Janet Sheridan: The ‘eeks’ of Dad’s chicken

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Janet Sheridan

I appreciate the artists of Craig who exhibit their work during the Art Walk, in museum exhibitions, and at local businesses.

I admire my friends who take art classes on Wellness Wednesdays or at Colorado Northwestern Community College, especially those who decide to give it a try for the first time.

I lack such courage. It leaked out of me in sixth grade.

I grew up playing beneath Aunt Lois’s prize-winning oil painting of Mount Timpanogas.

I remember spending a summer afternoon running in and out of the house checking my aunt’s art, detail by detail, against the actual mountain to see if she’d made a mistake. At the end of my investigation, I deemed her an accurate artist except for her bright pink twilight sky, which I may have missed while we ate dinner, a competitive event I didn’t dare leave.

Mom encouraged her daughters to engage in artistic pursuits.

We each discovered a talent: Carolyn walloped home runs; I walked barefoot on hot asphalt; and Barbara charged a fee to those wanting to sit by her on the bus.

But, we showed little aptitude for the visual arts.

I decided I could overcome my lack of natural ability by adopting my father’s belief in perfecting art through practice.

For as long as I can remember, Dad drew a particular chicken.

With rigorous consistency, he sketched the standing profile of a tall, skinny rooster with a long neck and prominent Adam's apple. The beak gaped wide and dripped exactly three drops of drool.

The word "Eek!" also escaped, written three to seven times, depending on Dad’s whimsy and the chicken’s mental state.

To share his talent with others, he left small scraps of paper with renderings of the gaunt rooster here and there around the house: beneath a doily on the piano, tucked into the toothbrush jar, slipped inside a book. As an adult, I found a seven-eek chicken in my medicine cabinet a few days after Dad and Mom visited.

I hoped it wasn’t a comment on my cooking.

Admiring my father’s skill and persistence, I decided to discover a topic of equal interest for my life’s work. Having recently read “The Secret Garden,” I set about drawing pictures of a plank gate in a crumbling brick wall adorned with gracefully twined roses.

I practiced until I achieved consistency, and then entered my garden gate, carefully colored with crayons, in the school art fair.

I expected a blue ribbon.

I received a scrawled note suggesting I work on proportion. When I asked my harried teacher what that meant, she replied the huge roses dwarfed the gate and wall, like a fence of tinker toys trying to support giant pink cabbages.

Well.

That Christmas I asked for a how-to book on drawing. Santa delivered.

The book started with step-by-step illustrated directions for drawing people’s heads by using circles to mark the placement of each feature and then individualizing them.

Chapter 2 used the circle technique for creating bodies and clothing. Then came chapters on animals, houses, and outdoor settings; all hung on a series of circles.

A year later, I was still on heads.

While I struggled to master the nose, my youngest brothers exercised their artistic ambitions by scribbling the book with orange crayon and ripping random pages into abstract shapes.

I gave up on being the next Georgia O’Keeffe and decided to become an Olympic runner instead.

But, an artistic bond with my father remains.

Whenever a raindrop hits me, I picture him in heaven with a drooling chicken carefully drawn, which he’ll tuck away for me to discover.

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