I came to art as a very young child. I remember asking for a sketch book for a birthday or Christmas present when I was maybe six or seven. My mom bought me a small, grey-covered ringed sketchbook. In fact, I still have it. It's filled with marker drawings of superheroes of my own design and pencil sketches of my dog. Though it was the first of many, I will always keep the first evidence of my love of art close to my heart.
One of my first memories about art was during the brief appearance of Halley's Comet in the winter of 1985. I had just turned eight. I remember my dad waking us from our beds in Killeen, TX, to bring us outside in the cold winter air. (Even in Texas, it did get cold in the winter). We peered up into the clear night sky with my dad's binoculars, looking at that fuzzy-tailed smudge of light a million miles away. At that time, I was head-over-heels in love with astronomy. I had read every book in the elementary school library about the stars and planets. I remember being so excited to have seen a comet that I stayed up for an hour or more after seeing it to draw a pastel image of it, seen through the black borders caused by the binoculars. I wish I still had that picture, because that was the day that I knew I wanted to be an artist. After that, there was no stopping me from drawing. I eventually graduated with a degree in Studio Art and Art History, with a concentration in Illustration.
In contrast to my early discovery of art-making, I came to be an art historian much later, but it really started with a love affair with Bernini and Michelangelo in the ninth and tenth grades. I didn't know it then, but flipping through some art books was going to change my life. The love intensified in college under two wonderful professors who encouraged me and taught me to teach through their own actions. After many years of toil, a year abroad in Rome, and after meeting many wonderful friends, I eventually earned my master's degree and my Ph.D. in Art History. I now teach college-level students in New York City to find the beauty and humor of art.
Though I work by day as a professor of Art History, my first love will always be creating art. When I'm drawing, I feel like that child again.
As for Hans, our story is twenty years old. I had always loved fairy tales and myths as a child. One of my favorite books is still the compilation entitled, "The Magic Tree and other Tales." I was first introduced to "Hans My Hedgehog" through Jim Henson's The Storyteller series that briefly ran on TV. The script was so gorgeous and the visuals left an indelible mark on me. The next year, we moved to northern Germany with my father, who was stationed there. One day I was playing with a friend at a nearby park and we saw something moving in the grass. It was a little, spiked ball. I knew immediately what we were seeing, and at that moment, I do not think I had ever been more excited. We picked up the tiny hedgehog and carried him home. Looking back on it, we never should have done that, for a myriad of reasons, but he was soft and adorable and I was 12 and didn't know any better. We only kept him for a few days before returning him to nature. Ever since then, I have loved those prickly little creatures.
This illustration came to life in Rome. I had a pad of paper and a pencil and no other art supplies except for a pen and one red marker. Here, I rediscovered my love of drawing, and decided to illustrate a scene from my favorite Grimm's tale:
"When Hans-My-Hedgehog had them, he said, "Father, go to the blacksmith's and have my cock-rooster shod, then I will ride away and never again come back." The father was happy to get rid of him, so he had his rooster shod, and when it was done, Hans-My-Hedgehog climbed on it and rode away. He took pigs and donkeys with him, to tend in the forest. In the forest the rooster flew into a tall tree with him. There he sat and watched over the donkeys and the pigs. He sat there for years, until finally the herd had grown large. His father knew nothing about him. While sitting in the tree, he played his bagpipes and made beautiful music. One day a king came by. He was lost and heard the music. He was amazed to hear it, and sent a servant to look around and see where it was coming from. He looked here and there but only saw a little animal sitting high in a tree. It looked like a rooster up there with a hedgehog sitting on it making the music."
So that's how I've rendered him, in that moment of making magic with his pipes, up in the tree, calling a siren song and a lullaby to donkeys, pigs and kings.