Armand Jasper Merizon was born to first generation Dutch emigrants in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on February 28, 1920. When he was three his family moved fifty miles north to the neighboring enclave of Dutch Calvinists in Grand Rapids who, with their windmill practicality, established truck farms, furniture factories, lumber mills, and tulip gardens along the waterways surrounding Lake Michigan. Here he resided for the rest of his life.
Armand’s parents, Jasper A. and Josephine DeYoung/Merizon, easily adapted in this colony of hard-working Dutch emigrants. There was little time for leisure. On a rare holiday when the weather seemed congenial his parents and older siblings, Frank, Jeanne and Beth, would pile into their hard-earned two-seater Model-T Ford and join their relatives for a Lake Michigan picnic.
On such an occasion, while most of the children would dash into the waves, young Armand was far more interested in drawing them. On scraps of paper or driftwood he’d try his luck at sketching the turn of wave, glide of raptor, or bob of sandpiper. Already Armand felt compelled to draw.
When Armand was seven a new family moved in across the street from him on Bates, including an eight-year-old boy. For two active youngsters, there’s always adventure when they climb a tree, especially if, from that bird’s eye view, they can catch a glimpse at what’s happening inside the home. Imagine Armand’s surprise when he discovered that the dad of his new buddy did important work on a drawing board. An artist! Billy’s dad, Chester Burke Andrews, was an artist! Keenly interested, soon the youngster was inside peering over “Andy’s” shoulder while he worked.
“Whenever I’d go over there I’d prefer to watch the father work than to play with Bill. Andy had prints all over the house and in his folder and, oh boy, I worshiped them all,” recalled Armand. “At times he would scold me but I knew at heart, most of all, he loved to draw” (Dornbush/Zandstra Interview, 6-14-04). Clearly the beleaguered Andy recognized a kindred spirit and loved Armand for it. The youngster would run across the street frequently, eager to show Andy his latest sketch: a bicycle, an apple tree, a barn door. Andy’s approval mattered, a lot.
In his attic he kept a collection of prints by great Victorian and Twentieth-Century illustrators—Aubrey Beardsley, Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, Charles Russell, Frederick Remington, Howard Pyle, Rockwell Kent, Arthur Rackham—and upon request, Andy would spread out the treasures on his well-beaten living room rug and let Armand gorge himself on their splendor.