January 11, 2011

The Sketches on the Wall

“’No one stops being an artist,’ she said to us. And I argued with her that a painter who stops painting is no longer a painter. It is the act of painting that matters.” --The Swan Thieves

My grandfather was an artist. Art was a hobby for him, although he once had an opportunity to make it his profession, drawing posters for movie houses in Hollywood. My family has a few of these sketches and they are vibrant and wonderful. But to take that job would have meant moving his family from New York to California, and facing an uncertain future in the era following the Great Depression. So he ran a local business selling wine and gourmet foods and sketched in his spare time.

I have a number of his pictures hanging on our walls, mostly charcoal sketches or pastels. He drew mostly still-life, and my collection includes a couple of wine bottles, an olive oil can, and some ivy in a glass. Probably the best drawing I have, from a critical perspective, is a wonderful sketch of a package wrapped in paper and tied with string. But one of my favorites is a very simple sketch, just an outline, of a man. Maybe because of its unfinished nature, I can imagine my grandfather sitting at his easel in a class, the nude model in the center, both men hunched in their respective poses.
My grandfather was prolific, and we all got opportunities to go through his sketchbooks and pick out ones we wanted. But my favorite drawing is of a hat. It isn’t that this is his best work, but it is a drawing he did specifically for me. The inscription in the corner says “For my Jenny.”

It is easy to look at art on a wall, appreciate its colors and lines, or notice its overall beauty. But art seen in a museum, even pieces done by great masters, is impersonal. I’m not saying art can’t speak to you, and a piece may tell a vivid story, but it isn’t necessarily your story. When I see my grandfather’s art on my walls, it is part of my history, each line drawn by a man who I can still picture sitting in our backyard reading the newspaper, sunglasses on, cigar in hand.

This post was inspired by The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova. I was given a copy by the publisher as part of the From Left To Write book club. I was not otherwise compensated for this post.

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  1. just had to let you know how much i look forward to your blogs. so glad to see you branching out to other things and topics here. your writing so inspires. so, can you write more about moe and jelly soon please??? it really, really makes my day...

  2. Kerry - Thanks! I've had a bunch of other stuff going on lately. But I wrote about Jelly yesterday! Did you see it?

  3. This was beautiful! I had such a close relationship with my grandmother before she passed away. Those special things that link you are so precious. I love reading to my kids from books she bought for Caleb when he was just a baby. I read him the inscription every time. I want him to know how much she loved him.

  4. What a beautiful post ... you have such a talent for painting pictures with your words. Now I know one person from whom you got that artistic talent :-) How lovely to have such a special gift from your grandfather's hand. I have some needlework of my grandmother's that I feel just as strongly about, including a patchwork quilt she made just for me. It's not particularly beautiful, but I know that as she stitched it, she thought of me, and that, as you know, means the world.

  5. Aw, I teared up when I read "for my Jenny"... how special that you have that work done by his own hand to pass down to your children!

  6. I know exactly what you mean! My mother was an artist and there is a self-portrait of her as a young woman that somehow makes me feel like I knew her then. It says more about her than any photograph I've ever seen.

  7. what a great way to remember your grandfather.

  8. I love this! Though I think an artist is an artist whether or not anyone sees his work, whether or not he can get his hand on the paint. It is simply in your head, the way you see what is around you. It is there, unseen to anyone but The Artist, unless they really look.
    You are so lucky to have those sketches. What a great gift.


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