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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man


June 29, 2006

I'm returning to the subject of Brooke Shields and her children by popular demand. When Brooke gave birth to her daughter Grier on April 18, she also gave daughter Rowan, almost 3, a special gift, according to People magazine.

"I realize that they'll have each other after we're not here anymore," says Shields, 40, an only child who's married to screenwriter Chris Henchy. "And to me, that really settles my mind."

Well little Grier I'm glad for your sake that your mom worries abou† things like that. And I hope her dream for you and Rowan comes true. Don't drift apart, or feud, or hate. Hang in there for each other.

In addition, as another Grier, I'd like to welcome you to the club. There aren't many of us. I looked it up the other day, and Grier did not make the top 1000 names on Social Securities annual list. I mean, baby, we didn't even make the top 1000. I didn't realize that there were 1000 names. Maybe now Grier will zoom in popularity.

Posted 11:55 p.m.



June 26, 2006

The other day we hung my father's swing on the porch for another season. He made it in shop in high school in Gettysburg and for years it graced the porch of his parents' farmhouse. The house was on the rise of a low hill and from the porch you could see across the lawn and orchard to the low blue hills on the horizon.

My sister and I lived with my grandparents the year I was in forth grade. It was World War II and my mother was with my father at his Army base. On lazy spring nights in Gettysburg, we would sit on the porch, swinging and rocking. Besides me and my sister Britt, it would be my grandfather Winfield, who was the register and recorder of deeds and mortgages in Adams County, my grandmother Evelyn, my Uncle Bill, who was still in high school, my aunts Breezy and Lucille, and my great-grandmother Mamie.

Occasionally, Uncle Bill would produce a b-b gun and we would sit and shoot at a target pinned to the maple across the gravel drive from the porch. I liked that best.

The swing was saved by my Uncle John over the years. When he and
Elizabeth were moving from their house in Arendtsville to the

Lutheran Retirement Village in Gettysburg, John asked if I would like to have the swing. I wanted it a great deal and drove down to get it. My granddaughter Riley loves to swing on the swing, sometimes raucously. When the swing goes up I feel a strong connection to my father and to the farmhouse and the people who lived in it.

My father was at his office in New York when he had a heart attack and they didn't get him to Lennox Hill Hospital for an hour or so. At first they thought my dad, a diabetic, was in shock and gave him orange juice to bring him out. They had seen it happen to him before. When he didn't come around, they had difficulty finding an ambulance. Later I would think that for his coworkers it must have been like one of those dreams in which you are trying desperately to get something done and can't.

Babbie's Aunt Henry called with the news. We lived then in an apartment on the first floor of a Victorian house that overlooked North Adams, Massachusetts. We had two children then, Shannon and Eric. I was a reporter and Babbie was a nurse. I identified my father's body at the morgue and picked up his things at the hospital. His wallet is still in the upper left hand drawer in my dresser. In it, among other things, is a receipt for shirts he would never pick up at the dry cleaners.

My mother, Beth, had died six months earlier. My father found her body on the gray sofa one evening when he came home from work. She was a manic depressive and had been in a deep depression for some time. In those days you got shock treatments and they were pretty brutal. Once when Babbie and I visited her at a sanitarium, we sat on a bench in a garden and she pleaded with me not to let them give her any more. I told her the doctors knew what they were doing. I've always regretted that.

Anyway, when my father found her, a bottle of bourbon and a bottle of barbiturates were on the table by her. When my father called him, the psychiatrist, who had prescribed the medication, told him he had been worried something like this would happen. It made me angry he hadn't warned my father. Our minister, Rev. Ammerman, said she could simply have forgotten already taking her pills and took more. Rev. Ammerman was very nice and when he drove with me to see a lawyer about my parents' effects, he asked if I had ever considered the ministry as a career. I was an atheist by that time but I didn't tell him that.

My mother and father were both delightful people, colorful and sad and loving.

Posted 2:34 p.m.



June 25, 2006

Grier wasn't the easiest name to have growing up. Going to a new school or to a summer job as a laborer, I wished my name was Bill or Mike or Tom, something easy and masculine. I couldn't turn to my middle name.

Grier is my middle name. My first name is Winfield. And even though that was my grandfather's name, and I adored my grandfather, I didn't want to be Winfield. Put my names all together and you had Winfield Grier Horner IV.

Now that's a name in full.

But I grew into Grier. I wouldn't trade it now, except maybe for Wolfgang. The only problem I have wi†h it now is in introductions. Lots of times people wouldn't get my name the first time. So I'd say, "Like Greer Garson." Some years ago, that stopped working. Younger people - and everyone seemed to be getting younger - didn't know who she was.(An actress.)

So I started saying, "Like Roosevelt Grier."

Then there came a point when people hadn't heard of him either. Brooke Shields has come to the rescue, naming her new baby after me.

"Like Brooke Shields' baby," I say.

Posted 2:59 a.m.



June 24, 2006

This is a portrait of Linda Baker Cimini of Pittsfield. About six weeks ago it was in a show at the Brien Center. That's a facility that deals with substance abuse and mental problems. It had been up a few days when I got a call from Marge Cohan, the CEO. She told me the painting had been damaged by someone who gouged Linda's cheek with a pencil. I was able to repaint the damaged section.

Colleen Surprise Jones wasn't as lucky. Someone, presumably the same person, had slashed through the canvas of two of her paintings. I took Linda's portrait out of the show.

As of yesterday its back at the Brien Center but in a new location. Marge told me she'd love to have some of my paintings for their new administrative offices. She had seen my work at a show at Worcester Polytechnic Institute after attending a conference in Worcester.

Marge loved the idea. So did I. It would get them out of the house.

After 10 years of painting, I have more canvases than I know what to do with. I paint on canvas that I tack to the wall of my studio. I've stopped stretching them a long time ago unless they were headed for a show. I removed the ceiling panels and bats of pink insulation from my studio to provide a storage space. I rigged up a system where I store rolls of paintings between the joists. So my studioceiling is basically rolls of canvas separated by wood joists. I like the way it looks. Upstairs, one bedroom is crammed full of paintings a dozen thick against the wall. A bunch of un stretched work lies in a thick pile on the double bed. Babbie, my wife, wants the room back.

"What do we need it for?" I ask her.

Someday she envisions all three kids, their spouses, significant others and children sleeping in the house again for some grand family celebration. She wishes I'd sell more. So do I . Anyway, along comes Marge, a charming dynamo and one of my favorite people, and offers to take some off my hands for awhile.

Marge retires June 30 - my 1st birthday. She'll be fighting for an extension of the bike path she was instrumental in pushing through and running in iron woman events. At 60 she is amazingly fit. Arlene Birch will replace her. Arlene came over to the house and I showed her five or six paintings I had fished out of the bedroom. It's too jam packed to look at them there. As a result I loaded five of them in the van and brought them to the offices yesterday. These are great offices in an old Fenn Street building with high ceilings, some brick walls, lots of windows and old wood floors.

Arlene and Eric Drury, a Brien worker and an artist, with me in tow, figured out where to put them. Eric has a good eye and it didn't take them long to figure out where they will hang. At Eric's suggestion they are going to clear the clutter out of one long corridor so one can hang there. It should look great. Another will be on the wall above Brenda McWirt's desk so you can see it when you enter the offices. I'm excited about having them where they can be seen and the people in the office seem excited about having them. It would be nice to get some more out into the community . I'll have to take some photos when they're up and post them.


June 23, 2006

For about a year I've been working on a series called the Scarlet Letter. The paintings are 18 inches x 14 inches each and I have about 120 of them now.

Some are paintings. But others combine painting and 3D elements. Here's an example of the latter. It's called Heart of Stone. The raptor is made of Level Best over a frame of aluminum wire and screening. Level Best's a cement-like substance you use for leveling floors before installing tile. The stone is an actual stone I found in the big, open dry well behind my studio. We call that feature of our house "the pit." It may not look like it, but this is part of the Scarlet Letter series. This one comes from an ancient Scottish ballad or poem called Tam Lin.

This is the verse it's taken from:

Had I known but yesterday what I know today,

I'd taken out your two gray eyes and put in eyes of clay.

And had I known but yesterday you'd be no more my own,

I'd taken out your heart of flesh and put in one of stone.



June 10, 2006

"The most important thing in acting is honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made."
-- George Burns

I like that quote. There's an honesty to it. In painting you spend a lot of time faking it. In the painting below called Self Portrait (Street-fighter) I adopt a brawler persona.

In real life I haven't fought anyone since Delos Huguenin and I scuffled in the dirt in Casey's back yard in Tarrytown when we were 16. Bob Gersky broke my nose when we were college roommates. But I don't think of that as a fight. He was the only one who threw a punch, and I provoked it. 

Delos - The teachers all had a hard time with both his names - was a nice guy, a sturdy, good looking kid. His father had built some furniture for my father. I still have some of it. Delos became an elevator installer. An elevator fell on him when he was on the job, killing him. He was very young.

While I'm not a bar-room brawler, I fight in my dreams. And I fight without much provocation. Don't cut me off in line. Don't look at me sideways. You might get punched out. By the way, I always win.

One of my victims was my wife, Barbara. She's been called Babbie since infancy. Her mother read "The Little Minister" when she was pregnant. Babbie was the heroine. I was hitting some guy in my dream but I actually slugged her. Fortunately it was a light punch. She said it didn't even wake her up.

I flatter myself that I'm dangerous to sleep with. Or I could be if I packed more of a wallop.  A lot of people want to be dangerous in bed.

Getting back to the Street-fighter self-portrait, the bloody forehead isn't the result of a broken beer bottle or brass knuckles. I had just had skin cancer surgery. As I got up from the table, the surgeon said, "If you live long enough, I'll see you again."

He was obviously referring to the probability that I would have skin cancer again. And he was right. But at 70, I didn't like the way he put it. Two days later I thought of what I should have said. "What makes you think you're going to outlive me?"



Seth Harwood, writer

Leslie, poet

Joe Goodwin, painter

Lisa Reinke, painter

John Mitchell, commentary

Charles Guiliano, MAVERIC, art critic

Saatchi Gallery


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