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A Penthouse In New York


A Penthouse In New York

The surprise lesson I learned from my artist grandfather

February 7th, 2019

Untitled, by Harry Rainey, 1938

My grandfather Harry T. Rainey was an art school drop out, but despite this modest scholastic failure, he still managed to land a job as a junior commercial artist for an advertising firm in downtown Cincinnati. This was back in the day when advertisements were drawn. I’ve often heard stories how he’d spend extended lunch breaks drinking old fashioned cocktails in the lobby of The Cincinnatian hotel; sometimes so much so that the office secretary was sent to fetch him.

With some experience under his belt, he and my grandmother moved to California where he established his own freelance business in Los Angeles, and along with a pension from the army after fighting in WWII, he was able to earn a sensible living supporting a wife and three children with his creative skills.

I don’t know why I was initially interested in asking him to give me art lessons, because at the time I was hell bent on becoming a singer/songwriter, but I did, and every Thursday evening after work I would drive an extra 20 miles in horrendous traffic to my grandparents house for art lessons. After dinner grandpa would venture in his office and bring out all his art supplies. Together we’d work on various things and talk about art. Sometimes I would bring in something I’d drawn and we’d discuss the linear perspective (he could draw a cityscape with his eyes closed), or we’d analyze other works of art, but there is one lesson embedded in me I will never forget.

To put it into context let me tell you that my grandfather was extremely fiscally conservative. He’d buy two individual eggs rather than splurge for a dozen. He once made me a key to his house and charged me $1.92. He was a product of the depression and in ways that served him well, but other times he was obsessively cheap with himself and the world around him. He was good at giving everyone the impression that he shunned prestige and the lavish lifestyle, so you can imagine my shock when he confessed to me one evening how he’d always dreamed of being a big time artist living in a New York Penthouse.

As shocking as this was I pictured it instantly. Him parading through the bustling city streets in a suit and hat with that certain untouchable swagger. He’d secretly longed for the spotlight, but for respectable reasons settled for a predictable life to provide for his family. He’d made a living creating art that others wanted, when deep inside he longed to chase the wonder of his own adventure. We all do that in different ways I believe; settle for comfort instead of surrendering to mystery of the unknown. I know I have.

When my grandfather passed away I was still pursuing music, so he never got to see me transition into art and watch it unfold the way it is now. I so wish I could talk to him more and hear about his dreams. I’d love to hear more about the New York Penthouse and what that would have meant to him. My family tells me he would be so happy to see me selling my paintings. It has taken a lot of perseverance and I know there are many more miles to go, but I learned a great lesson from him that he may not ever know he taught me-to choose the adventure. Chase the wonder.

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