Friday, June 29, 2012


Yesterday at a local Farmer's Market I bought fresh eggs from a farm that claims to have "free-range" chickens. I like the idea of chickens roaming outside and feeding naturally. I also enjoyed the varied colors of the eggshells and the good taste of the eggs.

In recent years the term "free-range" has been applied to children, too. I first heard it in 2009 in Springfield, MA, while attending an urban planning workshop on "Community Health through Design." The keynote speaker Mark Fenton said that most of us, when we grew up, were"free-range kids" -- free to go find other kids, be active outdoors, and learn many physical and social skills (e.g., how to pick teammates and start games) without close adult supervision. "Get out of the house until the street lights come on" was a common parental instruction according to a show of hands in that middle-aged and older audience. He lamented that most kids today are not allowed such freedom. There's a epidemic of inactivity and resulting long-term health and behavioral problems. What we want to do, he said, is create a world --safe walkable cities, bike trails, etc. --where today's kids can be "free-range."

Growing up in Danvers, I didn't think consciously of the freedom I had. My mother always wanted to know where I was, whether I was going next door to Granddaddy's, or up the hill by the barn, or down Nichols Street to my friend Janet's home. Compared to my friends' mothers, I felt that my mother was more restrictive about where I roamed. Mommy and I took for granted, however, that I could walk to Janet's all by myself, even though that was a long stretch of road lined by woods and fields.  I was at liberty to spend hours away from home, as long as she knew where to find me.  She'd ring the dinner bell loudly to call me home.  I was indeed a "free-range kid."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ken Beck, Artist

My classmate Ken Beck sent me this image of a self-portrait he painted a few years ago. He tells me it was based on a photograph taken in 1956, when he was 12 years old.  His happy memories of growing up as an artist in Danvers are shared in this month's column, published Thursday June 6 in the Danvers Herald.  He described the teachers who influenced him, especially Frances Matsubara.

"Self-Portrait as a Young Artist"
Oil on Panel. 12x9" c. 1959
Ken thanks me for encouraging him to write down his memories. Conversations we had at Holten High Reunion last July (our first meeting since 1959!) led to the autobiographical writing he has produced this year. In February he gave a Gallery Talk about his life and art at the Gallery NAGA in Boston. When he sent me the text of that talk, we discussed ways to include his stories in my columns. I wanted Danvers readers to hear his descriptions of Danversport (see entry below) and his praise of Danvers teachers. Ken wrote additional details of his Danvers experiences and began sending me images to accompany the stories.  I have enjoyed this collaboration.

At the reunion Ken was one of the first classmates I recognized.  And I do recognize him clearly in this young self-portrait. It has been fun to get to know him better and to learn what he has been doing in the intervening 50+ years.  Back in the 1950's I knew very little of the artistic side of Ken Beck.  Now I look forward to visiting his studio and seeing his artwork, especially the series of 10 paintings he did based on family photos from Cheever Street. "All together, they constitute a kind of painted visual autobiography," he says.

See the June column The Education of a young artist, which was published in the paper June 7 and posted online June 9.  Updated link: The Education of a young Danvers artist