Friday, September 21, 2018

The Pelican



This is one of my favorite creations but I needed a little serendipity to complete it.
  First I drew the table without thinking of anything else.  I loved the curve of that leg so I echoed it with the billowing curtain but as I looked at the empty spaces out the window I realized that the piece was going nowhere.  It was background for nothing so I put it away in the flat file.
At another time on another piece of paper I drew the pelican and hated the background I gave him so I cut him out, and put him away.  
The two pieces lay in obscurity until I decided to clean out the overflowing drawers, making piles of Keep, Throw Away and What Do I Do With This?  The Pelican and the table by the window fell together and Voila! The swell of the pelican’s chest echoes the curtain and the table leg,  the colors in his feathers echo the gray in the sky.  The unexpectedness of his being there rates a double take. Did he just fly in the window? What’s he doing there? So many questions.  Thank you, Muse.
The pelican is a favorite of mine; so goofy on land, so graceful in flight. You will often see a pelican sculpture in an old graveyard. He’s a symbol for Christ because early observers noted red on the breasts of nesting pelicans. They surmised that the mother plucked at herself to make her blood flow to feed her chicks; thus she became a symbol of self sacrifice.  Turns out the red was just a phase in the plumage but the image stuck and that’s why you see pelicans standing over the graves of the long ago dead. 

Was it the muse or the holy spirit who put my two images together?  Are “muse” and “holy spirit” two names for the same inspiration?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

James Baldwin, Charles Lindbergh and a Tow Truck


When my daughter, Jessie, was three she was terrified of tow trucks.  That was my fault.  I’d say, “C’mon, c’mon, we have to hurry, the tow truck’s gonna get our car.”  She’d run ahead of me and reach up to grab the door handle, protecting the car from marauding tow trucks.

“As long as I’m here, no tow truck will take our car,” she seemed to say.
Imagine her delight when she spied a tow truck towing another tow truck.  It felt like vindication to her.

I told that story for years until it became part of Jessie’s legend. She grew up and told it to her daughter Molly.  Molly loved it so much she begged to hear it over and over, then she told it to her friend, Flynn, as if she’d seen it with her own eyes.  Then Flynn told the story as if he’d been there.  Now it’s legend and I’m sure one day Flynn’s grandson will say to his grandchildren, “Did I ever tell you about the time I saw a tow truck towing another tow truck?”  A story becomes a legend.

“I just re-read The Fire Next Time,” I told Jessie. “James Baldwin.  What a beautiful writer he was.”

“I know,” she said.  “I’ve read everything he wrote.  Plus, he said I was a cute baby.”

“Oh, I think that’s just one of your father’s stories,” I said.

She said to me, without anger, “Why would you take that away from me?”

Why indeed? I could have bitten my tongue.

“You know, now that I think of it,” I said, “James Baldwin did live on Horatio Street when we did, and I often saw him walking by.  I’m sure he looked into your stroller and of course he would have said you were a beautiful baby.”

I have since checked with Arthur, who was there.  He said, “Yes, it happened.  I wouldn’t make that up.”  So it’s true, and it’s Jessie’s story, her legend.

My mother was born on Long Island in May 1927, the week that Charles Lindbergh took off from nearby Roosevelt Field to make his historic flight across the Atlantic.  My grandfather liked to say that as he drove his wife and new baby home from the hospital home he looked up, saw the plane, waved and said, “Good Luck, Lindy!”

Is that a true story?   It’s a good one, full of hope for the future, the beginning of a heroic journey and a brand new life.  Is craft involved?  Did my grandfather conflate two separate events to make a compelling narrative?  He wasn’t writing a newspaper account, he was creating a family myth.  I believe in the absolute value of verifiable facts but I also believe in the value of a good story. I’m sorry he’s not here for me to ask.

Our stories make us who we are and they are ours to tell. Sometimes they’re absolutely true in the verifiable, fact-checking sense.  And sometimes they’re true in the sense of legend and myth.

My father was a storyteller who often repeated himself and we teased him for it. One Christmas as we drove away from his house my son Sam, age ten, said,

‘I don’t know why you give PopPop such a hard time.  I think his stories are great and I love them every time.”

Oft-repeated, well-loved stories make up our family lore.  When they move into the next generation they bring back lost loved ones.  Sam reminded us to be grateful for them.
Will you tell me your story?

Another Artist I love: Wayne Thiebaud

This is a good time to Celebrate Wayne Thiebaud, American painter, born in 1920; that makes him one hundred years old; at least he will be o...