When Dick and Shirley got divorced, Dick married Flo and Shirley married Dick’s best friend, Mel. The two couples got along famously. At Christmas, for example, they always cut down and decorated the Christmas tree as one happy family, blended kids and all. Christmas dinner was always a not-to be forgotten celebration.
Every time I had a solo show at Dick’s gallery, Mel was the jovial guy behind the bar. He did it for free. Everyone loved Mel.
Mel had a heart problem and one day his doctors decided to operate. They got his heart out okay, but it was too big, and they couldn’t get it back in. After about a week of heroic attempts, Mel, who never really woke up, died.
Everyone was devastated. Tributes poured in. As a gift for Shirley, I painted Mel’s portrait. Dick gave me a few photos to work from. One thing about acrylic, it’s a cinch to add collage. Using acrylic medium, I put in a score-sheet of his favourite song, Danny Boy, photos of horses from the local racetrack and an old shot of Mel. On February 4, 2000, in a shower of tears, I presented my effort to Shirley.
After about a year, Shirley met John and within a few months they were married. The painting was passed on to Shirley and Mel’s son, Peter, and that’s when they lost track of the painting.
A few weeks ago a friend phoned and told me there was a painting of “a guy named Mel” in an auction and one of my dealers had bought it. I alerted Dick and during their even further blended family Christmas dinner — between the turkey and the pudding — they all went online, chipped in, and bought Mel back.
I don’t know about you, but to me it’s this sort of stuff that makes the whole art game worthwhile. That painting of Mel is just twelve years old and it has already had an adventure. I had a look at it and it’s in good shape, still in the original frame. Goodness knows, Mel and his posthumous ramblings may have an even more exciting future.
PS: “Certain things need to be kept in a family.” (Dick)
Esoterica: Given, sold or stolen, our work is a gift to the Art Diaspora. I’m not flattering myself when I say that two hundred years from now someone will probably be sending Mel out for a cleaning. Maybe, together with this story, Mel will stay around even longer. Other paintings of mine have phoned in sick from junk stores and dumpsters. One, a small landscape done along the Mackenzie River in July 2001, fell into the fast moving stream and disappeared in the direction of the North Pole. Perhaps, one fortuitous Christmas, Santa himself will recycle it to a nice family down south. Stranger things have happened.
Significance is key
by Brenda Behr, Goldsboro, NC, USA
For me your letter wasn’t as much about “Wandering Art” as it was about the meaning a piece of artwork has to just the right person(s). In fact, the significance of the painting we bring to another person is most often the higher percentage of our motivation to do a painting. I’d always heard the community needs art; the world needs art. And I understood how we benefit through entertainment by the performing arts and I could not imagine a world without music, but I didn’t understand entirely what painting brings to the world until I did a painting that brought tears to another human being.
As far as Mel went, I can’t think of a better way to die than a big heart.
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Correct owner found
by James Pineault aka Reg Roxx, Toronto, ON, Canada
I saw “Mel” for sale at Heffel and seriously considered bidding on it — I thought it was a great piece and unusual since it was a collage, which you don’t normally do. I decided to pass since it seemed a very personal piece and I didn’t know Mel although we seemed to have varied interests based on the content of the collage — I am glad I passed on it as it seems to have found the correct owner.
Long way around
by Jill Charuk, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I entered a small painting in a competition in Connecticut. It was selected. I packaged it up and sent it off. It was for sale both online and in the gallery. It sold! I was delighted to have a sale on the opposite side of the continent and in another country to boot. After receiving the painting, shipped to her from the gallery, the buyer contacted me through my website. She lived in Canada and actually resided in my town. I could have walked the painting over to her from my studio. We laughed. The little 12 x 12 had a good start.
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From junk shop to museum
by Bob Ragland, Denver, CO, USA
One of my art works ended up in a junk shop. It was sold to the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art in Denver. As a result, I now have thirty works of art in the permanent collection.
The sale of those works helped me get some financial traction as an artist.
It’s nice to be in a museum collection and be vertical to see it.
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Highway house resurfaces
by Louise Francke, NC, USA
Recently, I received an email concerning a large watercolor of a farm house along the highway en route to the beach. It took me a while to remember the painting I had titled Highway House since it was created at a time before I started documenting all of my works. In the late ’70s I stopped along a country highway to photograph a huge farm house. Later it became a 40 x 60″ watercolor and was sold by my gallery to go into parts unknown. The person emailing me said he took his mother to see the painting and it was the house she had grown up in. What are the chances of a work of art resurfacing in that manner?
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by Ellen Lyons, Red Deer, AB, Canada
I had done a line drawing of my friend’s two little children. It was from the back when they were 2 and 3 years of age, sitting on my piano bench. The older sister was turning the page of the music sheets. The little boy was watching politely, his little short legs barely reaching beyond the bench. My brother had made the bench when he was a teenager. He did everything, was multi-talented and everything he did was to perfection.
I never earned much money with my art. I was a gas meter reader — a good paying job but having very little to do with creativity. It was more about outsmarting mean dogs with a palmed piece of cheese, secretly applied to eager mouths. I went into a house to read the meter — a beautiful heritage home with many wonderful architectural details. Passing through the living room, there, hanging above the piano was my drawing. I smiled!
Family history is sacred
by Janice Vogel, Senden-BÃ¶sensell, Germany
Family history is sacred and not up to one family member to unilaterally get rid of a very special object. If Peter didn’t have room for the painting, didn’t like it or needed some extra cash, he should have approached the other family members to give them first dibs on the piece. How could you sell a picture of your dad to strangers? I just can’t fathom that.
However, we had a similar experience in our family. The World War I medals from a great uncle had passed from my grandmother after her death to my aunt. One day, a number of years later, my cousin got a phone call from a local pawn shop saying that some WWI medals with his last name on them had turned up for sale. Apparently, my aunt had told the pawn shop owner that she needed the money for her granddaughter’s university tuition. My cousin went down and bought the medals, never telling my aunt about it. My father was steamed when he heard and it took a long time before he got over his sister’s behavior. It wasn’t like she couldn’t have afforded to help out her granddaughter. She had lots of money. Maybe the medals were collecting dust and she didn’t see the purpose of keeping them but she should have called my dad first to ask. My cousin had the medals mounted with a photo of our great uncle and they are in my cousin’s house. I am sure my cousin will take care to ensure that the medals land in the right hands after his death. It is our joint family history.
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Story of a self-portrait
by Cindee Moyer, IA, USA
Both my parents and the three of us girls were painters… varying degrees, of course. My youngest sister, while in junior high school, did a self-portrait in acrylics on an 18×24 canvas board circa 1970. She had round wire-rimmed glasses and red hair that she parted down the center and it was about chin length. It was a little impressionistic, but we could tell who it was. Fast forward about 35 years. My father had a garage sale and someone purchased my sister’s self-portrait in bulk with several other canvases. Several months later, I was wandering through an antique ‘mall’ where hundreds of vendors have booths. I came around the corner and there, on an easel, was my sister. However, it said “Portrait of John Lennon, $100.00.” We have all had a good laugh over that one! (And, no, I didn’t buy it back — I left it for another Beatle’s fan!)
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by Ron Unruh, Surrey, BC, Canada
Dated 1964, my 24×30 inch oil on canvas painting was titled Old Russian Woman. She, with the twinkling eyes and wry smile, has a story. As a youth in March 1965 I traded the painting for a ’57 VW Beetle to transport me to college. Then, thirty-one years later in 1996, the Ontario owner returned the painting to me. Thinking that the painting belonged with my family he wrote on the back of the painting his intention that my oldest child should be the recipient of this painting. At the time that it was returned to me, I was visiting from my home in British Columbia, four provinces away – a 4.5 hour flight. It could have been packaged and sent or carried with me. I chose to leave it in the care of a relative who desired one of my paintings. That was 1996. Then to my surprise in 2007 the painting once again became mine but once more I chose not to ship it home but rather tucked it behind my father’s living room couch. When we cleaned the apartment following my parents’ deaths, I examined the painting and made the decision that no one in my family had a place for this painting. With no one to whom to give it, I left it in a public place with a sign that it was free for the taking, and with my contact information if someone wanted to let me know they had it. I heard nothing for a long time yet was satisfied. She gave pleasure to a few for a long time.
Someone saw her. Her happy, dancing eyes captured attention. Someone took her to a Benefit Shop and here is the rest of her story. The Old Russian Woman lives on. Pat gave me permission to use his name. When Patrick is not working he occasionally pops into the Benefit Shop in St. Catharines to look around. During one visit he noticed the manager preparing this painting for auction. Given permission to look more closely at the canvas, Pat found that the eyes and the smile of the Russian Woman reminded him of his own grandmother whom he greatly admired. Upon reading the tale on the back of the painting about the trade for a VW and the previous owner’s desire that the painting should be given to my eldest child, Pat considered asking the local St. Catharines Standard newspaper to publish a feature story. He wanted to send me a die cast ’57VW Beetle and his contact information but could not locate the die cast model. Time passed and at last he chose to contact me by email seventeen months after I had turned the lights out in the refuse room. “Hello, Mr. Unruh, Just wanted to let you know your painting, which you traded for a Volkswagon Beetle is at my home, won at the Christian Benefit Shop here in St. Catharines. Any possibility you may write some history regarding your painting for me? Have a Great Day, Pat.” I sent him the history. Then he wrote back to say that he would enjoy the old lady for a while but one day she might travel again so my eldest child could have her.
by Duane Ellifritt, Gainesville, FL, USA
I own a painting that was done by a first cousin whom I never knew. It is a strange painting that immediately grabs the attention of anyone who comes in my house. How I happen to own this painting and the years of detective work I have done to find out something about the painter and the painting makes an interesting story and I have written it all down.
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Uncle and namesake revealed
by Ted Lederer (Elliott Louis Gallery), Vancouver, BC, Canada
My name is Ted Lederer. I was named after my father’s brother, Lt. Ted Lederer who was killed in action, April 4, 1945 in Germany fighting with the 100th U.S. Army, Company M, 398th infantry division. Company M was a machine gun squadron. These were the guys on the “pointy end of the stick.” My uncle was a war hero, not just because he was killed in action, but a bona fide war hero. I never knew much about my uncle other than that my father (the youngest sibling of the three brothers and one sister) idolized his brother.
This past November 11th, Remembrance Day was cold and wet. It had been a few years since I had attended remembrances at the cenotaph at Victory Square in downtown Vancouver. This year I resolved to go, invited my 16 year old son, and off we went. My wife opted to stay home and do laundry.
A few days later I took my wife to dinner and while we were waiting for our food she mentioned to me that while folding laundry on Remembrance Day she was watching the television and saw an interview with a soldier who was an artist during World War II. He spoke about his memories and the art he did and among other topics spoke fondly about his company commander, Lt. Ted Lederer, who had been killed in action fighting in Germany and showed a sketch he had done of Ted Lederer. Needless to say I nearly went rogue; who was the artist, was this my uncle, what channel had it been on, what time of day was the interview on, was this a war artist or just a soldier who liked to sketch. My wife said she thought it was on KCTS, the public broadcasting channel out of Seattle, and that it was an interview that had been done elsewhere and was being re-broadcast. She thought it was aired at about 11 in the morning but couldn’t really tell me much else. She did say she wrote some information on a piece of paper.
Could my wife find this piece of paper when we got home? Of course not. My running around like a mad man didn’t help. Next day I called the TV station, then another. I searched online. Dead end. I couldn’t find anything with the limited information I had.
I had almost given up, when out of the blue, 14 days later, the piece of paper surfaced late one night. On it was the name of the artist, Joseph Farris. Next morning at the office a simple Google search brought me right to Joseph Farris, alive and well and living in Bethel, Connecticut. Within moments I was on the telephone.
Joseph Farris was drafted at the age of 18, and as he writes, “I entered the army a naïve young man and left a battle-hardened naïve young man.”
The soldier he sketched and spoke so fondly of was indeed my uncle. Mr. Farris had just published a book, A Soldier’s Sketchbook, an illustrated memoir from a World War II soldier. After the war Joseph Farris went on to become a noted cartoonist, most famously for the New Yorker Magazine and had numerous solo exhibitions of his cartoons and paintings at prominent galleries in NYC. His work is in the collections of President Jimmy Carter, Paul Newman, Colleen Dewhirst, William Safire, Paul Mellon and many others. The interview that my wife had seen was a re-broadcast of an interview Mr. Farris had recently done with the BBC.
Joseph Farris was friendly with my uncle. They went through boot camp together, were shipped overseas together and fought alongside each other through France and Germany. It was my uncle who gave Farris a battlefield commission from Private to Sergeant. The book Mr. Farris wrote was published by National Geographic. I informed my aunt Terry (the only living member of the four siblings) and her daughter, my cousin Jeanne. Jeanne promptly called Mr. Farris. As a result of that call National Geographic sent my aunt a signed copy of the book along with a beautiful letter from Susan Tyler Hitchcock, Senior Editor at National Geographic. I informed Adrienne, my “step mother” who is incredibly close to us all. Adrienne emailed Joseph Farris thanking him for the wonderful book. A buzz of activity ensued including many further correspondences between myself and Joseph Farris and needless to say between myself and my family and friends.
Joseph Farris went on Furlough the day my uncle was killed but one of his war buddies, with whom he stayed close friends, saw my uncle get hit and die. His friend Joe S. didn’t communicate much anymore but maybe he would know something. Next day I received an email from Joe S.’s son who is an attorney in Tulsa, Oklahoma and I take, a bit of an historian. The son had every detail of the battle, right down to the chatter between the radio-man requesting mortar support after they had taken “Castle Hill” and were surrounded and the chatter back as to why support couldn’t be given — the guys in the support jeep had come across a wine cellar and had off loaded their munitions to fill the truck up with wine. My uncle had been killed a few hours earlier. I found out the where, why, when and how of it.
Now the conversation was crisscrossing the continent through the U.S. and Canada. Sixty-six years had elapsed, but on one level it was all very, very fresh. My uncle and namesake, a figure that had been somewhat of an enigma to me was now being fleshed out with stories and details. If only my father were alive, he so adored his brother.
This summer I shall take my son and hopefully my wife to see Joseph Farris in Connecticut. Then again, perhaps my wife should just stay at home and fold more laundry.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Wandering art…
On the road again
oil painting, 11 x 14 inches
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 Anne Sete of Petaluma, CA, USA, who wrote, “You’re right, every painting is an adventure to paint, and then it takes on a life of its own and has its own adventure!”
And also, Curtis Newman of Milwaukee, WI, USA, who wrote, “Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to your interview on the Artists Helping Artists podcast and was very inspired by your message! I just got back into painting and this is just what I needed to further propel my passion to paint. Thank you so much! I ordered your book, The Painter’s Keys, and am looking forward to reading it.”