Yo, 1965

Published on 1 March 2024 at 23:39

Medium: Charcoal

Date: 1965


As the London January dawn cast its foggy cool light onto the steps of the British Museum, my army buddy Yo and I nestled into a cozy tea shoppe to wait for the museum to open.  We were on a 14-day leave from the US Army Nurnberg, 1965.  We had visited Amsterdam and now had a week in London and would be in Paris for a few days. We were right away served a pot of tea and scones.  We had an hour to wait. I was sketching everywhere we went.  I pulled out my sketchbook and pencils to sketch Yo for the first time on this trip.


The first portrait used mostly soft HB pencil, soft enough for light grays and sharp enough for details.  I worked for about forty-five minutes.  Yo was a little tired from travel.  I was the eager relentless tour guide.  Yo liked going to all the places his parents had been, but after a week in London he asked, “Who came first?  Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth?”  He was content to drink tea and moved very little.  He was always glad to wait while I sketched.


As the city around us stretched and yawned into life more folks came in to fill the shoppe.  This tea shoppe had a dozen tables with red and white flowered tablecloths and also matching tea-cozies.  Yo and I had never seen a tea-cozy before.  We asked for more short-bread scones with the tiny berries.  Yo was six foot four inches and weighed 250 pounds. He wore a 54-inch sized coat and had a 30-inch waist below his beer gut.  He was twice as large as me five foot three inches, 130 pounds; I was the more active.  Yo moved just as far as me but with a much longer stride.  ‘Yo’ was the army nickname for his last name ‘Johanson,’


The café was getting crowded.  The museum was getting ready to open.  I wanted to do one more sketch.   I took a 6B pencil, soft and dark not good for details, but very bold.  I did this portrait for Blog 45 in about 5 minutes.  Now as I look at it, I think it is the best sketch I ever made.  Years later three other friends whose portraits I was going to do thought this sketch was one I made of them.  They could identify themselves with his handsome verve.


Yo’s handsome features here had come alive.  His gaze was a moment of quiet reflection as the city outside was waking up we hurried across the street into the British Museum full of the treasures I had studied and really was aching to experience. Yes, I carried with me in my sketchbook the portraits of Yo, 1965, from the ephemeral beauty of our foggy London morning when we had scones and discovered the tea-cozy.  Nothing sets up my feeling for a day better than a successful drawing freshly made.  The thrill of seeing the Book of Kells and cases of Chinese pottery was deeply satisfying, things up to now I could only dream of seeing.


The museum's vast halls now welcoming us, the contrast between the silent anticipation outside and the echoing footsteps within struck me profoundly. The sketches were tucked away, but the images lingered in my mind, vivid against the backdrop of history and art that surrounded us. The halls of the British Museum were like arteries, leading us through the heart of human civilization. Each exhibit, a

whisper from the past, seemed to resonate with the energy of our morning creation, as if Yo's portrait had unlocked a deeper appreciation for the artifacts that now demanded our attention.


In the Egyptian gallery, under the watchful eyes of ancient stone gods, the connection between our simple sketches and these millennia-old relics became unexpectedly clear. Here, too, were creators who had left their marks for posterity, their stories etched in hieroglyphs carved in sandstone. As my fingers traced the glass that shielded a pharaoh's visage, I felt a kinship with those long-gone artists, a lineage of expression stretching through time. Our own morning artwork was a very humble yet living addition to this continuum, a new layer of humanity resting atop the old.


As the day unfolded and the museum filled with visitors, the intimacy of our early morning endeavor seemed to swell and blend with the collective hum of shared discovery. Each room held echoes of creativity, from the Rosetta Stone's inscribed declarations to the Elgin Marbles' still living Greek dramas. I realized then that our sketches were not merely pastime but part of a grander narrative, one that spanned across ages and civilizations. The museum, with its corridors of culture, had become a larger canvas, and our morning's work a single brushstroke within a masterpiece of collective human endeavor.

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