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Extraordinary People


By Raymond J. Steiner

ART TIMES May 2009

OF THE MANY rewards that come with being an artwriter, not the least is the number of extraordinary people I have met during that time. Not that I hadn’t met interesting people in my earlier life — what I usually call my ‘hard hat’ years, during my first 30+ years when I worked as a laborer, truck driver and barge captain among other non-collegiate-type jobs from Florida’s Everglades to Canada’s Hudson Bay in the Arctic — but these were, by and large, people of and in the world, practical sorts that worked hard and had no time for what many of them called ‘nonsense’. Back then, I had grown up in a world with no books, no visits to museums, no sense of ‘culture’ beyond the ethnic culture common to my people and station in life. A second-generation descendant of Germanic ancestors, my family life was one of rules, no frills, simple foods, no heavy emphasis on learning for its own sake, but much on learning a trade and becoming ‘useful’ to society. The people I grew up with and worked alongside of were usually called ‘decent’, ‘hard-working’, ‘patriotic’, ‘sensible’. It was more than mere ‘culture-shock’ then, when I opted to enter college after five years of active service in the US Army, discovered the world of books, and decided to focus on literature, art, writing, and philosophy — a world that pretty well covered the whole gamut of aforementioned ‘nonsense’ as defined by those in my past. After a fourteen-year stint as a teacher at the junior high, high school, and community college levels, I turned to art — and artists — mostly because I had the notion that it was a path toward a higher sense of self and a deeper sense of humanity. I couldn’t have strayed farther from my roots — and yet it was just such straying that opened the door to those ‘extraordinary’ people I mention in my opening sentence. For the past thirty years or so — and especially during the last twenty-five years after our founding of ART TIMES — I’ve met so many exceptional personalities that have opened my eyes and enriched my soul that I feel more than just privileged — I feel blessed. I cannot catalogue here the well over 500 American, European and Asian artists — painters, vocalists, sculptors, musicians, actors, composers, dancers — I’ve reviewed, profiled, or critiqued over the years*, but they all continue to feed my soul, inform my mind, expand my horizons. I attempted to pay them homage in my recently-published novel The Mountain — an attempt to bring to life the evolution of a creative mind in a world that often could care less — and can only hope that I have done justice to the many who helped to write that book. And, since so many have themselves come from ‘hard-hat’ families and backgrounds, I also tried to pay homage to those ‘decent’, ‘hard-working’, ‘patriotic’, and ‘sensible’ men and women in the same book. The Mountain’s main character, Jacob (“Jake”) Forscher, is himself a working man, a carpenter who ‘follows the rules’, also an offspring of hard-working immigrants (like just about everyone else in America) — yet a man who aspires to find more in life, a man who aspires to be an artist. No, Jake’s story is not my story — (though parallels, of course exist — when Flaubert was asked who Madame Bovary was, he answered, “C’est moi!” —so, of course there’s some of me in the book) he, like most of the characters in The Mountain, is an amalgamation of the many, many workmen and artists that I have met over the years, albeit just one of the many who were lucky enough to discover that they were more than mere creatures meant to simply survive their life-spans. Yet, here’s the kicker — just nearing my 76th birthday, I finally realize that just about everyone I’ve met during my life deserves the description of ‘extraordinary’ — it just takes some of us a bit longer to stumble onto that truth.
*You can meet — and read about — these extraordinary people by visiting either or
Raymond J. Steiner

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