Posted by Joel Bowers on 13th Apr 2016
Myron Barnstone has been tooling around this planet for more than eighty-two years now. It is with regret that I did not get to meet him until five years ago. I had known much about Myron through his daughter and my long-time friend, Catherine, (hereafter exclusively referred to as ‘Cathy’), for a couple of decades, but it wasn’t until he attended his daughter’s photography exhibition in Frederick, Maryland several years ago that we met face to face. Our interaction was brief but interesting. We only spoke for a moment or so, but looking back, it is interesting to note that I found him a bit intimidating. This is something Myron heard over and over again and never quite understood why. What I would come to find out later was that, like so many before me, I had misinterpreted his confidence.
One overriding theme in Myron’s story is his ability to do things his own way. Whether it was a community theatre project, the Air Force, an exhibit hall, raising a daughter on his own, or in education, Myron was a one-man show that did not conform to society’s expectations or institutional standards. His attitudes and actions would likely be admired by the minds of both Picasso and Thoreau.
I find Myron’s first memory as child, detailed later, to be a metaphor for his life. “My earliest memory was setting fire to a field.” So many of Myron’s experiences began with a metaphorical burning. Whatever the circumstance, Myron saw things his own way and readily discarded the established norms.
Myron was fortunate to exhibit his works the world over including the U.S., Japan, England and France. In the art world, in which he spent the vast majority of his life, Myron was often a controversial figure. His teachings were seen as a threat, or at the very least an insult or embarrassment to the established art education world where, since post World War I, the “draw or paint what you feel” attitudes were firmly entrenched. According to Myron, the classical teaching and the once heralded master-apprentice relationship, had been mostly abandoned. And he was going to do something about it as an educator. This desire to reverse the trends led him to the founding of the Barnstone Studios, first in Allentown in 1977 and then in Coplay, Pennsylvania in 1982.
In 2014, after more than a three-decade run of teaching his infamous Barnstone Method, Myron closed his school in Coplay, Pennsylvania. Out of convenience and practicality, he retired near Frederick, Md. to be close to Cathy. It was then that my real understanding of Myron began.
Cathy hired me to spend a day a week with Myron: to provide company, to fetch groceries take him out for meals, or to run him to appointments. Myron had been through a few “caregivers” already and they just weren’t good matches. As our friendship grew and our masks began to dissolve, the stories of Myron’s life began unfolding slowly. He began writing stories, perhaps reluctantly at first, of events that had remained burned in his memory. Myron had been so busy his whole life; he hadn’t had time to reflect. We should all be so lucky to remain so in the moment throughout life. So, at first, it was a strange experience for Myron. Finally, he had the time to take a look back. While he had always seemed to enjoy being a student, a teacher, an Air Force private, a lecturer, a father, a husband or whatever combination of roles he was playing, it wasn’t until the studio closed that he had much time to think about what he’d been doing the past eight decades.
As the stories unfolded on paper and orally, his memories became more vivid. He was recalling events and people long forgotten. Myron had some “stock” stories that he loved to tell about certain events or places he had lived. But as I let him tell them again and again, more and more was uncovered. Little details that weren’t part of the rote stories emerged and with that, much joy arose in Myron. These weren’t just events or stories. They were a man’s life and everything he had seen, done and become. Even at 82, a child-like wonder began to blossom in him as his focus on the past sharpened and the flower unfolded.
After reading and hearing Myron’s stories for a couple of months, I began recording our weekly meetings. I recorded more than twenty hours of conversation and transcribed every word. I then combined Myron’s oral recollections with his written stories, emails and other media material. An intensive editing process then began, the result of which begins below. I hope you enjoy reading about Myron’s life, in his voice, as much as I enjoyed writing it. For me, it was not just a writing experience: it was about making a new and dear friend.
So the narrative ends here. I will let Myron speak for himself.
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