autobiography Blog

giant thumb tack

I took art all four years of high school. My junior year I took art twice, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. There were other electives available, but I didn’t take any of those. Why bother?

For the majority of my high school career I focused on what the registrar called “2D Art.” Painting, drawing: anything done by making marks on paper. There was, however, “3D Art,” that bizarro art class where you made things out of clay or plaster or whatever consumed that mystical third dimension.

The first year you took the art elective, you had to take one semester of 2D Art and one semester of 3D art. This, I suppose, was to ensure we were exposed to both kinds of art. I took 3D Art spring semester of my freshman year of high school. My biggest accomplishment was building a giant thumb tack.

Mr. Gillis, our art teacher and later one of my cross country coaches, wore aviator glasses and had floppy hair that covered his ears. His favorite expression was “lunchbag.” When kids teased him about his ‘70s fashion sense, he’d retaliate by calling them “lunchbags.” It was the perfect non-profanity that still got the meaning across just fine.

Why I chose a thumb tack is unclear, but I probably believed it would be simple to make. I had very little faith in my 3D art abilities. I was never good with tools, had never assisted my father with projects around the house. When I had to make a Pinewood Derby racer for Cub Scouts I sanded the corners of the block of wood, painted each side a single color, and snapped on the wheels.

The thumb tack was big, maybe three feet tall and two or three feet in diameter. I used chicken wire for the rounded edge, covering it in plaster of paris. The rest was cardboard.

Mr. Gillis took a shine to that huge thumb tack. I thought I had distinguished myself for figuring out that pennies newer than 1974 used zinc, which, when put through the kiln, would explode and leave a white cloudlike burst in the pot. But as I was clearing out my projects for the summer, Mr. Gillis asked if he could take a picture of me with the giant thumb tack. He presented a slide show on the first day of class and wanted my thumb tack to be a part of it.

Mr. Gillis called to me on my way out, in the way a teacher does right before he has something life-changing to say.

“Hey Josh,” he said. “Don’t sit on that!”

I promised I would not.

The thumb tack is long gone, but these two pictures remain. They are the legacy of my brief foray into the 3D arts.