I Still Miss Someone, part 2

Grandpa and me out in the field.

Today is the birthday of probably the most important creative influence on me during my formative years:  my Grandpa.
As the son of a doctor and a nurse, people often ask me how I ended up being an artist or designer.  They wonder where I got my creative bent.  There aren’t any other artists or relatives of mine in any of the fields typically labeled “creative”.  To me however, the answer is almost obvious.  My mother’s father was and continues to be a major influence on my creative process as well as my life in general.  This is where I “got it.”
James A. Sykes was a farmer, born in rural Virginia. He moved to southern Ohio early in life and married my Grandmother, Maxine Baker. He had an Angus cattle farm and grew corn and soybeans in the surrounding fields. Grandpa farmed all of his life, and even after “retiring” continued to work in the fields and on the farm up until the day he died. His other activities included fishing, collecting arrowheads and other Native American artifacts (found in his fields), reading, gardening and building all sorts of things.
When I think of Grandpa, the first things I see are his strong, rough workman’s hands, his crystal-clear eyes, and most of all, his smile. Grandpa had a big, bright and healthy smile that lit up his whole face. Reflecting on memories of him, that is what stands out as the most consistent thing: he always had a smile.
So what does this have to do with my art? A lot. In brief, my Grandpa gave/taught me how to have a love and respect for nature (both plants and animals), a curious interest in history and our ancestors, an interest in Native American history/culture, the joy of working with my hands & building things, a strong work ethic, the importance of physical activity in daily life, the importance of humor (he had a fantastic sense of humor), and the art of contrary or “ornery” thinking & behavior.
Below is a snapshot of my Grandpa Sykes, pictured with a glass of tea at arm’s length, as usual.

I spent a lot of time on my Grandparents’ farm as a child, and some of the best memories are of following Grandpa around, helping in the gardens or in the field or in his workshop. I will never forget hours spent walking slowly through the fields, carefully balancing between rows of corn or beans, eyes scanning the dirt for arrowheads. I very rarely ever found anything, but was always just as hopeful and eager to do it all over again the next time. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think that finding the arrowheads was more like an unexpected bonus than the real point of our walks. The real joy was in the simple walking, just being in the fields and enjoying ourselves. Other than the sprouts of crops, I remember we’d see the occasional Morning Glory in bloom. These would always stand out because they are a rather bright purple flower which contrast starkly against the yellow-green of the beans or corn.
From a genetic standpoint, my Grandpa Sykes was most likely the “source” of my creative energies. I will always remember him with a smile. A farmer I am not, but I have been successful so far this season in planting some flowers at my apartment. Today I planted some Morning Glories in Grandpa’s honor.


About AlexEConrad

Fine artist. Freelance designer.
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