For the first seven years of my life, I grew up with my Yorkshire grandparents and English-born aunt in North Vancouver, British Columbia. My father was divorced from my mother, and was on convoy duty with the Royal Canadian Navy, risking his life daily in the North Atlantic.
Aunty Ella was an amateur artist, and a good one at that. On the walls of the living room were oil paintings of local scenes she’d painted when she was 16. On the dining room table, she almost always had a painting “on the go.” From her, I learned to love drawing. She’d buy me “Jumbo” art pads and I’d fill them with childish drawings in short order.
In my eighth year, I went to live with my father and his new wife. The war was over but he was still a Naval officer. He viewed my penchant for art with jaundiced eye. He wanted me to become a Naval officer like himself. He hoped that I would eventually attend Royal Roads, Canada’s Naval Academy.
Dad didn’t appreciate my desire to become an artist, but since I was hard-wired that way, he decided that I should become a good artist. He wanted my drawings to be precise, exacting and full of detail. To him this was good art.
As a child growing up, I loved to draw animals. Dad bought me a book of horse drawings exquisitely done in pencil. I believe the book was about the famous racehorse: Man-O-War. I was required to copy the horse drawings freehand, and get them exactly right. Other animal books followed.
The Plane Truth
As I grew older, my drawing interests moved from animals to airplanes. When I was about ten, my father was transferred to Ottawa, Ontario. There I’d ride my bike out to Uplands Airport and lie in the grass at the edge of the runway for hours watching and learning how to identify planes. The highly maneuverable Vampire jets especially fascinated me. I entertained fantasies about becoming a test pilot. My drawings began to reflect my interests. I’d labor for hours over detailed, cutaway drawings of jet engines replete with all their spaghetti wiring. The more detail I put into these drawings, the better my engineer Dad liked them. (Highly conservative people tend to view detailed, slavishly realistic, art as “good art.”) I graduated from pencil to pen & ink – a much more suitable medium for such drawings.
While we lived in Ottawa, I visited the National Gallery many times. There I was inspired by the rough, impressionist outdoor paintings of Canada’s “Group of Seven” and Tom Thompson. In school we viewed films of their lives and work. These artists were all rugged, backpacking outdoorsmen for whom the North Shore of Lake Superior held great fascination. The painted the rough Canadian countryside in all seasons. They were to Canada’s art scene what the Impressionists were to France. It was with this school of art that I most heavily identified myself. Still do.
Later, at age 18, after living in Ottawa, Hamilton and Toronto, Ontario, I moved back to Vancouver. I spent another year with my grandparents and aunt, who had always been encouraging of my art. If you’re familiar with Vancouver, you’ll know it rains a lot. I was cooped up in the house much more than I wanted to be. Someone along the line I discovered a book called Ways With Watercolor by Ted Kautzky. I copied every painting in it, right down to the precise colors Kautzky had used. It was from him that I learned how to do watercolors.
The next year, I moved into an apartment with a boyhood friend of mine who had also become an artist. Late that year, I began to sell my first paintings through a gallery in Vancouver. I also restored damaged paintings through the same gallery. For this work I received the handsome sum of $3.50/hour – big money in those days. For a solid year, I was actually able to make a living – albeit a meager one — selling watercolors and restoring pictures. Looking back on it, it was one of the best years of my life. I sold somewhere between 30 and 40 watercolors and even a few oils. I was in hog bristle heaven!
Later I branched out into various areas of “commercial art” – showcard writing, silkscreen work, and crest design. I picked up calligraphy and a few other skills, and continued to sell paintings through the gallery. For several years I worked for sign and display companies, enjoying every minute of it.
When I was twenty, I began listening to Herbert W. Armstrong on KGO, San Francisco. The first booklet I received was Christmas is Pagan! After that, I ordered 1975 in Prophecy and The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy. Until that time, I had never been particularly religious. I knew nothing about the Bible. But then I wasn’t irreligious or anti-religious either. My grandfather had once been a lay preacher in the Anglican Church. My grandmother had read Bible stories to me when I was small, and I’d grown up on songs like “Jesus Loves Me…” I’d had a good moral upbringing and held to generally high values. I just didn’t know anything about the Bible. HWA sounded convincing. He appeared to know what he was talking about. So I took the bait and was eventually baptized by Jimmy Friddle in Kent, Washington (at the time, the WCG had no churches in Canada). My wife to be was baptized with me, and the next year we got hitched. Our first feast in Squaw Valley was our honeymoon. That was in 1962.
In the fall of 1964, the owner of the gallery through which I sold my paintings offered me the job of managing the gallery – and of selling my own paintings! It was a golden opportunity.
About the same time, Dean Wilson offered me a job stuffing envelopes in the WCG offices now established in Vancouver. It was a tough decision to make, but I felt that it was my duty to God to serve Him rather than my own interests. I accepted Dean’s offer and turned down that of the gallery owner. He was deeply disappointed. It would have been an ideal situation for me. The gallery continues to prosper today, more than 40 years later.
Dean Wilson began asking me to lead opening prayers. It took me three months to screw up the courage to lead the first one. He began to take me visiting with him. Later he broke me in as a speaker on the Victoria congregation. My first sermonette lasted 20 minutes and covered every verse in Psalm 73. I was quickly reminded that a sermonette was only supposed to last 10-12 minutes.
Exodus to Edmonton
In December 1965, I was sent to Alberta to assist Edmonton pastor Richard Pinelli in driving his car. He was then subject to migraine headaches and had no help. In the spring of 1966, I was ordained a local elder. I served with Richard in that capacity until the fall of 1968, at which time I was sent to Pasadena for the “nine month wonder” course. That spring, I was ordained a preaching elder and sent to Oklahoma to pastor churches in Tulsa and Ponca City (I started the latter congregation).
As a hobby, I still liked to sketch and do the occasional painting. But I was beginning to feel guilty about it. After all, hadn’t I left art behind when I chose to work for The Work? For years, I listened to certain evangelists mock artists, and lump them together with hippies, drug addicts, beatniks, and the dregs of society. After all, anyone who was too lazy to make something of him or herself could claim to be an artist. Worse yet, artists were often described from the pulpit as being “effeminate” – along with interior decorators and male ballet dancers. I began to pray that God would remove from me the desire to paint and draw.
The ultimate insult came when I learned that one of my ministerial bosses – now deceased – had written on one of my evaluation cards, “Brian is the arty type – somewhat effeminate.” I read those words in his recognizable handwriting! I could hardly believe what I was reading. He had imposed upon me the church stereotype of an artist without any grounds whatsoever for so doing! I was livid with anger. My urge was to seek him out, then to punch him out.
From the time I came into the Church, to at least the mid-sixties, I had struggled with my urges to paint. I felt as though it was something unclean, tainted, some how unmasculine. Each time some minister would project the “arty type” image from the pulpit, my negative feelings about art were reinforced.
Basil to the rescue!
One year in Squaw Valley, I decided to counsel with the only Church-sanctioned artist I knew of – Basil Wolverton. I explained to him my feelings of guilt about wanting to paint, and how those feelings were being formed. I told him that I had been praying for God to take away my “tainted” desires to draw and paint. I even explained that I liked girls and that I was actually married to one.
Basil – illustrator of “1975 in Prophecy” and The Story of Man – looked me in the eye and rebuked me sharply. “Look Brian,” he said with some heat, “God gave you the talent for art, just like he gave it to me. Who are you to despise God’s gifting? The people who characterize artists as “effeminate” just because they’re artists are speaking out of ignorance. Don’t buy into their dumb ideas. Don’t ever pray that prayer again, and don’tever apologize to anyone for being an artist. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
From that moment, I repented of harboring a stupid, irrational idea, and for praying an ignorant prayer. I never again felt guilty for being an artist, and I never again apologized to anyone for it. Today, I rejoice in my ability to draw and paint. In fact, I even took a job a few years back as an instructor in drawing and oil painting at a prominent art school. Today I feel I can paint better than ever, and there is great joy in it.
Ideas have consequences. Dumb ideas often have destructive consequences. By listing to others who were ignorant, I denigrated the gift that God had given me. I suffered the loss of self-esteem and experienced years of guilt over something I had no need to feel guilty about.
Later, when I was a man, my father came to see the worth of art in general, and of my art in particular. He said, “Brian, I realize that much of the history of the world has been told through the work of its great artists. It is through their paintings that we know what people looked like, what they did, how they dressed and so on. It is the artists who are remembered by history, not the engineers, the workers and the people with ordinary jobs.”
An artist’s personal sexual morality has nothing to do with his being an artist. No one is immoral because he or she is an artist, a dancer or an interior decorator. In our times, gay people can be found in all professions – from truck drivers to business executives. And how about that Episcopal bishop? A profession doesn’t determine someone’s sexual “orientation” (unless of course they are a “sex worker”). When a person is a Bible-believing Christian, it is that and not their profession that determines their sexual behavior.
The world, and the Church, is full of ignorant people. Ignorance results in prejudice and bigotry. Racism, sexism, ageism, ethnic bias, religious intolerance, and the stereotype that all artists are effeminate are born of ignorance. As Christians, we ought to be wedges of brilliant light in the world, driving back the darkness of ignorance, injustice and bigotry. As Bible-oriented people, we should be concerned with both social justice and personal sexual morality.
Those who characterize professions according to stereotypes ought to repent. Each person should be viewed as an individual, not as part of a stereotype.