THE pastel portrait of Ava Gardner was based on a LIFE magazine cover photo. As pastel portraits go, it wasn’t bad. My father might have been able to support himself as a sidewalk portrait artist, except for the minor detail that it took him about four months to finish the one of Ava, and that was already pre-framed and colored for him by the artful LIFE photographer. So when my father talked about chucking his sales career and becoming a full-time artist, it scared me more than a little. Would we then have to cut back on our outings to the little basement Italian restaurant on West Fourth Street that had the best shrimp cocktails and ravioli in the Village? It seemed to me that the words starving and artist always appeared together in the same sentence. I didn’t like this new development at all.
My fears abated somewhat when he offered me twenty-five cents an hour to sit for a sculpture of my head and shoulders. There had to be more money where that came from. Maybe somewhere in this new pursuit there were advantages for me. Time would tell.
Hour after hour on countless rainy Saturdays I sat still, inhaling the smell of damp modeling clay and watching while a head of what appeared to be a twenty-five-year-old woman emerged on his modeling stand. He’d gouge out yet another, improved eye socket shape with one of the miniature teak paddles purchased from the new art supply shop located a convenient three blocks away, then step back in a state of rapture.
“Finished for today!”
He’d drape the creature in moist cheesecloth and we would traipse off to dinner, visions of the forthcoming ravioli dancing in my brain. He’d start off with a highball, traces of clay still under his fingernails. A happy man. An Artist.