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JIm Saw

BIOGRAPHY - Coming Of Age (1959 to 1980)

I started college at San Diego State College in 1959 as an electrical engineering major. "State" as it was called was close, affordable and I could live at home (I was too dependent to really be on my own). I joined a fraternity my first semester and things deteriorated from there. The fraternity offered access to girls (not that it did me any good) and beer (which I took full advantage of).

I took a reasonably academic load the first semester but only a few classes the second including a Furniture Design class in the Art Department (on the recommendation of one of my fraternity brothers that it was easy). I nearly flunked that class -- too much partying to do school work. I did walk by a figure drawing class one day and saw the nude model through the open door. I thought to my self that drawing naked women beat the hell out of studying engineering and changed my major. I found out later how hard life drawing was to do well.

During my second year I took more art classes and met Janilee (Jan) Hamner, the woman I married (seven years later). We took lots of classes together and both especially enjoyed watercolor painting. We went out a lot but nothing serious happened at first. I drifted through college following the course of least resistance and racking up a B- grade average. I dropped out of the fraternity (actually they threw me out to save face).

I had a couple of different jobs in school but finally got one I liked with an industrial design outfit. I started as a "gofer" sweeping the floors and ended up, after the Army years later, as a designer.

As I started my senior year I felt like I was just doing time without any real sense of direction. The head of the art department at work and his son had built a 48 foot trimaran sail boat and were going to take it to the Virgin Islands and charter it. I paid them what money I had saved as part of my expenses and joined the crew (also including the captain's wife and their Beagle).

The trip was way too full of adventures including a near shipwreck. By the time we made it to Acapulco the money was all gone (drunk up) and I was fed up. I managed to find a crew job north on a 1920s power yacht. The contrast of accommodations was startling. Going south we brushed out teeth in salt water and bathed with a sponge. The trip north was luxury -- a walk in freezer, hot showers, radar and a radio. We traded a couple of bottles of liquor, cartons of American cigarettes and candy bars for two trash cans full of shrimp and lobsters.

I did buy a guitar while in Acapulco. I asked all the musicians I saw where they got their instruments and they all said the same place. So I found the guy's shop and bought the smallest guitar he had. That is a picture of me taking a guitar lesson on the deck of the boat. It is still the guitar I enjoy playing the most.

I also put on some much needed weight on the trip. Lots of fresh air, exercise and two banana splits a day while in Acapulco did the trick. The photo to the left is what I looked like after basic training. I did wear shirts -- just don't have any pictures with them on.

As soon as I got back to San Diego I was drafted in April, 1964. I was 22 years old and had taken my physical before going to Mexico -- it was one of the reasons for wanting to have one last adventure. Basic training was at Fort Ord, California. My amateur radio days paid off when I went to study radar repair at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. One of my class mates there, Don Rose, is still a friend. He and his wife, Nancy, provided a place of sanity for us off of the Army base. I stayed at Fort Sill for the rest of my hitch. Everyone else went to Korea or Vietnam (Don went to Germany).

I hated the service, especially since things were heating up in Vietnam. It was so easy to let someone else think for you. In the long run, though, I am grateful for being forced to face myself and for helping me find my self confidence. While on leave I got back together with Jan.

After the service I was entitled to the GI Bill. I wasn't sure I wanted to study art and considered oceanography for a while. In the end I went back to "State" and finished the fourteen units I was short of a Bachelors Degree in Art. I went straight into graduate school to get an M. A. in drawing and painting. This time I was prepared and carried a 4.0 grade point, making it into the honor fraternity.

When Jan and I got back together she was finishing up her teaching credential. We married while I was in graduate school in June, 1967. She had taught before we married in Coachella Valley, where she was from, then high school art (a disaster) after we married and I was in graduate school. It was one of her students that started us learning how to silk screen print. I went on to make good use of that skill later. Relax, there are no boring wedding pictures.

After I finished my masters degree in 1968 we decided to travel and see the USA in, as it turned out, our Chevrolet. I traded my pretty blue Sunbeam Alpine sports car for an old pickup truck and we bought a camper to put on it. We took a five month, 14,000 mile trip more or less clockwise around the country -- it was great. The picture shows our rig and one of the reasons we didn't make it to Alaska. We made many more trips with that old truck and camper. Years after we sold it it was hit by a train and died with it's boots on so to speak.

When we got back to civilization we lived here and there (mostly with our parents) before finding a great little apartment in Old Town, San Diego. It was over a liquor store but fortunately the store closed early and soon went out of business.

While we lived there Old Town celebrated San Diego's 200th birthday so there was always something fun to see and do. Here I am taking another music lesson.

I got a job teaching art half time at San Diego State College, and also taught a class at Palomar College (where I borrowed an airbrush and taught myself how to paint with it).

I rented work space in an old gas lamp era office building over San Diego Hardware. Several of the old offices were rented cheap as studios by artists. I took over Will Gullette's space when he went into the service. We had met in graduate school and he went on to become a photographer and now teaches at Palomar College.

I was starting to show my work and win prizes in print and painting shows. A big break came when the La Jolla Museum Of Contemporary Art wanted to show my work in it's Sales and Rental gallery. Gradually I started to show prints, airbrush paintings and "squeegee paintings" in other museum sales and rental galleries all up and down the coast.

Then the world change. Jan became pregnant and we got evicted out of our great little apartment. Jan's dad dabbled in real estate and had an old house in Beaumont, California (between Riverside and Palm Springs) that was empty. He let us live there for utilities and taxes. So we lived the myth of the "starving artist."

I rented an empty store front in the worst part of a forgotten town for $25 a month from an art patron of sorts in town. We lived on what little I made from selling artwork -- $3,500 gross one year. I was selling in more and more places but selling less and less in each.

Our first son, Scott Alan Saw, was born on the day in February, 1970, we were to drive to a baby shower. Here we are amid the irises that grew next to the house. We grew vegetables and heated the house with scrounged wood in the fireplace. We moved the bed into the living room during the winter to be closer to the fire. We called it "Saw's Indoor Laundry" because there were always diapers hanging throughout the house.

Our house became a kind of hangout since it was "out of town" and a short ride to Mount San Jacinto and Palm Springs. Here are some of the visitors, guys I met in graduate school: Will Gullette, Roy Ragle (a Bay Area printmaker), John Miller (painter -- at the time a thinker), Scott and me. No wonder Scott turned out to become an artist.

By the end of 1972 the allure of being an artist had worn thin and we were expecting a second child in December. I started looking for a job. The one I got turned out to be a fluke.

One day when coming back from servicing an art gallery in San Diego I stopped in at Palomar College to talk to the gallery director about showing my work there. There was no opportunity to show anything but the gallery was interested in buying a piece of mine.

A short time later I received a letter asking me if I would be interested in applying for a one semester sabbatical leave replacement position. I had given up trying to find a teaching job after a couple of years of applying but I jumped at the chance and got the position. The first thing I did was buy a new car, even though it would take most of what I would earn for the semester -- we needed new wheels.

Before the semester started one of the faculty members suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. The one semester temporary job turned into the real thing much to my benefit and relief. Just before Christmas, and after our second son, William Thomas Saw, was born we moved to Leucadia.

Teaching at Palomar is a terrific job and I love it. I knew I had a lot to learn but I was grateful and happy to put out the effort. It has never been an easy job but it has always been satisfying. The picture is at the Faculty Show in 1975, the print is in the Artwork section under prints

I still thought of myself as an artist who taught but I did very little painting at first. I had taught as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in college and a year after graduation but doing it full time taught me how much I needed to know. The first few years at Palomar were spent learning the art of teaching.

Over the years I have taught just about all of the two-dimensional art subjects. Drawing: Beginning Drawing for many years and Advanced Drawing, Drawing For Commercial Art and Life Drawing also for many years. Design: my favorite class to teach is Design and Composition (2D design) but I have also taught 3D Design and Color classes. I have taught all of the painting classed: Oil and Acrylic Painting, Watercolor and I started the Airbrush Painting class. Now I am teaching the introductory class to Computer Art. I recently wrote a text for design and put it on the Internet: Design Notes.

Within a year of staring to teach we bought a cute little house in rural Leucadia (green grass over the septic tank and no sidewalks). It was a great feeling going in one year from living in near poverty to being gainfully employed and a homeowner. Will Gullette took the picture to the right of the Saw family in 1976. Things were looking good. It wouldn't last long.

We went about being a family: raising a garden, soccer practice, summer trips, etc. I painted as required to keep ahead of my classes and for demonstrations -- mostly works on paper. But there was trouble in paradise. Jan and I separated for a year, got back together for a couple of years and, partially as a result of my being such a bastard about becoming a diabetic, finally split up in 1980. It was hard to admit failure in something as important as marriage.

A year before that I had lost a lot of weight. Most of he time I weighed 145 pounds but I went down to 130 pounds. That did not leave much but skin and bones. At first I thought "this must be a mistake" (denial). I went to another doctor and we tried fighting the diabetes with diet. Eventually I started taking insulin and working out regularly in a gym. I have been able to maintain my health pretty well ever since (knock on wood).

I also went to see a friend and collector of my art, Paul Brenner. He told me to use my art to help me find out what was happening to me. I started painting again, this time with a purpose. I would meditate on what I was concerned about and try to paint any image that came to mind. The images were interesting for a while but they stopped coming. I did a TV show with Dr. Brenner about using art in the healing process. That experience did, however, start me painting and showing my work again (more about that later).

After Jan and I broke up both of my sons lived with me while she went back to her home in Coachella Valley to find a teaching job. When Jan finally got established we decided that we would each take a child. Scott, the oldest stayed with me and Will went with Jan. That was a tough decision but it seemed to work out best (as well as could be expected) for all. Fortunately Jan and I stayed friends. It was difficult at first but we were friends before we married and are still friends, staying at each others houses and sharing holidays. The boys got to stay closer that way.

For the exciting conclusion to this tale (edited to save embarrassing the innocent) go to the last section: Reality Check.



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