Sunday morning in Virginia. Sunlight dapples the new backyard patio, the heat of the day is beginning to climb, but it’s still cool enough to be sitting in my jammies and slippers (at almost 11:00 a.m. mind you). I’m sitting under one of the biggest, most beautiful, magical trees I’ve encountered in my life, surrounded by family, each quietly doing their own thing.
At this moment, in this place, Life is very, very good.Our dad always had a project going, and his kids seem to have inherited the trait. Scot is creating a little art for the back fence of our sister’s yard, Tina is digging up the area in front of it where a bench will sit, just a small part of the much bigger project of redoing the whole yard. My art installation awaits me in the basement back in Michigan, at a point that made me happy when I stopped working on it late (late) Friday night (enough done so that I can enjoy this time away and not be in Full Panic Mode when I get back). Dad was not always the easiest person to get along with (a big understatement, but we’ll leave it at that for now), but I owe at least half of my creativity and love of making things to him.
Marvin W. Renfro (Marty) was an architect, and to this day, although I have little occasion to look at them, I love looking at blueprints: all that detailed, intricate line work and hand lettering, the faded blue texture of the background, the leftover smell from the process of creating them (ammonia apparently), the thick rolls of them in tubes, waiting to be unfurled on a big table. The original drawings were cool, but the blueprints were cooler (reminder this is from the 70’s, I’m sure copies now are all digital and don’t smell much like anything). If you Google “blueprints” and click to see images, the array of all that beautiful line work is just….oh my (also, I don’t know what this says about me or my search history, but at the top of my results are two blueprints for the Starship Enterprise and two for the Bat Mobile…what?)
On beach outings when we were little kids, along with all the towels, chairs, buckets and sand scoopers, Dad would bring a big normal-sized shovel. No little sand castle building for the Renfros, let’s dig a 6 x 6 x 6 foot deep square hole in the sand. Make some stairs out of sand to get into the hole and a little bench down inside to sit on, and voila, a cool (literally) little beach playhouse (magical as a kid, but my adult self thinks this might have been a tad unsafe, imagining myself, Tina, and our friends all buried alive in the tragic Doheny Beach Sand Playhouse Incident of 1972).
Also an instructor at Orange Coast College in southern California, Dad’s architecture students adored him. He would lock the door to the classroom promptly at 7:00 am (yes, in the morning), not tolerating any students that couldn’t bother to be exactly on time to his class.
Each semester he would bring home all the students’ matted, final drawings for grading. We would spread them out in our living room, on the floor in a big circle, propped up against chairs and the base of the fireplace hearth. He would let us help grade them, pick the ones we thought were the best, the ones deserving of an A grade (his students might not be so thrilled to know his daughters helped grade their work). It was very clear which ones outshone the others, and I now think these sessions were great little lessons in line work, composition, and color.
When I decided to go to art school, Dad said I had to go to the best one around, ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena (much to my mom’s chagrin, as she was the Living on Planet Earth Finance Person in the family).While my current art is linked more closely with my mother and her quilting, I know there’s a little bit of the architect in there too. And Dad’s belief that I should, that I could, get in to the highly competitive ArtCenter altered my path in a way that, in more ways than one, landed me squarely where I am today (all the art skills and life lessons aside, I met Mike there).
Thanks, Dad, for passing on your creativity, instilling in me a love of building/making things, instilling in all of us an attitude of No Project is Too Big/Wacky/Out There, and helping me to believe that I could, that I can, strive for and reach the best [insert Dream Thing] out there.