Enos Ray: Thoughts on moving on

Artist Enos Ray should be easy to spot in his hand-painted Island car. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

I was born in 1944, and grew up in Loudoun County, Virginia, and I can’t remember a day when my head didn’t swim with ideas of a grand adventure of one kind or another. I have been leaving and coming back to the Vineyard for more than 30 years in search of those adventures.

When I was growing up, Loudoun County was nothing but countryside, woods and streams. It wasn’t unusual for me to ride my pony from our farm through Leesburg, with a stop at the hardware store for a box of 20-gauge shells for the Little Ithaca double barrel shotgun that I’d got for my sixth birthday. My father — who had had the same gun at the same age — and I used to go quail hunting all the time. We hunted together until the day he died. It taught me the importance of the search.

My father, who was the biggest influence on my life, was first interested in forestry, but after he got hurt playing sandlot football, he had an awakening of sorts and decided to become a doctor and surgeon. It was a lesson in letting life put you on the right path. There was no question about the deservedness of my father’s task.

I moved to the Vineyard with Heather Rynd in 1979. In 1983, with Heather and our four-month old baby girl, Shannon, we left the Island for our first adventure. I was leaving to get an education in art taught by travel, people, and life experiences — the only schooling in art I was to have.

I believed art — to paint — was my purpose. We set out in a Volkswagen bus to discover the best art school I could afford — the School of the Street and Road, and it had everything I needed: a world full of people to paint, the chance to earn some money making art, and all the fear and adventure I could handle.

After a Blue Grass Festival in North Carolina, where the sun began to turn Shannon a bright crimson color, Heather and Shanon returned to the Vineyard, deciding it would be best if I went on my journey alone.

A friend taught me the bare bones of doing caricatures, and all of a suden I found myself having to draw in front of crowds of people — something I found frightening. But I immediately saw it as an experience worth holding on to.

That was the beginning of it all, and I did love it. I didn’t know anything about being on the road, but I was following my gut, and I learned things a regular art school could never have taught me, mostly from the people I met along the way. In North Carolina, T-Shirt Larry taught me to find the best in the things I saw; my son Bart taught me courage; I learned the importance of making drawings that told the truth; and I learned that most people are nice and help you see your soul.

I think I could have kept doing it forever. And that is why I am heading out again.

I need to see the changes in this country and get a feel for things again. I’ve always believed the job of an artist is to reflect. Some people even believe the purpose of an artist is to run a line through past to present to future. That may be a little lofty for me, but I do know I want to see this land once more.

Instead of a Volkswagen bus, I’ve got a beautiful little camper that I’ll be able to paint in. I’ll sell my paintings and make drawings along the way. Fairs and carnivals are still cooking, so with a little luck I’ll make out.

But I’m not going as just an artist. I’m going to learn more about my family’s history, which goes back to Colonial times, and solve some family mysteries.

So I’m leaving the Island in October on another trip, and along the way will stop in Nashville and bring the Little Ithaca Double to my son — who says it be a perfect fit for his son.

Enos Ray is selling his prints for $25 each. Contact him at 508-693-7178. His paintings are at Treehouse Gallery on State Road in West Tisbury.