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This is a true story.


I had just entered a treasure-trove. It was a tantalizing world, hidden from view from the rest of the world. My jaw dropped in disbelief…

"Take what you like, young man," said the sweet little old lady who stood by my side, garage door clicker in hand.  She was a neighbor and had invited me to her home in our sleepy suburban neighborhood because she had, in her words, "a few art-supplies to give away,"

So here I stood, in her garage, which was filled with what appeared to be literally thousands of paintings, stacked tightly in bundles from floor to ceiling.

"These were my husband's paintings", she explained." Maybe you could paint over them and re-use them."

"What? Paint over them?" I asked in horror. "What are you saying? Don't you want your husband's paintings?"  The sweet old lady shrugged and shook her head, in a sad, quiet way.  "What can I do with these?" She responded.  What you don't take today, the trash people will be clearing out tomorrow..."

To me, this was an artist's nightmare:  Imagine passing away and your spouse tosses your art out in the garbage. How could she do this?  I asked if she had children or other family members who would be interested in saving some of the paintings. " No", she assured me. No children. No family.

I had to see some of these paintings. I began unstacking them right in the driveway, and was overwhelmed by the color and activity of the canvases. They were abstracts, fantastic designs, geometric explosions of a passionate nature.

"My Howard was a door-to-door vacuum-cleaner salesman," she said. "He worked all day, came home to play with the children and enjoy dinner. After that he would spend some quality time with me before heading out here to the garage. He kept his paintings a secret for awhile but he couldn't hide them from me forever."  She eyed the contents of the paintings with disinterest.  I was listening as I tried counting the canvases in the stacks. There were maybe three thousand of various sizes, and every one thickly painted.

"I can't paint over these," I told her. They are too thick. They would crack. But they are your husband's art. Why don't you at least pick out a few to hang in the house to remember him by?"  Again, the sweet lady seemed disinterested. "He was self-taught," she continued. I suppose you could say it was his hobby."

But the canvases were amazing to me.  Bold, confident compositions and experiments of every sort passed before my eyes as I carefully flipped past a life-time of creations. This was not just the work of a vacuum-cleaner salesman hobbyist.  This man had been a real artist. He had been a dedicated, driven artist who had invested decades of sweat and blood into his work.

The sweet old lady went inside to make me a sandwich as I poured over the paintings. This man had led a double life: Mild-mannered vacuum-cleaner salesman by day and expressive painter by night. I looked and noticed how each artwork had been carefully dated on the back.  The earliest seemed to have been made in 1955 and the last were done in 2006, just before he went into hospice care, after his stroke. ...and it was about to be thrown away.  Didn't his wife give a damn?

Didn't she care at all?

She came out with a cheese sandwich and some lemonade. "I'm sorry you can't use these to paint over," she said "The trash service will be here tomorrow and-"

"Listen, why don't you please pick one out to save?" I blurted. "He spent over fifty years making these. I think it would be so nice if you saved just one."

The old lady's eyes widened and she chuckled gently.  "Young man, you seem to think that I don't understand my husband's joy for making art?  Please come inside for a moment."

I followed her into her front door, and expected to be met with fussy old-widow décor.

But what I saw blew me away.

Quilts. Every wall was covered with brilliantly colored, unbelievably cool quilts of every size. All of the quilts appeared to have a bold, vibrant style of design that looked like…her late husband's paintings!

"You see," she said, "My husbands paintings inspired me to become somewhat of an artist myself. That was his greatest gift to me. He helped me to understand color, shape and pattern. It started off as a hobby, but the last forty years, we have been collaborating on these together. Howard created the designs, and I transformed them into quilts."
She took me on a tour of the house, pointing out every quilt, carefully describing the painting of her husband's which had inspired each one. Finally we reached a prominent wall in the study that was entirely empty.

"My favorite Quilt used to hang here, for over twenty years." It was the biggest, the finest quilt we ever collaborated on. I wrapped my Howard in it when he passed away. He was buried with it. I shall leave the wall blank now. I will never fill it."

I finished my sandwich and gave her a kiss on the cheek, thanking her.

That day changed my understanding of art…and love.

As she did the dishes, i quietly retrieved from the garage a portrait that i found amongst the stacks... it was a portrait her husband had done of her. it was dated twenty years earlier. i placed it on the mantle.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconlauramossop:
LauraMossop Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2012
Thats such a human story, its was so nice to read about how art immerses into peoples lives and helps deepen the enjoyment instead of the latest cool looking artwork with a new technique. Both types of stories are important so i'm really glad you shared it with us. By the looks of the comments i'm not the only one! :)
Have a wonderful new year.
Reply
:iconforestina-fotos:
Forestina-Fotos Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
What a beautiful beautiful story. It brought tears to my eyes! :)
Reply
:iconanalillithbar:
analillithbar Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Also, would you please turn this into a deviation so that I can add it to a folder other than the journal fav folder that I have it in now... Plus, I think many people would enjoy the read.

Thanks, as always, for sharing such heartfelt greatness. Always a pleasure checking out your work.
Reply
:iconanalillithbar:
analillithbar Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
:iconomgsocuteplz:

Love this in every way! Can I share?!!!
Reply
:icondaisyofthenight:
daisyofthenight Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2012
This is why I think realistic fiction writing is silly. There's already so many real things that happen everyday that shows how great the world around us is.
Reply
:iconbriohnee:
briohnee Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2012  Student General Artist
that is ridiculous and yet somewhat brilliant.
Reply
:iconbluelisamh:
Bluelisamh Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2012  Student General Artist
Wow, this was beautiful. I must admit to a few tears. It got me thinking about just who do we create art for. Of course we always paint/draw/create for ourselves firstly, we can never know the full extent of the impact of our art. Perhaps that is what DeviantArt is all about :)
Reply
:iconpink-starlite:
Pink-Starlite Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
what a wonderful story, as a new artist it was lovely to read of the common ground this couple found, so touching, thank you for sharing.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2012
I am happy you were able to read it and appreciate it.

John Paul
Reply
:iconmagickalmoon:
magickalmoon Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
one of my favorite stories in your book :)
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2012
Thank you. it is one of mine, too.

John paul
Reply
:iconpetrova:
petrova Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2012  Hobbyist
I remember this from your book. It was one of those that really captured me. So lovely.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2012
I have many new watchers here and I wanted to repost. with them in mind...

Thank you for reading again!

John Paul
Reply
:iconpetrova:
petrova Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2012  Hobbyist
Good idea :nod:
Reply
:iconcypherx:
cypherx Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
i don't always click on journals... in fact more often than not I just mass delete them these days.

Yours was on top and not at all what I expecting when i clicked.

i guess we have trouble understanding because we want to think that when we pass part of what's our legacy to all around us is the work we poured ourselves into. I don't know if i can understand her keeping not a one, but i would be lying if i didn't say it didn't tickle my tear glands a tad.

thanks for sharing
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2012
It was a real experience that showed me also how our"legacy" may or may not have legs... but our art can serve purposes that are so infinite, intimate and even mysterious.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

John Paul
Reply
:iconwhispersdreams:
WhispersDreams Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2012
What a lovely story. :love:
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2012
Thank you for reading.

John Paul
Reply
:iconwinterous:
Winterous Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2012
Beautiful.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2012
Thank you very much for reading.

john paul
Reply
:iconlemurrific:
Lemurrific Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2012
I would have certainly loved to see his work.
Abstract and surrealism are my two favorite styles of art.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2012
I would try to better describe them, but perhaps,

in your mind,

they are exactly the way they should have appeared...
Reply
:iconsophiebastien:
sophiebastien Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2012
Very nice story, I wonder where will be mine after I passed away...
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2012
In the Musee du Bastien, of course.
Reply
:iconsophiebastien:
sophiebastien Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2012
That would be great :)
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2012
Wanna see some museums in Los Angeles?

if so, what kind? We have some good ones...

What do you like to see? Classical, contemporary? What?


I will also take to to La Luz de Jesus and you will love how quirky it is!
Reply
:iconsophiebastien:
sophiebastien Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2012
mmm I really would prefer to see more paintings, sculptures... than very conceptual art(that annoys me deeply since I've finished my studies in art school). Classical and contemporary I don't mind. If there are museums with Frida Kahlo's paintings displayed on them I absolutelydo want to see them and perhaps some museums about the american culture, anyway I trust your judgement. :)

Thank for sending me your address, I submitted my very last painting to La Luz group show I really hope they'll chose me :) I have seen some pictures of the artworks they have it seems wicked!

Have a lovely day

Sophie
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2012
Here is the link to a show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It features Frida, but it closes in early May. [link]

but If you are not in town for that one, there will still be amazing art here.
We would go to the J. Paul Getty Museum, which is gorgeous and has mostly world-class
classical art and sculpture...

Also maybe the Norton Simon Museum nearby in Pasadena... which is much smaller but has the best collection of art in LA. Every painting and sculpture is a winner.

There is also a museum that tells a lot about American history... particularly California History.

I am not sure how much time I will have because of my work schedule, but we will for certain meet up!

John Paul
Reply
:iconsophiebastien:
sophiebastien Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2012
Thank you John Paul for all your advices, I had a look at the websites you sent me. These museums look really great. I'll tell you later what you're planning to do and the dates we are in LA.

Thanks a lot again :D

Sophie
Reply
:iconsalhunter:
SalHunter Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2012
Utterly beautiful, sad, amazing, inspiring and so very true of life.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2012
The poetry of hidden reality.
Reply
:iconcloser-than-skin:
closer-than-skin Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
A very inspirational story. I feel that even if the artworks are no longer there, what matters is what they had imprinted in the viewers mind- the feelings, the ideas, the swarm of non-transferable inspiration when this painter had set his brush onto the canvas. Yes, it would be a shame if the art were to be tossed away. Perhaps its fate was to not be seen by many people. Perhaps it was only meant to be special to those who had the opportunity to see it.
I would have loved to see the artworks myself, but just from your story alone I can feel the inspiration. As long as humans pass these kind of feelings along, in this day and society--art will not die. It will reproduce and some day, inspiration will become contagious enough to make everyone function artistically, finding new forms and mediums to express it by.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2012
Your words say it all.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
Temporal art...

I wanted to intervene somehow... protect it, save it...but that was not its destiny. Not my destiny. it had to serve its purpose and then be complete.

I hope my story does justice to them, and I hope readers are able to visualize the story.


Beau, I had a sculptor friend here in Los Angeles who lost EVERYTHING during the 1994 EarthQuake. Afterward, he began making...designer cakes.

He said, '" saw all of my life's work destroyed in 45 seconds. If my creations can just disappear so suddenly, why not devote myself to temporal artwork...High-end cakes and delicate artistic icing sculptures meant to be around for only a day or two?"

He was very successful. I was thinking, "What the hell is this brilliant guy doing, making CAKES? But it makes sense. They were amazing cakes. Almost too stunning to eat... but they were an extension of his realization about life...and art.

John Paul
Reply
:iconbeaunestor:
BeauNestor Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012  Professional Photographer
Now, That deserves an exhibition, even if only in the local church hall...

An exhibition of fifty years of collaboration - Paintings and Quilts... There's a film in there somewhere too.

When people step outside their need to impress and stay inside with their need to express - they are truly artists. A celebration of that attitude would be immense value to those that could see and grasp that.

Such a crying shame to see it all just disappear.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
Temporal art...

I wanted to intervene somehow... protect it, save it...but that was not its destiny. Not my destiny. it had to serve its purpose and then be complete.

I hope my story does justice to them, and I hope readers are able to visualize the story.


Beau, I had a sculptor friend here in Los Angeles who lost EVERYTHING during the 1994 EarthQuake. Afterward, he began making...designer cakes.

He said, '" saw all of my life's work destroyed in 45 seconds. If my creations can just disappear so suddenly, why not devote myself to temporal artwork...High-end cakes and delicate artistic icing sculptures meant to be around for only a day or two?"

He was very successful. I was thinking, "What the hell is this brilliant guy doing, making CAKES? But it makes sense. They were amazing cakes. Almost too stunning to eat... but they were an extension of his realization about life...and art.

John Paul

--
Paint the Truth.
Reply
:iconintergrativeone:
Intergrativeone Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012  Professional General Artist
I know this story from you previously, and still could read it to the end because it is so loving. A cheese sandwich and lemonade... so perfect, and so comforting.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
It was.

Also Haunting, sweet, alarming, surprising...

I do spoken-word presentations often and i love to read this one aloud.
Reply
:iconintergrativeone:
Intergrativeone Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012  Professional General Artist
I can see why...
Reply
:iconmegsmad:
megsmad Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
i remember reading this :)

double lives :)

:heart: faved
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
yeah, it's from my book, "Art and Courage."

I have a lot of new watchers since I first shared this story.

Thanks Meg.
Reply
:iconmegsmad:
megsmad Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
it's good to see it again, such a beautiful story :)
Reply
:iconkeight:
keight Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
That was very well written. My husband's grandfather's works divided amongst all of us when the family home was sold. I am lucky enough to have one of the few works of my mother's that survived thirty years of bouncing around the country.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
A family legacy...

I am STILL going through the artwork of my father's after his death two years ago.

John Paul
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:iconkeight:
keight Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
Dad was career military; therefore all art was a luxury we couldn't keep much of. We had books though, a few well chosen treasures. Mom's pastel piece had been in a Denver art competition, and had been kept safe by her mother and sister. My cousins sent it to me after my aunt's passing.
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2012
Heirlooms mark the passing as well as the legacy of life in a tangible way.
Reply
:iconswerd12:
Swerd12 Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Woah. I suppose everybody has their own story to tell. Did this happen to you??
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
Yes. A true story.
Reply
:iconneneplayswithpaper:
Neneplayswithpaper Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
:heart::heart::heart:

I love reading this!!
Reply
:iconjohnpaulthornton:
johnpaulthornton Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
When it happened, i was blown away by the coolness of it. I wrote it down a few weeks later.

This, of course, is from my book "Art and Courage."

Thank you for being here! John Paul
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