Portrait of the Artist as a Young Child

Nate’s drawing has always grabbed me. I remember one picture he created for a middle school history assignment, of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings. There was William, this round-headed cartoon with big almond eyes. It was sweet and funny.

You never know what Nate will dig up around the house. All of a sudden I’ll walk by the kitchen table and there will be open photo albums from 15 years ago, or a school project from 5th grade that caught his eye. Last week I saw two books from his childhood that show off some of Nate’s unique artistic sensibilities that have, on the whole, not changed that much over the years and have resulted in his becoming a professional artist.

It’s a journal of his third grade year. The cover shows the long stringy arms of a kid holding a book, while the lower left corner shows another person looking at cards of different emotions. Nate used to get lessons in these basic concepts with the hope that he’d be able to recognize emotions. He still needs work on that. (At least I think that’s what this shows. I’d ask him but he’s still asleep).

Inside is a series of written assignments, most of which were certainly done by his aide. They’re too well-written to think other wise. There’s one that is clearly Nate’s, filled with short sentences: “I was happy when I stayed in line,” “My last stop was the foods,” “I was hungry to eat.”

The pictures show a Nate very much apart from his peers, always wearing a face that doesn’t quite fit. He’s either squinting, grimacing or looking far off, a boy who clearly isn’t in the moment. There are some that show him fitting in, but that may be a photographic trick.

Then there’s this one, on the back cover. That’s the face of the boy who could possibly connect, the boy we worked to pull out of his world into ours. When I look at that picture, those times don’t seem so difficult. They were.



About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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