I was a sixth grader in 1970, and among the things I did at Algonquin Middle School was volunteer as a library assistant, which included shelving returned books. Among them was a brand new one by Time-Life Books entitled “American Painting 1900-1970.” There were works by O’Keeffe, Johns, Pollock, Warhol, and more. Realists too, including Sloan, Bellows, Wood, Benton, Blume, Tooker. And then there was Edward Hopper.

Gas • Edward Hopper

It was Hopper’s paintings that caught my eye: House by a Railroad, New York Movie, possibly Early Sunday Morning. But Gas—that one made my heart beat quicker! I can’t say why; but no art had ever had the same effect on me. I felt something. There was something intensely personal about it—as if Hopper had gone into my mind and heart and created this painting from what he had found. I took that book out of the library many times.

I did well enough at art in high school, but ultimately, somehow, I forgot about Hopper and art-making. Didn’t study art in college, even as an elective. In fact, after a year of taking random courses, I dropped out. Other than a few pencil drawings, I did nothing art-related at all. Until 1990, twenty years later.

By then, after years of racking my brains trying to choose a career path, I had landed in educational publishing—unhappily so. Five years in, I became aware that there was an advertising department—and they used images to sell books. Something finally clicked in me, and I remembered that art was something I once liked and had some modest success with. I also learned that my employer paid for your college courses if you attained  a B or better grade. That fall, I began to study graphic design. It wasn’t fine art, but I could make a living.

Anyone who goes back to school with a full-time job and as the parent of a young child knows that you burn the candle at both ends. But taking studio classes energized me, especially one in particular taught by Rosalie Beck. I enjoyed her teaching style and the projects. But then, in our perspective lesson, she did something unexpected: she reintroduced me to Edward Hopper, showing us his 1934 painting Sun on Prospect Street. It was a moment I'll never forget, and afterward I was back where it all started: the library.

Edward Hopper • Sun on Prospect Street