I looked away hoping that she didn’t think I was the biggest bigot in the universe. I got off the plane as quickly as I could and made my way into the airport. I didn’t have a clue as to what I should do so, I just avoided all eye contact and wandered around the Atlanta airport afraid to look at anyone, afraid they would speak to me and I wouldn’t be able to hear them. I found my connecting flight and about the time I was to board my ears finally equalized and I could hear. What a relief but now I was afraid this would happen again and I wouldn’t be able to hear when I reached North Carolina and I would never be able to find or communicate with the person who was sent to pick me up. The second part of the flight was shorter and I started trying to swallow hard the minute we took off to keep my ears clear. It was still painful but I was able to get my ears to pop so I was able to hear. There was more turbulence on this flight so I had other things to worry about, maybe that was a blessing. We landed and I was never happier to be on the ground and to have my first plane ride over. I got my luggage and headed to the gate where I quickly found, or maybe he found me, the Chair of the Art Department. Paul VanZandt was his name and he had a knack for making me feel at ease. I found out why on the 30-minute trip from the airport in Fayetteville to Pembroke and Paul’s house. It turned out that Paul was also from Oklahoma and got his undergrad degree from OSU. Another coincidence, again I don’t think so. I quickly realized that Paul was really trying hard to not only make me feel at home but was also trying to make a good impression. This realization was very odd to me — didn’t he know that this job was the only job in America. Of course, it was not the only job in America but there sure weren’t enough positions to go around for all the recent graduates. The interview was a quick two-day event so there was a tight schedule to follow. As I mentioned earlier I was staying with Paul and his family in their guest bedroom. So I quickly put my things in the room and laid down for a minute to rest. I was informed that we would be having dinner back in Fayetteville with other faculty members and would be leaving for the restaurant in about an hour. Paul’s family was friendly and continued to make me feel welcome. His house was an older two-story house with great southern charm. So far, this interview was going great and not what I expected.
We left to meet the others at the restaurant, again about a thirty-minute trip. I learned that Paul’s art was ceramics and he was very dedicated and passionate about it. That was a good thing and even though I didn’t know much about ceramics, we shared that passion about our art. We got to the restaurant and I met the rest of the faculty. The restaurant was an upscale steakhouse and we were seated a large round table. As the waiter took drink orders he asked why we were dining with them and Paul replied, “We are trying to convince this young man to accept a teaching position with us at Pembroke State University.” OK, now I am really surprised — he doesn’t know they have the only job available in America. I was so surprised with this statement it was all I thought about the rest of the trip. The evening went well and we got back at Paul’s house late and I was extremely tired so I went straight to bed to try and get ready for a full day of meetings tomorrow. The next day I toured the Art Building and the rest of the campus. It was small but adequate and what they didn’t seem to know was it was the only job in America. We had more meetings with faculty and administrators and at the end of the day they offered me the job. Crazy, this was not what I expected at all. I really was prepared to wow them with my abilities, skills and dedication but I didn’t have to do that at all. Well, I verbally accepted and they told me the official contract would be mailed to me. Done deal, I had my first full-time teaching job. I was a University instructor. I couldn’t wait to tell Jo but I had to wait a while until I was alone so I could call her. The flight back to Oklahoma was much better than the flight to North Carolina. Maybe it was because I was so excited about the outcome of the interview or maybe it was because I knew what to expect but I didn’t suffer with the ear problems like I did in the previous flight. Back at home, Jo and I were excited to start our new adventure. Neither of us had ever lived out of Oklahoma and we were ready to move and experience new things and meet new friends.
We immediately started planning and preparing for the move. We decided to go with a moving company because of family connections at a local moving company in Altus, Oklahoma. This seemed like the best option because we wouldn’t have to rent a U-Haul truck and tow our car. The moving company was located in Altus, about 100 miles from Norman. This meant we would have to pack everything and contact them to pick it up before we left for North Carolina. We didn’t have a lot of furniture, just a few odds and ends pieces, a bed and a lot of big paintings but it still was a lot of packing. I stayed in contact with Paul back in North Carolina and he started looking for places that we could rent that would be convenient to school. Mid-summer, I went out to my former studio for the first time in a couple of months to check on the paintings and start preparing them for the big move. By this time it was very hot and the building the studio was in was not air-conditioned. When I went into the room the paintings were stored in I noticed a bit of an oil paint smell, which I thought was a little odd because it had been almost three months since they were completed and shown. At the time of my senior show they were completely dry with no oil odor. As I walked across the small room to the wall the paintings were leaning against, I noticed amber colored puddles on the floor under the paintings. At first I thought that it was water from rain and a possible leaky roof. On closer inspection I realized it was thick partially dry oil. Remember my deKooning inspired painting medium. Willem deKooning had said the reason he liked it was that it didn’t dry, I didn’t think he meant ever! The oil had separated completely from the paint and run off the canvases onto the floor. So, if any of you think you might want to try this, you might want to think again or at least get real safflower oil and don’t substitute Wesson oil. Amazingly, the paintings didn’t look bad because the pigment stuck to the canvas and the oil is all that ran off. There were a few streaks where it ran down the front surface but even those disappeared over time as you can see by the pieces in this exhibit from that series.
About this time Paul called and said he had found a great house that would be available for rent when we arrived. He said that it was a little pricey but big and very nice. My first thought was about the cost, so I asked him about that first and he said that it would be $135.00 per month. We were paying more than that for a two-bedroom apartment so that shouldn’t be a problem so I asked him about the size and location. He said it was 3000 square feet, in the country about seven miles from school. 3000 squarefeet, that was about 3 times the size of our current apartment. Jo and I talked about it and decided to take it sight unseen. We were very excited about it and a little scared about the size, how would we ever fill it up and would we get lost rambling around in a house that big.
During that summer in 1973, we experienced the nation’s first oil crisis. Even though it wasn’t that bad in Oklahoma, we saw long gas lines and increased prices all over the country. We knew we had a very long trip coming up to North Carolina and uncertainty on the availability and price of gasoline in North Carolina. We were driving a full size pickup truck at the time that got about 9–10 miles per gallon and I wasn’t sure we would be able to get enough gas to get to North Carolina. So, we started looking for a different vehicle that would be more gas efficient. We decided on a new Ford Pinto wagon. Although the Pinto later would get a lot of bad press with exploding gas tanks and other problems, we had really good luck with ours and later would buy another. It was red with the wood grain side panels that made it look like a cute, small version of the “family truckster” featured in Family Vacation. We finished packing all our worldly goods and called our relatives at the moving company and made arrangements for them to pick them up at our apartment in Norman. They would then take them back to Altus and store them until the next full load was heading for North Carolina, then they would put our stuff on the truck with the full load and bring it to us. They assured us it wouldn’t be long, probably not over a week, because Fort Bragg was in Fayetteville and that was a prime transfer location for Army families. We packed our personal stuff into a few boxes and filled what little luggage we had with our clothes and strapped them on our nifty luggage rack. Almost as an after thought, we thought we should cover the luggage rack just in case it rained, so we bought a cheap plastic tarp and strapped it over everything. The back of the new “family truckster” was completely full up to the front seats. We left just enough room for our dog between the two front seats. We both hopped in and took off for our new and exciting adventure. We got about 30 miles until the plastic tarp ripped to shreds and was dangling about two car lengths behind us. The next town down Interstate 40 was Shawnee, Oklahoma. We stopped at the Wal-Mart, bought another tarp and tried to secure it better in the parking lot. As I remember it lasted about another 100 miles. Jo and I have never been real die-hard drivers. Neither of us can last more than about 100 miles before we have to stop, so every 100 miles we would stop and switch drivers. Late that first night we still managed to make it to our first day destination, somewhere around Jackson, Tennessee. Our dog was a really good-natured dog that we found as a puppy in a McDonalds parking lot. She was about 60 pounds full grown when we made this trip, so she was a pretty big animal. She was much too big to be cooped up in a 1 foot by two foot area for 12 hours. She made it pretty well the first day but she kept crowding closer and closer to the front seat. We were all tired and ready to get out and stretch and not have to get right back in for another 100 miles. We got up the next morning, still tired but ready to get back on the road. We should easily get there by early evening, so we loaded up again and headed out. By the first 100 miles, our dog was already practically in our laps but we pushed her bag to her allotted spot and kept going. This got progressively worse the rest of the day, and by the last 100 miles the dog was done. No more pushing her back and for the first and only time that I can remember she growled at us just to let us know she was done with one foot by two foot space, so she rode the rest of the way in our laps in the front seat. We got to the motel in Red Springs, North Carolina, about midnight. By that time we were all done. I was so happy that the trip was over and we could all get out and rest.
We got up the next morning excited that we were finally here and ready to start the next phase of our lives. We drove around a little so we could see everything in the daylight. Then started looking for Paul’s house. Red Springs, North Carolina, was a very small town, so it didn’t take us long to look around. We found Paul’s house pretty quickly and he was expecting us. If you remember, he had found us a house earlier in the summer to rent and had made arrangements with the owners for us to move in when we arrived. We were anxious to see the house so Paul said he could introduce us to the owner, get us a key and show us where it was when we arrived. Over the phone it sounded too good to be true so we were really looking forward to seeing it. The house was half way between Red Springs and Pembroke in the country. It took about 15 minutes to get there and the drive gave us our first view of the area. Coming from Oklahoma, it was new and very pretty. It was flat like Oklahoma, maybe even flatter but there were huge pine trees. This was definitely different than Oklahoma. Outside the small communities of this area of North Carolina the land was primarily used for farming and tobacco was the primary crop. We were used to farming and farm communities but we had never seen tobacco fields. I was very surprised at how small they were. We past several tobacco fields and they were surrounded by tall pines, and then we came to a small drive barely visible between the pines. Paul said this was it and he turned in the drive. We could not see the house from the road because pine trees surrounded it. The drive turned out to be a circle drive and as we started the circle we got our first glimpse of the house. It was a ranch style house, which was a little unusual for the area, with painted wood siding. It looked great with a large grass yard surrounded by tall pines. Paul parked in front of the door and we hopped out anxious to see the inside. Jo and I were amazed, it was twice as big as anything we had lived in and was really nice. It had hardwood floors throughout, two fireplaces, formal dining room, great kitchen with a breakfast nook, den, huge living room, 3 bedrooms and a screened back porch. Paul kept saying he knew it was expensive but . . . we just kept saying it was great! We took the house immediately, went back into town, picked up our car, checked out of the motel and headed back to the house. All we had was what we had packed in to our tiny Pinto but it was great to unload and start planning what we were going to do with the house. Remember, all our furniture, what little we had, all our pots, pans and dishes, everything was being moved by the moving company, so we wandered around this big house and tried to think how would we ever fill it up? We didn’t have a bed so the first thing we did was go into town and buy a couple of cheap air mattresses. These should be fine; it would only be for a few days until our stuff got here. It was a great adventure, kind of like camping indoors. After the first night we realized, maybe we should have spent a little more than 97 cents on our air mattresses. We had to blow them up twice during the night. Oh well, it would be all right, the moving van would probably be here this weekend. Well, the first week went by and no word from the moving company. Not a problem, we’ll just give them a call, they are probably on the road now and would be here any day. Jo called her cousin at the moving company back in Oklahoma, our stuff hadn’t left Oklahoma yet but they were sure it would go out soon. OK, well we will just hang in and explore the surrounding area during the days and maybe get a little better air mattress for the nights. We had heard that there were great deals on furniture in North Carolina because so much furniture was manufactured there. So, after almost two weeks of rambling around in a 3000 square foot house with nothing, we started looking. We knew we couldn’t buy much but maybe we could find something to sit on. We found a beautiful couch and a very comfortable lounge chair. They were a little out of our price range but they were beautiful and. . .we were desperate. We bought them and now we had our first new furniture, a beautiful contemporary couch and a contemporary lounge chair and ottoman. We spent way more on this new furniture than we had planned so we didn’t replace the 97-cent air mattresses, surely our stuff would arrive soon. Well, to make a long and painful story a little shorter, it never did. My Dad rented a U-Haul truck and hired a friend to help load it and drive to North Carolina to deliver our furniture and the rest of our stuff. Lesson learned, beware of those super good family deals. If they sound too good to be true, they probably are.
One of the first things I do when I move to a new place is assess where my studio will be. This was big and I could have used one of the bedrooms. I have done that before but over the last three years at school I had the luxury of water and a sink in the studio. Since I primarily work with water-based paint, this was convenient for mixing and clean up. The bathroom and kitchen location in this house did not allow for a close water source. This house did have a huge screened porch on the back of the house and the weather is really nice most of the year in North Carolina, so I decided to try and set my studio up there. I bought a galvanized wash sink and stand at a local hardware store. I ran a garden hose from the closest outside water hydrant. I lifted one corner of the screen and ran the hose into the porch, then hooked up a faucet. The sink came with an attached piece of garden hose for a drain, so I just ran it outside through the same corner of the screen mesh. It worked perfectly, simple and cheap. Throughout graduate school one of the things I was always concerned with was the light in the area I painted and the display wall where I hung each piece to view its progress and to photograph the final paintings. It was not just me but all my fellow students spent a lot of time and money rigging up elaborate light bars to try and emulate “museum lighting.” As it turned out the natural light on this “porch studio” was fabulous. It did make it a little difficult to work at night but the daylight was great. I was finally set up and ready to paint.
By this time school had started and I was very busy teaching and getting to know my students and my fellow faculty members. If you remember I was hired to teach printmaking so there was a lot of technique I had to brush up on. The instructor that was there before me primarily taught relief printing and that was my weakest area. The school had a single Dickerson combination press that allowed me to teach intaglio, lithography, and relief techniques and I added some screen printing to round out the curriculum. My printmaking classes were going well and the students seemed eager to learn. I started working on some prints to demonstrate techniques in class but I really hadn’t started painting yet. The painting instructor was a very “Southern” man a little older than me from Memphis. His work was nothing like mine, in fact no one here, student or faculty, worked anything like I did. I was definitely unique here. As an undergraduate and graduate student I was strongly influenced by my teachers and the current trends in contemporary art as seen in national publications like Art In America and Art Forum. I naively thought everyone in America that was interested in contemporary art was doing work similar to what I was doing or what I had seen from my fellow students. Boy, I was wrong! The painting instructor at Pembroke worked in a very controlled surreal style, almost a fantasy style, with landscapes as his primary subject. Most of the students also worked in a surrealistic style. I was very surprised, I thought Surrealism had pretty much died as a popular style and was only being used by Salvador Dali and a few fantasy illustrators. Well let me tell you, Surrealism was alive and well in North Carolina and it wasn’t the cool, funny, and clever Magritte Surrealism, it was the crazy, melty clock Dali Surrealism. This definitely had an impact on me. I didn’t particularly like the work I was seeing but I was the new guy looking for approval. It was much easier to adapt images to my prints and drawings so that is where I started, trying to mix my styles with what I was seeing stylistically here in North Carolina. I quickly moved to a larger scale with my paintings. I painted and struggled for a couple of months until I finally lost it on a large painting that just wouldn’t come together. It was stiff, cold, lacked emotion and energy and most importantly, it wasn’t me! In frustration I put the painting on the floor and in anger started pouring paint over everything I had worked so hard and long on. It felt good and I worked at a frantic pace, threw down my brushes and went inside. I went back out the next day and realized everything that was bad with the painting now was better – much better! I learned another important life lesson. You must be true to yourself, you can’t be someone else. Revitalized with the new approach I started a new series of work that I called “Studio Transformations.” They were loosely based on the North Carolina landscape, particularly the view that surrounded me in my porch studio. Jo and I settled into our new “adult” lives in North Carolina. We both worked on campus so we rode together every day. On the weekends we explored the surrounding area. We made some great new friends and really enjoyed our time there. Our new friends were from the area and showed us around on several trips around the state. We bought some nice 10-speed bikes and rode them around our area. It was very flat where we lived which was great for biking. The state was beautiful with the beach and ocean on one side and mountains on the other side. All and all we loved North Carolina, but Jo and I wanted to start a family and the area we lived in was very rural with a pretty bad secondary education system. We really wanted a little better school system for our future children. Jo got pregnant early in the semester of my second year. We had our first baby, Brenan, in May. He was beautiful and perfect and yes, he changed our lives! About this time, I got a call from my friend Dalton Maroney. Dalton was teaching at a small private college in Sioux City, Iowa called Morningside College. He said they had an opening for a painting and printmaking instructor and wanted me to apply. The idea of working with Dalton again was very appealing and also it included teaching painting. That combined with the possibility of a better school system to help raise our little boy was enough for me to apply. They offered me the position with a rank increase to Assistant Professor. I talked it over with Jo and we agreed that it seemed like a good opportunity so I accepted and started planning the move.