Monday, December 08, 2014

Masterpiece

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My love for art began as a kid in a small Midwestern town.  It was the 1970's when there was no such thing as an internet opening a window on the wider world.   Experiences followed a narrow groove worn smooth by a bicycle tire and a boy's imagination.  Museums were far away in big cities that we never visited and the best we could muster on our walls were Home Interior pieces of plastic and colored glass bought at house parties.

The library was a potential stepping off point for this kind of exploration, but it was a bifurcated building with the kid's section flowing to the left and the adult section flowing to the right.  The librarian's desk sat midstream as a kind of command and control center and resembled a judge's bench.  I remember on at least one occasion wandering over to the right side and having the librarian suddenly materialize beside me, asking what I was looking for.  There was something in the way she asked that insinuated that I might be doing something wrong and should skitter back over to the kid's section if I knew what was good for me.  My exposure to great art was not going to come from that direction, though we did have a set of Childcraft books at home that had some illustrations that tickled my fancy.

***

The beachhead to this unexplored world of fine art came in the form of a board game, "Masterpiece."  My parents would have friends over to our house from church to play games around the dining room table in the evening hours.  My first memory of Masterpiece was when I was six or seven and the adults were playing it while the kids played elsewhere.  I can clearly see myself standing next to my Dad's chair and watching them play with a peculiar energy.  I loved to see them so animated and hear their laughter.  I picked up some of the painting reproductions my Dad had acquired and looked at the value cards clipped to the back which told you how much the painting was worth and was known only to the person who owned it.  The strategy is to cash in the most expensive ones when the opportunity arises and try to auction off the cheaper ones at prices that exceed their value.  One of the value cards wasn't a number, but a word that I did not know, *forgery*.  "Hey Dad, what is a for-gary?" I asked, and everyone burst out laughing as my Dad snatched the painting back from me.

A few years later I was able to play the game with the neighborhood kids at the dining room table in the light of day, either on a lazy summer afternoon or a bleak winter weekend.  I learned the artists' names and their distinctive styles by playing this game.  By the time I reached High School I had stopped playing it for the most part, but I purchased my first oil painting from an artist from the Smoky Mountains at our local festival when I was a freshman.  It was an exhilarating idea that was made possible when the artist recognized my interest in a particular framed canvas and offered to let me pay him bit by bit on the honor system.  I made a passionate plea to my Mom to let me do it and convinced her that a fifteen year old could and should acquire a largish framed oil painting.  I gave him twenty dollars cash for a negotiated price of two hundred and fifty dollars and floated home with it on a cloud of wondrous disbelief.  I faithfully mailed him a twenty dollar bill every few months over a two year period until it was paid off.

***

Over the years I've had opportunities to visit some of the great art museums of the world in cities like London, Paris, Amsterdam, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Mexico City, Seoul, New York, Washington DC, and San Francisco.  I was able to see many of those paintings I'd loved as a kid, firsthand in all of their full-sized glory.  And beyond that I found new favorites; the elongated form of John the Baptist wrapped in a blue sky by El Greco in the Pushkin Museum of Moscow, the terrible melancholy of "Wheatfield with Crows" thought to be Vincent's last painting at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the massive canvas of Ilya Repin's "Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks" from the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, and Frida Kahlo's surreal self portraits in Mexico City.  Now, at forty five years of age, my prized possession is an oil painting lovingly dappled with brilliant colors of a scene at Winslow Farms in Fairmount, Indiana by Kevin McCarty, a dearly departed friend and my godson in the Orthodox Faith.  I first laid eyes on it at the Indiana State Museum as part of the 2000 Hoosier Salon and now it hangs over my fireplace in a place of honor and remembrance.

***

The impetus for this reflection on my love of art over the years came from an unexpected find a year ago and then a rediscovery this past weekend.  One year ago I was with my son at a local Catholic Church festival and while he ran off with his friends to play the games, I wondered into a tent full of garage sale items to putter around.  My gaze wandered over an old board game that turned out to be the original edition of Masterpiece.  I didn't recognize it at first because it was the 1970 edition and my parents had the 1976 edition with a different box cover.  When I realized what lay before me I could hardly contain myself.  I snatched it up and went through its contents with a huge grin on my face, finding it mostly intact.  I paid the preposterously low price of two dollars and carried it around the festival under my arm, protecting it like it was a newborn baby (an internet search from yesterday revealed that it is selling for 100+ dollars these days).

It has sat on a basement shelf with other games since that time, untouched until just a few days ago when it piqued my son's curiosity.  We pulled it out and I explained the rules to him as well as shared some stories of playing it with friends when I was his age.  The next day he got his Mom and Sister to join us in playing it.  As the game progressed, old friends found their way to the top of the stack to include the one that intrigued me the most as a kid, Grant Wood's "American Gothic."  Elias mentioned that he wanted to show it to his neighborhood friends and I had the queer feeling that time was somehow resetting itself.

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Master Dice Roller

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1970 Edition

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Circus in the Sky

Morning Commute

***
The sky was immense,
a massive canvas
unfurled across my windshield
on my morning commute.
It was nearly impossible
to concentrate on
the broken line of cars
flitting in the darkened
lower margins of this
magnificent spectacle.
I felt like a circus spectator,
plopped in a bleacher
for the greatest show on earth.
Wisps of a burning tiger
leaping over a blood red sun
sitting heavy on the horizon.
My exit arrived and the scene
scrolled off the screen
as my car headed
in a different direction.
***

Saturday, November 15, 2014

You are a Person

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***

You are not an individual,
rugged or otherwise.
You are a person
connected to people,
living or dead,
it does not matter.
Love is everywhere
and fills all things.
Of this, and only this
can you be certain.
Set it as a judge
over your thoughts
and actions.  Do they
pass the test of love?

***

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Empty Shelves

Empty Shelves

***
The shelves of his mind
had been emptied of memories
and no amount of rummaging
could change that.
All that was left
was the action itself,
pacing those empty rows,
rubbing his hands
over the dust that was left.
He heard voices,
warm tones meant to reassure him.
"Remember me?  It's so and so,"
cruel in their strange familiarity.
Where is this place?
Who are these people?
The shelves lie bare,
leaving him scared and alone.
***

Friday, October 24, 2014

When I'm Lost




***
When I'm lost
I don't always
know that I'm lost

but sometimes I do

like a butterfly
hovering overhead
self-seeing
feeling pity for
my waywardness
memories fluttering
to moments of a
peace-filled existence
that was lost
due to lack of diligence
a waning watchfulness
supplanted by a
pride-filled nothingness

but even so

when I'm lost
it is a grace
to know that
I am lost
and gain hope
in the waiting
for myself
to come home.
***

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Life is Beautiful



***
Life is beautiful
always and ever,
though poorly perceived
through the dirty lens
that overlies the
eye of the soul.
A pure heart
apprehends it fully,
which means it is
something I must
simply accept on faith,
catching glimpses
through my children
who have yet to
become so sullied
by the demands
of a life-defying
culture that fosters
self-centered insatiety
as an ill-conceived norm.
I see myself as
someone who makes
capricious attempts
at capturing
it through art
and creativity,
but above all
through love,
however feeble.
***