Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Saturday, May 15, 2004  

When I paint my masterpiece (Title to a Bob Dylan song)

Do people who read this blog like human interest stories? I hope so, because I have a slight, odd tale to tell about someone in this often wonderful world of ours.

A number of years ago, the group of adults with which I went through the Roman Catholic Initiation for Adults with (RCIA) continued to meet in a Bible group.

We took turns having the weekly event at a member's home. One woman, Ann, a retired State worker, had a taste for art, and had created a small collection of local artists in a generally realist manner. The paintings she had were not heart stoppers (no da Vincis), but she had an eye for good work.

One of the paintings she had, which hung above a doorway, was an oil cloudscape which I adored. It never failed to transport me and lift my spirits. The clouds were painted with remarkable skill during a sunset (but without color yet, in the first start of the slanting dramatic light). They were cumulous clouds with dark shadows and striking contrasts of bright whiteness in a rich blue, but tempered sky where the blue was not always the same hue.

I often joked that she should sell it to me, but she demurred.

After a year or more of occasional visits to her house, I asked her if she knew the artist's name. Maybe he had another painting similar to her's.

She said she'd bought it at a craft show at a local mall for a relatively small price ($100 or so). But she took down the painting, and there on the back a card had been stapled of the artists name and phone number.

I took the information.

Later I called the man. I found that he was a retired gentleman who lived in Redding, California. I told him why I had called, talked about his painting, and asked if he had any others like it which he wished to sell.

He was a little slow in speech, but he said he had a number of paintings, and if I wanted to see them, I could come by. He gave me his address.

It just so happened that I intended a trip with my daughter to Oregon, and would be passing by. I decided to stop in when we did so.

A few weeks later, Shana and I left Sacramento for Mt. Shasta. We stopped in Redding to try to find the artist's house. It turned out to be a trailer park, but it was a new community, clean, and, if one can say, upscale. It had a rural setting among trees, and a ravine where the road winded, and was quite nice.

With some trepidation, my daughter and I, went to the door and knocked. An old gentleman answered it, genial and pleasant enough, certainly one you could trust without regret. He welcomed us in (I had called ahead) into a rather dark trailer. He introduced us to his wife, but it became clear that she was odd. She couldn't quite fathom why we were there.

"To look at my paintings," her husband explained.

"They can't have your paintings!" she said loudly.

"No, dear, it's alright. They just want to look at them," he explained gently.

"Well, they can't have them. You can't sell them. They're ours."

My daughter was a pre-teen then and became a bit nervous with the oddness of the situation. The trailer was dimly lit, and we didn't know what to expect next.

As we looked around, we could see a number of paintings that he had hanging on the walls. They were not encouraging. The skill and technique displayed in them were inexpert and somewhat crude.

He led us into another room which was a small empty bedroom except for a few items of furniture, but it was mostly paintings we saw. They were on all the walls and some leaning against each other in groups. The scenes were ordinary cityscapes, landscapes or combinations. People at a cafe on a street with trees, a city park with a fountain, a place with mountains, or the sea. All ordinary scenes, nothing really spectacular or ambitious like Yosemite or New York City from a distance.

He told us that he had studied art at a school in the Depression, but had gone into the insurance business so he could make a living. He had continued to paint, though, and had appeared at craft shows in years past to sell his work. Which is how he sold his painting of clouds to my friend.

My heart sank as I looked around me. He was clearly what used to be called a Sunday painter. Very amateurish despite his formal training. I didn't want to disappoint him. He was a very nice man, and quite pleased by my interest.

"Don't worry about my wife. Her mind isn't what it used to be. She's very protective of these things, but if you want one, I'll sell it to you. They aren't doing me any good here. We'll just sneak it out of the house. It won't make any difference.

"Well, I was hoping to find a painting like the one you sold my friend. A painting of clouds. Just clouds. It was beautifully done."

"I remember it. It was painted from a picture I took of a sunset at Lake Louise in Banf."

"Ahh, well, that explains the light. Northern coloring and all," I said as I tried to think of a gracious way to decline buying one his other paintings.

I kept thinking -- how funny. Here's a man who's painted all his life, and not very well, but one of his paintings is a masterpiece. He didn't have another one in him, apparently.

I made my apologies and thanks to him as I explained that I was really in search of a painting like the other, and that as good as the others were, I had my heart set on something like his Lake Louise piece.

When we met again at Ann's, I told her her about the artist and how he had painted one perfect work of art in his life, and she owned it.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 9:05 PM |