A is for Art and the Avocado. First of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years— adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.
My high school years, from 1965-68, were a time of growing awareness of my place in the world and the potential to join with others to influence events – even in my small Endwell suburb west of Binghamton, N.Y.
For my parents, though, high school was the on-ramp to college – the glistening goal they had dangled before me for as long as I could remember.
They had both gone to college –my mom Peg (Laurence) Charboneau went to Crain School of Music at SUNY Potsdam and my dad Norm graduated in Engineering from Clarkson College – and they wanted that for their children.
Thus, my high school years were about figuring out a potential college major, but also about exploring where my interests and passions led me – and to do it all by the age of 18! Enter Art and the Avocado.
My high school had a good art program that exposed me to a range of techniques – from collage, painting, and drawing, to block printing, fine-art ceramics, enameling, metalwork, and fiber arts.
There was an Art Club, too, that met weekly on Saturday mornings – and I was a member throughout high school.
We brought art into the local community, through competitions and poster projects — and connected with the local Roberson Museum and Science Center.
The art room became a welcome, creative escape from pounding the books in required academic classes – and an oasis where I could nurture my nascent artistic talent. I loved going there!
As time went on, I entered my work in a few contests and it was put on display around town. I also worked on sets for the school musical.
So, when college application time came, I prepared a portfolio and sent it to the University of Buffalo asking to join their art program.
Yet the 1960s were politically turbulent years, filled with civil rights struggles, the stirring of the women’s and LGBTQ movements, and a developing opposition to the Viet Nam war – and that’s where I devoted my extra-curricular energy, along with a group of like-minded activist classmates.
Meeting up at our homes and a local church coffee house (more in Letter C), we decided to collaborate on a counter-culture underground newspaper with an irreverent, anti-establishment title: The Star-Spangled Avocado.
It was more of a literary and art magazine than a political one, but our budding rejection of mainstream politics showed through.
Putting out a secret publication was an exhilarating teen experience involving clandestine evening planning meetings, writing poems and essays, creating illustrations, printing after-hours on a local church’s photocopier, stapling it together — and finally distributing it at school to a general buzz among students and shock among our conservative school administrators.
We published anonymously to protect ourselves. To add to the drama, one of the guys in our group wore a trench coat and fedora to school on distribution day and handed out copies of the Avocado from a violin case.
A lasting change
Of course the powers that be clamped down on the whole operation, so we only put out one issue.
Yet prompted by the Avocado’s success, they established the school’s first officially sanctioned literary and art journal called Gryphon.
Colored cover, nice paper, offset printing. I worked on art and layout, and one of my drawings was published.
Today, a form of that creative journal lives on, as described on Maine-Endwell’s website: “Spartan Muse is the school magazine, which is open to all students. Students submit stories and poetry, as well as works of art.”
At a 50th class reunion in 2018, I ran into Bill, one of my Avocado colleagues — and during a nostalgic tour of the school, we saw a copy of Spartan Muse on a classroom desk.
“You see that?” Bill asked, smiling. “That exists because of us.”
His comment underscored the lesson I took away from our undercover publishing experience: Art might be a refuge, but the Avocado was a passion project that gave me (and probably all of us) the first glimmer of what’s possible when people — even teens — band together for change.
Up next, B is for Birthday Surprise: I turn 18! Please stop back. Meanwhile, please visit the intrepid bloggers over at Sepia Saturday.
© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.