Learning to be Fearless
The Object Works Dec 1987 - Oct 1989 · Pittsburgh, PA
In December of 1987 I was a starving Art Institute student living in a roach infested, two-room apartment in an alley of an alley in a rough part of Pittsburgh. Always broke I worked nights in the kitchen of a wild jazz club while I was attending the very first Industrial Design & Technology program. One morning as I walked across the 6th Street (Now the Roberto Clemente) Bridge in the freezing winds that blasted up the Ohio River I decided to folks at the school about a career related job. I was tired of always being hungry and starting to panic that I would never be more than a dishwasher and parking lot bulldog.
As I made my way down the stairs into our maze-like, recently remodeled basement classrooms I could see the department chair was on the phone in his office. Upon hanging up he waved me in, asking me what I needed. When I asked about finding some career related work while still attending school he became very excited. Apparently the call he had just received was from The Object Works, a small specialty prop fabrication studio a few blocks away and they were asking after an apprentice. And that is how I ended up spending two of my most important, formative learning from the best.
The Object Works was located in the heart of the city on the upper floor of a small building close to the Allegheny River. It provided creative services to commercial photographers and marketing agencies. In those pre-CG days anything that had to be seen on camera had to be made by hand. This shop provided high quality work that always astounded its clients. If you needed something unique, artistic and perfect designed, fabricated and managed on set during a photo/film shoot then this was the creative studio to rely on.
Run by a precise mannered, no frills owner, he also had two full time employees and then myself. I could write a short story about the important impact the owner had on me in form my conduct as a professional in all that I do. One coworker was a craftsman/carpenter who spent time helping me hone my tool use and material handling. He too deservers credit for teaching me useful skills that I have used for a lifetime. Those two helped me to define myself and gave me incentive to always try to do/be better at my "craft."
The third adult, Kyler Black, is who I am going to write about here. In fact, this whole post is just so I can tell you about the third man. He was a creative, artistic genius. He could find unique, effective solutions to creative problems. His design and ingenuity were brilliant to me and loved watching him come up with the means to bring imaginings into reality. A real wizard, he could bring any concept to life.
Tall, slimly athletic, full of energy and always talking with his hands while his body swayed around, his eyes would flashing as he’d be telling me some crazy story from his life. I was a teenager that just moved to the “Big City” from “Pennsyltucky.” I found him incredibly fascinating, and also initially confusing. You see, he was also very much, as he himself phrased it to me when me met for the first time, “flamingly, fantastically gay.” I had grown up where being homosexual meant scorn and beatings. As a teenager already really struggling to find my own identity (still struggling as I write this! Yoinks! It NEVER ends!) he caused me to really consider how I felt about homosexuality.
I grew up in a very macho, rural culture being wherein gay men were to be hated, spit at and ridiculed, yet, here I was really enjoying my friendship with “one.” His candid nature, and fearlessness in being who he chose to be won me over. His friendship helped me recognize that what I had grown up around was awful. Learning that just being friends with gay people didn’t make you gay, and that gay people were just PEOPLE and not monsters really changed my world view. I would go so far as to say it opened it up and gave me the ability to see past the superficial differences in order to really "see" and understand a person.
I think of him often, and evoke him in certain ways when I become overly animated at solving creative problems. Those hours spent working together at the studio or on set are some of my most treasured memories. It takes very little effort to recall his mannerisms and humor. It was his fearless, bold, brash and just GO FOR IT with gusto attitude that influenced me most. The fact that he could back up that attitude with mad, crazy artistic skills was amazing to me. His tendency to not let people roll over him, or push him around for being who he was inspired me. He gave me the gift of being fearless in attempting to reach my personal goals as an artist.
Years later I found myself working at a set design & construction company. He had become a Head Scenic artist for locally filmed movies. Occasionally he’d rent our shop/painting space and bring his ever lively & vibrant crew. A few years after that, while I was working as an artist in the exhibits department of the Carnegie Museum, I received word of his passing. It had been a few months previous and I had missed his funeral, though I seem to recall being told his family hadn’t had one. It really hit me.
So here’s to Kyler Black, one of the most lively, creative souls that I have ever learned from. He was a good friend and I am a better human being for having known him. He made me fearless too.