This is by my famous, Chinese, watercolorist, cartoonist buddy, Randy Enos!
At The Famous Artists Schools, the correspondence art school I worked at between 1956 and 1964, the instructors all had their own little office or studio usually with a window to the outside. There were a few inner offices because there wasn’t quite enough room around the perimeter. Five courses… cartooning, painting, illustration, photography, and writing were offered. The writers and photographers were in buildings across the street and the artists were in the main building. As time went on, as I’ve mentioned in previous stories, the cartoonists decided that our little group should be all together in one room or “bull pen.” But in the beginning, we all had separate offices along with the others. Outside of each office was a nice nameplate with the artist’s name. They were dark gray with white embossed letters. One of the painters was a very friendly Ukrainian fellow named ZENOWIJ ONYSHKEWYCH, who we called Jack. One day when Jack went out to lunch, someone decided that we should have a little fun with his name plate and carefully painted an “I”, neatly and perfectly in the space between his first name and his last name. So, the name plate then read “ZENOWIJIONYSHKEWYCH”. It took weeks before it was noticed probably by one of the “tour guides”.
In the summer, a lot of our students would visit the school as part of their vacation trip. They would get to meet Al Dorne, our founder and also instructors that they had had, and in some cases, go out to lunch with us. There were girls that were hired just to show people through the building.
One day I arrived at work to find a couple seated in our foyer waiting for a tour guide. The husband had a wide brimmed straw hat on and bib overalls. The wife was diminutive, pale and looked VERY young. The outstanding thing about them was that the husband was holding a double-barreled shotgun. When Dorne was informed that we had an armed visitor waiting out at the receptionist’s desk, he was more than a little unnerved and shaken and pretty sure that someone had come to kill him. It turned out that it was just a harmless hillbilly who never went anywhere without his rifle. But, that didn’t prevent Dorne from hiring a new man to his staff, later, whose job no one could figure out because he just sat outside Dorne’s office all day at a desk doing nothing. He had a suspicious-looking bulge in his jacket.
When it was really hot in the summer, we were often sent home because there wasn’t any air conditioning at that point in time. But if it was hot, and still fairly bearable we had to, of course, stay at work which prompted several of the painters (they were the troublemakers) to disrobe and stand at their easels and drawing boards in their underwear. So, when visitors would arrive, our receptionist would ring a bell upstairs to alert the nudists to get some clothes on. This also allowed one of our painters (a vain fellow) to don his sun glasses because he thought he looked superbly handsome standing at his easel looking like a movie star.
Each of the courses had 12 famous artists, writers or photographers as their “Guiding Faculty. They didn’t actually work there. They owned stock in the company, contributed to the teaching texts and visited the school periodically to lecture to us and observe some of our student critiques. BUT, one of the Guiding Faculty members had an unusual arrangement with the school in that he had to actually put in some time doing student critiques … not full time but a few days a week. I have no idea why, but that was the case. The faculty member was the famous Chinese watercolor painter Dong Kingman. He was a great guy. I liked him a lot. I used to watch him writing letters to his family in China, fascinated by the Chinese characters he would be composing. He only did visual corrections on the students’ work. He wouldn’t do the written critique that the rest of us had to do along with our visuals. Another instructor named Leonard Besser dictated the verbal stuff into the Dictaphone. He’d say things like, “Here you see that Mr. Kingman has shown you how to improve the color on that barn of yours…”
I used to aid Dong by running the slide machine while he lectured to The Westport Women’s Club and others. When the lecture was over and they tried to quiz him on certain aspects of his work, he would feign ignorance of English sometimes to get out of answering absurd questions … “I no unnerstan’ question…”
One time he decided to treat the entire faculty of the school to an authentic Chinese dinner at Westport’s downtown Chinese restaurant. He ordered special stuff from New York instead of their regular menu. The “Birds’ Nest Soup” was absolutely delicious.
On my first day of work in 1956 at the school, they didn’t have an open office for me so they put me in Dong’s office because he was away on a speaking tour. I, of course didn’t know him then and had never met him but there I sat in a little cubicle (it was one of those inner offices, not on the perimeter) with my back to the door sitting at his drawing board. A tour came through and the tour guide girl stopped outside Dong’s office and started explaining to the visitors that this was “Dong Kingman the famous Chinese watercolorist!” She hadn’t been apprised of the new tenant … me! So, there I sat frozen, afraid to move, afraid to turn my head at all lest they see that I was not of the Asian persuasion.
A few days later, Mr. Kingman arrived. As I sat there working away, suddenly behind me, a small Chinese man bustled in with portfolios and papers under his arms and without acknowledging me at all began putting stuff down in a flurry. I quickly gathered up my belongings and backed out of there post haste. My time as a famous Chinese watercolorist had ended.
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Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories: