Mentor, hero and why...
I grew up in a small South Carolina city tucked between the
black-watered Edisto River and a wide stretch of cotton patches.
The rural locale of my roots, its culture bent largely by an
agrarian society, set the tone for my future even as it set the
tone for my childhood. The South, after all, is its own entity,
powerful and connecting, populated with farmers, doctors, lawyers,
honorable soldiers and ardent politicians, a land of rich and
intricate history. It's a place where, as Faulkner said, “The past
is not dead. It isn't even past.”
Emblematic of the South, the sheer embodiment of it, was Carrie
Gordon Richardson, my grandmother. Mama Carrie, as she was
affectionately known, was a teacher, a writer, a historian, an
artist, the mother of nine, and the grandmother of twelve. Every
Saturday morning, I pedaled my bike over to her big house in the
middle of town. It was a home with all the character and warmth of
Charleston houses, with their narrow fronts, long, deep porches,
and idiosyncrasies. There she kept all the tools of the mind: books
and scrapbooks (I could always find something new that was old),
historic novels, magazines, and every manner of art supplies.
I couldn't wait to find her newly arrived copy of The
Saturday Evening Post, with its Norman Rockwell covers, or
House and Garden, with its shampoo ads on the back, those
Breck Girls painted by Ralph William Williams. Sometimes, when her
house was inundated with family or visitors, the writers and
artists who frequented my grandmother's, I would climb out and
escape to the rooftop, where I'd study Williams's work, wondering
how he got their beautiful hair to look so perfect. Or I would
peruse John Canaday's Metropolitan Museum Seminars in Art,
discovering David, Mona Lisa, or El Greco for the first time. Or
I'd read Zane Gray novels. Other times, just the two of us, Mama
Carrie and I would paint with oils on the verandah for hours, and
she would tell me stories about Scotland or about my ancestors,
descendants of the Revolutionary War and times, subjects of endless
fascination for her.
I remember my very first painting, done when I was six even,
under the influence of my grandmother. Riffling through an old
trunk on her porch, I'd found a copy of James Earl Fraser's The
End of the Trail, the lone figure on his weary horse, that
memorial of submission and defeat. Then one day, not long after I'd
begun second grade, I looked up from my drawing of a red-winged
blackbird and saw that it was better than anyone else's in the
class, a revelation. Several years later, I had the opportunity to
compete to design the logo for Thackston Junior High, a school-wide
competition, and my logo won. The prize was $5.00. I had found my
This was the South Proper, though, where young men who were
privileged enough to go to college went to law school or medical
school, where art and culture were appreciated and enjoyed, but
where expectations were such that one didn't dare to actually be an
artist. I believe it would have been nearly impossible, too, if it
hadn't been for my grandmother, who was so very much of society yet
constantly challenging it. As busy as she was, and with so many
commitments, still she offered first an interest in me, then an
influencing direction that modified the Code, allowing me the
prospect of concerning myself not only with the way the world looks
but a way to establish its manner—a way to become an artist, a
designer in all of this.
But the most important thing Mama Carrie gave me was an
inherited curiosity and permission to explore. By virtue of that,
she also gave me the opportunity to see, and to interpret what I
saw in order to affirm my own integrity--to find a voice that was
my own, and to share it. I've worked with many brilliant designers
and artists in my life, and I've learned invaluable things from
them, but it was my grandmother, my first and best mentor, who
helped me find that voice. And is this not the most important
mission of each of us—each of us with a unique cultural and
familial legacy? Aren't we finally our best selves when we find and
follow our passion?
Stefan Bucher on parents, mentors and the love of a good woman Can parents be mentors? I always thought that they were legally
bound to be my mentors. But over the years I've noticed that mine
seem to go above and beyond the call of duty every time, so I'll
put them first on the list.
Section: Inspiration -
personal essay, mentoring, corporate design, students
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Section: Inspiration -
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Section: Inspiration -
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