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Blog - Wednesdays With Myron

Wednesdays With Myron - A Foreword, Of Sorts

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Myron Barnstone

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.

-Joel Bowers

Wednesdays With Myron - Early Years 1933-1952 Part I

I was born in Portland, Maine in 1933. My earliest childhood memory is that of setting fire to a field. I think I was using a magnifying glass. For a moment, I really thought the thing was going to race through the whole neighborhood. It was piece of open ground but I managed to stomp [...]

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Wednesdays With Myron - Early Years 1933-1952 Part II

National Guard March, Portland, Maine 1940Because my friends Steve and Ken came from middle class families where their parents had been to good universities and were active in the intellectual activities in the community, by visiting their homes and spending time with their parents, I got an enormous amount of encouragement from them to pursue [...]

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Wednesdays With Myron - The Air Force (1953-1956), Part I: Basic Training and Texas

I went for basic training for the Air Force in upstate New York. Immediately, I learned that they were doing a theatrical production that had been written by a young Frenchman who had joined the United States Air Force called, Conquest of the Air. While growing up in Portland, Maine, I had been a [...]

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Wednesdays With Myron - The Air Force (1953-1956), Part II: My Time In Alaska

B-29 Bombers on the runway I was then shipped to Fairbanks, Alaska for six months. Thankfully, I wasn’t on the hot stand. I was in the shop. The B-29 was a very large aircraft. The propeller system was difficult. You had to have something sensitive enough to change the planes angle. But you couldn’t do it [...]

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Wednesdays With Myron - The Air Force (1953-1956), Part III: Setting Sail to Korea

On board a troop ship during the thirty days it would take to reach Korea, I used to shave in the head. The head was located in the prow of the ship and when the waves caused the ship to sink its prow under the waves, the water in the urinal would slosh from one [...]

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Wednesdays With Myron - Japan (1953-1956), Part I

I was stationed in Japan. I walked across the hanger and there was door that said, “High Security Clearance Required” (which I had). So I walked in and said, “What are you guys doing?” They explained that they  were responsible for scheduling all the maintenance on the aircraft and writing the work orders to [...]

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Wednesdays With Myron - Japan (1953-1956), Part II

During my time in Japan, I would go into the hangar and meet with all the Japanese guards. One of the bi-products of meeting them was that I had coffee. When the crews came back we had thermoses of hot coffee and lots of cream and milk and sugar. The guards didn’t like coffee particularly [...]

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Wednesdays With Myron - Japan (1953-1956), Part III

When I went back to work, I had already struck up a friendship with one of the guards by the name of Kenji. He invited me to his home and I met his wife. He took me on walks through the countryside that were so exotic. I was a kid from Portland, Maine. Here I [...]

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Wednesdays With Myron - Japan (1953-1956), Part IV

I went to the public baths in Japan. They were in gardens in separate houses. There were female attendants. I was often in Tokyo in the wintertime. I would walk out through the snow with little straw sandals in a light cotton Kimono and nothing else out to the bathhouse. You took off your [...]

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