Back in second grade, Albert Ewing had a teacher with “flaming red hair” who was mean to the students.
She didn’t know what art was all about, he said, and thought that real art was learning cursive with India ink pens.
“She always caught me doodling,” he added. “And I became so fascinated with finding a way to really represent her.”
One day, he was doing a doodle of the teacher as a stick lady with her “Bozo the Clown” red hair when she snatches his paper “before I had a chance to add any clothes,” he added chuckling.
Though that phase passed, Ewing’s fascination with art did not and continued to shown through throughout his time in the service and beyond.
Ewing was born on Sept. 11, 1952, in South Central Los Angeles in the city of Watts. He was the third child of eight brothers and sisters.
In the early 1960s, his father had an epiphany after meeting an Adventist Church member.
“Many said our kids are in this heathen city and they’re going to be ruined,” he said. “So, let’s move out to the country and live well in preparation for the second coming of Christ.”
And his father did just that, moving the family from their home in Nickerson Gardens to a 1-acre, four-bedroom house in Sun Village, which is north of Littlerock in the Antelope Valley, when Ewing was in the third grade.
“We could have gardens, tall cornfields and goats,” he said. “I just had so much fun growing up on the farm (as) a country boy.”
The family became strict vegetarians, only growing everything they ate.
Ewing’s father became a pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist Church, and was friends with all the other pastors, including Rev. Henry Hearns, the city’s first black councilman, who became the mayor of Lancaster.
“We fundraised to help buy the land that Jackie Robinson Park is on — imagine that, playing on those playgrounds in those days,” he added, and smiled.
In the third grade, he won second place in an art contest for fire-prevention week, where his version included a fire truck traveling to a house on fire.
“I gave the fire truck slicks, like in a dragster, and the engine had a blower with flames coming out of a hemi engine,” he said. “The kids thought that was a riot … I remember to this day.”
He was bused to Palmdale to attend Palmdale High School, where his love for art grew.
Early on, he was doing painting and watercolor in art class, which he considered boring.
“Somehow (my teacher) looks at me and says, ‘I know you can do better than that,’” he said.
The teacher put Ewing on independent study and told him he could paint and draw anything he wanted and would be graded on his progress, which, he said, unleashed his creativity.
“I began to experiment with architecture, surreal designs, psychedelic arts — but it started with black and white because I was scared of color,” he added. “Eventually, I grew out of it and began to add one color at a time as I got through high school. By the time I got out of high school, I knew I wanted to draw and paint, but didn’t know what direction.”
Once he graduated high school in 1970, he began to attend Antelope Valley College, 25 miles away, to study art education.
“In the middle of my hippie days I got a draft notice in December ‘71,” Ewing said. “I’m outside my photography class and my brother comes running from another class and gives me the draft notice.”
They gave him a three-month college deferment, but during that time he decided to enlist so that he wasn’t drafted.
“It was the middle of the Vietnam war and I was like, ‘I’m not going to die for anyone,’ so I went down to the recruiter in Lancaster,” Ewing said.
He was told to join the U.S. Air Force where he could be a security police officer and transfer to public office of information because of his interest in human relations.
Ewing was sent to Lackland Air Force Base for basic training, where he started his own heavy metal band.
“Once you finish about six weeks of basic you have liberty, and I found in the recreation center they had a ton of instruments for us to check out,” he said.
He formed a band of six guys, all in varying stages of basic training, called “Rattlesnakes and Eggs.”
He even got out of parts of basic training to entertain at the officer’s club after they were seen playing.
“Some officers came to the recreation center to inspect, and we just happened to be doing Santana on stage,” he added. “All these kids were dancing, and they thought we were a hired band.”
After basic training, Ewing was sent to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he spent a lot of time as a patrol officer, investigating traffic and like matters.
Every year while at Nellis, Ewing would go through riot training.
“You always want to be prepared,” he said. “And we as police had to practice riot control, so many a summer I’m out there at the main gate, in full riot gear, and they had wives, families and friends be the rowdy (protesters).”
“Protesters” got to throw eggs and water balloons while Ewing was in full riot gear, wearing shields with their big batons.
“We’re supposed to be in formation, in that hot sun, the eggs dripping down — it was awful,” he said, laughing.
He spent about a year and a half at Nellis before he was sent to Hahn Air Base in Germany.
“It was up near the Moselle River, near my favorite watering hole,” he said.
Ewing would often be deployed on “quickie assignments,” called TDYs, to places like Mildenhall in England and Zaragoza in Spain, which he enjoyed.
After three years, they sent him back to Nellis “where I could pursue art education off duty.”
“(It was) Las Vegas, the mecha of entertainment, so off duty I get to go into talent showcases at the Sahara Club and the Aladdin,” he added. “While I was there, I signed onto Chrome Records to write country Western music and put a band together called Earth Blues.”
Throughout his years in the service, he had been volunteering to produce arts and crafts fairs, art shows and talent shows — anything related to art really — which he continued to do everywhere he went.
He also joined Tops In Blue, a performance ensemble made up of active duty Air Force who toured the world performing.
“I had so much fun,” he said.
Ewing retired from the Air Force after eight years, and was honorably discharged in 1980.
After leaving the service, Ewing went to the University of Colorado, Denver to finish his education and completed an associate degree in fine arts and bachelors in art education.
He then taught at Aurora Middle School in Aurora, Colorado, for a few years — but he was determined to come back to California to teach art.
“Remember when art teachers could be in that field dedicated to strictly art? … That went away in ‘85 and they penciled out art in all of the schools,” he said.
In 1987, he finally made it back to California, where he continued teaching art education and moved around a bit until he settled in Monterey.
He became a school bus driver while also teaching part-time language education at Seaside High School while he re-established himself, which is when he discovered karaoke.
At nights, a guy would teach Ewing how to run audio systems so that he could go handle another club, starting Ewing’s career in the D.J. business.
He then moved back to Sun Village in 2004, when his mother was in bad health, and he began volunteering in parks and recreation at Jackie Robinson Park.
“The lady there coaxed me into applying for a recreation job; and in 2006, I became a recurrent, and one year later, I became a permanent,” he said. “There, all my experiences from the Air Force came into play — I was producing music shows, arts and crafts fairs.”
In 2007, Ewing was brought to Hart Park to begin doing similar events.
“I brought a portfolio, and they were impressed during interviews because everything I did, going back into my Air Force days, I’ve got all the fliers, promos and photos of the events in motion,” he said. “They really didn’t have recreation leaders down here (at the time).”
Ewing was hired as recreations services leader, and has been doing it ever since.
The park’s mission was to address the needs of the community and to find creative ways of doing it.
Whether it was a talent show, arts and crafts fair, or William S. Hart cowboy-related event, Ewing wanted to bring art in all its forms to the park.
Many of Ewing’s events throughout the year generate hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors in attendance.
Over the years, Ewing also started purchasing his own mobile audio production service system, and has continued lending his DJ services to Los Angeles County.
“Off duty I’m ‘DJ Al,’ baby, and my middle name is ‘what’s left of him,’” he added. “I pride myself in having some of the best acoustics for vocalists.”
After retirement, he plans to establish a DJ company, which he will call Al Ewing Entertainment, dedicated to training DJs and sending them out.
For Ewing, the military wasn’t his entire life, but it led him to where he is today, bringing art to the community whenever and wherever he can.
“The war experience for me began with avoiding getting killed,” he said, “yet, I found a field.”