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October 23rd, 2011

12:43 pm - Ghost Prints

I was unpacking the house.  Again.  The last box is always the one holding artwork.  Framed art created by my Dad, students and friends.  I realize I have none that I've purchased save some poster art.  There are folders stuffed with greeting cards and small hand painted beauty, some prints, some photos, tarot cards--all magnificent.  I am rich with gifts of artwork.  I cherish it all. 

Between these last two moves, the art boxes were placed in storage.  Not everything survived intact.  Yes, the folders still had their contents but some of the posters were bent or torn.  And some of the inexpensive metal and glass frames my Dad put his artwork in were broken.

He sketched--pen and ink.  And painted with everything from water color to acrylic to oil.  He tried his hand with charcoals and pastels and even wood block printing.  He was good.  Very good.  He never sold a single piece of his artwork.  It was more than a hobby.  It was a passion and a great talent.  But, he was also the father of seven children.  He put us first, working as a manager in retail department stores.  He always had a pen in his hand.  Art would appear on cocktail napkins at restaurants, on paper towels in someone's kitchen, on lined paper.  Cartoons, portraits, landscapes fell from his fingertips on any available surface.

He was always working on his art.  After his ten hour workday or a rare day off, his art supplies would come out of the closet.  He had a drafting table for a while where my Mom "allowed" him to leave his art-in-progress as long as the area was kept tidy.  The walls of my siblings houses boast his older works--the huge oil and acrylic landcapes, seascapes and harbors filled with fishing boats.  There are portraits--of a young black boy, an "Arab" wearing a turban, a African woman carrying a basket on her head. He painted those before I came along or when I was a child.  None of those were bequeathed to me.

When I was in my teens, my Dad was "doodling" at the coffee table while watching television.  He had traced a dinner plate on paper for pen and ink.  Within this eight inch circle, he sketched whatever came through.  What emerged was a magnificent collage containing his world--faces and ships, trees and old cars, beer cans and dollar bills, jewelry and rivers, covered bridges and wild animals.  It was magnificent!  He worked on it for weeks and when it was done, he made another.  After that, another.

Eventually, all us kids made a big enough fuss that he had them printed.  One hundred prints.  Signed.  He framed the first  (1/100) set in a standard, inexpensive metal and glass frame.  He cut the mats himself with an exacto knife.  These, he gave to me.  My siblings have the prints which followed next.  Their children have the later prints.  I think he sold a few here and there.

In every place I've lived (and I have moved house a LOT), these three prints have hung in a place of honor.  Guest stop and stare.  Nobody believes that he created these sitting on the couch while watching television and drinking his evening beer.  You could look at them for hours and never see everything in them.  I've had them for over twenty years and I still see something new when I look closely enough.

When I unpacked them this time, I noticed they were fading from the sunlight.  The frames were scratched and the matting was really yellowing.  My siblings, who've always enjoyed more financial security than I, had all had theirs framed years ago.  I decided, on the one year anniversary of his passing, that I needed to have these re-framed.  I would not just move them to another ready-made frame.  I hadn't a clue how to cut a circular mat. 

I took them to Michael's.  It's a big box store.  I had a 60% off custom framing coupon.  I could ill afford, even with the discount, to get two of  the three framed.  But, I did.  The phone bill is late, but the artwork is framed.

As we took the prints from the old frames, carefully removing the glass, the mat and then the cardboard on which they'd been secured, I gasped.  On the cardboard backing, perfectly rendered, was an exact replica of the print itself--stained there, over the years, by the light.  The lines are muted and gray, softer than the stark black ink of the originals.  Time had created a new copy--ghostly and faded.  These, I have stored away for my daughter.

I picked up the two newly framed prints this week.  They are matted in a dark, dark red and framed in a wide black wood.  The glass, this time, will protect them from sunlight.  They hang at the top of the stairs, awaiting the time when they can be joined by the third Circle Doodle.
I feel my Dad smiling.  This is my offering to him--this honoring of his work, his passion, his talent.

I came across another pen and ink of his.  This one of an old New England barn, is unframed.  It's never been hung.  For whatever reason that only the artist knew, it was "rejected."  Some slant of light wasn't just right, some angle off just enough to bother him when he looked at it.  This, too, goes alongside the last Circle Doodle to be framed and hung in his honor.

I think of all the art he made over the years.  All that beauty he never shared outside the family.  And, I wonder.  Yes, it certainly had to do with his knowing he couldn't afford to try to make a living at his art.  But I wonder what other reasoning there was behind keeping it private.  And, even as I write this, I see how his inability to share his art is another trait bequeathed to me.  I wonder what my children will do with all the boxes filled with my writing one day.  Will they wonder why I never published?  Will they, one day, bind my words and papers up and pass them to their own children?  Will they--like ,my siblings and I asked my father--ask me when I'm older, "Ma?  Why didn't you ever share your work?"

And, now, I see it's time to return to the altar.  Again.  Always and always, again.  And again.

I love you, Dad.
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