For Four Summers from 1987 - 1990 I worked for Mrs. Milton Avery in Bearsville, NY. I usually began my duties around the Summer solstice when the days were long. I was Sally's personal and studio assistant though she was very much able bodied and of strong, precise mind. Our life was simple. We rose early, ate breakfast and were usually in our studios by eight AM. Sally liked to have at least four clean canvases ready, so my morning ritual often included stretching canvas, a task I loved, though I painted on canvas tacked to the wall of my former horse-stall studio. We'd break at noon for lunch, a nap and a swim and then returned to our work. At five we would go on sketching excersions, prentending to get lost in Ulster County, stopping roadside to sketch. After which we'd return for dinner, reading, conversation. As my birthday fell on July 8, Sally would take me to The Elephant (A huge Army and Navy store that once served as local hot spot for legendary musicians such as Fred Neil) for a new shirt. I still have two of them. Sturdy Levis - one white, one tan.
I was in Woodstock today. I was thinking of Sally as I always do. And of our seemingly endless Summers of hard work. Sally taught me many things, but most importantly, she taught me that there was no such thing as inspiration for an artist. That work breeds more work...and to do alot of it.
Sally once told me that she heard the most amazing poem ever spoken (on a Manhattan bus) when she heard a young lady remark to her friend these words : "Ain't the Summer flew?" It was a phrase we used when September arrived with cold mornings and shorter days.
I snapped this photo of Sally's grave marker this morning. A simple piece of slate, and like her beloved Milton, it is nothing more than her artist's signature and the dates she lived on earth.
In 1985 I worked as the personal assistant for the Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Schuyler here. Though far from a happening time at the Chelsea, I regarded my duties as an honor and privilege. Jimmy was always thoughtful, caring & sensitive despite all of the hardships he endured. He encouraged me as an aspiring artist and (then) poet. In his Diary (published some years later) Jimmy would remark that I was "...prompt, capable and a pleasure to have around." Prompt? Yes. Capable? Perhaps. A Pleasure to be around? At 24 I seriously doubt it. I began working for Jimmy January 18, 1985. I took this picture Friday the 15th of January 2010 thinking of Jimmy, for he was in my thoughts upon waking and has remained so the past few days.
Sometime in 2013 the poet David Trinidad asked me to write something in regard to the poem One of my Favorite Gardens that Jimmy had written for me in me in September of 1985. The poem was lost for many years and had been found among Jimmy's papers by David. It was to be published for the first time in Court Green 11 out of Columbia College in Chicago, Il. This piece Appeared in Court Green 11 - February 2014.
of my Favorite Gardens
was written on the occasion of my accompanying Jimmy to his weekly
session with his psychiatrist Hy Weitzen. Something Jimmy always took
seriously, dressing for the occasion with proper shoes, trousers,
freshly pressed shirt and sport jacket. Yet on this day he wore a
it to nothing more than taxi driver logic we ended up heading north
on Third Ave from 23rd
to East 65th
street where we were left to walk the block and half just past
Lexington Ave to the good Doctor's. It was mid September, the end of
Summer on the cusp of Autumn, with shortening days and cool crisp
mornings that give way to balmy afternoons with that particular
En-route to Dr. Weitzen's we took
time to pause alongside The Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. There
against the dark, sooty bricks of the rectory at the South West
corner of the Church yard, I pointed out to Jimmy an immaculate,
white statue of the Virgin Mary telling him of the fervent devotion
I had had for her during the difficult years of my childhood. He
listened attentively, lost in thought until his face lit up. He was
drawn to a colorful display of roses, their meticulous arrangement
and their place amongst an apple tree, a tomato plant and (as I
excitedly pointed out) a singular stalk of maize. He spoke of the
roses there, knowing their names and origin, momentarily lost,
entranced by the garden's simple yet varied beauty. The noise of
midday Monday Manhattan receded as we enjoyed a moment of secular
meditation. It was in this silence, in the presence of this
breathtaking beauty, that I believe Jimmy and I acknowledged our
imminent parting. It simply passed between us, unspoken. It didn't
feel particularly heavy or sad for our affection was genuine and
respect mutual. We smiled at one another moving on amidst the steady
stream of traffic rolling down Lexington Avenue, the busy lunchtime
crowds, the changing traffic lights.
There's a wonderful Zen-like
immediacy to the poem as Jimmy shamelessly states the beginning and
proceeds to (quite literally) pull elegance out of thin air merging
our shared history in an arrangement as lovely as any garden ever
planted. Cyclic in nature, with great simplicity, he seamlessly
weaves one day into many as he graciously renders our walk with a
portrait of me - taking note of my work ethic, expressing his
gratitude for my assistance. Just like the poem, we had come full
circle. This was his offering, his commemoration of our days
together. It's also a poem where a door opens (at the end). And for
Jimmy, at that exact time, a door had indeed opened. The rough
time he had experienced the previous August had somehow, ultimately
opened him more deeply as a human being. It gave him courage. In
subsequent months he would re-arrange his life, minimize his rigid
dependence on others and go on to read and record his work for large,
appreciative audiences. Things he had spoken of to me that summer.
The impossible now possible. He had crossed Lex.
Jimmy gave me a copy of the poem
on Wednesday September 18, 1985 – the last day of my employment. It
was neatly typed on his signature tough, gray onion skin paper with
his name and date shakily signed in blue ink. Jimmy had an almost
religious humility when it came to his work, upon leaving that day
he simply smiled as he handed me the poem, saying nothing. We would
stay in touch and see each other on occasion up until his death in
April 1991 - a time of year when gardens are planned and plotted. A
fitting time for Jimmy's passage.
In the short time I worked for
Jimmy I found him always thoughtful, caring & sensitive despite
all of the hardships he endured. In turn, I regarded my duties as an
honor and privilege. He encouraged me as an aspiring artist and poet
while showing great concern for my well-being. Jimmy was generous. In
his Diary (published some years later) Jimmy would remark that I was
"...prompt, capable and a pleasure to have around." Prompt?
Yes. Capable? Perhaps. A Pleasure to be around? At 24, I seriously
doubt it. However, we seemed a good match. Even after all this time,
Jimmy still crosses my mind - on a bitterly cold, clear blue January
day (like the one we first met on) or when Winter's endless brown and
gray gives way to Spring's first brilliant forsythia. It is at these
precise moments that I look across the fields of time and salute
Jimmy, fondly remembering our time together.