The Artist – August 2009 Part III

Of course the accident happened shortly after that and I wound up in the hospital. And as you know I received dozens of visitors who constantly reassured me that everything would be all right. Such words and sentiments were always welcome and helped make the day pass more easily.

But night-time was another matter. Everything would be quiet, aside from the staff making their rounds. Occasionally one would wake me up to draw blood or give me my medications, but for the most part I was on my own with only my thoughts for company. That’s when dealing with my situation became much harder.

That’s when all those little fears we keep hidden away come out to plague us. And believe me I had a lot of them which kept me company for hour after hour. Most of them involved not being able to use my hands to sculpt. I won’t tell you how many times I wound up crying myself to sleep, but it happened a lot. I tried to keep quiet about it (which should have been easy with my mouth wired shut), but one person found out.

I woke one morning to someone gently dabbing the sides of my eyes with handkerchief. It was Brian. Dr. Jack Tyler, my physician and our mutual friend, had allowed him in before visiting hours had officially begun. Jack had noticed the tear soaked tissues before and had tried to draw me. I would’ve have loved to have told him what was wrong, but first and foremost he was my doctor. A doctor in frequent demand so we kept getting interrupted. After a while I just stopped trying.

Luckily, Jack is someone who doesn’t give up easily, especially when you’re his patient as well as his friend. So he’d gone out of his way to get Brian here to make sure they found out what was troubling me. By this time I was able to make some sounds, but understanding me was not easy. Yet somehow we managed.

 As it turned out, both of them suspected I was worried about my works in progress back at the studio. With this in mind, Brian had gone to check on things for me. He even took photos on his phone and shared them with me.

While I was relieved to see everything was still untouched, a part of me felt guilty at the same time. Seeing my kiln just sitting there waiting to be filled, or my tools just hanging on their hooks, they it all looked so lonely. Then I saw the piece of my grandfather, still wrapped in the plastic just as I’d left it. That’s when the tears began to flow.

It took Jack and Brian some time, but they managed to understand to get the full story out of me.

The date of the exhibition, which was still going to happen, was also my mother’s birthday that she shared with her father. It would have been his 108th. I had secretly been planning to have his sculpture to be the centerpiece of the show, as well as a gift to both my mom and his memory.

Once they understood, Brian exchanged a look with Jack who nodded. Then he turned back to me and said, “Don’t worry, it’s going to be all right. Just trust me.”

In spite of the fact that I had absolutely no idea what they had planned, something about Brian’s tone was extremely reassuring.  After that, they talked about their families and kept me amused for another half an hour. By then I was feeling tired again and managed to drift off without the help of medication for a change.

The rest of the day passed as all the others had, medications, smoothie meals, and television. There were a couple of more visitors, but it’s what the night brought that I really want to talk about. Or rather, who it brought.

I’d been listening to an audiobook with my eyes closed, so I never heard my visitors arrive. It wasn’t until Brian gently tapped my shoulder that I realized anyone had come. Looking up I saw him and Jack smiling down at me. Then from behind them Nathan popped his head out and waved at me.

Unable to help myself, I shuddered.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Artist – August 2009 Part II

The piece in question was a full-bodied statue of my mom’s father who had passed away the year before at the age of 107. And believe me the man had led an impressive life having served not only in WWI but also WWII. Now some of you who know me might be thinking ‘Wait, I know you’re like only 29. So just how old was he when your mom was born?’ Well my mom was from his second marriage in 1948. My grandmother was younger than him and gave birth to my mom seven years later.

Now, getting back to the sculpture, when I say full-bodied I don’t mean it was man-sized. It was only  between 18″ and 24″ inches in height. I had thought about doing a bust, but she had always been proud of the fact that he had served in both world wars. But it was his service in World War I that she had always impressed her the most. Seeing photos of him in his uniform back then, so young and full of hope and purpose, had really made her see him in a different light. 

I know he saw a lot back in the Great War, as they originally called it, but what always impressed me the most about him was the fact that he enlisted again when the Second World War began. He once told us that part of the reason he did was because he knew a lot of young men who weren’t prepared for what they might face. He himself had barely been sixteen when he’d enlisted, lying about his age to be accepted at the recruiting office. And as I said, he saw a lot. He was wounded more than once too and was involved in some of the more famous and fiercest battles including the Hundred Day Offensive.

Looking back, I think that may have actually been the real reason why I chose to put him in his first uniform. Seeing photos of that fresh-faced innocent who would face horrors time and again, and still be willing to help others face new ones, really helped me understand the man I knew and loved.

Anyway, having a specific image in mind I got work in my studio and began the project.

I was well into the sculpt, having already gotten the shape and pose just right, when a prominent gallery wanted to showcase my work. The timing could not have been better. The date set for the opening would be just perfect to unveil my grandfather’s likeness before my mother, our friends, and so many others. Needless to say I went back to the piece with even more enthusiasm. I was calling upon every technique I could think of get everything just right and it was paying off.

Hour by hour, I could see my grandfather’s spirit taking shape in the piece. I was so pleased that I didn’t care if I never made anything as close to perfect as it. But there was still a lot to do when I left my studio that afternoon. As much as I wanted to keep working, I had to get downtown and meet with a gallery owner (not the one who was going to hold the exhibition). I remember putting the plastic over my work in progress to keep it moist, silently promising I’d be back soon. Only I wasn’t.

In fact it would be weeks, and merely days before the exhibit, before I’d step foot inside that studio again… at least physically.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Reflections On The Past And Ponderings Of The Future…

The Crypt is silent tonight.  It’s a Tuesday and the place is closed as usual.  Usually I only open the place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.  If I have it open during the regular weekdays, a lot of the kids would never get enough sleep for school the next day, and I don’t want to deal with angry parents complaining that my place is an attractive nuisance.  Not that anyone would believe it.  My place is a drug and alcohol free zone.  It’s actually one of the safest places teenagers can come to get away from the darker elements out there.

Still, keeping the place open seven days a week would be quite demanding on me and my DJ Scar-Man.  He has a family these days and needs to be able to spend time with them.  And I need time to myself.  Even after a hundred and fifty years, I still enjoy some ‘me’ time.  I know, I know, most vampires you see in movies or read about are lonely and longing for company.  Well this is real life and I have plenty of extended family and friends who love to have me visit. or like to come over and drop in to see me and I love it.

However, I do need some time alone every so often and tonight is one of those evenings.  So with the doors locked up I’ve scaled the many steps that lead to the top of this old building where my art studio awaits.  I though I might be in the mood to pick up a brush and work on a canvas or two, but not at the moment.  Instead, I’m in a more contemplative mood at the moment.

There’s a huge picture window at one end of the studio that allows me to gaze out at the town.  It’s very pretty at night.  The streetlights are lit up, as well as a number of houses.  The evening is still young so very few have gone to bed just yet.

 

Who knows who I might meet this evening if I venture out into the streets.  That’s half the fun of being a night walker.  It’s always an adventure.  You see things and people, most folks overlook in their busy day.  For me, I find stories and inspirations for paintings, novels, or just things that make you think a bit.  No, I’m not  one of the gloom and doom vampyres of legend.  I’m going to be walking this earth for some time yet and I’m fully aware of it.  I am what I am these days.  Although I did not choose this existence, it was pushed onto me by a very unlikely source, but unlike others I treasure each moment I have.

I’ve touched and had my life touched by so many wonderful people.  Not just the stars I met back in vaudeville, or the heroes I met out on the battlefields, but everyday people and I thank them for it.  The ones who’ve come and gone, as well as those who are still with me now.  Yes, I’ve said goodbye to a good many friends over the decades, but there are always new people entering one’s life that you can share and experience so much with.

In my hundred and fifty… correction hundred and sixty-seven years on this planet (I always forget to count my life before the change) I’ve seen so much.  How many people can claim they saw the first silent films?  Or heard the first radio broadcasts?  I encountered and even got to work on some of the earliest computers when punch-cards were the high point of technology.

Plus I got to watch man reach the moon and take his first steps onto that barren alien landscape.  And there are so many years ahead of me, which both fill me with wonder and a slight dread.  For unlike vampyres of legend I do age, albeit at a much slower rate.  I was only seventeen when I was changed and these days I barely look thirty.  For every ten years that pass for others I age only one.  This means I have a long time ahead of me, but what about when I finally start to reach ‘old’ age?  Will I start to turn grey and less able-bodied?  With I spend centuries trapped in a body that is feeble and infirm?  That’ is a frightening prospect, that I try not to think too much about.

There’s still so much about my condition I don’t know anything about.  In spite of twenty years spent getting degrees in botany, anatomy and physiology, and several other sciences, there’s still so much to learn.  Luckily, science continues to move forward and I can always go back and take more classes and learn more about the new discoveries that may help me fully understand what I’ve become.  And that’s something I actually look forward to.

I love taking classes and learning new things.  I’ve taken all kinds of classes over the decades including art, dance, languages, mathematics, writing, etc.  Learning can be so much fun.  I meet new people and get introduced to new ideas and skills.  Life is a wondrous thing and whether you have only one life-time or many what you do with your time can be very enriching.  It all depends on the individual.

And right now, this individual feels like stepping out for a while.  I’ll come back here later and start working on one of my unfinished canvasses.  There’s one in particular I’m very eager to get back to.

I’ve already put it on an easel so it can be waiting for me when I get back.  It’s a portrait of a young girl with flowing black hair and the most amazing brown eyes.  I can never forget her eyes.  They saw through me like no other and loved me for who AND what I am…

Nathaniel’s Blog March 23rd, 201- “Me and My Easel”


Just got back from the museum.  Transcribed more letters onto the computer, while Brian tended to a new exhibit.  I’m pleased to say that the transcriptions are getting easier with time.  Occasionally, I find it more difficult and emotionally draining, but it mostly depends on the content of the letters and who wrote them.

Tonight I was mostly working on letters to friends while I was serving the in the 7th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, more commonly known as ‘The Bloody Seventh’.  We didn’t start out with that moniker, it came later.  But for the first six months of our existence we were basically guarding the railroads from Confederate raiders.  These letters were from that period.

I enter the building where “The Crypt” is located.  But instead of going into the club itself which is located in the basement level, I head upstairs.  As I’ve indicated before, I bought the entire structure back during the Great Depression.  It’s a four story affair that takes up a small block downtown.  I keep the place in good shape so no politicians can get any funny ideas about declaring the place ‘run down’ or an ‘eyesore’ that needs to be pulled down.

The ground floor is currently being renovated to become roller skating rink.  Yes, you read correctly.  A Roller Rink.  There’s already some really good hardwood floors and open space down there. It won’t be a huge affair, more like a couple of small rinks.  The smaller of the two will be for lessons or private parties, while the other will be more like a regular place.

I had thought about making one of them and Ice Skating Rink, but the refrigeration equipment would have to get run down into the basement area.  Plus there was the risk of any leaks dripping down into The Crypt itself.

Anyhow, above what will become the roller rink are three floors.  The 2nd floor is comprised of mostly empty office spaces, while the 3rd floor contains empty small apartments.  Occasionally I’ll rent a couple out, but not for very long.  I’m not keen on anyone living full time in the same building where I stay whenever I’m in town.

Then there’s the fourth floor, which is closed off to all unless I invite people up.  The entire floor is one gigantic open space that I use as my art studio.  Mostly the room is filled with canvases, oil paints, pastels and the like.  There’s a big window that looks out into the sky that I love to work near, especially on nights when there’s a full moon, like tonight.

I wander over to where my easel is and pull out one of the many canvasses I’ve been working on.  That’s one of the tricky things with oil painting, you have let each layer dry before you continue.  So whenever I do settle in to work in here, I’ll have several pieces under way and a lot of paint on my palette.

I tried my hand at painting until after I ‘came back’.  It was in the late 1890’s, shortly after the death of my first wife Madeline.  We’d been traveling in Europe at the time she passed.  Feeling lost and alone I’d found myself wandering the streets at night.  One evening I’d run across a gallery where a local artist was giving a demonstration.  I wandered in and sat down to listen.

By the time he’d finished, I was eager to talk to him about doing a portrait of my dear Madeline.  Alas the  speaker refused, but another fellow who had attended the talk was only too happy to talk with me.  He was an older man, Professor Otto Hofstadter.  I often wonder what turns my existence would’ve taken had I not met him that night.  Much of man I have become I owe to him.

We spent many evenings talking and eventually Otto found an artist who was renowned for his portrait work.  I still treasure the portrait Mr. Sargent did of my Madeline, but I remember him more fondly for taking me under his wing.  I studied oil painting under his watchful eye for three years, but then I had to return to America to deal with issues regarding my Madeline’s estate.

But like any good pupil, I continued to learn more from other teachers, some of them recommended to me by my mentor.  I did not see him again until 1918 when we met in England.  He had just been hired by the British Ministry of Information to paint a series of images depicting the Great War (World War I for those not familiar with the original name of that conflict).  His depiction of the victims of ‘mustard gas’ I still find hauntingly realistic.

I like to think it was my time with Mr. Sargent that got me to try and learn new things.  Otto, being a professor, got me to take night classes and expand my education. But that’s a story for another entry.  Right now it’s time to get down to some painting.  Light is just right and I know what I want to work on.

I turn to my unfinished paintings and pull out the one of Brian’s daughter Lisa.  She’s going to be turning sixteen in a couple of months.  And since I’m doing her portrait in oils, I really want to make sure its fully dried and finished in time.