Artist Autobiography for John O'Keefe Jr.
Art During Early Childhood
and Elementary School
A LOVE OF DRAWING BIRDS
These first drawings are the earliest pieces of my artwork that still exist. The first is a painting of our parakeet Henry. My mother purchased him when I was 4 years old. Henry was a good bird, and he lived with us for many years. I'm sure it was because of Henry that my art initially centered around birds. I loved to draw birds.
I can still remember drawing this cardinal. It was winter, and I saw this little fellow while looking through our dining room window. He was walking on the roof of a birdhouse that was hanging in the backyard and then he flew away. I went and got my colored pencils and paper and drew this picture.
VISITING THE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
Memorable were the summer vacations to our grandparents home in Astoria in Queens, New York. My mother would send us there for about 4 to 6 weeks during our school summer vacations, and they continued until my brother, and I became teenagers. Looking back, those summers in New York City were a beautiful and peaceful time in my life. Today, when the stress of life starts creeping up on me, I sit back and remember those visits.
It was during those visits that my grandparents or my Aunt Annie would take my brother and me into Manhattan to visit the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These next drawings are from one of the trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Aunt Annie. I remember on this occasion how we took our time going through the bird exhibits so that I would have time to draw these pictures.
Although I loved to draw birds, I created other things too. Below are some portraits. The first portrait is of my grandfather, the second is a family friend named Teddy, and the third is a picture of Vincent Price that I copied from the cover of a TV Guide.
I can remember my dad's reaction when he saw this portrait of Vincent Price. He could not believe that I drew it. He made copies so that he could show them to his friends. I felt good inside after seeing how proud he was of me.
MY LOVE OF DRAWING BIRDS CONTINUES
Here are some more birds. I was getting better at drawing in the details, which can be seen in the feathers of these next images.
PRIVATE ART LESSONS WITH KATHY SINGER
My parents soon realized that I had a natural artistic ability. They signed me up for private art lessons with a local artist named Kathy Singer. Kathy introduced me to landscapes, watercolors, and hand-made crafts using paper-mache. We usually met at her home for the lessons, but she also took us on field trips. I remember one such trip to a farm that had an old barn. I have several drawings from that trip but they are badly faded, and I could not produce quality scans for this webpage. Kathy Singer was a good art teacher, and I enjoyed her lessons.
PAINTING IN QUEENS, NEW YORK
My Aunt Annie loved to watch me draw. Here is a painting that I did at her apartment in Queens, New York. This was my first painting of a landscape using acrylics. It was around this time in my life that I also began to take an interest in sailing ships.
My Aunt Annie and her husband (Uncle Joe) used to paint together, and they painted maritime and landscape scenes. Uncle Joe, who died when I was very young, loved to paint and build model ships. I remember sitting in their living room and staring at a model ship of the 'Cutty Sark' that Uncle Joe made. It was awesome! I eventually inherited that model, but it was severely damaged during the journey from New York to Connecticut. I could not fix it and sadly it one day went into the garbage. However, my mother and I have all of the original paintings they created together. Aunt Annie and Uncle Joe were definitely an inspiration to me.
ART CLASSES AT PAIER COLLEGE OF ART
One day a week I was allowed to leave school early and attend special art classes at the Paier College of Art in New Haven, Connecticut. This was great because none of the other kids got to do that! I don't have any of those art projects, but they were all hands on. There was a lot of sculpting and building using different materials and mediums. The skills I learned opened up new ways for me to express myself through art. Creating images on paper was no longer my limit. Below is a castle that I starting building out of cardboard shortly after my experiences at Paier.