"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pages from beyond death

I opened a book I'd never opened before this month.

I was reducing clutter and rearranging  in my studio room, and that meant moving my art book bookcase to a different wall. First step, dump the books on the floor.

On the shelves were my collection of watercolor books including books about certain artists (Homer, Sergeant, Ranson, et. al.). But also were my Dad's aging books--largely about oil painting, and three from my favorite aunt Sissie--Mom's sister who also painted.

After a morning of getting rid of old magazines, trashing useless paper stuff, and rearranging tables and easels, it was time to sort  the books.

Since I needed more room, I found a few that were to be relegated to the garage. Those were easy. Then on the bottom shelf went my Dad's art notebooks, some over-sized books, and some old family albums--all laid on their sides.

Then started going through Dad's books. He never stopped studying art, and was an avid reader. While they are books on oil painting and drawing that I'll probably never use, I have to keep them. They're my heritage, and they're old, and they reek art. thumb through them and you'll see Dad's meticulous underlining of sections. It's like he'd just seem them, and I'm sharing.

Sitting on the floor amid the books,  I picked up this thick volume, faded black cover with yellowed pages, "Elementary Principals of Landscape Painting," by John F. Carlson.

Now that I'm painting landscapes, I was immediately interested  even if it was about oil painting. Besides after a rush of early year reading, the turmoil of fall had brought me to standstill. I needed something to read.

So I opened the cover, and stopped.

There on the page facing me was a personal inscription from Dad, from way back in  1969.

I read it twice before I noted that he called me "an artist," which from him was a real compliment. I hadn't done much art then, and he breathed artist. And then on the inside front cover was his first inscription. He bought it in Dallas 11months before I was born.

I just sat there, turning the stiff pages, finding his underlined passages. I can't figure out when and how he gave it to me unless it came in the mail, because we were in Iowa  and he was in Texas.

But it doesn't matter--I've since read most of it, except for the author's wordy and lengthy forward, but I have added marks and underlines of my own.

Three of them:
  • "We do not paint 'exact colors'; we paint them as they impress us; differently every day."
  • "A too-real reality in a picture is always a disappointment to the imaginative soul."
  • "The sky is the key to the landscape."
That last is from the chapter on clouds, and my favorite.

Dad's underlines in red; mine in black
This book has been in boxes or on bookshelves for years, unopened. And when my artist self needed it most, there it was. A gift from beyond the grave--pages of December and a blessing from Dad.
The treasure shelf--personal reference on top; second shelf, Dad's books erect; watercolor books on the sides; bottom, notebooks, albums, over-sized books.


  1. This touches me so deeply. You say you received a gift, well you have given me a gift on this wintry night. A gift that has warmed me to my core. Also, as I read your post, I listened to your "Geezer" music. lol... I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"...my daddy's favorite Hank Williams song. So you gave me two gifts. Thank you, my excellent writer/painter friend!


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