When my bother, Vernon Leroy (Lee) Sizemore, retired from the military, he earned his living as a sign painter, a skill he had picked up in vocational high school and sharpened by—among other things—painting pin-up girls and fancy lettering on the noses of airplanes. In the years before his death, he was doing broadsheet window signs for grocery stores and night clubs. Some of his expert brush lettering signs were finished with glued-on glitter, especially those promoting bands and singers. Near the end of his life, he fell off a ladder while hanging an exterior sign and wound up with a severe right-side head injury. He was in a coma for months. Once he woke up, I visited him several times in Denver. He always had something interesting to say, riffs that would start O.K., then wander off into fantasy, not making much sense—but to my ears they were weird poetry. And when he drew Picasso-like portraits of people, me included, he always left the right side of the head blank. When I asked why, he said because that was the way they were.
Lee was a wonderful older brother. Because of all the good things he taught me during trips to museums and theaters, letting me tag along when he shined shoes in South Baltimore bars, and schooling me in basic sign layout theory, I’ve dedicated this post to him.
A collection of photographs like the ones above, on a wide range of subjects, are in the archives of FSA/OWI (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information). These rich color images, taken within three years of the invention of Kodachrome, serve to inspire as much as to document. To see more of them on this site, type “WPA color” into the small search window in the sidebar on the right of this page. For the complete collection, visit the WPA site by tapping the link in the sidebar box marked “Photography.”
By Jim Sizemore
On August 26, 1981, I wrote a longish letter to my niece, with whom I’d been corresponding for some time. What follows is an edited draft of the short note in that letter about one of my yearly visits to Ocean City, Maryland. The original draft also includes the doodle, below. (Click image to view a larger version.)
When we arrived at Ocean City last Saturday the weather was crummy; rain, wind, etc. It was like that all afternoon and evening and it was cold, too. By Sunday morning the rain had stopped but it was still overcast. Mid-morning showed a little sun between the clouds and by the afternoon it was beautiful; bright sun and clear, Kodachrome-blue sky and big white-capped surf. It’s been like that since.
I’m here with some friends and their kids—a boy and girl, ages 14 and 15—who happen to be the same ages as my son and his male friend, who are also here. So everyone has someone to play with. Last night the adults dined and shopped and strolled on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, just 16 miles north of here. Who knows—or wants to know—what the kids did?
Each weekend the rental units quickly empty out and fill right back up. Pale families arrive and tan families depart. Car doors and trunk lids pop open and suitcases, boxes, bags, coolers, folding chairs, beach towels, are packed in or pulled out. The air is full of greetings and goodbyes. The people leaving seem more relieved than rested. For better or worse, they have survived an intense week of togetherness and are now ready to return to the normal routine of everybody going their own way, doing their own things. Leisure, they have learned, can produce its own kind of pressure and they’ve had enough of it for this year.
The folks arriving, on the other hand, can’t wait for an early morning walk on the beach. Joggers, all sizes and shapes—with few exceptions grim-faced—separate into groups; some run on more or less solid ground, others prefer the shifting sand. Gulls scavenge near the water’s edge and casually turn their backs on human walkers. Surf fishermen, who never seem to catch anything, stand like sentinels with their poles pointing to England.
In the afternoon small airplanes, one every ten or fifteen minutes it seems, fly perhaps a hundred yards beyond the beach and a couple of hundred feet above the ocean, trailing commercial messages. (There’s no escape from the big bad Ad Man!) One banner, reading “MELLOW ROCK,” advertises a local radio station. The phrase seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. An attractive young woman yells to a macho boy in a bikini brief: “The water’s too rough.” He: “Rough, yes, but wonderful, too.” With that, chest out, he struts into the sea.
Now it’s late afternoon, around dinner time. Fewer human bodies still on the beach: some ugly, most average, a few beautiful. As you stand very still at the fringe of the surf, the ebbing water pulls the sand from under your toes and soon you are ankle-deep in the wet grains. Meanwhile, back at the beach house, aggressive black flies hang out at the screen door, demanding entrance.
Your uncle Jim.
Copyright © Jim Sizemore 2014
This is an edited re-post from June 20, 2008
My Sunday “Lonely Guy” activity is to read the New York Times and watch C-Span 2 Book TV, muted. If I glance something interesting on the screen — Christopher Hitchens, say, ranting about why we should be in Iraq — I may bring up the sound. That seldom happens. Most Sundays, only the rustle of newsprint is heard in my living room. Sometimes, though, the thing on TV that catches my eye is the shape of a nose, or a hairstyle, or an odd mouth and I feel a powerful urge to draw it — and the rest of the head. So I open my sketchbook, select a soft pencil from the coffee mug on the table by my chair, and set out to prove once again that I’m not only the world’s worst caricaturist, but should also get a medal for being the slowest. Of course, the nice thing about sketching talking heads on TV is they hold still for long periods, which means I can take all the time I need to get it wrong.
I have no idea why I doodled all that stuff on the sides, or wrote “The Other End” at the bottom, but I do enjoy making those little “drop” shadows under the letters. The thing that drives me mad, though, is that I have no memory of who most of the people are. (Memo to self: Keep better sketchbook notes). All I know for sure is that these folks appeared on C-Span 2 sometime in December, 2006. Also, I’m pretty sure the guy on the top left is a well-known newsman, one of the Kalb brothers, but which one? And the blond woman near the bottom of the left column is an expert on world religions. Interesting face, and I loved the informed talk she gave (I have the sound up while I sketch). Of course, all this assumes that I managed a passing likeness of at least those two.