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Drawing with George

Columbus native George Bellows always had a talent for drawing, even at a young age. And he also had a talent for baseball. When a choice between the two arose, Bellows chose art. He played baseball at Ohio State University in the early 20th century and was offered a pro contract by the Cincinnati Reds. However, he left school early and headed to New York City to study art under Robert Henri.

‘George wanted to be an artist,’ his Aunt Fanny told us at the Columbus Museum of Art.’He could draw from an early age.’ Aunt Fanny, actually a docent who did an amazing job staying in character, took us back to 1915 when Bellows was at the peak of his career and one of the best known artists in the United States. The real Aunt Fanny lived with the Bellows family when George was young.

‘I was there to tuck him in at night. I taught him to whistle. I liked the idea of George drawing,’ she said. Aunt Fanny is part of the museum’s innovative Artist for a Day program for groups. After meeting with Aunt Fanny, we were taken to the archives for a rare look at some of Bellows’ etchings and drawings, including some early sketches. ‘it’s an opportunity the average visitors doesn’t get to do,’ said Ann, another volunteer. Then it was upstairs to try our hand at duplicating Bellows. However, Ann explained that the brief and basic drawing lesson was really intended to get us to slow down and look more thoroughly and thoughtfully at art.

‘We ask you to use drawing as a way to see art,’ she said as we were handed a small easel, pad of paper and plastic bag with pencils and an art gum eraser. ‘We are not teaching you how to draw, but a new way to experience art.’ Sitting on small portable stools, we practiced drawing the motion in a contemporary sculpture of dozens of oblong glass pieces. Then we focused on lines. Finally, moving to a gallery filled with Bellows work — the Columbus museum has the largest repository of his work in the world — we took at stab at copying one of his paintings.

I found myself really focusing on the details in the painting, a wintery 19th-century scene of a tugboat on the East River in New York with workers removing snow in horse-drawn sleds from the river banks in the foreground. Nobody is going to confuse me with Bellows or Picasso, but I did come away from the experience with a heightened appreciation of the intracacies of art.

Aunt Fanny tells about her nephew George Bellows.