I thought I was writing it for children, but I was really writing it to answer all the questions people would ask me as an artist’s daughter–
My first publishing success was a children’s book, two books— Me Molly Midnight; the Artist’s Cat and Runaway Molly Midnight; the Artist’s Cat—illustrated with artwork by Herman Maril.
Home for a visit after college, I was ecstatic to be surrounded by my father’s paintings, after living in an environment with mostly bare walls. My mother Esta Maril, a psychiatric social worker, had just written a book about a little boy who only ate peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day and she was going to show it to a publisher, Barbara Holdridge at Stemmer House. An aspiring writer myself, we talked about the elements present in a children’s book over dinner.
That night, unable to sleep, I went downstairs and started writing a story told from the perspective of our black cat Molly, who had once belonged to me but had switched allegiance to my father.
I thought I was writing it for children, but I was really writing it to answer all the questions people would ask me as an artist’s daughter, questions like:
How long does it take your father to complete a painting?
Where does he work?
What kind of materials does he use?
Where does he get his ideas?
Does he ever put you in a painting?
Are you also an artist?
Then I had another idea. I could illustrate the story with actual paintings my father had done with Molly the black cat in them as well as photographs from our house, settings that had inspired my father’s artwork. My mother liked my manuscript so much, she took it with her to her appointment with Barbara Holdridge. Her book was never published, mine was. However, Barbara did not like the idea of mixing photographs with original artwork and she nixed my illustration concept. She also did not like the idea of the story being told in first person by the cat and asked me to change it to third person.
I did what she requested. Then she changed her idea again about point of view after she fell in love with the painting she chose for the cover, “Suzanne and Cat” and became entranced with the idea of alliteration, Me, Molly Midnight. So, one afternoon while sitting in her parlor on a lumpy couch revising my manuscript, desperately hungry for something to eat and too shy to ask her for permission to take a break, I changed it back to first person. I was young and eager. After it was published I visited many schools, gave readings and encouraged elementary age school children to create books of their own.
As one of the many programs associated with Herman Maril: The Strong Forms of Our Experience on exhibit through October 29that the Cahoon Museum of American Art, September 15th at 1:00 p.m., I’ll be in Cotuit, Massachusetts on Cape Cod doing a reading and leading a workshop for children on making a book for about your pet. https://cahoonmuseum.org/programs/
I’d still like to do a children’s book with a mixture of photographs and paintings. My pet of choice these days is a dog, Chloe the labradoodle, a dog my father never met. She’s quite striking, tall in stature and white when she’s clean.
In answer to that last question, fans of my father’s work often ask me, Are you an artist like your Dad?Tthe word artist is not limited to visual art. Following in my father’s footsteps, I am an artist, I create with words.
Dad enjoyed the interaction of looking at student’s work and discussing with them what they thought they saw. He’d ask them questions and they would have to rethink how they’d put their perceptions down on paper, analyzing ways to make their work better. I sensed their respect and enjoyment of the class as soon as they entered the room and it made me feel proud.
Father’s Day is approaching, and thus I thought it fitting to reprise an essay I wrote about my dad, Herman Maril the artist. For Herman Maril fans, you can learn more about his career and work at HermanMaril.com.
My father, Herman Maril, used to take me to work with him once a year. On this one day, I’d wake with him at five in the morning, when the sky was still dark, and put on the clothes I’’d laid out the night before. We’d sit by the window waiting for the taxi driver to arrive.
My father would be drinking a cup of coffee and eating a package of orange cheese flavored crackers, spread inside with peanut butter.
“Here take one,” he’d say offering a cracker sandwich.
“Too early in the morning to eat,” I’d say .
More of these crackers could be found inside his desk at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he taught painting twice a week. A full professor and head of the studio department for many years, my father arranged his class schedule so that he only needed to make the trip from Baltimore to College Park twice a week, while he fielded phone calls regarding administrative matters seven days a week. His “at home” days gave him time in his studio to sketch and paint.
Dad didn’t drive, although he retained his driver’s license for identification. That’s why we were waiting for a taxi. Years earlier when I was about two years old, he’d forgotten to put on the emergency brake after getting out of the maroon Studebaker sedan, my parent’s first car,, while I was still in the backseat. The Studebaker started rolling backwards down a hill and while he was able to jump out and stop the car, he took it as a sign to stop driving. My dad was not interested in the mechanics of driving, he wanted to look out at the scenery; people, colors, shapes, and landscape. So my mother took on the role of family driver, leaving my father’s mind free for other things.
Frank, the taxi driver, drove my father to the downtown Baltimore bus station where Dad would take a bus to College Park . Dad was one of his regular customers, and in the morning there’d be banter between the two I could barely follow. Frank’s Baltimore accent was thick and I was too fascinated studying the pattern of criss-cross marks on the back of his neck to listen closely and decipher the words. The wrinkles signified to me that Frank was old. How did those marks get so deep, I’d ponder. A scrawny man, he wore a baseball cap and his nose was shaped like a beak. My father seemed to enjoy talking to Frank, but then he enjoyed talking to just about everyone.
Unlike my mother, who was somewhat aloof with people she didn’t know, my father would engage in conversation with just about everyone we encountered. I admired this trait because I was always afraid to talk to anyone I’d just met, fearful I’d say the wrong thing. I longed to feel comfortable enough to speak to strangers.
The bus ride to College Park was a blur. Sometimes I dozed off while my father looked out the window, perhaps studying the scenery, formulating a future canvas he might paint.
The walk up the hill to the building that housed the art department, in one of the many red brick buildings, was a long one. I struggled to keep up with my father’s confident steps. I was excited. Which students would I meet? What would those college students, almost adults, be talking about and what would their pictures look like?
I remember once spending the day in another professor’s class, a printmaker, where I created an entire etching on copper plate from start to finish. Excited to learn a new skill, I proudly showed my father the prints I’d created when I returned to his classroom but also recall saying, “What a relief to smell canvas and paint. The smell of ink and acid is awful.” The smells of my father’s studio were familiar and comforting.
Another year, I remember I was the model, for a drawing class. One of the students had neglected to bring paper, and when everyone was directed to sketch me sitting perched on a desk, the student had to use a roll of brown paper towel from above the sink.
“No money for art supplies?” My father chided. The student kept working
I peeked at the various sketches. The only ones I remember were the ones in blue pen on the. brown paper toweling. Despite the lack of materials, those sketches looked the best.
“Is he one of your best students?’ I asked. My father tried not to show any preference for particular students, believing everyone had potential. He ignored my question.
Dad enjoyed the interaction of looking at their work and discussing with them what they thought they saw. He’d ask them questions and they’re have to rethink how they’d put their perceptions down on paper, analyzing ways to make their work better. I sensed their respect and enjoyment of the class as soon as they entered the room and it made me feel proud.
Adjacent to his teaching studio was a small office with a battered oak desk. He’d retreat there to smoke his cigarettes. When the sergeant general started cautioning the public on the dangers of smoking, Dad changed from Kents to Larks for their lower nicotine levels, but he couldn’t totally give up cigarettes. “Daddy smoking is bad for you,: I’d tell him. “Don’t worry I don’t inhale.” He’d say.
Smoking was one of the small pleasures important to my father’s enjoyment of life. The other small pleasure was a good cup of coffee. The coffee needed to be real perked coffee, not instant, full-bodied and hot. Find a place that served a good cup of coffee and he was highly appreciative.
Food was also something my father enjoyed, but the food did not need to be fancy. To economize, he brought sandwiches with him for his lunch which he washed down with coffee. In later years, he’d tell us about lunches he enjoyed with his colleagues at a Chinese restaurant near the school. He’d extol the virtues of lots of vegetables and rice with very little meat, before stir fried cooking and Asian diets were popular in the US. He’d describe the sauces in great detail and I would salivate thinking about the exotic food he was describing. Perhaps, that’s why to this day, I enjoy cooking variations of stir-fried Asian dishes.
For many years, in my office desk drawer I used to stash a few packages of peanut butter crackers, preferring the ones that were golden brown. They’d take the edge off my hunger when I wanted to continue working and I needed a small snack. I’d wash the crackers down with a strong cup of coffee. The habits of our parents are hard to break.
“The Essential Herman Maril” is the title of the art show currently featured at Acme Fine Art in Boston. The exhibit of works selected by Gallery owners James Bennette and David Cowan provides the viewer with an opportunity to become acquainted with some of the subject themes important in my father’s life. . His career spanned from the 1930s until his death in 1986. There is the boat, the sea, construction in the city, a garden with clothes line, looking out through a kitchen window, and one of my favorites–a black rotary wall telephone . My father painted what he knew and what he saw; selectively reducing and refining figures and shapes to depict on the paper or canvas what he felt to be important.
My dad, who divided his time between Maryland and Cape Cod, did some traveling and he sketched when he traveled. Writers put their notes in a journal. Herman’s notes took the shapes of trees, coastlines, people, and buildings. He visited the Southwest, California, Mexico, Spain, Italy, and Portugal, but he never made it to Africa although he had a modest collection of African Art that he prized. In addition to several masks and locks from a Chief’s hut, there was a sculpture fetish that was said to have been caked in mud and containing a lion’s ear when Herman purchased it.. He admired the simple carved shapes of these treasures, which he displayed in the front hallway and living room of our home at a time when such objects were not particularly fashionable.
As a child in the days when there were only three or four television stations, I’d watch wildlife nature shows with my dad, mesmerized by the images on the black and white TV. Expansive plains, tall grasses waving in the wind and the close-up of a hungry lion in pursuit of dinner, chasing a fast moving gazelle had us on the edge of our chairs. It was a shared time, just me an my father, and during my recent visit to East Africa I thought of him often, wishing he was with me to see the expansive plains, baoba trees, lions, zebras, gazelles, giraffes, and wildebeests in person.
When I told my brother David Maril I was going to Africa, he sent me a photograph of the bird sculpture Dad had painted in the oil painting below, “Artist Contemplating African Bird” now in the collection of Adirondack Community College, originally acquired by his close friend the poet William Bronk, known to our family as Bill.
“Artist Contemplating African Bird” oil on canvas by Herman Maril, Collection of Adirondack Community College
David was hoping I might be able to identify the origin of the sculpture, if I saw something similar.While I saw many large handsome birds during our travels on the Wami river and on our safari excursions overland by jeep inside Ngoronguru Crater and Masai Mara National Reserve, I saw no original pieces of bird sculpture during my visit. Walking in and out of all the tourist shops that line the narrow streets of the Stone Town portion of Zanzibar I mostly encountered the usual wood carvings I suspect are probably mass produced in China. My husband Peter and I found one quality merchant who was selling the older tribal pieces along with fine Middle Eastern jewelry and artifacts– but no bird sculptures.
Our favorite memories from the trip are those moments seeing the animals on the move in their natural environment. Watching hundreds of zebras, wildebeests, and gazelle making their way across the Serengeti Plain in search of fresh grass and sitting in a boat yards away from massive Hippos, hearing their deep sonorous groans as they submerge themselves underwater and reappear, is an experience of a lifetime. It reminded me that wildlife, and the variety of animals we grew up visiting at the zoo, is not something we can take for granted. It’s important we try to preserve the earth and protect our endangered species that include the Black Rhinoceros and Leopard, both of which I had the privilege to see, albeit from a far distance. (This is when field binoculars come in handy).
Nature and the images we see, whether they are exotic animals or the shape of flowers that bloom on the tree outside our window, can inspire the artist in all of us. You don’t have to travel half way around the world to see something worthy of inspiration, but some times taking a journey can give us perspective to appreciate what we have when we return home.
When I was 15 years old, I traveled to Mexico with my parents. It was the first time any of us had visited another country (although my father had served in World War II, he was never shipped overseas).
An artist and head of the studio department at the University of Maryland, College Park, my father, Herman Maril, had been granted a one-semester sabbatical. To simplify our travel arrangements, my parents decided it was best to stay in one central place—Mexico City—for our three-week visit. The plan was to take side trips to neighboring smaller towns that included Taxco, Cuenevaca, and the pyramids of Teotihuacan.
Each time my dad traveled to another part of the country he was freshly inspired by the differences in landscape. The shapes and varieties of trees, flowers, rocks and mountains as well as the colors of foliage, sky, and valleys all made their way on to his canvases. While he was traveling, he sketched on a notepad. Like a writer taking notes on an interview, my father drew notes to himself in his notebooks. Mexico was no different.
Whenever I was with my father, I was always so impressed by the ease with which he could talk to anyone. My father didn’t speak Spanish, but he had no problem communicating with cab drivers, guides, and storekeepers. While I struggled with the words in my Spanish phrasebook, my dad was already laughing and exchanging pleasantries with newfound friends. He did so by pantomiming, and resorting to pen and paper when necessary. The sparkle in his eyes and his warm smile caused most people to take to him immediately.
I wished I could be so confident and relaxed. During our travels I observed that when my dad made eye contact, a firm handshake and a smile was often more important than spoken words. Shared laughter broke across any barriers of age, race, or social strata.
My first years away at college, my greatest challenge was feeling confident and relaxed enough to talk to anyone. It doesn’t come easily. I still work at it. Being a journalist gives me an excuse to ask questions, but it’s when our eyes meet, and we share a smile and a story, that I make a real connection, something I can write about.
My father’s warmth and gregarious nature is something I remember with gratitude. It taught me the importance of the small daily interactions we have with strangers, whether it’s a simple exchange of hellos with a neighbor or taking the time to chat with the checkout clerk at the supermarket.
Father’s Day is June 17. This month, let’s take time to honor the men in our lives.
We had a nice crowd of attendees on Sunday afternoon for the lecture on Herman Maril given by Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) Director Christine McCarthy and the release of the new Herman Maril book at University of Maryland University College (UMUC). But the best part of the event, in my opinion, was the audience Q & A and feedback after Chris McCarthy initially spoke. I’m always interested in hearing comments from former colleagues and students, but it was my brother’s remarks that got me thinking. A question was asked of myself and my brother as to our experiences growing up in the household of a famous artist. My brother, David, talked about being ashamed of the old cars that we drove and the way my father dressed. As the younger child, and a girl who favored bohemian attire, I liked my dad’s clothes even though he dressed differently from businessmen. Yes, my dad looked quite different from other people’s dads, but I thought he looked quite handsome and so did most of my female classmates. Regardless of whether people knew he was a famous artist, when my father walked into a room, smiled, and made eye contact, people were attracted to his warmth and his charm.
My father loved his heavy khaki pants, and woven plaid shirts. On the days he commuted to College Park to teach at the University, he would wear a light blue button down shirt with a tweed jacket and a woolen textured tie, usually with stripes. I bought him several of those ties, as they were within my budget. I remembered they cost $3.50. One day my mother and I were shopping at the old Hutzler’s Department store in Towson and there was a weaver from Scotland set up with her loom. We were able to select the colors of the tie we wanted woven to purchase. What a special gift I had to give that Christmas!
As someone who has owned many “older” unfashionable cars as an adult, I can write as a parent that all children tend to be ashamed of old cars. There were many times that my kids specifically asked us NOT to pick them up in a certain car. I don’t think I still have a picture of it, but for about 10 plus years I drove a very large 1988 brown Caprice Chevy wagon. We called it the potato wagon and it very much reminded me of some of the station wagons my parents owned. Because they often transported paintings, the cars my parents purchased had to have wide bodies to accommodate large canvasses. In my case I had a large car for transporting antiques. Nicer was the vintage Mercedes wagon we used to own. I do have a photo of that car, and the children used to think it was cool. Unfortunately it just got too tired and worn out to keep.
Maril Book Evite_v5
Sunday December 4th at the University of Maryland, University College UMUC Inn and Conference Center Room 0105, the Director of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Christine McCarthy. will be leading a discussion on the work of American artist Herman Maril.
My father Herman Maril, who died in 1986, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, which he made his lifelong home, but spent his summers on Cape Cod in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Thus part of the inspiration for the title of the discussion, “An Artist’s Two Worlds” stems from work inspired by two primary geographic locations, the seashore and small town vs. the city. But there was his role as artist and teacher, his leadership in the arts community and his love of family which also factored into the inspiration for Maril’s work. Available will be copies of the just released hardback book His Own Path: The Spirit and Legacy of Herman Maril.
The event begins at 3:00 p.m. and prospective attendees are asked to RSVP to www. umuc.edu/art/. Both my brother David Maril, who wrote an introduction for the book which contains essays by art historians David W. Scott and Howard E. Wooden,and myself will be there. If you are a Herman Maril fan, we hope to see you next Sunday!
Today is one of those fabulous brisk fall days you can only have in the Northeast. The sky is a brilliant blue and the leaves still hanging on the trees are various shades of red, orange, and yellow. The brown crumbly ones make a carpet to step upon as you walk down the street.
Systematically I’ve been cleaning out my partner’s desk drawer by drawer, which is tedious work. but I’ve found some interesting things such as a very small watercolor my father Herman Maril painted for me as the card on the top of a present and a tiny sketch of a horse he did that somehow ended up in my possession. I’ll have to get these little items framed for their protection.
As a reward to myself, I’ll take another walk this afternoon but only after I’ve done a certain amount of cleaning, organizing, filing, and sorting that I am reluctant to do. This is how I keep myself motivated.
We had a fairly good turnout for the monthly Writer’s Breakfast yesterday, a total of five of us though not all at the same time. We spent more time catching up then talking specifically about the craft of writing, but maybe next month the conversation will be more focused.
It has now been five days since I’ve put on my brace, and as I sit here at the computer I am focusing on sitting straight and tall. Happy autumn and enjoy the weekend.