Painting History

My mother gave me my first watercolor lesson when we lived in Bermuda, when I was 11 years old. I went with her to paint on location about 3 or 4 times. My next painting lesson was from the mother of a close friend who was with us one day at a remote beach on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I was exposed to a wide range of the arts as my mother was a patron and hired people like Walter Anderson to do murals at the hotel in Ocean Springs, MS where I was raised. There were also musical groups and musicians who would perform nightly at the hotel lounge.

I did not paint again until my Junior year in college when I switched my Major (for the 5th time) to fine arts. Up until that point my grades were terrible as I had little interest in the subject matter. As soon as I began art courses my grades picked up as did my attendance and I felt like I had found my niche. However, trying to make a living as an artist was beyond me at the time. After graduating I received an offer to work for a chain of hotels (Jack Tar) and after graduation I worked in a number of locations in different capacities for this chain of hotels. At night, after work, I would paint until the wee hours of the morning. The more I painted, the more I realized I was unhappy in my current occupation even though the salary and work were good. After a year or so, I resigned as assistant manager for a hotel in Biloxi, MS and left for California to develop my painting career. I first lived in Los Angeles and tried to break into the gallery scene there with no luck. I then moved to Sausalito and rented a half-sunken house boat as it was all I could afford. When I ran out of money I worked as a dishwasher at Juanita’s Gallery at gate 5 in Sausalito. After painting rather intensively for a year I decided it would be best if I went to a good art school in the San Francisco Bay Area and selected the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland as my school. I spent two years there getting my Masters degree (MFA) and during that time expanded into sculpture and 3 dimensional paintings, specifically fiberglass wall reliefs. I was also doing figurative and abstract expressionism in oil paints and began a long series of stenciled painting utilizing words, phrases and poetry. In a painting competition I created a 4 X 8ft. panel using stenciled words/poetry based on street and freeway signs and won 1st place, which was $1000. That spurred me onward.

After graduate school I moved to Dania, Florida to be close to my parents who lived in Ft. Lauderdale. I set up both a painting and sculpture studio and also did wood and linoleum block prints. I began exhibiting in and around Ft. Lauderdale and Miami and won a number of painting and sculpture awards from competitions and art shows. However, my work was not selling and I needed to make a living so my college roommate and I hatched a plan to begin building hurricane proof houses on the Mississippi Gulf Coast which we did and built a spec house there in Pass Christian. I had moved there for this purpose but had also set up a studio so I could continue my art work. A few people purchased my work and I had few shows but sales were down and the hurricane proof house would not sell. I was also looking for a teaching position in one of the coast colleges and settled for one night classes to teach art theory to mostly school teachers who were returning to pick up credits. Finally, I gave up on the Gulf Coast and decided my art fate would be better in California as there was an art renaissance going on there. At that time the flower children (hippies) had just emerged and San Francisco was their headquarters.

So, much to the disappointment of my hurricane house building partner, in 1968 I packed up and moved back to northern California just north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Within a year a huge hurricane, Camile, hit the Gulf Coast and came ashore right over our hurricane proof house in Pass Christian. Our house not only made it through the hurricane and storm surge, but withstood the hurricane so well that the the local building code was rewritten using our house as the model. However, Hurricane Katrina, which was extremely large and powerful semi destroyed it.

Meanwhile I was painting daily and had rented a studio in Sausalito while living in Lagunitas and eventually Fairfax. I was painting oils and watercolors and also making kinetic sculptures. The watercolors were for the most part my recollections of the bayou country on coastal Mississippi via moonlight/cloud/waterscapes. These I sent back to my gallery in Ocean Springs, MS and they framed and sold them in quantity. I was also showing locally in the North Bay Area and joined with a group of artists to form the first and still going Sausalito Arts Festival. Even though I was primarily a painter, I ended up as chairperson of the sculpture department of this organization (yes, there are politics in art). We had made so much money during the festival(s) that we were able to lease a huge building and equipped it with all sorts of art tools and processes.

We then offered classes in a wide range of mediums and methods. By then, I was living in Fairfax where I had both a painting and a hot metal studio set up in an old barn. The watercolors I was sending to Ocean Springs, MS were selling rapidly at this point and this was my major income until that gallery closed. My sculptures had evolved into sound oriented pieces and through this process I developed a number of musical instruments with the Waterphone being the main one. My musician friends began inviting me to sit in on the sessions and play along with my oddities which I did often. Finally we formed a band called the Gravity Adjusters Expansion Band and began performing on new and unusual musical instruments throughout the Bay Area and Northern California.

In the early 70’s I borrowed enough money to purchase a 2 & 1/2 acre piece of land with a small cottage and a very small studio. This was near Sebastopol about 50 miles north of San Francisco. I was working in jazz and new music bands at night and painting and building musical instruments by day. The instruments had gained a certain amount of recognition among musicians and several well known recording artists from Los Angeles flew up to purchase Waterphones and other instruments and sound devices I was making.

Meanwhile I had shifted from oils to painting acrylics and watercolors but had stopped painting the Mississippi swamp/bayou scenes and began painting the California hills, coast, and skies. Some of these were moonlit nights or misty, foggy landscapes. The acrylics were more into mandalas and abstract expressionism and I was also doing some figurative paintings.

My economic situation was not so good so I opened “A Bamboo Shoot” nursery and began propagating a wide range of bamboo which I sold and shipped worldwide. I became very active in the American Bamboo Society and helped to form both the Northern California and the Hawaii chapter of the ABS and served on the board of directors for both groups.

My musical instrument business was getting some attention mostly due to the waterphone and its success on a number of soundtracks. There were also a number of touring groups utilizing the waterphone as well as other instruments I made. I became active in graphics on my computer and began first with bamboo drawings and then more complex abstractions as well as land/water scapes. Although I lead a life split between making musical instrument and painting, it seems to fit well as I do not like doing any one thing all of the time.

The Waterphone was invented and is patented by Richard Waters (pat.#3896696). Each instrument is unique and made to order. Richard personally makes, tunes, signs and dates each Waterphone. The sound of the Waterphone has been compared to the haunting melodies of the Humpback Whale and voices from inner/outer space. Waterphones have been described as acoustic synthesizers, Waterharps, a musical "Aladdin's Lamp", and "Whalephones".

Waterphones are in fact stainless steel and bronze monolithic, one-of-a-kind, acoustic, tonal-friction instruments that utilize water in the interior of their resonators to bend tones and create water echos. In the world family of musical instruments, the Waterphone is between a Tibetian Water Drum, an African Kalimba (thumb piano) and a 16th century Peg or Nail Violin. Each Waterphone is custom made using a hot metal process developed over the past 40 years. The tonal rods are tuned to a combination of micro-tonal and diatonic relationships presented in two distinct but intergrated scales having both even and uneven increments.

The Waterphone Story

While in graduate school at the California College of Arts & Crafts (1963-65) I was introduced to an unsual musical instrument call a “Tibetan Water Drum” which was a round, slightly flattened, bronze, drum with an aperture in the center top. This drum was designed in such a way so that when the top surface was struck with finger or hands the drum would rock alittle thereby moving the small amount of water creating pre-echoes and tone bending. I only spend a few hours playing this instrument but I was very impressed with it. I have never seen one since. In a Haight Asbury parade (1968) I heard my first Kalimba (African Thumb Piano). The amount of quality sound coming from such a small instrument was also impressive. At the time I was painting and welding kinetic sculptures some of which made sound. I began making what I called “American Thumb Pianos” which were tin cans with bronze rod brazed to the rim. It was played much like an African Thumb Piano only being in the round these devices needed to be revolved in order to play all of the rods. These American Thumb Pianos were throwaway, primitive, instruments as eventually the cans gave up or the rods broke off. I made these in endless configurations then changed to assembling the resonators out of hubcaps and enameled salad bowls and the playing technique was different as these were struck with mallets. It was about that time when I took one of these to my friend, Lee Charlton, a jazz drummer and in his studio we put a small amount of water into the resonator of one of these and applied a well rosined bow to the rods on this device. This was the first Waterphone which Lee still has in Sant Rosa, California. I immediately began working on the patent process which turned out to be a long and expensive road.

Not long afterwards (1969) we formed a band called the Gravity Adjusters Expansion Band and began playing & performing free music utilizing my sonic designs and other oddities Lee had collected as well as some conventional instruments played in unconventional ways. The band was open for new players to sit-in and we often had some very unusal instruments from around the world. A few musicians started showing up to purchase the newly invented Waterphone. Shelly Manne and Emil Richards were two of the first to fly up from L.A. and attend our music sessions. They each bought several Waterphones and Emil invited me down to Los Angelos to stay at his home as he had a number of friends that wanted Waterphones and other items that I was making. I took a van load of instruments and sonic sculptures to L.A. and sold them all in a week. I made more money in that one week than I had as a painter for the previous year which suggested the time was right to make a career change.

I began selling through art galleries, museums and music stores. Shortly after that I started having problems with people coping my designs especailly in Los Angelos and in New York. By this time I had the patent (3896696) but not much money so finding and going after the patent infringers was difficult as they would submerge as soon as questions were asked. I realized that I needed to upgrade my instruments and hopefully in the process out distance my imatators. At the same time I put all music stores on notice that they were subject to law suites if they sold imitations of the Waterphone. I began doing more research into materials and processes and decided that stainless steel would be the way to go but there were many problems to be worked out which did take some time. Eventually I began making all of my resonators from stainless steel and most attachments in bronze. This made it more difficult for my imitators and I have yet to see an imatation Waterphone that either sounds as good or is as durable as what I make.

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