I am an Artist: Don Erickson, Tennessee

We’re excited to introduce Don Erickson, our first I am an Artist interview from Tennessee. Read Don’s “art story” below.  If you would like to be a part of I am an Artist, please contact us here.

I am an Artist Interview with Don Erickson (portrait of Don)

What does Art mean to you?

I began to paint as a means of relaxing, but quickly learned relaxation was not to be one of the benefits.  It is a way I can share a part of myself no one, except Caroline ever gets to see.  I think the only expression I get to reveal is my desire for realism.  The more realistic I can make it, the better I like it.

What inspires your Art? 

I wish I knew.  I’ll see something in nature, or in a photo, and think, ‘that would make a great painting, or I’ll see someone else’s painting, and I’ll think it would look better with this or that.   Sometimes it’s the money.  I’ve seen paintings or prints that I’d like to own, but couldn’t afford, so I’d paint a copy.  I could send photos of examples.

How do other people receive your Art? What do they say? 

I’ve never experienced a negative response from anyone who has seen my work.  Comments have included gushing admiration, and statements like, ‘You are really good’,  Do you sell your work?’, ‘Now that’s a painting!’.  ‘Course I have had some folks who didn’t respond.   I took that as a compliment.

I am an Artist Interview with Don Erickson (example of Don's artwork)

Do you feel Art and Creativity can heal? 

While I’m actually in the midst of the painting, I mostly feel frustrated and helpless because of my lack of certain talents (mixing colors); however, when the painting is complete, and I stand back, I feel a great sense of accomplishment, sometimes.  I have always wanted to create something of value, and have throughout my life strived for perfection in any endeavor undertaken.  Of course Art and Creativity can heal if the artist can immerse him(her)self into the goal.  I immersed myself into the search for my daughter, and firmly believe that the determination that drove me, and the tenacity that forced me onward kept me from going in the negative direction of being consumed by my grief.  In a sense the purpose of the search filled me so that I was able to come to grips with her loss over the period of the search, and in that respect help the healing.

What are your visions and goals for yourself as an artist and for you artworks?

Although I paint for myself, I guess my only real goal is to paint something found to be desirable.  I’d love to have someone say, “I like your work.  Let’s hang it, and  present it to the public.”

Any last comments? 

Obviously, nearly every item mentioned has been over simplified for brevity.   Okay, quit laughing.

I truly hope this wasn’t too long to be read.  I don’t think you were bored.

I am an Artist Interview with Don Erickson (example of Don's artwork)

Don’s Biography

Don Erickson was born in 1942 in Neenah WI.;  grew up relatively normally.  My parents divorced when I was 7 or so, and I lived with my mother, and stepfather until my mother passed away from lung cancer at age 37.   I was 13.  Went to live with my father until I volunteered for military duty at 18.   I signed up Airborne Unassigned, meaning the Army would choose my MOS, or job vocation.  Luckily for me they chose ‘Dental Technician’.  I spent 3 years active service, and fortunately for me was released from the Army Airborne 8 months before my battle group, the 173rd Airborne Division stationed on Okinawa, was deployed to Viet Nam, in 1964.

During the ‘Airborne’ training portion of my service I was stationed at Ft. Campbell, KY.  On a three day pass, I went to Nashville, where I met my wife to be, Caroline.  She was 15.  I was 20.  After the military I returned to Nashville, and we married.  Nine months later our son, Donnie ( Don the III ) was born.  We moved to California soon after.  

I went to work for Norris Industries as a common laborer, but soon moved to inspection because I had a head for math, and measurements .  Six months later I was lead inspector on the machined parts line.  I worked for Norris for 6 years until 1971.  During that entire time I went to Cerritos Jr. College part time.  I mostly studied like Math, Zoology, Chemistry, and Physics.  To my chagrin I realized I wasn’t smart enough to become anything great.

Our Daughter, Natalie, was born June of 1972.

I am an Artist Interview with Don Erickson (example of Don's artwork)

In 1971 I left Norris and school to began my own business making coin jewelry.  I taught my wife, and she and I became quite proficient coin cutters.  At the time liquor stores in southern Ca. could sell anything from soup to nuts including an occasional bottle of booze…Ha, ha.  Anyway, I began selling cut coin jewelry in the form of necklaces to nearly every liquor store in the area.  By 1973 we sold to over 300 retail locations, and employed 3 full time cutters.  I cut all the special orders.  Sadly, the guy I took on as a partner to service the accounts began stealing, and selling to accounts he opened.  Of course things went south quickly.  

No problem.  So, in 1975 I decided to sell home decorations using real butterflies.  We started slowly, learning as we went.  In the beginning we mounted about 12 butterflies per day.  Soon, I began to import from countries from around the world.  South American countries like Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, & Others.  Asian Countries like China, Japan, Malaysia, & others.  Even from Canada.  We used Frames, hexagon wood & glass cases, and shadow boxes.  My wife really shined in this endeavor.  She helped me design a simpler method of drying butterflies quickly, and at our peak we could produce 1,000 plus butterflies in an 8 hour day using only three employees.

1979 was a banner year for Caroline and I.  I went to Peru to establish suppliers closer to the action, namely Tingo Maria.  In 1979 it was a small village with dirt roads.  I flew in from Lima, and discovered even the landing strip in Tingo Maria was dirt.   Anyway, in 1980 we sold more than 100,000 mounted butterflies.   1979 was also the year Caroline & I quit smoking.

In 1980 I also began to build two single family homes, but by 1981, the economic policies of President Carter caused me to forget building in CA.  Mortgage Interest rates went to 14%, and by 1982 the economy put us out of the butterfly business. 

I was 35 in 1977 when I first decided to try my hand at painting.   I painted for about 5 years until 1982 when I moved my family from Southern California to Middle Tennessee, near Nashville, which was my wife’s birthplace, and where a lot of her family resided.  I had painted approximately 30 canvases in various sizes.   I was satisfied with about half of them.

In 1983, I became a residential contractor, and began building modest homes.  In 1988, I hired a high school student, Billy Williams, a friend of my daughter’s, to help me build the home I now live in.  Our very small team, which included my wife, built approx’ 70% of the home.  I had to hire out the foundation work, septic tank & leach lines, rough electric, rough plumbing, insulation, drywall, & final grading, as they required specific licensing; otherwise we  completed the home including, heat & air ducting, framing, roofing, door & window installation, trim installation, paint, building and installing the cabinets, final electric, final plumbing, final concrete, and hired my wife’s brother, an HVAC guy, to help me install the heat & air unit.

In November of 1991 we lost our daughter in a private plane accident.  Natalie’s fiance’ was the pilot of the plane.  The Civil Air Patrol searched for three weeks, but had to give up, as they determined survival was impossible.  The CAP was unable to locate the plane and it’s five passengers.  Caroline and I decided we would continue the search, but with helicopters.  We began raising funds to pay to the search.  It took awhile, but we started searching by helicopter in May of 1992.  Dawayne, the father of the pilot and I flew helicopter search missions from May until July 5th, when Dawayne found the plane wreckage on the north slope of White mountain near Big Bear, CA.   7 months 22 days to find them.  A tragic time in our life.

I had for the most part given up painting, because I had lost desire to do much of anything after Natalie’s death.  Beside I didn’t feel I was very good, so I spent most of my time building.  In 2004 I decided to build a free standing garage, just behind, and offset to the left our home.  I hired the foundation dug and poured including the concrete slab.  I was 62, and didn’t feel I could physically handle the masonry work.  From that point on, I did everything myself except the rough electric, and installation of the garage door.   However, when the structure was ‘Dried In’ I had to have open heart surgery to replace two arteries.    Took a while to recover from that, but once recovered, I completed the building…24’ X 24’ with 9’ ceilings, and a roof of 9 in 12 pitch which would allow for large amounts of storage area.

Once the garage was complete, I set about to turn the existing attached garage into a Den.   I made photo DVDs of both the garage, and den conversion.  I had been making movies and producing DVDs of family events for many years.  I also made a video of the search for our daughter, using news clips, fund raising events video, and video taken by others.  Some time after the conversion was complete except for the end wall, I decided to build an entertainment center to hold a large T.V., Karaoke equipment, music mixer, and various other pcs of equipment.  This wasn’t your ordinary ent. ctr.  Oh no.  It is 14 feet wide, and 7 feet tall at the tallest point.  I’ve included a couple of photos; although photos do not do it justice.

I know, I know….when do I get to the painting.  Well, in 2013 Caroline decided to take a painting class with her girl friends put on by Sips and Strokes.   When she signed up for a second class, she suggested I go with them.  I declined, but began thinking that I should get back into painting.  I’d thought about painting for years, esp. when i’d look at some of my previous work.  Now that I’m retired, I can spend more time painting, and I love the result….er…a…well….most of the time.  Ha, ha.  Recently, I decided to give my paintings to family and friends that show an interest.  I’ve had three requests.  Two Have been completed, and one is in the works.

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