Artist Charles Criner
“Man coming out of the water” print by Charles Criner is what is shown here plus background information about this talented artist.
What inspires an artist? Is it something deep within their soul, which must come out in some way tangible that the rest of us can see, touch, or experience? Are they using 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 think that it is a combination of these things and others which makes art and the artists who create works of art so exciting.
Charles Criner, who is the artist in residence at The Printing Museum in Houston, Texas (formerly known as the Museum of Printing History), is introduced to you in several other posts. You can see photos of him at his workplace and learn more about this kind and gentle spirit and the person into which he has evolved.
Background of Charles Criner
Charles was born in 1945 and grew up having varied experiences as a youth. He harvested food and cotton from Texas farm fields. Eventually, he worked 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 fieldwork and labor with fruits and vegetables that he did as a teenager growing up in Athens, Texas, including the following:
- Digging potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Shucking corn
- Peeling Tomatoes
- Picking blackberries
- Harvesting 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 grown and harvested at the time. Picking the crops happens when they are at an optimum time of being flavorful and ripe, and that is when canning companies get busy! After the chosen food gets to the cannery, the people employed there begin some serious work. Washing of the items, culling the bad ones, and then preparing the pieces for the canning process begins.
Charles Criner participated in the fieldwork as well as working at the cannery. 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 put them into another empty bucket. For each bucket of the hulled tomatoes, they would receive a dime back in the 1950s.
Charles Criner 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 caponize his roosters.”
Do you know what caponizing a rooster means? It merely means that they are 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 neutering happens 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. If not done correctly, it can result in the death of the rooster.
In addition to the jobs mentioned above, other ones Charles Criner did included these:
- Painting houses
- Cleaning bricks
- Working as a janitor
- Carpenter’s helper
- Building toilets
- Planting trees
- Digging post holes
Still, other jobs included babysitting for an older adult for a time, working as a busboy 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 make his living as an artist.
The words below come directly from Charles concerning building toilets:
“The man who we rented from built the outside toilets for his renters. On occasion, 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.”
Caring for His Siblings
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!
Inspiration for This Piece of Art
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 business accounts included the telephone and the light company. Papa Jack serviced some of the beautiful River Oaks yards.
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 significant number of uniquely designed grand architectural beauties, such as the one at Bayou Bend.
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 caught fish all around Galveston.
Papa Jack never used live bait but mostly used dead shrimp, and he did not fish for game fish…” never Speckled trout or Redfish.” 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
The story below 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 like this:”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 later. He had a good life and is now 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 of the love of fishing. It is a pastime much enjoyed by Charles when he has the time to do so.
Source of this information: Charles Criner