Stew Turcotte is the owner-operator of the Hambleton Galleries in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. If you’ve been watching the news lately you might know that Kelowna has been struck by a huge forest fire that has resulted in the loss of 250 homes. Firefighters and equipment were brought in from far-off places. At times 30,000 people were on “evacuation advisory.” Officers banged on doors and told people to be out in two hours. With water-bombers and helicopters overhead, lodge-pole pines candling and wind-tossed brush-fires rushing through built-up areas, Stew’s van could be seen in and out of smoky driveways hurriedly picking up art for safe storage.
Next to human life, art is the first thing we try to save. Art has value beyond cost. It carries sentiment only rivaled by family albums, books and perhaps jewelry. It makes a statement of who we are, our loves and our passions. Forget furniture. Forget computers. Forget the kitchen sink. If your place is going to be torched you need to move your art.
Whole subdivisions were leveled. In some places alternate homes were wiped out, their neighbours’ homes still standing, their swimming pools ready for an afternoon swim.
Murray Roed is an artist and subscriber to this letter who lost his home and studio. “It’s an opportunity for a new start,” he told me. It’s possible to be philosophic. In 1943, when Norman Rockwell’s Vermont studio burnt to the ground, he rationalized that it was a good thing, a cleaning of the creative slate. Artists are like that.
People aren’t. They love their art because it’s something they can’t do. Art for the collector has magic, wonder, memory, connection and personality. The next time you’re wondering if it’s all worthwhile, just remember that people run out of burning buildings carrying our stuff. Just remember that art is long. Art touches the very soul. Stew Turcotte remembered that.
PS: “Long after our monuments of brick and stone, vitriol, plastic and concrete have vanished, our words, our art, our legends and our myths will remain as a legacy.” (Harry J. Boyle) “My sun sets to rise again.” (Robert Browning)
Esoterica: Stew estimates that he took in over a million dollars worth of art. They were from the collections of customers, friends, and people he didn’t previously know. He was amazed at what came out of some of those homes. Fortunately, no human lives were lost in the Kelowna blaze.
Ashes to ashes
by Murray Roed, Kelowna, BC, Canada
My greatest loss was a tremendous art library, a great geologic library, another collection of other books (we had 12 bookcases full), my lifetime consulting reports, all of my family histories, data, a set of day-timers going back to 1964, 5000 colour slides, all of my ancestral photos, and my mom and dad’s furniture they bought in 1930. Also, I had 8 autographed copies of a valuable geology book that have joined the ashes. Dust to dust and ashes to ashes.
An eerie silence
by Jennifer Garant, Naramata, BC, Canada
It has been a bizarre three weeks. It hit at the peak of tourist summer season at a time when people gather at the beach in the towns of Kelowna, Penticton and Naramata, where I live. As time went on the fire grew and the tourists were asked to go home. A cloak of dark, still smoke came over the whole area and you could hear a pin drop from miles away . . . an eerie silence like a death in the family.
Not just “stuff”
by Susan Holland, Issaquah, Washington, USA
The letter “Fire duty” was a reminder for us artists who are turning out “stuff” which we deem “nice” or “needs work” or which we might just paint over, never to be seen again. It gets to be the same, I suppose, as currency is to the people at the mint. Just “stuff.” You are so good to remind us that it’s what people save in a fire. It’s right up there with the children and the dog! It lives. And saves us, in a strange way — the life still in it long after the artist may be history.
Touch the soul
by Yvonne Komlen
I always look forward to receiving your weekly letters, but this one “Fire duty” has touched me deeply. Thank you for composing it and sending it to us. You are so right…art does indeed touch the soul! My heart goes out to the people in Kelowna who have lost their homes and those who are wondering if they will be next.
What you give away
by Janet Badger
I live in a coastal area where we have to keep an eye out for hurricanes. Last year I was madly, hurriedly raising everything in my studio a foot off the ground, in case of flooding. We got only a normal rainstorm, but I was reminded once again of a lesson I had learned through a friend’s experience. Her home had burned to the ground; she lost everything in the way of material possessions (thankfully, the family was unharmed). She called to see if I could possibly replace the two etchings of mine that she’d had for many years. These were my early work; I could replace one but not the other. In addition, she begged me for any photos of her family I might have. I was able to send her the several she’d given me through the years. That’s when it struck me…You only get to keep what you give away. Now I don’t save the best family photos for my own albums; I send them out. If family or friend admires an etching of mine, they can have it. I send my art to juried exhibitions in the hopes someone will like it, buy it and take it home. And I feel the increasing pressure to shift my mountain of artistic inventory out of my studio and into the larger world. Because you only get to keep what you give away…
Living with stress
by Doran William Cannon, California, USA
March 15, 1985. Bringing my nine year old daughter home from school, driving along the crest of Mulholland Drive above Hollywood. Smoke rising. “Hannah, that’s a fire …near our house.” It was our house. A neighbor had pulled the dog out. The firemen wouldn’t let me go in after our cat, Little Kitty, who succumbed not because there was no way out, but because she knew that the safest place in an emergency was to be home. Hannah and I slept in the travel trailer that night, bunk beds, she on the top bunk. In the morning, the first thing she asked me, her legs swinging over the bed, was ‘What’s for breakfast?”
Lost some art, not all. Each lost piece remains fresh in my mind. Two ‘King Solomons’ by Rudy Burkhardt. A very erotic piece by Michel Whatshername. A drawing by Mimi Gross, Chaim Gross’s daughter. Two WPA styled Depression Era paintings I bought in Bucks County by Rose King, who I found 15 years later still teaching art in Carpenteria, Ca. A set of deco works on newsprint from the L.A. Times, circa 1936. The greatest loss, other than Little Kitty, were the videos of Hannah’s birthday parties from ages 1 to 9. Many of those images remain burned in my mind.
The early ’80s was a time of travail for me. Lost my brother Joe about the same time as my wife filed for divorce. Career problems as a screenwriter. Tried to write TV, but I really only knew movies. Became single parent to my daughter, not easy, but gladly done. And then, the fire. There was a survey of the ten most stressful things that could happen to a person. I was in the top five. Public speaking seems now to be the greatest fear, but I’ve never suffered from that.
Does anyone remember a fire at the Museum of Modern Art, approx. 1956? Nelson Rockefeller was amongst those bringing art pieces out of the building.
by Isabelle Prenat, Victoria, BC, Canada
What if we, the artists, were to donate a painting, a sculpture or other piece each to the people who lost everything? To put in their new homes when they are ready? I propose that you ask all of the artists on your mailing list to consider doing just this. Let’s get volunteers in each town, lets think about the logistics etc. For example, I live in Victoria, BC and could gather, record, list and even hold the art pieces given by other Victoria artists until the Kelowna victims are ready to receive them. Each artist would get a receipt. I could even drive some to Kelowna eventually as I have a small truck. If we volunteer to do this, we can bring a little bit of joy to the ones who lost it all.
(RG note) I’ve committed an 11 x 14 framed acrylic to Isabelle’s plan. If you wish to support or participate in this idea you can send your donation to Isabelle Prenat in Victoria. Stewart Turcotte (see letter below) has offered to work with Isabelle on this project.
Fund raising event
by Stewart Turcotte, Kelowna, BC, Canada
Isabelle’s is an interesting idea and I would help out in any way possible. As well, I’m hoping to help spearhead an event to benefit the victims and thank the firefighters and volunteers. I was hoping to tie art into it as well, either as draw or as auction for those who might wish to donate to such a cause. The event would be later when all would be able to attend and we could call the fire definitely out. Gifts to burnt-out families from a world of artists would be an awesome thing. Some of these people might never have had real art and so this too would be a new beginning.
(RG note) Stew Turcotte’s Hambleton Galleries is at 781 Bernard Avenue, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, V1Y 6P6.
by Faith Puleston, Wetter, Germany
Watching the clips of forest fires in Canada and here in Europe (in Portugal 20% of forestry was destroyed) I was frightened and horrified at how fast fire can spread. This year we had a very hot summer, with temperatures up to 40° Celsius, and the Rhine was down to its last 70 centimeters or so of flowing water. At the same time last year much of the countryside and many cities were flooded after heavy rain everywhere north of the Alps. It caused the rivers in the Eastern part of Germany to burst their banks (the Elbe was up to 10 meters higher than normal). Many historic city-centers and buildings were under water, and people worked day and night to rescue priceless art treasures – many of the archives and workrooms were in the cellars. Volunteers gave up their vacations to join the helpers. It was a nightmare, though fortunately with very little loss of life. Other natural disasters also remind us daily of our own vulnerability. Lucky this time, what happens next time? I think that is why art is so important in our lives. We have proof that art survives and we all would choose to be immortal, if we had a chance. Art is indomitable. I can’t think of a better reason to paint.
Fighting a battle
by Linda Kelen
Regarding your recent letter on Winston Churchill, his art and his thoughts — Funny… I have always described painting as a battle I can’t seem to stay away from… my only weapons are long hair-tipped sticks… the canvas is the battle field. Sometimes I lose… sometimes I win. His “battle” description got me laughing.
Regarding this last letter about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Can you recommend one or two books of his?
(RG note) The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Faust (part 2), as well as the books I mentioned in the letter, are two that appeal to artists. These are readily available on Amazon, and earlier editions appear frequently in used bookstores. Maxims and Reflections is in the Penguin Classics series and is worthwhile for getting an understanding of the range of Goethe’s vision. His Theory of Colour is often reprinted.
Internet art sales
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA
Back in 2001 artists were reporting that internet sales were abysmal, including me. Well, things change and I’m wondering about others who have now had their work on the web for three or four years, if they have experienced a positive change. I have. Here are three things that I’d like to share that I discovered have made a significant difference in my internet sales:
1) A proper page title is ultimately the most important item in having people be able to find your art — especially via Google. Last year I took the time to rename all the pages in my website, all the way from from thumbnails to enlargements, 148 pages in total. It was worth it. I have found that this single act now put many of my pages at the number one rank or on the first page. For example, type in “kinte cloth” in Google which returns a number 1 position or “astronomical art” which returns a number 5 position.
2) Longevity. I found that after the first 2.5 years, things finally started to pick up. Now with conducting my business full time, it has made another big difference. (As of August 31, I doubled last year’s gross income and am fully in the black — thank goodness.) It still takes a lot of work to feed the kitty and so far my income is nowhere near what it was when I was working for the US Government but this is the best career move I’ve made. I couldn’t love doing this more.
3) Diversify — offer many forms of one’s art or talents to make items affordable for the vast majority. I’ve expanded into greeting cards and I’ve done projects such as placing my art on stickers for a large convention. I’ve also done some non-exclusive licensing of some of my art. Seems to all be heading in the right direction.
(RG note) Julie’s site is at www.artfromthesoul.com/ Our most recent look at this subject: “The Dealer-Friendly Website” (with some valuable additional advice from my own remarkable webmaster Andrew Niculescu) is at http://painterskeys.com/dealerfriend/
Town Reach, Brisbane
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, 2003.
That includes Dave Edwards of Blyth, UK who wrote, “I know that red advances, especially when placed against a green background, but I am interested in combining tonal values with colour contrasts and how this would change things. For example, if I used a strong green with a faded red in the background, would that work or would the red hit the viewer’s eye first? These are the sort of questions I am asking myself.”
And also Allyson Palmer who wrote, “Art is a precious emotional piece of my life. Each piece of art in our home has a story, a meaning, and moments that can never be told with words — only the emotion that is evoked each time I look upon them.”
And Pnina Granirer who wrote, “I related to your letter, because several of the paintings rescued from the Kelowna fire were mine.”