"When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you command the attention of the world."
The indescribable and overwhelming feeling of love filled the soldiers' barracks at Mission SJC recently as wide-eyed children and adults alike received an early Christmas lesson. Listening to Paul Politi remembering his father, Leo – Artist of the Angels and 1950 Caldecott winner for his illustrations in the children's book "Song of the Swallows" – we were reminded to appreciate the ordinary things around us.
As a visual historian, Paul's dad never failed to see beauty or importance in everything he experienced. Being a child at heart with wonder, amazement and love for life and God's creations, Leo transformed those precious feelings from his heart to his art.
After reading the cherished tale of Juan and old Julian, the gardener on the mission grounds earlier, Paul revealed an unexpected gift that Mission SJC gave to him – the opportunity to learn more about his father's perceptions on this very special site and being part of the scene, of the way his dad approached his God-given creative talent.
Multiple words were used to draw a picture of Leo Politi for the audience, but Paul's highlighting the core concept of his father's commitment, "Changing from the heart allows a change in a person's mind," resounds like our mission bells. In Leo's 1934 passage, one tastes the essential truths applicable to mankind:
"From a playground we watch the children play. Some are light, others dark – but they are all beautiful. All of them have a life force animating their little bodies. All of them run, play, laugh and cry, and yet if outwardly they look different, they have within the same emotions of life. Each enjoys living; all will later be in the arms of their mothers, who love them, live for them and raise them to be good and kind.
"If we can only understand this force that makes them live – the same love between mother and child, the same desire that you and I have to live; the love – aspirations - dreams like your mother with you, my mother with me – then no dogmas, no prejudices, no fears can stand (as) barriers between man and man."
Sketches of children (the little angels) proudly displaying the multiethnic identity of Los Angeles are reflected in his children's books and echo the author's simple family-centered priorities. Look at them and you'll find the artist's message – a childhood essence of feeling security less in material things but more in spiritual and surrounding aesthetic beauty. Shifting from a "what I want" philosophy to a "generous in what I give" mind-set is embedded in the beautifully written and illustrated pieces. Just look.
Creative talents spilled over to Paul also. We "seasoned" rock 'n' rollers owe Paul a nod for his penning of "Those Oldies, But Goodies" among other classics. Painting pictures with words, teenager Paul emulated his dad's technique of feeling the life within your artistic endeavor – from the heart.
I wish I had been able to meet Leo. His works are truly inspirational and way ahead of his time.
Centennial celebrations for Leo, the Pride of Olvera Street, are under way. Come join the jubilee.
For more information, visit www.leopoliti2008centennial.org.