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An Autobiography: Chapter 19, Edwin Byron Moore, Artist

I was 9 years old in 1935, when we moved to 828 Banklick Street . Our second floor consisted of three rooms: a kitchen, a front room with two tall windows, and a toilet (no sink or bath) between the two rooms. The kitchen had cold running water and two steps that led down to a bedroom. There were five of us, and I cannot remember where we all slept. And would you believe, my cousin Robert “Buddy” Baldwin brought his new bride to stay with us on his honeymoon! Mom gave him the front room for a few days so all five Moores had the kitchen and back bedroom! One day, Buddy’s bride decided she wanted to see movie. Since Buddy didn’t want to see it, she took me!

I attended the John G. Carlisle School, which was only a two-block walk, so I went home every day for lunch. The best part of lunch was when I stopped at the bakery on my way back to school, and I was given a cream roll, which I dearly loved. I don’t know if Mom paid for that or if it was a gift to a little boy with no money. Mr. Wert was the school principal, and I think I was sent to his office on several occasions!

About this time, my brother, Edwin, was studying art at the Baker Hunt Foundation in Covington. He became a fine artist, both in watercolors and oil, and we have more than 50 of his works on display in our home. He made visits to the Cincinnati Art Museum where he studied the works of many of the masters. Georgianna and I loved to visit there, too, and one time when we were there, I met actor Peter Ustinov, who was also enjoying the great works of art.

Edwin was also an accomplished boxer, in the style of Joe Louis, and had a great reputation in high school. I remember one time sitting with him in the bleachers of the gym, he said, “I have to make the decision whether to be a boxer or an artist.” Thank goodness he chose the latter.

My earliest work of Edwin’s is a small watercolor of a barn and silo, c. 1937. Another small watercolor from 1939 is a barn displaying a Chesterfield cigarette ad. Another 1939 watercolor, 8 by 10 inches, depicts three negroes standing with a group of buildings in the background. Through the years, Edwin painted many diverse subjects. He loved steam trains and produced many fine pieces of railroad art, depicting an era gone by.

Train 

Train Coming Into Denver by Edwin Byron Moore, 1974. 

In 1945, Edwin, Georgianna and I were playing records and listening to Claire de Lune (Moonlight) by Claude Debussy, when Edwin said, “Get me my paints.” In about 20 minutes, he painted a masterful impression of the music in watercolors. Then I played Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea), and his depiction of the three movements are absolutely beautiful. Looking at those paintings you can almost hear the music: From Dawn to Noon On the Sea, Play of the Waves, Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea.

Claire de Lune 

Claire de Lune by Edwin Byron Moore, 1945. 

Edwin was born in 1923 and died in 1992, after many years of operations and discomfort. During World War II, he served with the all-volunteer elite unit, “Darby’s Rangers” under Col. William O. Darby, and saw fierce fighting in the Sicily campaign, where he was critically wounded.

He had more than 30 major operations before they finally, many years later, amputated his leg. He was hospitalized in several states and created some of his finest paintings in the hospitals. A 29-by-24-inch oil painting of a forest scene, hanging over our fireplace, was painted at the Halloran Hospital on Long Island, New York. It compares to many of the works of the great French Impressionist artists.

Lady Portrait 

“Essie,” nurse’s aid, Nichols General Hospital, Louisville, Kentucky, by Edwin Byron Moore, 1944. 

Edwin said, “My paintings express my mood and have a deep understanding that only I know or perhaps an art critic can see. I am not a commercial artist – neither was van Gogh.”

Edwin Byron Moore was also a fine poet. For example, he wrote this:

I played Rachmaninoff this afternoon, 
And the whole world in harmony 
Revolved around a piece of wax. 
(Edwin was fortunate to attend one of Rachmaninoff’s last concerts as a pianist.)

Following are 12 more poems written by Edwin. I believe most of them were written after Edwin was wounded, many in the Army hospitals where he had time to write and paint. He was a deep thinker, and as his paintings reveal, he had a great love for beauty and humanity.

The last dying embers of day turned to dust –
Twilight entered, a recess, a trust;
Darkness came and the wind peered
From corners, whistling a tune.
This was night swift in flight,
And darkness came too soon.

Lamplight 

 

Morning came with the day in tow,
Willows perspiring with dew
Bow gracefully alone.
The rest of the valley yawned and rubbed its eyes,
O clear dawn, a future yesterday.
And a bend in the road.

 

A black tree stands against the red bricks
And impatiently waits for the rain to stop.
Dark, misty, growling Sunday afternoon;
Eternity: The time between ticks and tocks.

Red House 

 

We went here not knowing why,
Perhaps it was because of custom,
Tradition, or then –
Some had wanted to.
A simple spot to worship,
But rich in spirit and with an air
Of pleasantness
That seemed to neutralize
The forces inside us,
And give us reassurance
That living is a hope,
A prayer,
And determination
That comes only from God.

 

Symmetric panes of blackness set against a grey sky,
Melodic trains of loneliness sound against your cry.
Give to me not a night of the dismal past –
Come swiftly, O God, and release their grasp.  

 

Across the river on the other side
Small lights flicked.
Sometimes their reflections,
Helped by the wind,
Rolled in with the tide.

Tree 

 

I walked along the edges of the rover,
Pushing my way through the mists of blue,
And the only audible sounds I heard
Was the crackling, even staccottoing
Of my time worn drenched shoes.

 

Suddenly the earth’s color
Was transposed in blue,
A wonderful soul mixed blue
That settled along the hidden spots,
Changed green, red roofs and chimney pots.

 

Let’s fly away, you and me,
Down the highways across the mountains
To the sea.
You to your place, I to mine.
No. It shall never be;
Rather, let’s fly away, you and me,
Down the highways across the mountains
To the sea.

 

Her eyes were hot, searing,
And filled with shame.
I wanted very much to hold her hand
And say: your life has been cruel, frightful,
And for this, you can’t be blamed. 

High Yaller 

 

And now the lights dim, fade, and die;
The hour is late and the night grows cold.
Somehow I feel so little, unimportant, and alone,
And yet on my lofty height, I can see
The world of men retire to bed,
Leaving the night to the stars and me.

 

This is Saturday night,
This is hillbilly music night,
The night when all the farmers
Park their automobiles
In the Market square
In Covington, Rockport, Morgansville,
And shop for articles made in
New England, Chicago, and Detroit.
This is the night
When the devil watches with glee
As people plunder, dance, kill
And go free
To roam the streets of the city again
To plunder, dance, and kill.
This is the night
When young passionate bodies are pressed closer
And millions of vows are made and broken;
Broken only because they know not
What the next Saturday night
Holds in its grasp.
This is the night
When soft spoken men
Gather in dark, dusky,
And dimly mitted rooms for a game or two,
When the sound of clinking chips
And the cobra-like flash
Of an ace of spades
Is heard and seen
By men with hot searing eyes
That seem to burn holes through
Decks of red playing cards.
This is the night
When a young woman
Clad in nothing,
Plunges seventy five stories
To her death in New York City,
And a couple out in Nevada
Are smashed to pieces
As their automobile is struck by a train;
This is the night
That reminds us
We aren’t where we wished to be
And of all the things we haven’t got,
And of all the futility of striving
For things we never get.
This is the night
When we curse and grind out teeth together
And hit our fists against the wall.
This is Saturday night:
The ending and starting
Of a thousand, a million lives.

Banklick Street 

I spent some of my summer vacation of 1936 in Visalia, and I always enjoyed the Licking River. Uncle Frank lived close to the river and kept a row boat tied at the shore. One day my cousin Lloyd Baldwin, Grandpa Marcus and I took the boat about three miles upstream. There were places where the river was shallow and we had to pull the boat over the riffles. I was barefoot, and it was really hard on my feet; but I enjoyed it.

 Uncle Frank worked nights on the railroad, so I never got to spend much time with him, but he did have some time on Saturdays. I remember one time when he had to drive to Covington after lunch and he took me home. When he let me out of the car, he gave me a dime for the movie. Aunt Lulu thought motion pictures were sinful, but not Uncle Frank.

I don’t know how it came about, or if Aunt Lulu ever knew, but in 1953, Georgianna took Uncle Frank to see the film, The Robe. I don’t know if he had been to movies or not, or perhaps that was the first in years, but Georgianna said he thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Robe 

I liked to go with Uncle Frank when he ran his “trot lines” for catfish. He told me this was the best way of fishing for catfish. A wire or light rope was stretched across the water, tied on each shore to a tree or stump. On this, bait was hung at intervals and then the trot line was weighted to stay down in the water. It’s like having 30 or 40 fishing lines in the water at one time! I wasn’t with him when he set his lines, but several times I went with Uncle Frank in the boat to pull in the fish, and he always had a good catch. I enjoyed the catfish dinners Aunt Lulu prepared. That is, until that fateful Saturday.

We had catfish for lunch, and when I swallowed after one bite, I felt a shot of pain in my throat. I swallowed again slowly, trying not to alarm anyone, but it was still there. I tried drinking water, and after a few minutes I told Aunt Lulu and Uncle Frank what was happening.

They tried several “remedies,” like drinking lemon juice and eating a lot of bread, but nothing worked. After about an hour, Uncle Frank decided to take me home. Mom and Dad had never seen this problem before, and it was the general consensus of everyone that a bone was stuck in my throat. I could have told them that!

Down the street was Sam’s Confectionary, complete with candies and a soda fountain, a place I rarely went because of money. However, Mom thought a soothing milkshake would ease my pain and maybe take the bone down. I doubt if I enjoyed that milkshake because my jabbing pain would not go away. Dad knew of a doctor nearby and took me there. We went into a dark room, and the doctor put a bright light on my face and started probing into my throat, making me gag, and the result was more pain than ever. After about 30 minutes of this, Dad took me home.

Mom and Dad eventually decided the hospital was the only answer, so they took me to Booth Hospital, where I was the center of attraction as the doctors and nurses gathered around. They finally gave up, and Dad took me home again. I don’t know how much sleep I got that night, but Sunday morning came with the same jabbing pains. Mom and Dad were becoming frantic and decided to try the other main hospital, St. Elizabeth’s, so off we went. But they were not successful either, so back home we went.

The Booth 

Booth Hospital 

In desperation, Dad found Dr. Smith, an ear, nose and throat specialist, who finally agreed to see me on a Sunday. After about 20 minutes, Dr. Smith finally extracted the bone with a pair of long tweezers. I was sure it had to be at least an inch long, but it was little more than a quarter of an inch. Several doctors and two hospitals! As you can guess, I was never fond of seafood again.

Don’t miss the next chapter: Newsboy