Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm Back... Well, Sort Of

Be of good cheer. I'm all done talking about my knees.

My brain hasn't fully recovered from the anesthesia and I'm having a hard time writing anything, so I'm just going to plunge in and force myself to make my fingers move on the keyboard. I am feeling a little smug, however; another blog I've visited recently hasn't had a new post since September, 2008. I've only been 'away' a couple of months.

When I was in college many years ago, a distant cousin I met there used to take me to art shows and parse out all the paintings for me, give his mini-reviews of the artist's capabilities, and put art in context for me. I loved it so much! I decided then that some day I would get to know real artists, collect their work, and have a little art gallery in my home. I didn't know then how I would do it, but I would. Sounds wacky, doesn't it, high minded and idealistic and maybe it bit unrealistic.

Fast forward to 1976. After living out of the country/state for six years, we decided to return to Utah to be closer to family. Roger drew a circle of a 100-mile radius from Provo where his parents lived, and started applying for jobs in those school districts. He got a job in Sevier School District… Richfield… south-central Utah, 111 miles from Provo. When we came to look for a place to live, I felt I was going back in time a year for every mile across the Gunnison desert, 30 miles in all. As we made inquiries about housing, most people literally opened their doors just a crack because we were strangers, and all of them asked one of two questions: who were we related to locally, and did we have temple recommends. The answers were nobody, and yes, but that was none of their business. We just wanted a place to live. There were few apartment buildings, but an unfortunate availability of trailers. I was horrified, but we moved into one with two bedrooms, smaller than the one we had come from in our previous place. It was insanity waiting to happen. I agreed only on the condition that we build a house as soon as possible. We used the small bedroom for storage and put Jen and Elin, ages 4 and 1 at the time, in the large bedroom; we bought a hide-a-bed for the living room and slept on it as long as we could - until we couldn't pretend anymore that the iron bars were comfortable. Then we slept on two twin bed mattresses on the floor, which we purchased for the girls to use later when we moved to a real house.

We moved into said house February 10, 1977. We were welcomed into the ward, and as we got to know people I found some were involved in getting a community theater going. That suited me, and I got involved. Having planned to be a gardener, but being thwarted by spring allergies, I soon realized I'd have to put my energies somewhere else. Eventually I volunteered for some other community activities, and that led to a part-time job with the school district, writing news for the adult education program and helping the director. He got me involved in an arts celebration, and by 1981 I was doing an art show. All I knew about it was what my cousin taught me all those years ago, but ignorance has never stopped me before. I went to the county commission, convinced them of the worthiness of the project, and they agreed to sponsor it. We could hang the show in the community meeting room in the basement of the courthouse - no natural light, but plenty of artificial light. We were going to be unique as art shows go and leave space for children's art as well as experienced artists' works. I wanted it to be a place where children could learn that art didn't end with the cut-and-paste projects they did in school; art could go on for their whole lives. The commission chairman, whom I later discovered to be a closet weekend painter, apologized that they could only lend their names. For the purchase of ribbons and certificates, he opened his wallet and handed me a $20 bill, and wished me luck. For the first five years I did the art show entirely by myself. Eventually the commission included in their budget a modest amount for the show. I knew we had arrived when commission candidates began including in their campaign literature that they supported the art show.

Over the years I became acquainted with many wonderful artists, purchasing several works of art which now hang in my home. I treasure these friendships and honor these talented people. I am a word artist, but not a visual artist, and yet I believe my appreciation gives them a reason to continue doing what they do. They have enriched my life beyond measure, beyond what I thought would happen as I pondered my future in Richfield, lying on a mattress on the living room floor of that trailer and crying myself to sleep more than once.

Twenty-five years later, in 2006, I retired from the Commissioners Art Show and handed it over to a capable, knowledgeable successor. And it has continued. When I gave my 'farewell' speech at my last art show awards dinner, I told this story:

Although Henri Matisse was nearly 28 years younger than Auguste Renoir, the two great artists were dear friends and frequent companions. When Renoir was confined to his home by almost paralyzing arthritis during the last decade of his life, Matisse visited him daily. Renoir continued to paint, and one day as Matisse watched the elder painter fighting torturous pain with each brush stroke, he blurted out, "Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?"

Renoir replied simply, "The beauty remains; the pain passes."

I will be thinking about that story again when I go to the 2009 Commissioners Art Show on Saturday morning. I will see art work done by many of my friends of all ages, and by some new artists I don't know. But I will remember the beauty and pleasure I have experienced as I made this effort through the years to contribute to my community, to have some reason for being in Richfield. I have received much more than I have given.