"If a man (or a woman) does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."
When meeting Pam Milne Crane, Henry D. Thoreau's famous line immediately comes to mind.
Pam honors the creative spirit that flows from within more than she does a prosperous lifestyle. It is not, she believes, what you own, but how you live that counts. Her Saranac Lake apartment boasts no phone, iPod, nor television; "all technologies which interfere with one's own power of creativity," she declared.
Pam Milne Crane shows off some of her artwork.
When it comes to the computer, her thinking is a bit different.
"It's like having a whole library at your fingertips," she said, but adds, "It can be dangerous."
Recently she was online trying to trace her Scottish ancestors, when suddenly she found herself in the midst of a Scotland Yard site, "not a place the public is supposed to access," she sighed, "even by mistake."
Her artistic talent comes naturally.
"I was born with it," she explains.
The oldest of seven children, she grew up in Altona where her early interest in art first expressed itself in grade school when she painted a purple cow. She was roundly chastised by the teacher for making such an unrealistic picture. Crushed by this response, Pam went home that afternoon to be greeted by a wise mother who encouraged her to stick to her own vision of things. Her mother then hung the picture on the wall and declared, "Purple is my favorite color and I love your cow."
A first commission consisted of painting letters in metallic blue on the gas tank of a motorcycle. She was paid $10 to write "The Hairy One." It was bought by a teenage companion that, she claims, at the time had only one hair on his chest!
In high school, her artistic efforts were further encouraged by the sale of a portrait-caricature she had made of one of her teachers. A number of variations of that face have since reappeared in her later work. While still in high school, she joined the after-school art club instead of a sports team. Team sports, Pam believes, lead to too much violent competitiveness rather than a peaceful desire to create together. In the art club, unbounded by convention, she could express herself freely. Painting and drawing helped her find an outlet when times were tough.
Pam graduated from Chateaugay Central School in 1971, moved to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, but felt stifled by the crowds, all the cement and excessive noise. She recalls one incident which symbolized the challenges she confronted while living there. She had tried to enter a building through the revolving door but was caught up in its revolutions and couldn't escape. Finally, after many spins, thanks to a kind stranger, the whirling door was stopped and she was released.
Leaving FIT before the end of the semester, she returned to the North Country where she continued art studies under the helpful guidance of Ken Wiley at North Country Community College. After graduating from there, she stayed on to settle in Saranac Lake.
The years since have been filled with hours of painting and writing poetry tucked between hours spent working a variety of jobs. These jobs have included, among others, housekeeping, waitressing, and working as a kitchen assistant.
"I know how to stand for three hours in a row, peeling 50 pounds of potatoes, cleaning 60 pounds of carrots, and slicing 5 million tons of baloney," she said. Her honesty has not always been appreciated. While working at a grocery store deli, she felt it her moral responsibility to warn customers about beef and mad cow disease. Management was not happy.
"But I did sell a lot of cheese and salads!" she remembers.
In all that time, Pam has had only one unproductive stretch when, as she put it, she made a "marital error" which lasted four years. She was comforted by a friend who said, "If your marriage lasts for less than five years and you have no children, it doesn't count."
Pam is drawn to helping troubled children and those with disabilities. She introduces them to art as an outlet for their emotions. "If someone says something hurtful to you," she tells them, "let it roll over your shoulder and land behind you and out of your way."
Loneliness is an emotion with which she is all too familiar. Following is a poem she wrote upon seeing a couple walk by hand in hand while she sat eating breakfast one morning.
"Breakfast for One"
I walk alone, no hand to hold,
Some tears I shed for I'm growing old,
Perhaps someday I'll find someone,
To share the load down that long lonely road.
But 'til that time I'll carry on
For though it hurts from day to day,
I'll swallow the pain and learn to remain a child at play.
As the day did unfold full of silver and gold,
Friends were near.
There was no reason to fear.
I wasn't really alone.
I just didn't have a hand to hold
So as you grow to be
what you think is old,
Cling to your childhood memories
and you'll never mold.
Notecards, sold locally, carry a few of Pam's poems. Some of her commissions have included a 1985 store sign painted for the Blue Line, and a delightful 4-by-9-foot mural for the rebuilt Red Fox bar and restaurant. While working at the Red Fox, she broke her collarbone and was unable to continue using her right hand. Ever since she was 11 years old, fearing such an accident, she had been training herself to be ambidextrous. At the age of 51, it paid off. She finished the painting with her left hand.
Pam enjoys long walks in the countryside, always carrying binoculars so she can get "up close" to the eagles, loons and deer she meets along the way. She is inspired by the special relationships she observes between people or people and animals. At present, she is painting dog portraits and writing short uplifting stories. When a pet turtle died, she made up a story about him with a happy ending. "Doing that helps deal with the loss," she says.
At present, Pam is learning sign language so she can work with the hard of hearing. She also hopes to be trained to answer calls on the suicide hotline. Though not everyone is open to her free-spirited, creative-flow, she says, the Tri Lakes Center for Independent Living has been, giving her opportunities to show her talents at many community events. She appreciates its unwavering support.
As Pam believes that honesty is central to leading a rewarding life, she wrote the following advice for a nine year old.
"Life has no Erasers"
Once the deed is done, whether evil or fun,
From the truth you cannot run.
For if you do, the truth will surely follow you,
For wherever you go, there you be
And the truth is there for all to see.
"Follow Your Dream"
Though it may seem extreme
You alone know which path to follow.
Just try to spread joy along the way.
Based on an interview with Pam Crane.
Caperton Tissot can be reached at tissot@SnowyOwlPress.com.