Charles Criner Art | “Man Coming Out Of The Water”
“Man coming out of the water” Print by Charles Criner
What inspires an artist? Is it something deep within their soul which must be expressed in some way tangible that the rest of us can see, touch or experience? Is it a medium in which to share their feelings of joy or sadness? Is it a document regarding their life experiences? Can their creations be used to influence us, the viewers, and perhaps teach us things about which we would not have otherwise known?
I personally think that it is a combination of these things and others which makes art and the artists who create works of art so interesting.
Charles Criner who is the artist in residence at the The Printing Museum in Houston, Texas (formerly known as the Museum of Printing History) will be introduced to you in several other posts. You can see photos of him at his workplace and learn more about this kind and gentle man and the person into which he has evolved.
Charles was born in 1945 and grew up having varied experiences as a youth He harvested food and cotton from Texas farm fields to eventually work as a newspaper artist, a cartoonist plus was able to list NASA on his resume having worked there as a graphic artist.
We will focus here on his early days…
Some of the field work and labor with fruits and vegetables that he did as a teenager growing up in Athens, Texas included the following:
- Digging potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Shucking corn
- Peeling Tomatoes
- Picking blackberries
- Picking peaches
- Unloading peas and canning peas
- Canning of fruit juices
- Picking strawberries
The Athens Canning Company is where Charles and his grandmother Jewel worked.
Canning is done on a seasonal basis all depending upon what is being harvested at the time.
Crops which are grown are obviously harvested when they are at an optimum time of being flavorful and ripe and that is when canning companies get really busy!
After the crops are delivered to the cannery, the people employed there begin some serious work. Washing of the items, culling the bad ones and then preparing the items for the canning process varies depending upon what is being processed.
Charles Criner participated in the field work as well as working at the cannery when various items were canned.
Preparing tomatoes to be canned: The tomatoes would come to the workers in the cannery in baskets. They would be emptied into hot water and then placed into two gallon metal buckets.
The workers would take the tomatoes out and remove the hull and place them into another empty bucket. For each bucket of the hulled tomatoes, they would receive a dime back in the 1950s.
Charles was very familiar with farm animals and among other jobs he at times did the following:
- Raised chickens
- Caponized roosters
- Plucked chickens
- Castrated hogs
- Helped slaughter hogs
- Worked with cows
In asking Charles for more clarification regarding just what he meant by working with cows, this was his response:
“I don’t remember just why I mentioned cows to you, but I took Agriculture from Mr. Payne in school. Mr. Payne castrated cows, pigs, horses and any other animal that needed it. He hired me and two other boys to work with him. It was an amazing job. I haven’t thought about it for many years.
We would work with a razor blade and a black liquid that was called “Pine top” which was mopped into the wound after the testicles were removed. After the work was finished we would take them to a lady who bought them from Mr. Payne.
I also aided my Uncle Harmon to slaughter his hogs every October. And I also helped him caponise his roosters.”
Do you know what caponizing a rooster means? It simply means that they have been castrated. Their testes have been removed to make the birds less aggressive in the barnyard and it also makes them grow fatter and meatier. The castrating is done before their sex hormones are fully developed at timing anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks of age.
It takes a very steady hand and expertise because this is a surgical operation and if not done properly it can result in the death of the rooster.
Physical Labor was no stranger to Charles Criner!
In addition to the jobs mentioned above other ones included these:
- Painting houses
- Cleaning bricks
- Working as a janitor
- Working as a carpenter’s helper
- Building toilets
- Planting trees
- Digging post holes
“The man who we rented from built the outside toilets for his renters. On occasions I helped him when he needed me. One day when I was about ten years old I asked him if I could build some for him.
He told me to build one and if he liked it he would hire me to build more. It was one of the proudest times of my life. So for a whole summer I built toilets for Mr. W.M. Brown. I’ve forgotten what he paid me for each one but I believe that I built about ten or fifteen.”Prior to being able to get out and engage in jobs such as the ones listed above, and before his grandmother Jewel came to live with them, Charles was responsible for taking care of his younger 6 sisters and 1 brother by making sure they were clothed and fed their daily meals when his mother was out of the house working.
Charles learned to cook at a very young age!Still other jobs included babysitting for an elderly woman for a time; working as a bus boy and working in security.
While Charles may have cut his teeth so-to-speak on a wide variety of chores and jobs which he describes as “exciting and colorful” ultimately it led him to making his living as an artist.
Charles Criner’s mother, Henretta
“My mother never worked with us in the cannery or the fields. My mother was a domestic worker. She always worked in the homes of people as a maid.
I never worked with my mother, she was gone from seven a.m. until five p.m. She was a very hard worker. My mother’s salary was $12.00 a week. I know because we would discuss what we had and what we could do with it.
A great day in our lives was when the people who she worked for built a motel in Athens. They hired my mother as a cook and raised her salary. I don’t remember what her salary was raised to but life was better for us. We had plenty of leftover food that she would bring home with her from the motel.
I didn’t benefit from it very much because after she had started to work at the motel for a few months, I came to Houston and enrolled at Texas Southern.”
Charles Criner almost always uses real people that he knows or has known for subject matter in his art. The fisherman portrayed in this piece of art was his “Papa Jack” who was his wife Brenda’s grandfather.
According to Charles, he was “the best fisherman in the world. He owned a landscaping company but he would take off and go fishing at the drop of a hat.”
That landscaping company included commercial and residential contracts and Papa Jack employed about seven people.
Some of the commercial accounts included the telephone and the light company. Some of the resplendent River Oaks yards were serviced by him.
For those who may not be familiar with Houston, River Oaks is one of the distinguished locales where wealthy people settled and before mansions started popping up in other places around town. This location still contains a great number of uniquely designed grand architectural beauties such as the one at Bayou Bend.
“Man coming out of the water”
This “Man coming out of the water” 22″ x 30″ acrylic on paper started out as a lithography print with an edition of 15 black and white made in the year 2000. Criner’s “Papa Jack” was the inspiration behind this art.
2500 posters were also created for Juneteenth and have all been given away with no more remaining.
“Papa Jack” painting by Charles Criner
The original 22″ x 30″ acrylic painting of “Papa Jack” shows a “man wade fishing in a platted shirt with a cap with hooks in it. His rod is bent and he is removing a little fish.”
The original painting is in New Orleans at a gallery.
Favorite Fishing Locations of Papa Jack
Charles told me that Papa Jack’s favorite places to fish were Texas City, San Leon and Locking Dam near Buffalo on Highway 45 north. He also fished all around Galveston.
He never used live bait but mostly used dead shrimp. He also did not fish for game fish…“never Speckled trout or Red fish.”
He preferred catching croaker and catfish that he would then sell as soon as he returned to Houston.
“Mama Lula” (his wife) would clean the fish. If the fishing trip proved to be unsuccessful he would still bring back fresh fish purchased in Kemah.A Funny Thing
This is what Charles related as “a funny thing.”
“Papa Jack’s house was located at the beginning of a small street that ended one block behind his house. He was a Deacon in church.
On Sundays when the fish was biting in Galveston the church members would go past Papa Jack’s house to attend church. They would see him on the side of his house preparing his boat for fishing. They would never say anything about his not attending church because he donated the land and built the church.”
Charles Criner and Fishing
Sometimes Papa Jack would call Charles at work and invite him to go fishing. When Charles explained that he could not leave his job, Papa Jack would say something to the effect like: You should never work for a place that won’t allow you to go fishing when you want to!
Papa Jack died when he was well into his eighties and his wife died a year after he did. He obviously had a good life and will now always be memorialized for his love of fishing with the artwork created by Charles Criner.
While Charles may not have been able to take off from work, he has carried on the tradition having to do with the love of fishing. It is a pastime much enjoyed by Charles when he has the time to do so.If you liked this post be sure and click on these related ones: