Returning to Davis Tech with renewed enthusiasm, Armand received his first major honor: a $500 full-tuition scholarship for one-year in residence at the Vesper George Art School in Boston. Suddenly this sixteen-year-old had put Davis Tech and the City of Grand Rapids on the map in Scholarship Magazine. His entry prevailed over other high school students’ work ranging from every state to Canada and the Philippines. Judges cited him for “excellence in composition” and for his use of “fundamentals in the oil medium.” A first prize winner, he was recognized with praise by the proud local press gratified that the youngster had put Grand Rapids on the art world map.

Generous as the award was, it covered only tuition, leaving Armand with living expenses neither he nor his father could meet. What recourse did they have? By now Armand, who had learned how to knock on doors, was beginning to learn which doors to knock on. He called upon William B. Eerdmans, Sr., founder of the flourishing Eerdmans Publishing Co. and at that time one of a few financial kingpins in the Grand Rapids Dutch Calvinist community. Word had it that approaching Eerdmans could be risky, and yet he was reputed to be a well-known supporter of local arts, especially Dutch artists. With hat in hand Armand offered to work for Eerdmans. Instead the publisher, who clearly saw promise in the young artist, offered to pay Armand ten dollars a week while he attended art school—provided he would report regularly on his progress (VanderMey, 2012).

The man stood by his word. The stipend arrived each week in Monday’s mail. However, even in the mid1930s, ten dollars a week tested his resolve. Three dollars went to rent a shabby Boston apartment while the rest went for whatever art supplies he needed along with weenies and, of course, Boston baked beans. Even so, Eerdman’s stipend served as Armand’s lifeline.

Armand began classes at Vesper George Art School with high hopes but quickly found them disappointing. The still-life painting class was too elementary for him. Even worse, the school seemed too caught up in splashy contemporaries and trendy modernists while he wanted to study the Renaissance masters and French Impressionists.

Skipping classes, he turned to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts where he spent his time studying originals at close range—which alarmed more than one museum guard. What kind of an oddity would return, day after day, to study their paintings so closely and so intently? They watched him warily. Meanwhile he studied the works of Winslow Homer, the Barbizons, and then moved on to the French Impressionists. Above all, he was drawn to the works of Rembrandt, taking careful note of how he contrasted light and shadow, mastered oil techniques, and experimented so dramatically with pigment. In a variety of ways all of them would influence his later work.

At the museum Armand inquired whether there was anyone who could teach him something about the technical aspects of oil painting. By then he was studying the Dutch and Flemish masters. What techniques did they use in composing their pigments? Just as important, what chemical formulas did they use? Unable to answer his questions, experts there referred him to the Harvard scholar Dr. Alan Burrows, chief chemical researcher at their Fogg Museum. But even Burrows could not answer all of Armand’s questions. Well aware of the young student’s determination, Burrows suggested he read Max Doerner’s The Materials of the Artist, with Notes on the Techniques of the Old Masters. Armand bought the book and kept it close, like a well-thumbed bible, ratty with wear (VanderMey, 2012).

Truant again, he was dismissed by Vesper George. He wrote a letter to his parents, recounting his dismissal in reasoned terms: “It’s no disgrace to get kicked out of art school. . . . the greatest artists were those who taught themselves. My self-portrait is done now and it’s a success. I’m very encouraged. I see a possibility in equaling Rembrandt—I mean it.” He concluded by asking his mother to “please hurry with the laundry. I’ve only one shirt—and that’s a little dirty” (Merizon Letters, 10-21-37).

Next, he knew he had to inform Eerdmans. Cautioning his father not to interfere, Armand assured him that he had written Eerdmans “a frank and honest letter,” confident that he “will understand and continue to help me.” Stressing that he wasn’t on an idle journey, the hopeful dropout explained that he had been advised by faculty to head north in an effort to further his education, to actually see the ocean so that he could paint it—realistically.

Fortunately, Eerdmans was still willing to support the dissatisfied student with plenty of encouragement: “Congratulations! That was a good move. It shows you can think for yourself.” Eerdmans agreed to continue sending his risky protégé ten dollars per week. Jubilant, Armand wrote to his family, “Would you believe it? He’s ‘tickled pink’ in my decision. You ought to read the letter I got from him Friday. He’ll continue to support me until the end of the year. He says it’s a victory. Thank God” (Merizon Letters, 11-27-37).