Richard Littlefield ’69

Richard Littlefield ’69 shares this recollection titled, “Dead Man Floating: A Chouinard Memory.”

“Michael and I had just finished our morning breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts: a cup of weak coffee and two plain donuts for 19 cents. We walked down Alvarado to Wilshire to cut through MacArthur Park, then on to Chouinard to attend that day’s first studio. As we started to navigate around the lake (actually, a large, shallow, artificial pond), we saw two policemen on the walkway. Then we noticed another in a rowboat holding a long pole with a curved piece on the end. As we passed, the third policeman in the rowboat shouted, “We got a floater.” We stopped for a moment at the end of the lake to watch the dead body bobbing up and down as it was pulled toward the shore.

We continued to walk toward Chouinard and entered the building to ascend the stairs to our respective studio classrooms. Most of the students had already taken their chosen places in Watson Cross’s life drawing class. Two of the female students were exceptionally adept at figure studies. The 16-year-old girl from Holland utilized colorful drawing media to produce four or five complete sketches within one hour. The flow from model to her eye then translated through her hand was one of sensual form. The other remarkable member of the class, Helen, had a process of personal form that a few others in class thought was very strange. She rarely spoke, and also pretended not to hear what others said. However, once she did say to me that she liked my drawings because they were so crude. During class she was crouching or lying in a very large cardboard box with its open end facing the model. When all the supplies needed for that day’s drawings were assembled in her large container, she entered. After removing all of her clothing, she began to draw. Another class member wore the same outfit every day. His attire consisted of black khaki pants, a white T-shirt, and white super-clean tennis shoes; on colder days a grey zippered jacket. The reddish freckles on his face created a high contrast with his black rimmed glasses. The red hair on his head formed a solid wave of perfumed hair spray.

At lunchtime a few of us hung out on the roof to smoke one or two. Michael and I were the first to arrive on that day. Rita and her girlfriend announced their entrance with their semihysterical laughter. They’d brought tacos and sodas from a neighborhood restaurant to feed all six of us. As we ate and smoked, Michael and I recounted that morning’s experience in the park. Most likely, seeing the dead man being pulled out was also floating in my subconscious throughout that morning. As Michael told the group about the scene with a naïve excitement—almost as if it were a comic strip—I began to cry. Someone asked why I was crying and another answered: “Stupid, he’s crying about the dead man.” Sally sat down beside me and put her arm around my shoulder like an older sister might. We looked at each other and cried even more because just a few days earlier, her boyfriend was killed in Vietnam.”