Monday, March 4, 2013


Living in a rural area, we have a PO Box, and I look forward to stopping in to get the mail. It's a chance for a moment's company, welcome in the middle of days alone. And there's always the chance of an unexpected surprise in the day's delivery. When I opened the box one day last week, there was an extra key inside, an indication that something was too big to fit, and it's waiting in a second, oversized box.

I went through my mental inventory of things due- maybe a fly rod, or my end of fly swap. Books I'd forgotten I ordered. A package from family. Horse stuff for Darb…. but she hadn't given me a heads up. Nothing came to mind.

A mystery.

I open the po box and pull out the package below. I didn't recognize the name, and momentarily thought, It must be for Darby. But no, it's addressed to me. There was a little click in the back of my mind.

After the short trip home and giving the pups a treat, expected for their remarkable accomplishment of following me from the truck to the house, I pulled out my knife and opened the box. Inside is a note and a roughly packed picture frame sticking out of an envelope. I recognized the top edge of the frame as one that I used for years, and pulled the frame from the envelope, already knowing what was there.

Several years ago, at a show in Philadelphia, two paintings were stolen. The only time it has ever happened, before or since. The box contained the smaller of the two.

I'm not sure what to think. 

I picked up the note for the first time and read the following:


I've possessed the enclosed painting for a number of years as it was given to me by a friend. I recently learned (oddly) that the painting was acquired in an illicit way. I feel compelled to return the piece to you as I do not like knowing that I have something, especially a work of art, that wasn't rightly purchased from the creator. Hopefully this painting has some meaning to you, or at least can now be sold as you originally intended.

All the best,


I am still left with an unknown emotion. 


Why? Because I'd already decided how i felt about the two pieces being stolen, and kind of tucked it away, a little more watchful and wary than I was before. I was initially really angry- ok, flat out pissed-off. But then I went around to many of my neighbors at the show, warning them to be extra careful, and to a person, they all responded with some version of, Well, man, nobody stole anything from me? How should I feel about that? 

Like I was the only one that juried into the Thief's Choice Show.

The responses of other artists struck me as so funny it helped me decide to just let it go. I  figured the loss was one of those tolls life occasionally collects, and I decided that I had gotten off fairly cheaply.  The decision was made easier by the fact that neither piece stolen was very big- though the other was larger, about 14 x 18 inches if I recall correctly.

So I have this small painting back. It was from a series of tree paintings I did over a few years, really just a subject around which to play with and better understand color. The series started with me puzzling over the bright, intense, shimmering colors I saw in a small grove of Sugar Maples across from the field where I used to coach my kids soccer teams. I learned a lot about color from the series- in fact it changed the way I paint. Bu the whole series is gone now (with the exception of the last two that are available on my small work site), and it doesn't really fit with what I am working on these days.

What to do?

First a thank you note. 

Dear ??????,

Honesty is the trait I prize above all others. Thank you.



And now what? I've been stewing for the last couple months, or realistically, maybe the past year or more. Obviously not about the prodigal painting. But stewing is something I am prone to do, and when I'm in the middle of it, I don't recognize it. Part of my creative cycle. Mostly humming along, but then, occasionally, stew. Stew can simmer for a ridiculously long time. Darby asked me the other day if I was depressed, and I assured her that I wasn't. It isn't depression, it's stewing. It's just that I've only recently recognized that I was doing it. Somehow the return of the painting turned the lights on

And then I remembered why I stew. Because I'm trying to figure something out. I'm not a verbal thinker. I don't sit down and think an essay, or short story. There's no obvious set of directions, do this, then this, then this. No narrative. I describe it to people as looking for a path in a dense woods. In the dark. Blindfolded. There's a sense of direction, a pull to the place I need to go. But if you just blunder forward, you'll end up lost.

I am my father's son in many ways. I like to work. Actually, I love to work. Work for me is putting paint to canvas. But sometimes that gets in the way of finding my direction. A big part of my work is thinking about putting paint to canvas- what I'm painting and why. Sometimes I need to slow down, and stew.

So I think I've had about enough stewing. I think. I'm feeling like I know what I'm doing again. I have a lot of paint to put on canvas. 

I haven't been posting on this blog in forever.  As I said, I'm not a verbal stewer. But I am figuring some things out, have some big projects ahead of me, and some big adventure behind me that ties to it. And that would be fun to tell you about.

So the return of another prodigal. Me. More soon.

1 comment:

Dana S. Whitney said...

I love this post. Why? Because I'm happy that 50% of the theft is un-thieved. Because someone was honest and went to the trouble to demonstrate it. Because you clarified how sometimes non-verbal people are stewing (I stew, too, but SO verbally it drives people nuts). Because you are the second esteemed communicator/creative person who returned from the land of the prodigals this month (and it is only the 4th.) Happy stewing and painting.