May 13, 1968 was a Monday, and I rode a bus on a high school field trip from Northbrook to the Art Institute. A note saved in my high school papers comments about a class in which I evaluated various students reading poetry on May 13. So that class must have been in the morning because I know the field trip was in the afternoon.
All I recall of the bus journey there and back–and I’m thinking this was on the way back, but am not sure–was a girl with long blond hair, I think part of the affected theater crowd, sitting across from me at the front of the bus, declaiming some insipid story recursing upon itself as she rattled off first-person plot, each section ending with a calamity and then: “But I didn’t die.” Seemingly a hundred more adventure/disasters each ended with “But I didn’t die.” It was irritating, but I didn’t really care. If it was before my realization, my unconcern was probably because I was keyed up about the upcoming field trip; if after, it was because of what I’d just found out about myself.
My first visit to the Chicago Art Institute was its own revelation, and my memories of some of the paintings and sculptures may come from later visits, but the May 13 event was simply that I separated myself from the group, sat on a bench in a small room with a small Andrew Wyeth above a door lintel opposite me, and at once I knew my destiny lay in art, that I was an artist. I sat there for some time, in calm contemplation of this fate. The other memory of that day is buying a paperweight for $3.00 in the gift shop. I’ve kept the paperweight to this day. It’s always symbolized my relationship with art.
But now we have some memory issues that the Internet isn’t solving for me. I think I saw the painting “Northern Point,” but, maddeningly, I can’t prove that.
I searched The Art Institute and found there was a Wyeth retrospective the year before, Apr 21-Jun 4, 1967, which included the 1950 tempera. But my seeing this in 1967 is impossible as I was living in Wilmington, Delaware at the time.
So what did I see on May 13, 1968? A print? But why would a museum hang a print of a painting?
Was it possible I saw another Wyeth painting? Yet the Art Institute only owns two Wyeth paintings as far as I can find, and neither fits the description.
Or did I see another painting by another artist and just assumed this was a Wyeth? But I’d like to think that as an overachieving high school sophomore I would have read a title/artist label about a painting I was so taken with.
The only other option would be a novelistic fantasy in which young Mike so needed to see that particular painting on that particular date that it was mystically transported to the Art Institute on May 13, 1968 for him to view alone. That special transcendent guidance was invoked for him having missed being in Chicago the previous year.
I have a feeling this latter is a long shot.
IN ANY CASE … “Northern Point” embodies that vision. And I know I paid $3.00 for the paperweight!
It would take me another year, to May 1969, to verbally acknowledge that I was also a writer. Funny that the art vision came first.
copyright 2024 by Michael D. Smith