"Half the people in my family spoke Finnish, so the kids didn't know what they were talking about."While serving his country in World War II, Einar Harold Wesa was pronounced dead due to injuries he sustained in the historic Battle of the Bulge. Later that day Harold Wesa woke up in the morgue, alive. Harold and Frances Edith Manley, met when Frances nursed him back to health in a Van Nuys, CA military hospital. The two fell in love, married, and had two children: John Harold Wesa, born January 1, 1947 in San Mateo, California and Carolyn born one year later. John Wesa's parents always considered him a dreamer and their disparate influences are reflected in John's art and life. Here is where John Wesa began his journey as an artist.
Harold Wesa was a man of his generation, a self-sufficient type, engineer, and life-long learner, all the while expecting his son to resemble him and the wartime male stereotype. John says, "I was always in trouble for dreaming. I was told to 'Pay attention and stand up straight.' These days they would probably say I had a learning disability. I didn't have a grasp for what I wanted to do with my life." John's father constantly accused him of being a dreamer, but protected his son by teaching him trade skills. Harold Wesa didn't have an understanding of his son's desires then, but neither did John. John learned electronics and welding from his father, skills which he applied with ingenuity, and precision in his future as a serigrapher. At the end of his father's life, John and his father shared a great friendship, fulfilling Harold's yearning to be included in his son's world. As counterpoint to Harold's seriousness, John's mother, Frances, was a fun-loving joker who had a hard time taking things too seriously. John says of his mother, "Mom has always, and continues to be extremely supportive of whatever I want to do with my life." As time went by, both of John's parents truly felt proud of him as he received positive public recognition for his artwork
Family influence did not stop with John's parents. John's Grandfather, Dr. Frank Penley Manley, was the President of the American Baptist Seminary in India. Although John did not see him very often, his grandfather had a profound influence. John remembers his grandfather as "an important man with a gentle spirit, a great hero" who gave John his first bible when he was ten years old. John's grandfather instilled in him a love of spirituality and a devotion to God
As a teenager, John's goals were muddled by the onset of the Vietnam War. He had no plans to become an artist. He thought he might "move out of town" or become a farmer. He also picked apricots, worked as an airplane mechanic with his father, and worked at McDonalds and like all young men in the 1960's, John expected to go to war. Luckily, John was not called to serve and began his higher education at the Junior College of San Mateo, where he became interested in art.
"During lunch hours, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, and The Birds competed to see who would play at our Friday night dance."In 1968, John entered Humboldt State University. He enjoyed the Humboldt County landscape because it was, dark and fog shrouded. "I felt so comfortable here; the pace was slow and the whole area was still haunted by the ghosts of its history --loggers, Native Americans, and early white settlers." John enjoyed school and liked his teachers. He says, "The professors were always encouraging and built my confidence. I'm very thankful for what they gave me." John finished a Bachelors of Art in 1971 with concentrations in cinema and printmaking.
John continued his education in filmmaking on a scholarship to California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. John wouldn't last long in this environment, "I didn't like living in the city or the prospect of having to continue to live in a city to be employed, so I left school and didn't receive any credit." This was a propitious decision, as his graduate training and his time in Humboldt County laid the groundwork for his future career as a serigrapher
John moved back to Humboldt County. He worked pulling green chain for Simpson Timber Company, a very hard and somewhat dangerous job. "I put a 100 dollar bill in an envelope every month and when I had five bills, I quit." John also worked as a clerk at Northtown Books in Arcata and he ran the darkroom at the Eureka Printing Company. While working odd jobs, John had time to contemplate his future and became ever more certain he wanted to make a living as an artist. John became enmeshed with the Arcata-Eureka communities and found that printmaking was useful in community projects. John began printing posters.
The amount of paint which John Wesa has used over the years would probably paint an aircraft carrier... or several of them, but the real story on John, I believe, is what they cause in the audiences viewing them. He has conveyed high ideals over the years, to literally thousands of people, with buckets of paint, gently placed together, with creative thoughtfulness to stimulate specific circuitry within the brains of the viewers.
Dr. C. James Lovelace, HSU Professor
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