Early interests

Early interests in art and humanities.

Statement presented at the Bellingham Arts Commission Awards Ceremony, 19 April 2007

George F. Drake

In 1939 when I was about nine years old I took my first class in drawing at the Newark Academy of Fine Arts. I already had 13 large newsprint scrapbooks filled with clippings of works of art from magazines and the rotogravure section of the Sunday newspaper. At age 10 I was learning to use oil paints and was painting on canvas. I can recall designing my future home that year. It included a 4,000 square foot art gallery.

Kids can dream, can’t they? Sometimes dreams come true but not necessarily in the form we anticipated.

It wasn’t until I was named Director of the Centro Colombo Americano, the USIA Cultural center in Manizales, Colombia in 1962, that I became the administrator of an art gallery. That was a wonderful experience for me and prepared me for the creation of the Japan Art Center on Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham many years later and, ultimately, the creation of the Gardens of Art sculpture gallery in our family nursery atop Alabama Hill called Big Rock Garden. There we promoted art for the garden and the garden as art. Later, when the city purchased the land to create Big Rock Garden Park I formed the BRG Sculpture Committee and began the creation of the city sculpture collection in that park.

To me art is a way in which individuals can portray their deepest feelings, their angst, their sense of social justice. Michael Jacobson used his work in Big Rock Garden Park called “Lives in the Balance” to show how society mistreats its children. The little boy from Biafra portrays the impact of famine on children. The little girl from the slums of Lima shows the impact of poverty on children. I would like to commission a sculpture of a boy with a leg blown off by a land mine to show the impact of war on children. I have a picture of such a boy taken when I was a soldier in the Korean War. A previous member of the Bellingham Arts Commission was outraged at the idea. He felt art should make us all feel good and that sculptures such as this should not be in a public park. Of course, I strongly disagree.

Georg Schmerholz’ work “Endangered Species,” also found in Big Rock Garden Park, is a sculpture that makes us consider the impact of human action on ultimate human survival. He is using his art to make us think.

Art can be used to promote cultural values. The large blue work in Big Rock Garden Park by SEBASTIAN, the world-famous Mexican sculptor, is dedicated “to our Hispanic Friends and Neighbors.” The large Sun Mask by Kwakiutl artist Omukin is dedicated to our Native American Friends and Neighbors.” Generating an appreciation of cultural diversity was the raison de etre of the International Creche Festival that I organized in Bellingham a number of years ago and which ran for a number of years. It used the Christmas nativity scene as created by artists and artisans of many nations and cultures of the world to show how the same idea when filtered through the culture and traditions of different peoples can tell the same story but in so many wonderfully different ways, all beautiful.

Let us continue to promote the arts in Bellingham but let us have the guts to use the arts to make a social statement of who we are and what our ideals are. Let us not be afraid of affronting a portion of our citizens with portrayals of a reality that some minds do not want to see or accept. Let us use the arts to pursue positive values such as the appreciation of cultural diversity. Let us use the arts to make us all aware of the social cost of war. Let us use the arts not merely to make Bellingham ‘pretty.’ Let us rather use the arts to make us think.

This August it will be fifty years that my wife Mary Ann has put up with my passions and involvement is community affairs. When my photo exhibit “GIs and the Kids – A Love Story” opened at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas two years ago she received a very special award called the PUG Award, otherwise known as the Putting up with George Award. In many ways she has been my staunchest supporter and critic. This recognition that I have received tonight also belongs to her.