As a reader of this blog, you may know that my dad is an artist and has been a full-time professional artist for over three decades. Much of what I know about the art world (and the rest of the world, for that matter) comes from my early experience watching my mom and dad build a successful business around my dad’s art.
I spent many days growing up watching my dad paint in the studio, and I would travel with my parents to art shows and on gallery-hunting trips as they sought representation for my father’s work.
Growing up the son of an artist provided me with many experiences that were unusual for a kid growing up in rural Idaho. In fact, my childhood would have been unusual anywhere.
As a kid, I wondered what it would be like to lead a “normal” life, and what it would be like to have many of the things other kids took for granted. It seemed like my family often had to make do without. Some of the things we missed out on weren’t a big deal, but you might not believe some of the things we learned to live without.
A Big House
I remember a friend of mine who lived in a mansion, or at least I thought it was a mansion. It was probably just a 4 bedroom, 3000 square foot home, but to me it was a palace.
When I was five years old, my parents sold the little duplex in which we had been living in a small town in south-central Idaho and moved into a single-wide mobile home on 3/4 of an acre outside of town. Dad was going to build a geodesic dome for us to live in, so the plan was to live in the mobile home for the six to nine months he thought it would take to build.
It ended up taking a lot longer. We lived in that mobile home for almost nine years, and in the meantime our family was growing. By the time we moved out in to the dome in the late 1980s, there were eight of us, six kids and my parents, cramped into the tiny, two-bedroom trailer house.
It was a tight living situation, but, as a result, I spent much of my time playing outside. I developed a deep and abiding love of the outdoors.
The Hospital and Modern Medicine
Long before the current cult of mistrust had arisen about institutional medicine and vaccinations, my parents developed antipathy toward the medical system.
While three of my sisters and I were born in hospitals, my parents’ last five children were born in our home, under the supervision and care of a midwife.
When one of us fell ill, my mom was more likely to reach for herbs than cough medicine.
The only time we interacted with the medical system was when there was a dire emergency–like the time my younger brother broke his arm.
Luckily, none of us suffered any major health consequences, and eventually this mania for self-care and natural remedies would fade away, but we did benefit from a diet rich in whole grains and garden-grown food.
If institutional medicine was taboo, public education was likewise eschewed in my family. I began my education in a Montessori school. When the private school failed, I did spend a couple of years in a public grade school before my parents began homeschooling all of us.
A big part of our curriculum was life experience. We traveled the country to my dad’s art shows and saw many historical sites and national parks along the way.
Mom pieced together some textbooks to help us get a base understanding of math and English. Eventually, for high school, we enrolled in a correspondence school.
This nontraditional path didn’t encourage higher education, and, though I put myself through a number of community college courses, I never did receive a college degree.
And yet, I never felt I was inhibited from learning what I needed to know. I discovered that if I wanted to understand something, I was going to have to learn it on my own. I became a voracious reader, encouraged by a likewise auto didactic mother who would read to us from a very early age and made sure we all had library cards.
While I didn’t pick up my Dad’s love for creating art, he did teach me how to work with my hands and how to persist to get projects done.
My education was unconventional, and a bit unorthodox, but it was also wide-ranging and pragmatic.
I didn’t mind avoiding the doctor, and it was fun to roll out of bed and get my education at home, but I didn’t enjoy the fact that my family didn’t have a television for a much of my early childhood. I’m sure we could have afforded one, but my parents thought TV a waste of time. Instead, we were encouraged to use our imaginations and get outside and play. We were also encouraged to devote ourselves to our schoolwork.
Eventually my family did get a television, and we watched our fair share of television programming, but I always knew that there were alternatives. Because I knew that there was a life outside of programmed entertainment, I’ve never felt compelled to waste a lot of time on media. That lesson stuck with me through the end of the television age and into the internet age. I’m able to get a lot done because I can turn off media devices.
Fear of the Unconventional
Perhaps the most important lesson my parents taught me was that one doesn’t have to live a conventional life. Growing up, I had many friends whose parents worked regular 9-5 jobs. I was taught to admire hard work and discipline, but I also learned, by watching my parents, that I could chart my own course in life and invent my own future.
We endured some very difficult financial times while I was growing up. I don’t want to gloss over those challenges, and being broke is never fun, but my parents showed me that persisting and hustling is the only way to achieve dreams.
Anything I’ve accomplished as my wife, Carrie, and I have been building Xanadu Gallery into a successful business can certainly trace its roots back to the daring it took my parents to strike out on their own to build my dad’s art career. My parents taught me how to face risks and how to persist.
I Wouldn’t Trade My Childhood
There were other things we went without from time to time: running water(!), square meals, and Christmas gifts, to name just a few, but I will invite you read my memoir to hear those stories, along with many other oddities I experiences as the son of an artist.
Make no mistake, my childhood wasn’t idyllic. There were dark times filled with struggle and anguish. Moreover, we endured a particularly bleak chapter that began in my adolescence and very nearly tore the family apart. But we survived; we endured; eventually, we prospered.
I invite you to order a copy of my memoir, Dad Was An Artist, A Survivor’s Story to get the whole story. I find the story of my parents’ struggles in life and their persistence in overcoming them inspirational; you will too. I learned a great deal about how to live an extraordinary life from my parents; you will too!
Learn more about my new memoir by clicking here.
Great article! What an interesting childhood. I remember when geodesic domes were a thing. Frugality sure does provide freedom, that’s one of the secrets of modern life, one that has served me well and provided the luxury of time.
This life story gives me empathy for Jason and in many ways parallels my own struggles and that of many of my friends.
I could never figure out why I stopped getting the newsletter. I hope I am signed up again…
The book is great!
I loved it and could relate in many ways. My family started off in a 8×35 foot tin can of a trailer. The blankets froze to the wall in the winter. Mom melted water for bathing and diapers in the winter time because the pump that brought water from the river only did its job in the summer. We later moved into the garage Dad built and then the basement of the house they were building. Like Jason, we played outside. We swam in the river. We ate simply and were mostly healthy. Eventually my parents prospered but they sure endured some dark times. Mom looks back on it all as mostly good in spite of the many difficulties. At the time I wanted to be a town kid but now, I’m so glad I had that kind of life.
I know you think you situation was unique, and it was, but there are a lot of us out here with oddly parallel stories. Mine was in Wenatchee, WA during more or less the same time period, plus twenty years.
I ordered a copy for my sister, Cheryl!
I loved reading your life story, and it made me reflect on my own journey, growing up on a desert ranch with few amenities. We had an artesian well, many animals and 160 acres to roam around the lizards, coyotes and rattle snakes. Dad was the caretaker and also had a full time job. We had little but love, freedom, and imagination to carry us through! Thanks again Jason
Loved the book and love your parents!! We owned Larson Arts in Twin Falls for fifteen years and represented your dad. Wonderful to watch them build their business and become great friends over those years. Every artist should be so lucky to have an Elaine Horejs in their lives and business!! Congratulations on building your own empire and having such wonderful success.
Somewhere along the way, you were encouraged to be curious.
I was a career arts educator inn public school and watched as the curiosity and general abilities of students was drained in order to make room for the “curriculum”. I was fortunate to have survived that as a student and doubly fortunate to have astute instructors who insisted that teachers be watchers first. That was how I was taught and the model I used in my art space. Think “kindergarten” which means “child’s garden.”
But to you and your path, Jason. Not only curiosity but the space, time, and guidance to make that curiosity work as the motivator for how you live out your vocation.
Keep in mind, how rare it is, that you have succeeded to the stratospheric level you have reached. Most persons acquiesce to compliance whether from the institution or the vagaries of life.
It was a great book, an inspirational story of a very unique life. It reminded me of The Glass Castle combined with Educated, but with healthy sane people instead of the truly hideous dysfunctional characters. Thank you, Jason, for the openness and authenticity.
You are not alone Jason.. My parents were also poor but we managed to survive. My dream was to become an artist but we could not afford art college so i have to learn the skills by self study. Eventually i have to take odd jobs while learning art and painting.. Now I’m painting in oils while printing shirts to supplement my income.. As of the moment, i also am hunting for galleries to represent my artworks. I think facebook and instagram is not always a good place to show your art. People always get fascinated when they can see art personally and become serious collectors or patrons.. Long live Jason..
Hi Jason! You probably won’t remember me but your family and mine grew up in the same area and attended the same church. In fact, you went to school with my older brother and, coincidentally enough, my husband Jeremy. Jeremy talks often and very fondly about the wonderful childhood memories you both created together as friends growing up in the same circumstances. It is great to see that you have grown so successful!
An unconventional upbringing, with involved parents is a blessing because it seems to result in an elastic mind. Hard times and good times during childhood seems to encourage resilience once we become adults. Reading the above comments and other bios, leads me to wonder if an unconventional upbringing is common in the art world?
This is a slippery slope:
“That lesson stuck with me through the end of the television age and into the internet age. I’m able to get a lot done because I can turn off media devices.”
Yet, seems we, as artists, are forced to interact and rely on that media to learn about and share (our own) artwork…even your newsletters and blog.
How do you turn off yet strike a balance when you actually need media to survive?
Your early experiences probably had a lot to do with your empathy for artists, and your willingness to help. Thank you! By educating and encouraging, and by being an example of persistent work, you do a tremendous service, and I’m grateful. A challenging childhood, learning to think “outside the box,” can produce a positive attitude, and what an asset that is.
I came from a large family (thirteen kids), living in a small town in southern Kansas. We didn’t have a lot of extra resources, but when we outgrew our three bedroom home, we dug a basement underneath it, to provide more space. I think that my parents’ resourcefulness made up for the lack of other resources. My wife grew up in a medium-sized family (nine kids), and her experiences produced a lot of wisdom, understanding, and other good characteristics. “Normal” can be overrated.
This story does not surprise me at all. You are a genuine human being and were allowed to grow up in that genuine joy of discovery and hard work. In fact, my own history relates to yours in the sense that I come up in a family of Montana homesteaders. Thanks for your journey, and the pleasure of knowing something of your family.
Reading the previous entries, I find myself among similar circumstances.
My NC foothills forebears on both sides of my parents’ families were simple country people who lived in what today would be called shacks–way beyond substandard housing. When we moved up a notch we 3 lived in a rented house on the edge of the town where I grew up, and gave shelter to relatives on both sides when they needed it. We had one of the first television sets to hit the market so I felt privileged as a preschooler who paid attention to my grandmother’s clock and learned to tell time, listen for the trains to come through on the tracks behind the red barn where neighbors kept their plow horses, ran across fields and visited grownups and read comic books to my cousins before I was allowed to go to school. Having an October last week birthday, I would not be six in time to enroll in the much-awaited primary first grade, so was almost 7 before I had a teacher behind a desk instead of behind a washboard. My grandmother was always a reader, who took her children to the public library in town, walking 8 miles one way, if they missed the bus. Her teacher was a missionary named Mrs. Nowling, who came from “up North” to have a school. When I came home with my first report card from Mrs. Wagner, she had written that I had an impressive vocabulary. I had to ask my mom, “What’s a vocabulary?” All of my cousins thought I was spoiled because my mom who worked in a hosiery factory bought me a tin doll house and stuff to go in it. I still have some of those dolls and furniture. I wouldn’t trade those days for any amount of money.
Just ordered the book❣️ Jason’s Business Academy Classes have been priceless for me!! So appreciative of his shared knowledge, experience and practical tools for professional artists.