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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Finding Myself... and Vindication

One of my favorite opinions is that History eventually settles all arguments. Nobody can escape the verdicts of history...

Whereas art, my first love, has been a random race among an elite, disparate mini-minority, and its results irrelevant to justice, History is the closest thing to ultimate justice. Perhaps that is why I have strived so much in the latter, so as my passionate investment in the first might be guaranteed relief from the second. And so ironically, after a lifetime of creativity, and investigation, and communication... Voila, surprise, History has been more kind to me than my first love.


Bits of me, as championed by the writings of others..

When that first author, Glen Alyn recognized, in print, my contributions to his manuscript about Mance Lipscomb, I was shocked, as it seemed my contributions had been inconsequential. Over time however, I began to value an author's acknowledgment... in this competitive world of brass ring-grabbers and thankless whelps. And lately my name in print has come to mean something far more than an ego-boost or a public relations chit... but plain old vindication. The kind that comes only with History.

The picture provided above is a collection of 12 books that all have one thing in common... my name can be found within. Five of them are because, as might be expected, I had done the cover jacket or provided illustrations. Among these are my father's book about the American legend Jesse Chisholm. Four books I illustrated, with art or my antique image collection, for my friend, fellow Grimes County historian, Dr. Robin Montgomery. 

But more interestingly, five of them are shown because research I had done and subsequent knowledge I attained on a particular history topic had been used in the content of the book. One which I am the most proud of is a magazine of local origin where I was asked to write our local history in Navasota, Tx. Another book appears because the commissioning of one of my monumental bronze sculptures had been a turning point in a woman's life struggle, where she discovered her own human potential. That situation was as much expensive grieving therapy as it was fine art, so we will call that one a split decision. But as much as art, if not more,  researching and writing about history has been a major achievement of my life.



The most recent addition to “my” bibliography is Texas Clay, a collection of essays published in 2015 by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. I had been told that the book was coming out, but frankly could not afford it. 


Now a couple of years later I have obtained a copy on the secondary market... to verify what several friends had told me, that I was mentioned as a source a couple of times in the book. Most importantly, my blogs about the early slave potter Elix Brown, and the jug made by him which I found here in a yard near Navasota, had become part of the foundation for establishing my find and the Republic era potter, Elix Brown as “a thing.” Now after many years of research, writing blogs and arguing with the gatekeepers of the Texas stoneware network, my suggestions have been VINDICATED. Of course, it did not hurt that a few years ago one of the Elix Brown vessels I wrote about sold for around $7,500.00 at auction, and probably because Texas stoneware collectors were reading my blog and making up their own minds... and history was decided. And now it is in print. Settled. By the MFA. I am once again humbled by the Museum, and in its debt, as it was there my art talent was first recognized and nurtured as a young teen by an art institution.



Since then Art has not been so good to me. I jousted and lost with my college art professors for legitimacy in the '70's, during the social revolution when I was considered an anachronism. I struggled for respect with art galleries in the 80's who saw me as too diverse and thus unpredictable. In my home town I had to negotiate with local artists who were jealous and sometimes ruthless in protecting their turf. Always out of step, I was promoting “Plein Air” in the 80's way before it was cool, (now there is even a Plein Air magazine!) and lost most of my students in the transition. Still Art History will show that I was, in spite of everything, eventually recognized by the public, for a season, as the “Best Local Artist” in my little hamlet. But in a nutshell the call never came, the one where a major publisher or gallery or collector decided to make me the next big thing. I was always “almost famous” as one of my students prophetically branded me three decades ago.



If I am known in the art world it is for one reason. I persevered. And if I persevered it is for one reason, my indulgent wife, who made that possible in many ways. When you drive past my public murals and sculptures, every time you do, you are looking at the love and patience of a hard-working woman. And more obviously, the love of a man and his woman for a town and a state. And its history. And besides my wife, history has been good to me.



Where my diversity had been a problem in art, it was an asset to history. These books by 8 different authors cover a range of subjects, from the Old West, to blues music to early Texas stoneware. Mike Cox graciously used my bronze of Marshal Frank Hamer in his book on Texas Ranger sites, and used some of my blog about Ranger Jeff Milton in a chapter about him.



But more to the point, local history will reveal that I did not just write about history, but once hooked up with Bert Miller of Navasota, now the longest serving mayor in Navasota's history. We served together on the city council which oversaw what former Councilman Peter Canney envisioned as “The Navasota Miracle.” Through frugal if not fortuitous management led by City Manager Brad Stafford, we righted the city's ship of finance and reinvented the downtown. A new city hall was conceived and built, the city's airport expanded, industries prospered and the tax base was increased. We were able to improve Navasota's image and infrastructure during the worst economic times in recent history. 

And after I was forced into a resignation from the city council, because of unavoidable conflicts of interest (art jobs for developers), Mr. Miller graciously saw to it that my name was inscribed next to the names of other councilmen, and councilwomen, on the new edifice that we conceived years before. I am very grateful to him, and proud of our many accomplishments. History was very kind to us.

And then there was the life-sized sculpture of former City Marshal Frank Hamer, commissioned by the city council which has brought me some attention... as the book in the illustration above attests. It was my love and knowledge of history, not local politics, which made me the sculptor who could and should make this monument of one of the greatest rangers of all time. That was proven beyond question in another book where I contributed a small part, Texas Ranger, by John Boessenecker.



Another of my favorite sayings, and it is mine, is that “Everything you have ever done, everything that has happened to you, good and bad, God will use to prepare you for the next thing He has for you to do.”



As I look into my future, which is a bit shorter than my past, I am aware that my first love will always be my first love, but I also acknowledge that people rarely achieve their highest goals and often leave little or no legacy behind... but thanks to History, I enjoy an immense sense of satisfaction, and at least a modest legacy, reflected in the generous acknowledgments of a few obscure books... where perhaps I contributed in a lasting way to my second and oft neglected love... which has provided me a noble and enduring consolation prize.



There may be another nugget of truth here. And that is an artist, no matter what his genre or medium, must have something to say... something in his gut that needs exorcism. As I followed my passion for history, it gave me a platform, which grew from art to photography and verse... and museum exhibits and digital art and even this blog.  Relevant artists are not just about mental or emotional ejaculation, or decoration, but about communications of the heart and soul. Those things can be represented by music, or cinema, current events... or in my case, history.



Perhaps it is not too late to switch my priorities... and make art my second love... and spend the fourth quarter of my life focusing on history. After all, kindness begets kindness. But it is not a question of either /or. I once told fellow artist David Woods, in all earnestness that to be any good at anything, you had to focus on it. You had to pick the main thing in your life, and everything else had to bow to it. David was torn between art and music. I had few other skills then, and had no problem focusing. But over the years my writing and passion for history have created a similar conflict. And being a bit tired, it is easy to announce a shift. 


I am officially retiring my mural and monument career. I'm still going to paint... when I feel like it, but no more commissions. None. My physical health demands this decision.



Linda and I are moving someday, perhaps in the near future to be near our daughter, Raegan Joy, who lives in Temple. Hopefully, a fresh outlook will help me discover what God has been preparing me for. I may write a book about an exciting discovery I have made while wandering in the antique image auctions of the Internet. Meanwhile I am slowly gravitating to that which has been the kindest, and that which has often been, although sometimes frustrating, in the end, the most fair and rewarding. 

Through perseverance, what started as a random race in a subculture has led to a great deal of public art throughout the Brazos Valley... and through my restless mind and insatiable inquiry, my name and passion will be nestled in historical volumes among the quiet shelves of knowledge, in libraries all over the world. And at least for the time being, some of my talent and scholarship has been vindicated.



With some peace of mind, we can look forward to semi-retirement and living just minutes away from our baby. And it will be hard for any of my art works, or credits, to ever compete with that.

1 comment:

Melinda Schroeder said...

You do have a way of painting a story. I still remember talking with you about Frank Hammer for the radio story. As I interviewed you history came to life for me as you carefully crafted this art form. I have always loved your artwork and I wish you well on your journey where ever it takes you.