Uccello Rosso: The Frist Ten Years
Miles DeCoster is a painter, printmaker, photographer, book artist and educator currently residing in Reading, Pennsylvania. He has a studio at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, also in Reading and is a professor in the Communication Design department at Kutztown University where he teaches interactive design and related topics.
DeCoster grew up in rural Missouri, born at mid-century in the small town of California. The family shortly moved to Canton, another small Missouri town on the Mississippi River north of the more famous Hannibal, one time home of Samuel Clemons and eternal home of his fictional Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. His parents grew up in the nearby town of Ewing, son and daughter of farmers, though there were some merchants, lawyers, and bankers in the family as well. The DeCoster name came from Belgian immigrants who fled Second Empire France — the distinction between Belgium and France being rather unclear at the time — for the greener pastures of middle-America. The other three-quarters of his lineage were Irish: the McNallys, the Hersts and the Padgetts who presumably left Ireland for food and land though the pastures could hardly have been greener than in County Cork. His father was a Navy flight instuctor during World War II, graduated from St. Louis University and studied law at the University of Missouri. His mother attended Northeast Missouri State Teachers College, founded as First Missouri Normal School and Commercial College, subsequently North Missouri Normal School of the First District, Northeast Missouri State College, Northeast Missouri State University, and currently Truman State University. She taught elementary school before embarking on the full-time career of raising 6 children.
His given name was a family name, borne by an uncle, know as Miley, a great uncle called Miley Mac, his great-great-grandfather, Miles McNally and another relation, Miles McGinnis.
I will switch to the first person here, as what follows is well within my own memories and it is odd to write in the third person of oneself though I will try to state the facts, such as they appear to me, without undue elaboration, distortion or digression.
I was the near-middle of 6 children (an even number having no middle), three older, two younger. We all attended the same school, which though not one-room, was one building. With a twelve year gap between oldest and youngest some one of us occupied that school for 24 years. I mention without comment that my first six elementary teachers left the school after their year with me, for retirement or greener pastures. Though I had many fine teachers, I will mention only my art teacher, Don, who encouraged me in my art and employed me as a delivery boy for his primary business as a florist, which duties included many trips to the funeral home and the sometimes onerous task of pinning the corsage on the corpse of the day.
I also had a job with the US Postal Service delivering Special Delivery mail before and after school every day. If you paid an extra 35 cents postage your letter would be personally delivered (by me) as soon as it arrived at the post office, the mail coming in from the sorting station in Hannibal at 7 am and 3 pm each day. There was (and is) a college in the town, and much of the Special Delivery mail was for the college or its students. Though the town proper was located on the flat spread of land adjacent to the river where also ran the railroad and Highway 61, the college was smartly located on the bluffs, and so a strenuous peddle up “College Hill” was a usual part of my morning routine.
My grandfather, Alvi Herst, was a farmer and carpenter and with my grandmother Elsie resided in the white frame house where my mother grew up on the outskirts of Ewing, though given its population of less than 200 I am not sure that Ewing had skirts. We visited as a family often and the grandkids were sometimes shipped off in ones or twos for a full week during the summer. With siblings or cousins, we fed pigs and chased chickens, gathered eggs, built a raft to float on the pond, tried to make gunpowder, drove tractors and generally amused ourselves as best we could. Among my current possessions I still have the razor strap which belonged to my grandfather and which left an occasional sting on my butt subesquent to my infrequent transgressions of acceptable behavior. Alvi also did a little painting. He painted landscapes, usually from calendars or pictures in magazines, but also did some simple portraits of his children and grandchildren, and at my behest, a portrait of Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveler. While it would be unfair to blame him for my career in the arts, as a dozen or more other grandchildren were not so inclined or otherwise resisted the impulse, I will credit him nonetheless for showing me that painting pictures was actually something that a person could do. I have, however, resisted the impulse to raise pigs and chickens which was not entirely the case with other grandchildren. My aunt Ruby also did some painting, though this I only learned much later, as she had moved to far off Minnesota well before my time.
At the prompting of my grandfather, I got my first oil paints from a Mr. Hill who ran one of the town's hardware stores, as this was a time when even a small town might have more than one. He was a man my grandfather’s age, which is simply to say “old,” with black glasses and very white hair. The paints were not what are now sold as artists' pigments, but were intended for use as tinting colors for mixing custom paint in the hardware store. Mr. Hill had a printed guide indicating the proper proportions of the tubes of base colors and a quart or gallon of white to produce a wide range of appropriate interior and exterior colors for houses, trim, fences and out buildings. I also recall that he acquired for me a couple of large-format paperback books on portrait and landscape painting published by Walter Foster. I would not put undue emphasis on painting here, as if destiny were calling; at the time it was no different than making gunpowder, chasing chickens, or playing second base though I have no large-format paperback books on chicken chasing.
End of part 1