Ok, here's what led up to my decision to get down from the tree and make art (see "How my Art Career Began"). The decision to make a career change was difficult because I have a real passion for libraries. I had started a free library in Ikole, Ekiti, Nigeria, when I was in the Peace Corps, and I wanted to get a degree in Library Science so I could get books and other information to more people.
I was studying at Simmons School of Library Science and working part time at various branches of the Boston Public Library. The North End branch was named for an ancestor of my step-family, Clara Cushman, who was a world-famous Shakespearean actress. Neat coincidence, right? I worked there for a while and then I was off to the South End Branch. What a difference! besides being a traditional library, it had become a place of refuge for alcoholics in a troubled community wrestling with poverty. We had lots of "street people" in there who were just surviving. The South End, by the way, is where our Wayzgoose Studios was located. The neighborhood has since become gentrified.
This library was an information source and connecting point for the too few social services that were available. Our main tools were the Yellow Pages of the phone book and personal relationships. I was intrigued with the idea that was just beginning to be articulated about having computer-based neighborhood centers that would serve the various needs of any community. I met the amazing Jonathan Kozol. I wanted to get a job that would fit in with my vision, but the best of I got from job interviews was that after graduation, I could be a cataloger of images at the Folger or a traditional reference librarian in my home town of Worcester. So I climbed up a tree.
My story must include a long overdue thank you to Penny Mattern for the time I spent with her as undergrads at Clark University, in the Peace Corps, and in marriage. She supported my desire to drop out of Grad School and to become an artist, and she introduced me to linoleum block printing, and she provided two years of financial support that enabled me to build up enough stock to begin selling my images. That, my friends, is privilege.
The Renaissance Replica opus began with The Bathers. My friend John was working at the Houghton Rare Book Library at Harvard, and he showed me some examples of early printed woodcuts. I was inspired. I was able to photocopy some images from Schramm's extensive catalogs of incunabula. I carved my first Renaissance replica linoleum block of a woodcut that was in a 1498 Calendar. We ended up making a Calendar of our own, printing each page on the hand press. That first image of the Bathers was just so much fun to recreate!
John also introduced us to Sheldon Silver whose rare book collection was world-class. He showed us many examples and encouraged me to practice tasteful typography. I made a few books, notably the Bigger Word Alphabet, and The Bird Book at Wayzgoose. I dropped out of Grad School and have been making images ever since.