Friday, July 22, 2005

The Artist

When I was a kid, I had a friend whose father was an artist. His trade was sign-painting, and his neat, competent work provided his family with a comfortable living. I don't remember his commercial work as having much by way of flair, but this could well have been a preference on the part of his mostly Mennonite clients. His house and workshop, however, were a very different story.

Childhood memories have a size and scope all their own, of course. The interiors to these buildings seemed enormous and infinite, as did their detailing. Entering them was like exploring a fractal pattern, or living out the benign confusion of Little, Big. Pretty much everything the Mennonite Code had been set to deny was on intimate display. The shop contained the skeletal workings of a Piper two-seater; the shelves were cluttered with military models painted with painstaking attention to detail. Rock & Roll wasn't an issue in this household: when I explored the stereo cabinet, I beheld the howling grandeur of Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell album cover for the first time. Then, of course, there were the naked ladies - while he took care not to be ostentatious about it, his appreciation for cheesecake was undeniable and tastefully set out for all to see. Naturally, his wife was a real ball of fire.

For all that, he was also a pious man and a good friend to my father. After researching the art of bookbinding, he bound my father's master's thesis. When my parents announced their move to California, he presented them with a framed bit of scripture - plaut-dietsch in ornate calligraphy. He and his wife also did a "missionary" stint on foreign shores when midlife set in with its varieties of grinding impatience.

I didn't really get to know him, but of the various adults I've watched and absorbed as role models, he sits close to the center. In my own modest way I try to keep our home open to influences of exotic origin. I have my own measured piety, but I greatly dislike being directed to shun the cultural whoops, sighs, and howls that claim antipathy to religious devotion. And while I'd never tackle the reconstruction of a lawn-mower, nevermind an airplane, his enduring fascination with models stuck with me - they are my first resource when I get to feeling emotionally adrift.

I think of him whenever I check out Drawn!, but this entry was particularly evocative. Not only would a paper reconstruction of Howl's Moving Castle be right up his alley, but the castle itself is evocative of my childhood experience of the artist's home - a moving castle in the clouds of my memory. If I could get my hands on it, I'd take two copies of this beauty: one as a gift to the man, the other as a personal totem to his mystical influence.

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