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The Greatest Influence in my Life, My Dad

Me (6th grade) and my Dad at Frost Valley Camp in the Catskills, NY

Sometime ago I planned on writing a post about my dad because I consider him the greatest influence on my artistic and nature loving life. I told him I was going to do this because I knew he’d like it. It’s just last week that I lost my dad as his body gave into the battle of his ailments. I’m so very sad to think about it at all, but thought I couldn’t go forward without an acknowledgement here and now.

My dad and mom loved to go camping and it was when my mom, God love her, was pregnant with me that they went for the first time.  Already having four children under their belt maybe she wasn’t worried about going to the Adirondack Mountains while being seven or more months pregnant! Yikes! So it started early for me, being in nature. Every summer vacation we would go to Lewey Lake in the Adirondack State Park and what wonderful memories it holds for my family. All kinds of wildlife to discover, from Black Bears, Chipmunks and Racoons in your campsite to Mergansers on the lake.

Chipmunks would come up to your hand to eat peanut butter on bread!

Then there was Easter vacation where we would usually head south in that big black station wagon you see in the photo, to the beach in Virginia or South Carolina. It was always camping and always close to nature. The coast held a whole new set of discoveries; I loved hearing the sound of the waves just over the sand dunes where we camped.

Somewhere along the way I got hooked on bird watching and my dad was always there to ask questions of. He knew so much about nature! One day when sitting on the back stone patio with him, I pointed to a bird and told him what it was. I was shocked when he told me I had finally passed him in knowledge of the birds. This just wasn’t possible, this was my dad who in my eyes knew everything. It still feels weird. A bird we both thought was beautiful is the Rose Breasted Grosbeak, painted below in watercolor and ink.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak – watercolor + ink

Then there’s the art, the most important thing in my life. My dad was one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. He told us stories of growing up with no money and how he’d carve wooden guns for himself then every kid wanted one too. Anything he needed fixed or created he’d figure out how and do it himself. We had an eagle hanging in the dining room, complete with shield and arrows in it’s claws. Dad carved it from an old wooden chair seat! He dabbled in painting and I remember still when I was around 1st or 2nd grade, watching him paint a scene in oils of a watermill. It wasn’t until just a few years ago I realized it was signed on my birthday! Fate!

Viking Dragon I carved in college, inspired by my dad’s carving

I was always at his elbow in his shop, I can remember still the smell of fresh cut wood and our private talks about things going on in our lives. I also remember when very young, watching him create the prettiest little church out of simple mat board. He cut it, built it, put sparkly glitter on it to look like snow, colored acetate to look like stained glass windows, carved bushes out of Styrofoam and then put a little light in it. It was the most gorgeous church I’ve ever seen, and it was for Christmas of course. He created so many things like that and I loved watching him.

The “Purple Coneflower Bench” I built for my garden

When I went to college it’s no surprise I ended up taking a lot of furniture design classes too, I guess wood runs in our blood. Above is a bench I designed and built for my garden for me and my boys to sit on.  My dad was the best wood carver and I hope to share some photos of his carvings with you someday, probably on my flickr page. College was also where I took my first Drawing classes that involved studying nudes of course. When I brought my big huge sketchpad home to share dad didn’t blink an eye when we discussed the form of the female body and he did a little sketch to show me. I thought it’d be embarrassing since we were raised as strict Catholics, but dad had studied art too in college and it was great, he showed me how ‘normal’ it was to do what I was doing. He’s the first one to teach me how to draw a profile, and though it’s cartoon style, I can still remember how he taught me to draw eyes! Below is a drawing I did while studying in Toronto at the Michael John Angel Academy.

Charles Bargue Figure – done in Toronto at the Michael John Angel Academy

He was also a very talented writer and it’s where I must have gotten my love of turning a poem or writing a story. He used to tell us and his students, stories that would keep you on the edge of your seat. Usually it was ghost stories that of course were all true, around Halloween time. We’d hear about the Banshees that Great Grampa McAndrew chased away, the white glove that my aunt saw crawling, how Aunt Aggie saw her sister’s ghost the night she died and then dad’s best loved story called “The White Porcelain Hand”. Below is a still life I did in college using graphite, just so happens to have a white glove in it!

“The White Glove” – graphite still life I did in college

Whenever I’d call dad and tell him about my creative ideas he’d be so good at giving me his honest opinion and feedback. We’d talk until both of us had to switch ‘ears’ twice!  He knows about my ideas for children’s books and nature sketching and I’m determined now to work on them in his memory. It’s the best way I can think of to stay close to him.

He was well loved by a big family of 8 children and 33 grandchildren and countless students he taught in the Endicott, NY area. I’m not sure how I’ll do without him to talk to now, I’ll just work on one thing at a time.

Dad and me at a family reunion

I love you Dad!

12 comments to The Greatest Influence in my Life, My Dad

  • Great post Mary. I will miss him too.


  • mary

    Mary, what a lovely story about your cherished love/friendship with your dad.
    He was such a wonderful man, I was given his address a at the age of 11 from Joe Mc in Mayo he told me to keep in touch and that is what i did, there were many letters back and forth from than on
    Finally many years later Mum Myself and Siobhan got to meet him in person and we had the best few days spent with the family in Endicott.
    Siobhan’s best memory was that Jim would make her a hershey choc milk everyday it was the first time she had ever had one, she remembers it too this day and all the kindness he showed to her and all of us.
    I know that he was so proud of all his children,
    What great memories you will always have Mary, thankyou for sharing your story its great to know more.
    love always Mary x

  • Dan Gaul

    That was a beautiful tribute to your Father, Mary. You and all of your siblings were truly blessed to have such an amazing Dad to learn from. He was such a great role model as my 6th grade teacher that I can easily understand just how magical you found him to be at home. I do recall his ghost stories holding our class spellbound and I also remember how he used the promise of hearing one as a means for getting our cooperation on a task. He was simply the best teacher I ever had.

  • I’m sorry for you loss. It sounds like he was an amazing man.

  • Annie Burgamy

    Hi Mary,
    I have just read your post.
    I am so very sorry you Dad has gone.
    You are in my prayers.

    What an amazing relationship you had with him. In time the pain and sadness will fade and be replaced by all the wonderful memories of your lives together. Through these memories you will always carry him with you.
    Love and light. Annie

  • I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your dad. I lost mine 11 years ago and just can’t believe I can’t call or visit to this day. He was special as yours was, supporting me in everything I tried. Your dad sounds as special for you as mine was to me. It is so hard to lose someone so special. Your description tells of a man who lived life to the max, melding his creativity firmly into all the strands of his life. Thanks for sharing about him.

  • Alta Whitlock

    Dear Mary. What a beautiful tribute to your dear Dad. Thank you for sharing and may God’s love encircle you. Alta

  • Thank you to every one of you for such nice comments! Can we all just imagine what it would be like if we all had great teachers like him? Can we try to aspire to his level of touching other people’s lives in such a positive way? I would feel truly blessed if someday I could feel that I have.
    Thanks again all! Hugs, love, prayers and light all gratefully accepted!

  • I’m so sorry for your loss. It is good that you have so many wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you Christine, I guess I relate so much of my creativity to my dad that the hardest thing will be not being able to talk about ideas with him now. BUT I’m trying to focus on getting some projects done that we talked about and I will dedicate them to him!

  • I just read this post, Mary. I love the photo you have of you and Dad at Frost Valley! I keep wanting to pick up the phone too, to tell him about some new project or to get some advice.

  • Betty it makes me so sad still, I want to show dad the great scenery here I see. I’m dreading coming home for more than just missing it here, it’ll make it even more real that dad isn’t there.

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