Renaissance Boy

On Sunday, Aug. 13, 1972, the Minneapolis Tribune reported that U.S. B-52 bombers flew 130 strikes over Indochina, dropping more than 3,000 tons of weapons “on North Vietnamese supply caches, staging areas and troop concentrations.”DrawingMain

The news included other “similarly mundane” headlines to this 12-year-old: Harriman, Vance say Nixon ignored 1969 peace bid” and “President claims economic success.” In sports, Tarkenton, Vikings topple Chargers 24­­–13.”

The top movies that summer were Ben, The Candidate, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, The Godfather, Frenzy and Slaughterhouse-Five.

Donny Osmond (“Puppy Love”) and Wayne Newton (“Daddy Don’t You Run So Fast”), oddly enough, dominated the radio. The big hit since July was Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally).”

That Sunday’s forecast hinted at a chance of showers, high of 90, low of 62, under fair skies.

And just around sunset, at 8:23 p.m., after the dinner table was cleared, TVs were switched on.

There I was, probably in front of our living room RCA color TV, watching a program that would affect me for the next couple of years—if not the rest of my life.


While there’s no diary entry to reveal exactly how that Sunday unfolded (I wouldn’t start writing in diaries until Jan. 1, 1973), I recently discovered four spiral-bound Easel brand stenographic notebooks with drawings from that time.

My inspiration?

Leonardo da Vinci.

Drawing1You see, a CBS broadcast that Sunday at 8:00 p.m. was the first of a five-part drama titled “The Life of Leonardo da Vinci.” Produced by Italian TV, I recall the out-of-sync English-dubbed commentary by a bearded presenter named Giulio Bosetti.

After Part 1, I was hooked. I stayed with it until it ended in September.

What surprises me now is how the Family Project was on board, too.

Or maybe they weren’t.

Dad was a huge fan of Bonanza, on the local NBC affiliate, which ran at the same time as “Leonardo.” On ABC, Part 2 of a Russian production of Tolstoy’s War and Peace aired. Mom probably wanted to watch that. Independent station WTCN-11 viewers settled in that night for the musical stylings of Michel Legrand.

So whether the folks watched “Leonardo” with me that night, and then resorted to their usual TV fare for the subsequent parts, I don’t know. I probably watched later episodes alone on the small black and white TV that Mom kept in the kitchen.

I now wonder how all this young, nerdy-artistic enthusiasm was received by others—kids at school, in the neighborhood, and within the Family Project.

Being that Dad’s background was architecture (he liked to draw, too, and had impeccable handwriting), he probably encouraged me. I don’t recall anything specific, but the fact my brother and I were given space to explore must’ve been the folks’ way to involve their children in new things without seeming too pushy. Dad had tried that once before, to somewhat unhappy results.

When I saw a two-volume, soft-covered Dover Publications set of The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, my obsession only deepened. I saved money from a paper route (and whatever allowance I received) to finally make the purchase at Ridgedale mall’s B. Dalton Bookseller.

I pored over those thick Dover volumes: the intricate sketches, diagrams, maps, and even philosophical maxims, letters, and notes. Da Vinci was someone a sensitive preteen could aspire to: artist, scientist, philosopher … a real Renaissance man.

So, literally taking a page from The Maestro, I started learning how to draw.RenBoy

This went on for another two years, when the diary finally took over. The self-portrait (at right), drawn in early Sept. 1972, before the final episode of “Leonardo” aired, is a good example.

I found drawing difficult; it took concentration, taking the time to truly see things—the shape of eyes, mouth, face—and render them on paper as best I could.

Later, on Jan. 6, 1974, I used a drawing as background for a story titled “Mind and Body.” It was another Sunday, so I noted in the diary: “…time to work on my story ‘Mind and Body’ and my Geography booklet.”

The previous summer, before leaving on a Family Project trip to Canada (photo below left), I made sketches of ancient Roman soldiers, writing in the diary on July 11: “This morning I went to Vera’s to get a book and a sci-fi mag for our trip.”

DrawingFinalThere’s that obsessed kid again, nose in a book or magazine, always studying.

And ya know something?

I’d like to get him back.

As I’ve gotten older, I take things for granted. I assume I “already know stuff”—an assumption that constantly needs checking.

However, there’s something deeply satisfying about veering off the beaten path, looking at things in a way you never did before.

Perhaps Leonardo in his notebooks said it best:

“Learning acquired in youth arrests the evil of old age; and if you understand that old age has wisdom for its food, you will so conduct yourself in youth that your old age will not lack for nourishment.”

Gosh, let’s hope so.

~ by completelyinthedark on April 3, 2015.

One Response to “Renaissance Boy”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Working on a plan to get that obsessed former me drawing again. All-new CITD post next Friday. Cheers, Mike


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