Bill was driving from Canada to Los Angeles. He had been on the road for hours when he saw the neon sign flashing “Vacancy”. In the middle of nowhere, feeling miserable and exhausted from his long drive he steered into the parking lot. Later, alone in his room, a knock on the door rustled Bill out of his malaise. The motel owner stuck his head in the room. “Mr. Alexander,” he said, “Come on and join us folks. We’re having a party and we want you to come by.”
The coffee shop had a pretty little Christmas tree. A tinselly “Merry Christmas” banner hung over the counters and a big bowl of Christmas punch graced one table. Everyone made Bill the guest of honor. They sang carols and talked of past Christmas Eves well into the night. As Bill returned to his room he felt rejuvenated, ready to take on the world. “Bring on that almighty city” he said to himself, “I am master of that city already.”
That’s not exactly how it turned out in Los Angeles, though. Almost as soon as he arrived, Bill began visiting art galleries. He wanted to see what artwork was popular and to learn if the gallery owners would display his paintings. He did not meet with much success. In one of the galleries, though, he met Martha – his first friend in Los Angeles. Bill was browsing when he noticed a group of women painting in the corner. The owner took him and some of his paintings over to them. The women were painting a copy of John Singer Sargent’s The Oyster Gatherers. One of them was painting tiny little squares, like paint-by-numbers, one after another.
Bill was curious why she was painting in such a manner. She replied that her teacher taught that method and she had been painting like this for a couple of months. When the class ended, she invited Bill to her home. Martha and her husband were wealthy and lived in a large mansion in Hollywood Hills. During dinner they discussed art and later Bill painted a picture for her. He encouraged her never to discard what she had learned, but always to build something new on top of it. Martha became Bill’s first student in Los Angeles and a lifelong friend. Martha would go on to become a successful artist in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the rest of Bill’s time in Los Angeles was not as fruitful. Bill returned to Canada. It would be two more years before he would venture back.
Searching for Success
The next twelve years involved many trips between Los Angeles and Canada. Bill bought a new Volkswagen bus. It was a large, special demonstration model. It had large picture windows which were ideal for displaying his paintings. He loaded the bus with canvases, brushes and paints. It was Bill and Margarete’s home for the years they were traveling. On the side Bill painted, in bold colors, “The Old Master Painter from the Faraway Hills.”
Like a lot of people, Bill and Margarete came to southern California to avoid the cold northern winters and to find the ‘happy buck’. It took them a while to find a place suitable for Bill to set up a business. They settled in Long Beach. Hoping to attract some students, Bill ran an advertisement in the local newspaper. He got no response. There were thousands of painters in Los Angeles all trying to make the big time. You could find painters everywhere. Painters were in small roadside stands in Laguna Beach. Of course, Artists’ work was displayed in the fine, plush carpeted galleries on La Cienega Boulevard. In fact, there were hundreds of galleries. There just weren’t enough patrons of art to support all those seeking to sell their art. Most of the patrons also preferred modern artists. Bill was a tiny fish in a gigantic pond.
American Institute of Fine Arts
Martha had developed a lot of interesting and important friends. She worked with people at the American Institute of Fine Arts. They brought artists together with important people who might help them.
Bill and Martha had been out of touch for four years. Their paths, though, soon crossed again. She hosted afternoon gatherings along with the Austrian Consul General. She invited Bill and Margarete to many of these social gatherings. Martha even sponsored a show of Bill’s work. She displayed Bill’s paintings throughout her large Spanish-style house. It was a proud moment for Margarete and Bill. As a result, Bill obtained several important commissions for portraits and landscapes. Bill was beginning to move up in the Los Angeles art world.
Bill, though, just couldn’t get teaching out of his blood. More than anything he liked to teach people to paint. Realizing that advertising wasn’t going to work, Bill went out, again, into the shopping centers and malls. He set up his easel and began to paint. Once the shoppers saw Bill ‘firing in’, with his paintbrush, he had no problem getting students. After a while, he even had lines of people waiting to sign up for lessons. Margarete took care of organizing the classes. She grouped students in their classes according to their ability. She and Bill designed all their classes to create a happy environment for the students. That was Bill’s way: to make painting a time of happiness and friendship.
Bill’s teaching was fast becoming his trademark. He had many successful students who went on to become artists and teachers themselves. Bill’s greatest human traits came out in his teaching – his compassion and love for his students.