Last Saturday night, Carol gave me a great big birthday party. Among the fourteen friends who spoke was my daughter Sara. Here, in part, is what she said:
“I have a memory from my childhood, of walking with my dad, somewhere in Brittany. I was about eleven. We were talking about the Post-Impressionists, about waiting all day for the best painting light — the magic hour. It was one of my firsts — my first recollection of our first conversation on a subject my dad and I are still working on. I remember how we walked together side by side, his ideas tumbling out like paving stones on a path in front of me. Sure, he had given me a journal and a camera, he’d even ordered for me my first endive salad. But it was our back and forth that etched the journey.”
“There’s a more recent memory of following my dad up a snow-patched slope in Yoho Park in the Rocky Mountains. I mimicked his pace and frequent stops, and carried his lemonade and sandwiches. He paused at every detail of nature. ‘Bracket Fungi.’ ‘Clarke’s Nutcracker.’ ‘Indian Paintbrush,’ ‘Moss Campion.'” A moment of panic. I went cold and looked up into the larches. How on earth was I going to get the entire contents of my dad’s brain into my own brain before the end of our allotted time? The task felt colossal and ultimately hopeless. I overtook him on the path so as to better hear his classifications bubbling up behind me. After a few moments of silent walking I heard him say, ‘You have my good calves.'”
“Once, we bought a bunch of books in a new-age bookshop. There was one called, Stoking the Creative Fires by San Francisco author Phil Cousineau. It’s an anthology of quotes by historical artists designed to inspire new generations — making sense of how to be creative. When tackling the fine art of building a creative life, however, the author quotes his own grandfather: ‘Step by step, a path; stone by stone, a cathedral.'”
“I’ve had a master class in the reverence for both the awesome and the meek. Yoho got its name from the Cree word expressing amazement. Within the amazement of dad’s beloved, immoveable painting subjects, he’s shown me how to kneel at the beauty of a lichen-covered stone.”
“Recently, my dad and I were talking on the phone from our respective studios — I was on 20th Street in New York and he was on Beckett Road in Surrey, British Columbia. He was asking me what I was up to. I was painting my usual broad strokes. He said to me, ‘Sara, you are capable of doing anything you bloody well want.’ That’s pretty well dad’s message to everybody.”
PS: “Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable. (Kahlil Gibran)
Esoterica: The ultimate in sharing can come about among your children. It is an opportunity too wonderful to pass up. Don’t let the joy pass you by.
by Brenda Swenson, South Pasadena, CA, USA
What a loving tribute from your daughter. What she said spoke volumes to the open communication you share… I was touched by her eagerness to listen so intently and coming closer not to miss a word. How blessed you both are to have cultivated a relationship of respect, trust, love and admiration. A father-daughter relationship can be a tight rope at times. You have managed to navigate the obstacles beautifully.
I have memories of backpacking with my father in the High Sierra and receiving my first paint brush from him. Your story left a lump in my throat. Thank you for sharing this beautiful message.
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by Nader Khaghani, Gilroy, CA, USA
Can you post a few of Sara’s works so we see what kind of arrow you have been flying and what target Sara is hitting. Dad has already blessed her with inspiration: You can paint what you want. And that is magical.
I am curious what she’s searching for visually. I read she likes broad strokes — great, I love those too. She loves dad and we all love the whole bunch of you, the entire family, including the dog. I wonder what she says looking at all your paintings: Probably, “Good job daddy and try another one! and another one, and …” The doggie knows the secret to creativity.
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The great gift
by Sky Pape, New York, NY, USA
It was very moving, and a bit odd, to open my email and read a daughter’s tribute to her father on the anniversary of losing my own. My dad wasn’t that kind of mentor to me, nor even encouraging about my chosen path, but right before the unseen end, he gave me the great gift of that message, “You are capable of doing anything you want!” with the added confidence that I’d be able to excel at it. Happy birthday, Robert, and peace, Dad.
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Signature style change?
by John F. Burk, Timonium, MD, USA
Happy birthday! I have three grown daughters myself. Isn’t it wonderful the way they speak? I have a question that seems silly, but maybe not, if one is striving to attain recognition (for what that’s worth). My signature has been unchanged for at least two decades. It’s a script, or ‘handwriting’ form of my name, sometimes done better than others, often attempted six or eight times before I resolve to leave it be. It’s a blessing my names are short.
I am considering a change to something that can be put down more easily and perhaps with more boldness and perhaps a bit of design. I don’t know yet what I’m talking about, but what is the hazard, if any, of ‘changing horses in mid-stream’?
Styles of painting can change and certainly evolve, and it’s better that they do. But a signature may be a bit different. Can you address that for me?
(RG note) Thanks, John. Keep your time-honoured signature. It may have faults but it has time on its side. It’s the signature of your work that really counts. And thanks, also, John and all the others who wished me a Happy Birthday. It was a slice.
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Creatively inside the mind
Thank you for sharing and happy birthday. In your daughter’s message she mentioned her studio in NYC on 20th St. I also have a studio in NYC on 20th St. It made me feel a little close to… something… you, Sara, making art… While I know I’m surrounded by the creatives in my neighborhood, I, like many other artists, work in a solitary environment unless in a class or gallery situation and it’s good to know an actual person is near. Right now, I’m in the shed, as it were, working on the next right thing. This message is just to express my gratitude to you for reminding your readers of the universality of being inside the mind in the creative world.
by Sue Hoppe, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
I have been wanting to thank you for some time now, for the generous way in which you share your thoughts, wisdom, insights, humour and knowledge with artists around the world. What amazes me is how often there is some synchronicity between an issue with which I am currently grappling, and the arrival of your letter discussing the same thing.
Since you have just celebrated a birthday (I imagine an auspicious one, given the nature of the party) I would like to add my greetings and best wishes. Here’s to many more happy, fruitful and healthy years behind an easel, and sharing wisdom. I think the metaphor your daughter used, “his ideas tumbling out like paving stones on a path in front of me,” is absolutely magic. What a privilege to grow up with a father like you — clearly she has inherited more than your good calves!
by Barbara Boldt, Glen Valley, BC, Canada
Thank you, Sara, thank you, Robert! You are very blessed having each other and sharing the art and the awareness of each other’s needs! How beautifully you, Sara, expressed your memories of your father’s guidance.
My son Ken was a very talented young man, took painting lessons from my teacher Aeron McBryde, then had 3 boys to bring up, and did as much sketching as he had time for besides soccer and baseball runs for his boys. Ken used to tell me, “I will do it the way you did, Mom. I will get into the art fully when I am 45, after the boys are grown.” Neither of his boys had the same leaning towards art. Ken died at age 32 in a bicycle accident in 1990.
My daughter Dorothy, who followed me into art lessons with the same teacher as well, took up painting and pottery, became a graphic artist and illustrator, learning all the technical skills of design. She married early, kept up her painting, became a busy instructor in her St. Albert community, designed and executed many murals. Our plan was to work together in my gallery, after her move back to B.C., letting her do all this complicated computer/technical stuff that takes so much out of me!! She would have her graphic business under the same roof, along with her wonderful watercolour, pastel and oil paintings. It was not meant to be. Dorothy died of brain cancer in 2000 at age 45.
There is an extensive history of artists in my father’s family, and the Internet has helped to discover incredible documentation! Talent is inherited; the work ethic, the dedication necessary to develop and use this gift, is up to us today.
Your words, Robert, quoting your Sara, are precious, and I thank you!
Keep well, and keep painting, inspiring us!
by Louise Francke, NC, USA
My memories are of my father and his rowboat. He taught me how to row the huge wooden boat quietly whiling away summer days fishing. Maybe this is how he taught me how to look and to see? He was a photographer when not doing his day job. We spent time in his darkroom where negatives were processed and then made into pictures which would slowly appear. I only wish that there had been discussions about art. I tried to be a different parent encouraging both of my sons to look at art and to create. There were no coloring books but plenty of paper and drawing/painting materials. One has followed and struggles to survive even though he is more accomplished in wielding his brushes than I could ever be. The other has found his creativity in science which is his driving force. So, in a way, I guess I have taught both to follow their bliss in life and to pass it on to their children in both their actions and words. Thanks for allowing me to turn to the beginning of my life’s book.
A father’s influence
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
I imagine I am not the only person who read today’s letter with tears filling my eyes. I, too, have a wonderfully brilliant father (who happens to be 81 years young). Unlike Sara, I have never attempted to retain even half of what my father has learned through a lifetime of study and reading. Yet I often thank God for his influence on me, both in building my curiosity about, and openness to what, the world has to offer. Today in less than 45 minutes my father is due to pick me up so we can spend a father/daughter day together that is long overdue. How wonderful the timing was to read your post right before my special day with my father. This post is one that will be saved and gone back over for years to come! P.S. Happy Birthday!
Nosehill Fall is Coming
acrylic painting by Alice Helwig
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Bonnie Mandoe of Las Cruces, NM, USA, who wrote, “Sara speaks the unspoken that keeps us all reading you, Robert. It is love, nothing less, that moves the painter’s eye, mind and hand.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Step by step, a path…