Remembering My Father Herman Maril

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.

Enjoy the magazine, visit us online, and let us know what you’ve enjoyed and what you’d like to read in future issues. Also, visit my blog, Annapolis TASTE, at ChesapeakeTASTE.com.

photo by Aaron Levin

Happy Birthday Herman Maril

My two early children’s books: Me, Molly Midnight; the Artist’s Cat and Runaway Molly Midnight; the Artist’s Cat, gave me the opportunity to work together with my dad.

Today is October 13th, my father Herman Maril’s birthday. He died in 1986, but he is very much a part of my life, every day of my life. His artwork hangs on my walls and most days I’m likely to think about something he told me or something we did together, or something I observed about the way he made art a part of his life.
The youngest of six children, born in Baltimore Maryland on Park Heights Avenue in a row house, my dad told me he originally wanted to be an engineer and design bridges. He always had a strong admiration for the architectural elements of large beams and girders and evidenced in several of his canvases that focus on construction scenes. He couldn’t afford college. The family was poor. His idea of a delicious snack as a child was chicken fat spread on a piece of bread.
A graduate of the Polytechnic High School in Baltimore’s “A Course”, he liked to boast he could have easily been admitted to MIT however he had another stronger interest–painting. At 12 years of age his father registered him for a night class at the Maryland Institute of Art (now known as the the Maryland Institute College of Art ). He lied about his age, to get him into the course. To earn extra money he helped his uncle Herman Becker, a sign painter, paint signs for various Baltimore businesses. This was long ago, before computers when people actually painted signs not only for storefronts but for store hours and clearance sales. Many of his earliest paintings were done on masonite board because it was less expensive than canvas. One of his older sisters gave him money to help pay for paints and brushes. He designed some theatrical sets and programs, taught art and of course kept sketching and painting. A voracious reader and keen observer, he told me that one of the reasons he enjoyed teaching at the University of Maryland, College Park– particularly in the early days, was his opportunity to sit in on classes and interact with the instructors in the English, Drama, Music, and Art departments.
My two early children’s books: Me, Molly Midnight; the Artist’s Cat and Runaway Molly Midnight; the Artist’s Cat, gave me the opportunity to work together with my dad. My inspiration was the desire to somehow share with youngsters how pieces of our everyday life can be the elements that inspire an artist. Happy Birthday Dad.

A Lesson of Determination from My Father

My father, the artist Herman Maril, dislocated his ankle– not only breaking bones, but tearing muscles, tendons, and ligaments when I was a child. It was a traumatic event, requiring the arrival of the Lower Cape Rescue Squad and ambulance, which took him Up Cape to Hyannis and Cape Cod Hospital in the dark of night It was during the early part of summer, just after a lobster feast.
A professor of art at the University of Maryland, College Park, my father’s summers were his own and our family spent our summers on the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown where my dad could devote a large portion of his time to sketching, painting, observing, and interacting with his colleagues. (Provincetown has long been designated as an “artist’s colony” due to its attractiveness to many artists and writers throughout the late 19th, 20th, and now 2lst century.)
Raised an orthodox jew, my dad first discovered lobster on his first date with my mother. She ordered lobster, he ordered steak, and he watched her expertly crack and devour her lobster. Perhaps it was then that he fell in love.
At any rate, lobster was a favorite of my parents and myself. My brother David, however, has never liked lobster comparing lobsters to giant cockroaches. My mother always served him fish on the one or two occasions we’d have a lobster feast during the summer. Lobster has always been an expensive delicacy, so we were always on the lookout for a special sale that might make it more affordable.
I seem to recall that we had at least one guest that night, and that there were a lot of shells. So what did my dad do? He put his foot inside and on top of the metal trashcan to stomp on the trash and make it more compact and then both feet– jumping up and down. The trash can toppled in one direction taking a foot with it while his body fell in the opposite direction. There was a loud cry of pain when the event happened, the drama of the ambulance arrival, and a week’s stay at the hospital. This was back in the 1960s and I don’t think there was the level of surgical intervention with screws and pins that take place now in 2011. He had to keep his foot elevated and then no weight could be placed on his foot and recovery was slow. There was no physical therapy. Eventually my father moved from crutches to a cane.
What sticks in my mind to this day was being told that soft tissues when they are torn can take longer to heal than broken bones. His projected recovery time was six months.
There was a major exhibit, a retrospective of my father’s work at the Baltimore Museum of Art, entitled “The World of Herman Maril” which coincided with the release of a hardbound book which catalogued the show. I remember the large reception that took place in the same year that my father had dislocated his ankle and remember watching him walk across the floor to the podium, perhaps to say a few words. He looked small to me in the wide open space of the Museum hall with its cold stone floors walking slowly and carefully attempting to minimize his limp. I could sense the pain he was feeling, determined to push the strength and endurance of his muscles so that eventually that limp would completely disappear. But I think at the time, he was still wearing an ace bandage for support and his ankle was weak.
Yesterday I was taken grocery shopping and I managed to push my own cart and felt proud of myself, even if I couldn’t carry my own groceries. Today my arms feel tired and sore and I was only pushing a cart! This reminded me of all the soft tissue injuries, the strain to my shoulders, arms, and hands that can take several months to heal. It also reminded me of my father and how eventually he completely eliminated his limp. By the following summer, once again he was taking his long walks at a brisk pace.
I can get it all back, it just takes determination and time.