The Providence Story

 

Bertha and I were still essentially small-town folks and we wanted to raise our family out of the big city so I decided to look for a job in a smaller place. Again I went to the Litho Technical Foundation and was referred to Livermore and Knight in Providence, R.I. Interviewed Mr. Knight in his New York office and was told that I could have the job as an artist for $100 per week. Lindsay offered me $75 per week guarantee and $3 per hour for every hour I worked if I stayed but decided to leave anyhow. Before making a final decision we decided to drive up there on a Saturday morning to look the place over and talk to Mr. Knight more about the job. So I had my talk with Mr. Knight and accepted the job.

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I moved up to Providence and decided to stay at the YMCA hotel just a few blocks from my work. Bertha and the boys would stay in Jamaica until I was sure of my job and liked the city. Every Saturday I would take the New Haven R.R. down to New York, get on the subway and get home in time for supper. Then I would leave home at 10 p.m. Sunday, catch an 11 p.m. bus and arrive in Providence at 5 a.m. I would get off the bus, go to my room and get a couple of hours shuteye before going to work.

 

Livermore and Knight occupied an old five story building right in the center of town – really an antique. They had a good-for-nothing art director named Jimmy Lamont. About all he did was sit and read magazines, I did all the work, the craziest system I ever heard of. I enjoyed my work, though, and enjoyed the town.

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Rented a house at 10 Ferrier Drive in Gaspee Plateau and moved the family up there without incident right after school was out in Jamaica. The neighbors were very neighborly right from the start, and we made lifelong friends of the Sanborns, Pearces, Sullivans, Verrys, Schmidts, Arnolds, Jessie & George Hamilton and others. They can say all they want to about the friendliness of the Texans and the coldness of the New Englanders – we found them just the opposite.

10 Ferrier Drive, 2015.

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 We were very happy in this home. We lived right on Narragansett Bay and the kids just loved it. Boats all over and we could see the big freighters and tankers go by. Bob, particularly just lived on the water front. Bob became very proficient making model boats, helping on larger boats and motors and became very good at drawing pictures of them, too.

(l) Clarence, Bertha, Charles & Robert at home in Providence.

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Downtown Providence after 1938 hurricane.

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Boats on the road in Pawtuxet.

On September 21, 1938, just three months after we moved there occurred the great hurricane, which, before it subsided took about 400 lives and did untold damage. I was at work and fortunately did not have my car parked down on the waterfront as I usually did. Eight feet of water was blown up the Bay at high tide, covering most of downtown Providence. There had been three days of continuous rainfall preceding the big blow. When it hit, the first thing I noticed looking out the window was the tin roof of the building across the street curl right up and fall in the street. Then the skylight on our building blew in. We began to get pretty nervous and figured we better get the hell out of there and head for home and since I had not brought my car down that day, I knew I had to walk. Most of the windows were blown out downtown by this time and every time I approached a corner I would peek around to see if anything was blowing down my way. I could not call home and there was no transportation.

When I got to Pawtuxet an amazing sight met my eyes. Boats were piled up against the bridge and the water had risen so that the decks of these boats were almost even with the bridge. It was then that I realized the worst part of the hurricane was not the wind, but the windblown flood tide. As I continued walking, I was aghast at the sight of the nice pine grove near our house for the trees had been snapped like matchsticks. When I got home I found the family huddled on the sofa, scared as hell – the water had risen almost to our backyard gulley. The salt spray had been blown up and covered the entire area.

The next day was a beautiful day and I went downtown. The damage was terrific. The basement of Livermore and Knight was flooded and water had risen four feet deep in the office. Our biggest press was flooded – all our paper stock and samples ruined. To us personally, there was no loss. The electricity was off for a week and some of our neighbors who had electric ranges came over to use our gas range to cook.

 

Business was pretty poor in 1939 and after I had been there about a year I was terminated. Why me and not Jimmy Lamont I will never know for I was doing all the work. I made a deal to stay on with them on a free lance basis and this worked out as well or better than when I was on a salary, I could work as much or as little as I found expedient and had the use of their space and materials. I had one good customer on the outside, The Fram Corp. from whom I got considerable art work.

We were only paying $50 per month rent where we were but we decided we wanted to build a home of our own. We bought a nice lot at 23 Howie Ave. By chance, Bertha ran into a builder, Hilaire Guindon, whose workmanship we liked. He drew up plans and these we liked and gave him a contract to build it for $8,000. We really got our money’s worth for it was really a swell house, unusual enough to attract considerable attention. 99% of the houses up there were Colonial or Cape Cod – ours was entirely different – hugging the ground and spread out with  granite stone work in front, steel casement windows, hand made garage doors, etc. Our builder was a stubborn old Frenchman and we had a few arguments but we finally moved in in 1941. Just prior to moving in, the Swedish neighbors across the street had a nice welcoming smorgasbord as a sort of block party and that warmed us greatly.

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The 23 Howie house (above) and a Christmas

card Clarence designed (right).

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Then the war came along. We first heard of Pearl Harbor on our way home from Worcester, Mass. When we had taken Bertha’s mother to catch a train. I forgot to mention that we also bought a new 1940 Buick, trading in our 1936 Chrysler, so we beat the ban on new cars.

 

Business in my line was not good. Early into World War Two a Kaiser shipyard was started on the Bay not far from our home. I got nervous about trying to depend on art work to make a living, so when the shipyard was started I went down and applied for a job as a loftsman which seemed at the time to be the only outlet for my talent. I started there for 58 cents per hour, believe it or not and the first couple of months I worked twelve hours a day seven days a week on the night shift. Later we went to a ten hour day and after about a year an eight hour day. That way I was able again to return to Livermore and Knight and work there five or six hours. So my work day during the war was from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Pretty tough on me and pretty tough on the family who saw so little of me.

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Liberty ships that were built at the Kaiser Shipyard during World War II.

I liked the loftsman job pretty well. I learned a lot about wood working and worked with a lot of interesting people from all walks of life. I was a lead man on the night shift the last year or so and it was an easy job – had lots of time for reading and sketching pencil portraits of people. My main job was taking care of and interpreting blueprints of the ships we were building.

I was at the shipyard when the war ended. Of course everyone was terminated and I was glad when I could get back to artwork full time and have more time at home. I felt, however, that I had by working there (at very poor wages) contributed my bit to the war effort.

While in Wichita, back in the twenties, besides teaching nights, I did a lot of painting and print making and continued doing so in Fort Worth but got out of the notion in Providence and in New York City, for I had less time and ambition. I did go to night classes at the Rhode Island School of Design for a year.

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Two prints inspired by his time in Providence.  (l) "In Old Provincetown" & (r) "On Narragansett Bay."