If you knew me before my move to the South in 1996, you may recall my gallery on the campus of Villa Maria College/Gannon University. It was a special place for me that I called Sycamore Gallery. There wasn’t a sycamore in sight on the campus, but I drew inspiration for the name from the only reference to a sycamore in the New Testament. Remember Zacchaeus, the little guy who wanted to see Jesus but couldn’t because of the crowd? Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree to get above the crowd and see! For me, that’s what art does….music, poetry, the visual arts, dance….art of any kind. It takes me ABOVE THE CROWD so I can get a glimpse of the divine. It’s as simple as that. The thought has stayed with me and is the inspiration for this blog and for all I do as I paint, draw, or write. To keep reminding me to get above the crowd, the noise, the distractions, there are two sycamore trees planted on our property in Ocoee TN.
In the mid 1970’s I was a student at St Bonaventure University in Olean NY working on a master’s degree in biology over several summers. During one of those summers I met and befriended a man with a long white beard, tattered layers of sweaters and shirts, and a braided knot on the top of his head! Colorful? You betcha. John the Vagabond, as he referred to himself, told me stories of traveling the globe, meeting people and learning from them, and imparting his personal philosophies and guidance along the way. He was there at SBU to take advantage of tuition-free classes for seniors, studying psychology so that he could better counsel the people he would encounter along his personal journey. We talked at length while strolling around the beautiful campus At summer’s end, I gave him my address in hopes that I would hear from this very colorful personality. And I did. In fact, a letter-writing relationship developed that lasted until his death in 1986 in Bradenton FL Fast forward thirty years when I received an email from John’s grand nephew who had inherited a box of John’s personal items, among which were letters from me to his grand-uncle! Email exchanges and phone calls followed. I found among my own treasures a stash of letters from John that I had saved and two old b&w photographs I had taken of him at SBU. More photos came from my new much younger friend and John’s relative, and a collection of paintings and drawings followed (many of which are included in this portfolio.) The story is ongoing and not quite ready for prime time yet, but on the way I have learned a lot more about John’s very interesting life, far more than I knew back in those student days. This portrait embodies for me his colorful and caring personality. He was an itinerant searcher of truth, a pilgrim of the universe, a teller of tales, and much more than met the eye. It was my real privilege to get to know him then and now to learn about him all over again.
Beauty and Bread
John Muir may not have had art in mind when he penned this: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” I know he had places like Yosemite and Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks as he talked of places and I think I did too as I painted this. I suggest that “places” can also be non-tangible spots where our hearts find some reprieve from whatever may be troubling us.
You can view additional paintings inspired by land or sea, click here.
“Embracing the Darkness”
I’ve been working small during these days turned to months of the pandemic. I work fast too without analyzing or questioning the strokes that find their way to the paper. Some times it takes days or longer for me to understand what my hand has revealed. That was the case with this painting. It came after a particularly dark and depressing morning news. We have a lot of those lately. I felt rather down with it all, with thoughts like “why art?” “why bother?” creeping into my thinking. This morning I looked at it again and the words of Wendell Berry came to mind….”In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter, war spreading, families dying, I walk the rocky hillside sowing clover.” A friend reminded me that clover nourishes the soil. Ah, yes, I said. And art nourishes the soul.