By Herman Sillas
I had a very smart mother, and I was her first child. She stayed home learning how to be a mother and took her role seriously. She taught me how to talk and write. I also began drawing things with crayons. She would show them to family members and hang my pictures on the walls. All this took place before I entered school at age 5, and I had one sister at that time. I enjoyed school and got good grades. I loved painting too.
At some point in time, my parents had me attend a Saturday morning painting class for children in Los Angeles. The teacher was a nice woman with a lot of patience. She had numerous postcards and pictures we could select to paint copies on a canvas and take home when we were finished. Our class was two hours every Saturday. I think my paintings took months to complete. My mother and father appreciated my efforts and hung my paintings with a frame. I continued with my Saturday morning painting classes and each picture was larger and better than the last one.
When I was about 14, my Saturday morning teacher suggested to my parents that I should attend art classes given by the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. My parents made an appointment with the president of the school and I took my latest painting. He observed it and suggested I enroll in the evening painting class when models were available. My parents agreed to deliver me on Mondays and Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and pick me up at 10 p.m.
On my first night, I entered with my paints and a new canvas. I asked the receptionist where the painting class was located. She directed me to the first door upstairs on the right. I went upstairs and opened the door. There, in the middle of the room, stood a posed nude woman surrounded by adult artists next to their canvas paintings. I closed the door and dashed downstairs to confirm I had the right location. The receptionist confirmed that I was in the right room. I went upstairs again and introduced myself to the teacher. He said to set up where I could and to commence painting. I did and felt that my face turned red every time I looked at the nude lady.
When I was picked up by my parents, they of course wanted to see my painting. I was in the back seat. I said my painting was not very good. My mother insisted on seeing it as my father drove the car. I handed her my painting. She didn’t say anything and showed it to my dad. Not a word was said on our trip home. I went to bed and figured that my artist career was over. The next morning my father said, “We don’t know that much about art. But if these classes are taken by artists, we agree you can go to these classes.”
My mother said I was to place the nude paintings in my closet out of view. My close buddies came by to view my nude paintings every week as I continued with my art. Eventually, I received a scholarship from the art school. Ultimately, I went to the University of California, Los Angeles and on to its law school. I became a lawyer, but I never quit painting. When the Chicanos became active in the ’60s, I began to represent a lot of them and their teachers. My art background became a way for me to convey to Chicanos, Mexicans and non-Mexicans, the times we were all having to address as young Mexican-Americans. My years as an art student helped me convey on canvas my feelings to our generation and the general audience at the time.
Let your children and grandchildren explore their dreams. My parents did and I thank them for letting me explore art. Every Mother’s Day, I’m reminded of my mother’s decision that had such a positive effect on my life. That’s the view from the Pier.
Herman Sillas is a former director of California’s DMV and former U.S. Attorney of The Eastern
District of California. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org