Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Old Souls Do Live On



There are several connection points we share with one another and none so bitter as the family tragedy. The loss of a loved one - be it through natural causes, from a long battle with cancer or the unexpected - is overwhelming on your own and yet somehow we find the strength to lean on our own friends and family and to share our grief. And it’s a time when we hear some truly amazing stories. And this one, told to me this morning, seemed ripe for the retelling...

Three weeks ago a man who works in my building traveled to see his 72 year old father who was losing his battle with cancer. On that trip his father was in pain but still able to walk, talk and understand who was in the room and the nurses seemed to think he had time. Then he received a call that he should return as soon as possible as his father’s health had suddenly turned for the worse and “this could be it.” After juggling time off and finding the proper baby sitter for his young daughter he and his wife left for the hour and a half drive to the airport. They decided to stay in the airport’s hotel that night as they were on a very early flight the next morning and didn’t want to chance missing it.  The night was long and sleep difficult so as he was standing there in the already long security line checking his boarding pass he looked down at his sneakers and realized he had left his good shoes up in the hotel room. There was no time to go back.  

Once he and his wife arrived at his parents house things, at least on the surface, seemed okay. Except hearing that his father was sleeping all the time and was unable to acknowledge his arrival. As his mother opened the bedroom door his wife took one look at her dear father in-law and became hysterical. He appeared lifeless. His mother rushed her from the room leaving her son to sit quietly with his father. He put his hand to his father’s forehead. It was warm. He knelt and told his father how much he loved him and thanked him for being such a kind and loving father. Then he heard a loud exhale. His father had waited for his son to arrive before passing. 

At that very moment a calm came over him like no other. He checked his father’s pulse to be certain and went to get his mother. He then asked his wife to call the Hospice nurse and soon he and the entire family were standing over their father hugging each other and saying their goodbyes.  

The next morning his mother was already in the kitchen starting to prepare food for the next few days as there would be much company. They had decided to hold a memorial service at the church while the entire family was in town. His father had grown up here and worked very hard to ensure his sons would be able to find a better life on the mainland. And so, when he heard the entire village was shutting down so all could attend the ceremony he was thinking, with a heavy heart, that his father’s life was a good one. His riches far greater than he ever knew. 

As he was pulling together the clothes he would wear to the church he remembered he had no shoes to wear. He went into the kitchen and asked his mom if he could look in his father’s closet. Knowing his father’s feet were smaller than his by a half-size he tried them all on and none of the shoes were fitting until he tried the last pair. A pair of nice dress shoes. They slid onto his feet as if there were made for him. They were perfect.

The day was heavy with sorrow and inside the church their hearts were lifted by the large crowd that came out of respect, love and friendship. Towards the end of the service the pastor asked the family to come forward and as they stood there in a circle embracing each other they bowed their heads as a prayer was being said. He was looking down at his father’s shoes when an immense feeling of calm and awareness came over him. At that moment he realized his father had been talking to him all along. He was meant to wear these shoes today. He could feel him near. “Hello father. I am glad you are here. Yes it is a nice service, so many loved you.” And then a great sense of pride and peace came over him and the entire family looked at him and then at each other and they all knew he was with them. Even in death. And this made it somehow tolerable. 

Yes, it would be a difficult Christmas, and too, the many months ahead. But as they left the church they were filled with a new strength and the knowledge that true love has no boundaries in this universe of ours. And can even appear in an old pair of shoes.

12/12/12
A prayer for all of you that have lost loved ones this year. 
cs

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Inside the Painter's Studio [Notebook Entry #4]






























Preface: 
Back in June I rented a small home and studio in Wellfleet for the month of November. “The Plan” was to spend half of each day visiting with my parents, and especially with mom whose health was declining, and the other half painting.  And as I should have remembered the universe has its own plan as sadly mom passed in late August. Then not two weeks after returning from her funeral my father fell and then needed surgery and things went downhill quickly for him. So back to the Cape I went. 

I was on Cape for 7 weeks, the last five weeks were spent in the Wellfleet rental which had no TV, no internet yet a very large studio. At the time I made the decision I thought it was just what I needed. I was wrong. I spent most of my time in the hospital, at the rehab center and to help keep me centered I signed up for two artist workshops in Provincetown, one girls weekend and finally began to paint again. My dad, I am happy to report, is doing well and will be moving back to his apartment soon. Here I share some of my experiences, thoughts and learnings. - cs

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Thursday November 1: Notebook Entry #4
Inside the Painter's Studio

The studio of James Lechay holds much of his materials and most of the original furnishings. Jim’s original easels are there, his many brushes and various mediums and a blender. Some of the more interesting items were those tacked to the walls. Some old exhibition posters. A few newspaper articles that were of interest to him including a comic or two. And a photograph of Mick Jagger from many years ago. I sat there looking around and just wondered about all the years he spent here, the stories that could be told and the ones still hanging in the air. A few laughs I’m sure as well as a few tears.




There about the shelves hold a few sculpture pieces and a few objects like a red pitcher and a white flower vase that were possibly props he used in a still life or two. The furniture includes a nice comfortable couch, a full size futon on the floor and a very cool old table and retro chairs. The best piece to me was the tall wooden stool with paint all over it. That in itself was a piece of art.  I’m told Jim would go to the studio in the morning and then lie down for his nap about noon. Not a bad schedule and with the screen door and a few windows all open I’m sure it was the perfect place to work and nap in the warmer months.

 

The best part is that one entire wall is windows. And yes, they face North. There is also a small deck outside the doorway and in summer a small bbq. I brought drop cloths and my own folding table so as not to get paint on anything, turned on the stereo and found a rock station out of Boston and began to unpack and set up. I stopped painting pretty much after my first solo show ended back in May when I learned of my two herniated discs and that my mother was critically ill. I had been traveling back and forth, then there was the funeral and now my dad was critically ill. I had to get back to painting and knew that to do so I not only had to brush the dust off of my supplies but also from within. The next day I came in with my coffee and started putting paint to canvas. Just to play. Just to feel it. It wasn’t easy at first. I was getting angry that what was once second nature needed to be practiced once again. But then I stood back and looked around and out the window, turned up the music and felt the blood rushing through my veins once again. I knew it was going to take time, and I was okay with that. 





Getting to Know James Lechay [Notebook Entry #3]


Preface: 
Back in June I rented a small home and studio in Wellfleet for the month of November. “The Plan” was to spend half of each day visiting with my parents, and especially with mom whose health was declining, and the other half painting.  And as I should have remembered the universe has its own plan as sadly mom passed in late August. Then not two weeks after returning from her funeral my father fell and then needed surgery and things went downhill quickly for him. So back to the Cape I went. 

I was on Cape for 7 weeks, the last five weeks were spent in the Wellfleet rental which had no TV, no internet yet a very large studio. At the time I made the decision I thought it was just what I needed. I was wrong. I spent most of my time in the hospital, at the rehab center and to help keep me centered I signed up for two artist workshops in Provincetown, one girls weekend and finally began to paint again. My dad, I am happy to report, is doing well and will be moving back to his apartment soon. Here I share some of my experiences, thoughts and learnings. - cs

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Monday, October 29: Notebook Entry #3
Getting to Know James Lechay

The first thing I did after getting settled was to try get to know James Lechay (pronounced Luh-Shay). I went through the rooms of the house and took pictures and studied the few pieces hanging there and then pulled all the literature I could find from the bookshelves out onto a table and began to go through each, page by page. The largest painting in the house is of a woman quietly standing in a soft field of grey near blue waters. It is about 48 x 55” and commands the room (see below). It didn’t take long to figure out the woman was Rose. You see Jim was a figurative painter and many of his subjects are of his family, and mostly of his wife Rose.































However the literature was mainly exhibition catalogs with little other than facts about Jim. He was born in New York City in 1907, went away to college at the University of Illinois and returned to New York in 1927 with a BA degree and began painting under the tutelage of his already successful brother, Myron Lechay. Jim gained a paying job painting street scenes for the city and by the 1940’s his work was getting national attention and he was winning prestigious awards.  When a long-time friend and mentor was retiring from the University of Iowa they offered him a position and the use of his studio. He stayed for 30 years. After retiring in 1971 he moved to the Cape full time and continued to teach and paint right up to his death at the age of 94. His last show was at PAAM (Provincetown Art Association & Museum) at the age of 91.

When I mentioned to a few artists in Provincetown that I was staying at the Lechay house in Wellfleet I often heard, “oh Jim Lechay? I took a workshop with him. He was a nice man, a quiet man.” And so as I continued to study his work these words were echoing in my head. I saw that they also echoed in his paintings. They were quiet in their simplicity, in their composition and in color but at the same time they were imposing. He made the ordinary beautiful. Even a still life on a table was something to behold. And in all there is that familiar relationship that reminds us that the best in life is found by living deep not wide. And this shows through in his work.



And yet even if he wasn’t one to boast I feel the need to on his behalf. Jim exhibited with the likes of Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Jules Olitski, Nathan Oliveira, Helen Frankenthaler and Alice Neel to name but a few. And you have to dig to learn that his work is included in many prestigious national collections including the Smithsonian. I think Jim just loved to paint, was deeply in love with his muse and wife, Rose, and found his own style at an early age and never looked back. And like Mr. Holland, Jim’s opus most likely is a collection of his years teaching. Here is where many artists, at least the ones we read about, typically teach how to paint their way or in a style that will be known as a “school” built around an ego and the need for attention. Not Jim. He promoted each and every student to find their own way. And that may be Jim’s school. Speak softly but carry a big brush. Paint softly but with the strength and confidence of the Gods. I wish I was able to meet Jim. To hang with him here in his studio and watch him work, ask him questions. But like my 91 year old father he was probably also set in his ways and yet, what ways they were. Paint. Love well. Die. I am convinced that our paths have crossed with intention and I’m now looking at the upcoming weeks here with renewed spirits.




 



Before The Storm [Notebook Entry #2]





























Preface: 
Back in June I rented a small home and studio in Wellfleet for the month of November. “The Plan” was to spend half of each day visiting with my parents, and especially with mom whose health was declining, and the other half painting.  And as I should have remembered the universe has its own plan as sadly mom passed in late August. Then not two weeks after returning from her funeral my father fell and then needed surgery and things went downhill quickly for him. So back to the Cape I went. 

I was on Cape for 7 weeks, the last five weeks were spent in the Wellfleet rental which had no TV, no internet yet a very large studio. At the time I made the decision I thought it was just what I needed. I was wrong. I spent most of my time in the hospital, at the rehab center and to help keep me centered I signed up for two artist workshops in Provincetown, one girls weekend and finally began to paint again. My dad, I am happy to report, is doing well and will be moving back to his apartment soon. I am back in Elmira for three days before flying to Florida for the winter. There is no cable here however there is wireless. So instead of listening to the hum of the refrigerator I decided to type up the notes from the workshops and blog about a few of the experiences that took place as I witnessed Fall turn to Winter on the Cape. Hope it makes up for my absence over the past few months. 
/cs
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Sunday, October 28: Entry #2, Before The Storm

Today I ventured out to get my bearings before the storm. The house is in an enclave of mid-century modern homes just west of town near Chequessett Neck and about two miles from Great Head, Griffin Island and Duck Harbor. Below are photos from these areas quickly snapped by iPhone. While I had been to Wellfleet many times, mainly in summer to shop or visit the pier, I would now have the time to get acquainted with another side of the Cape. I instantly was struck by the dunes, their size and colors and the fact that there were high dunes on the bay side vs the ocean side (the Cape tilts from the ocean to the bay, typically). The beauty was dramatic, the walking trails numerous and the sweet smell of salt water was seeping into my pores. 

Back at the house I was starting to go through tv-withdrawal. Living in Florida through the 2004 hurricanes, I’d grown accustomed to the Weather Channel on 24/7 when a storm was imminent. Now I was just sitting there, a the couch with a nice fire going and the winds were kicking up when all of a sudden I noticed an old amplifier set up on the floor and wondered if it worked. The home is featured frequently in magazines and all of the furnishings are true period pieces. Well, I turned it on and switched it to FM Radio and after some maneuvering of the attached coat hanger I was able to pick up a talk radio station! At last, noise from the outside world! 

That night my lights flickered often and the roof was pelted even harder by those pesky pine cones, acorns and small branches yet by ten o’clock it was over. The local paper showed there was certainly flooding and water damage and some power outages on the Cape but it would be two days before I was able to get in front of a tv to fully grasp the blow that NY, CT and NJ took. I was able to reach my brother who lives in a rent-controlled building for the disabled in Chelsea and learned he was without power or water but thanks to several local organizations he was getting help and was doing well. 

And just as I was feeling a sense of relief I realized a storm of a different kind was brewing as my dad struggled to find purpose in living again and I struggled to learn how to help without going down with the ship...







The Move to Wellfleet [Notebook Entry #1]



Preface: 
Back in June I rented a small home and studio in Wellfleet for the month of November. “The Plan” was to spend half of each day visiting with my parents, and especially with mom whose health was declining, and the other half painting.  And as I should have remembered the universe has its own plan as sadly mom passed in late August. Then not two weeks after returning from her funeral my father fell and then needed surgery and things went downhill quickly for him. So back to the Cape I went. 

I was on Cape for 7 weeks, the last five weeks were spent in the Wellfleet rental which had no TV, no internet yet a very large studio. At the time I made the decision I thought it was just what I needed. I was wrong. I spent most of my time in the hospital, at the rehab center and to help keep me centered I signed up for two artist workshops in Provincetown, one girls weekend and finally began to paint again. My dad, I am happy to report, is doing well and will be moving back to his apartment soon. I am back in Elmira for three days before flying to Florida for the winter. There is no cable here however there is wireless. So instead of listening to the hum of the refrigerator I decided to type up the notes from the workshops and blog about a few of the experiences that took place as I witnessed Fall turn to Winter on the Cape. Hope it makes up for my absence over the past few months. 
/cs 
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Saturday, October 27: Entry #1, The Move to Wellfleet

I had only seen pictures of the house and studio online so as the engine of my SUV, filled with a studio’s worth of canvas, paints, lighting, easels and a folding table as well as a few suit cases, complained and I struggled to climb the steep, small, pot-holed filled path that was Pine Crest Way I wondered just what I had gotten myself into. At its crest I was met with the house and studio first hand. I sat in my car for a few minutes and gazed at it, as well as the surrounding area. I realized I was going to be alone. Really alone. It was the edge of Fall. There was news that a possible hurricane was tracking our way and the owners called from Minnesota and instructed I prepare for a few nights without water or power. The main stream grocery store was 30 minutes away and my Dad’s place/rehab was about 50 minutes away. What was I thinking?



It was almost dark when I returned with a car filled with firewood, a few gallons of water, ice and some non-perishable food items like oranges, organic peanut butter and home made bread. That night I went to bed early. Remember, I had no TV or internet and I had yet to discover a radio. And yes, I used the weather app on my iPhone but my data plan was taking a beating. Anyway, I was lying there in a foreign place when I started hearing unusual noises. Very LOUD unusual noises. At first I couldn’t tell where it was coming from but I jumped out of bed and turned all the lights on and realized it was coming from...the roof.  

If it were day time I would have thought it was from large birds walking on the roof, their talons like long finger nails on metal. But they were scurrying like mice and would have to be some pretty hefty meeces! I gathered up the courage to go outside on the back deck with my phone ready to dial 9-1-1.  The storm was still half-a-day away yet the winds were steady at 20 knots with gusts over 30. So there I stood looking out into the dark as the wet leaves rustled about my feet and the beam from my flashlight flickering through the trees when I began to realize what was causing all the raucous. And stood there with a sense of relief and let out an embarrassing laugh.

HUNDREDS OF ACORNS HAD FALLEN ON THE ROOF AND THE WIND WAS RACING THEM FROM SIDE TO SIDE! Add to that the occasional large pine cone “bombers” and a branch or two dropping and you get the idea. I felt like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway when he learns the enemy teasing him at night was merely the sound of coconuts falling from the palm trees. 

As I tried to settle back into bed I found myself wondering, on this, my first night in Wellfleet, what was doing out “here?” 





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