Casey Lesser on her first day of pre-school, 1993.
This past August, I was summoned via text message to spend a few hours clearing out my mom and dad’s basement. Their house, on a quiet, porch-lined street in Brooklyn, is where most of my childhood took place. I lived there from the time when I was a curious, well-behaved 5-year-old who loved crafting, playing soccer, and hunting for snails to the time I moved out on my own, as a wide-eyed college grad with a liberal arts degree under my belt, and a master’s on the horizon. In the time in between, an accumulation of things from my schooling, travels, and artmaking pursuits had claimed valuable space in my generous parents’ home, and it was finally time to go through it. The most daunting part of the task ahead was to parse through—and part with—my childhood artworks.
Drawing by Casey Lesser.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been making things. One of my earliest memories is creating a papier-mâché snake—with red skin and black spots—during a “mommy and me” art class at Pratt Institute. As a toddler, I had a miniature easel, where I avidly painted. I could also often be found cutting up magazines and catalogues (Oriental Trading was my favorite) for collaging, or crafting gaudy necklaces with candy-colored beads or googly-eyed finger puppets with fuzzy hair. Like many children, I spent a lot of time drawing with my 64-pack of Crayola crayons. And around first or second grade, when I got my hands on Sculpey—a polymer clay that hardens when you bake it in the oven, a concept I found magical—I became obsessed with sculpting miniature cakes, ice cream cones, bunnies, and teddy bears.
As I grew up, my creative impulse wavered, but never that much. It perked up in school, where I was lucky to always have art classes and summer camps—one year as a preteen, I took classes in analog photography, puppet-making, and Ukrainian Easter egg decorating. In college, my love for ceramics, which I still practice today, was cemented. My ever-supportive parents didn’t hold onto my whole creative output (the spotted papier-mâché snake was just one of the casualties), but they did keep a lot—which I was touched by on that day in August.
I tore into the task of discarding my childhood effects with efficiency, saving the things that held solid sentimental value and trashing the junk that was just taking up space (let’s face it—Brooklyn real estate is a precious commodity). I easily parted with old notebooks, exams, essays, and a giant cache of printed sources that informed my undergraduate thesis on Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937). I saved some of my earliest writing samples, birthday cards from my grandparents, and my acceptance letter into college. But I paused when I pulled out an amorphous green finger-painting, a collage of a cat, and a colored-pencil drawing of a smiling butterfly—I had a soft spot for these early spurts of creativity.
That’s not to say I kept them all. Given the quantity—dozens and dozens of pieces—and my career, which has me looking at art constantly, I set the bar high for what was good enough to keep. I got rid of around half, discarding redundant pieces (I drew a lot of cats), slapdash drawings, and silly projects—like a book I wrote and illustrated about a humanoid carrot who went on vacation. When I was done, I’d whittled down my adolescent possessions to a tidy pile of boxes…………….