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Artist George Lamson: Discovering the many colors of life

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-03-06

George Lamson is one of Okinawa's finest artists. But for Lamson to become an artist, you could say that he took the long road to get there.

Born and raised in Ohio, USA, Lamson grew up with not much thought about education, never mind learning anything about art. He quit school at the age of sixteen and joined the marines. "I knew then that I was going to be traveling a lot," said Lamson as he chuckled about his adventurous youth.

Looking at Lamson, you probably would not guess that he spends hour upon hour in front of the canvas. Instead, you could pick him out to be an ex-football player, or an outdoors-man from maybe Alaska. From a distance, Lamson's size gives him an imposing presence, but up-close his just as large smile, which pokes through his full beard, lets you know that the man is a gentle giant. He likes to talk, and he has much to talk about. But when it comes to his art, he is very shy and humble. His artwork, however, speaks for itself.

It was after spending 22 years in the US Military, retiring as a Master Sergeant in the Air Force, that Lamson fell upon his ultimate challenge and personal love. While working as a General Manager for a Pastry Company in Texas, he decided to take an art class at the San Antonio Art Institute. "I was looking for an outlet from work. I remember thinking that I don't know a damn thing about art, but I'm going to try," explained Lamson.

Realizing that Lamson had a natural talent, it was suggested by some of his peers that he should further his studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Lamson not only took more classes, but he also earned himself a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts. That accomplishment was a long journey for the young boy who left his home and quit school back in Ohio, did a few tours through Vietnam; and along the way also managed to obtain his high school diploma and an Associates Degree from the Community College of the Air Force.

As an art student Lamson had simply concentrated on technique, but his identity and character soon began to show in his work. "Everyone was bothering me about making a statement, but I kept telling them that I was there to learn how to manipulate the materials," recalled Lamson. The student finally gave in, mostly to hush his friends and peers, but the transformation brought out the many expressions locked within himself for over forty years. His work became radical, and several exhibitions in the San Antonio area during the 1980's brought him well deserved recognition for being very creative and bold. Those early years produced paintings that told stories about the plight of Hispanics in America, the saga of Native Americans, and the pain caused by his first wife's addiction to alcohol. Lamson was no longer a student of technique, but had become an artist with a vision.

Lamson admits the escape to the canvas helped him through some very bad times. "I was addicted to art," said Lamson, " I would loose all time of reality. It was like I shifted into this other world. If it was not for my art, I don't know what would have happened to me."

Lamson's life took another turn when he came to Japan and met his second wife Sharon Wylie while working as an Arts and Crafts Director in Misawa. Since that first encounter, the two individuals have become soul mates. Lamson credits much of his happiness to Sharon, who claims she is his biggest fan. The couple moved to Okinawa in 1994. Currently, Sharon works as a school teacher, and Lamson spends most of his time in his art studio.

With many more positive experiences in his life, Lamson's work has taken on many changes. His new subject of interest is the "shiisa", a type of lion, which sits on the roof and entranceways of Okinawan homes to ward off evil. He seeks out the "shiisa" around the island to sketch and paint. He has also moved from a focus on oils to water color and drawings.

Of the people he holds much respect for, there were two names that came to his mind. "Air Force Major General Jerry D. Page was like a father to me," he said. "I also truly admired Kathryn Clemente." (Clemente, who recently passed away, was the creator of "Miki Mongoose.")

Lamson's work has gained him many fans over the years, and his paintings and sketches have traveled the globe. A true humanitarian, he believes that his work finds its way to the people who most need it. "I never thought that I could create something that would make a person react in so many ways."

"You can not separate the artist from his work," commented Lamson. "When I have finished something, I think that it took me 60 years to come to make that piece of work - using all my knowledge and background...etc."

A big advocate for education, the always jovial Lamson also finds the time to volunteer, teaching children about art and what it means to be an artist. When he is not painting or volunteering, he also teaches an art class.

"Right now I am exactly where I want to be. I'm extremely lucky. I have a wonderful wife, and I'm doing something I love," said Lamson.

It might be safe to say that the long road has been a little rocky, but it was the right road for George Lamson.

If you would like to see some of Lamson's work, he can usually be found at many of the arts and crafts shows on the island. Post card size prints of his work are also available at Tuttle Book Store. If you would like to join one of his art classes, you can call 633-7002.

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