Remembering Palestine’s Celebrated Artist, Ancel Nunn

Beginning watercolor

. . . a hoarder’s haven, the product of a deadly anxiety about letting go of things too steeped in memory–until they are paralyzed into a uselessness so complete one cannot even make the most necessary repairs.

Lee Jamison, Ode to East Texas: The Art of Lee Jamison

Since I arrived on the Palestine scene in 2017, I have heard countless stories about the legacy of local artist Ancel E. Nunn, who passed away in 1999. I’m embarrassed to testify that I didn’t visit the ruins of one of his studios until this year. I had to see the site because I had heard countless stories about the mural he had painted inside of one of his favorite advertisements, Bright & Early Coffee.

Greg Gunnels, president of the Dogwood Arts Council, offered to take me to the location, and we had to search for the structure because it was completely engulfed in trees. Once inside, Greg himself wondered if we had the right building because there was no sign of a mural. As it turns out, the mural was between the blind windows pictured below.

The ruins of Ancel E. Nunn’s Studio

Since that day, I have sadly learned that inquiries were made about preserving the mural, but nothing was ever finalized, and now it is gone forever. The quote above from artist Lee Jamison describes perfectly what happens when someone purchases a building and merely hoards it without protecting it.

As I stood in the midst of these ruins, my memory traveled back in time when I stood among the Greek ruins: Temple of Apollo, Temple of Poseidon, and others. Then, as in the present, I felt a sense of loss as I stood there contemplating. I felt the loss of something monumental that had touched the lives of many. Yet, as I stood there, I eventually felt a counter-feeling of Presence. I was standing in the studio of Ancel E. Nunn. I was standing in the space where he thought out countless paintings and executed his most famous pieces that now adorn museums and special collections. And I felt something stirring within, and I’m feeling it again today.

The ancient Greeks had a word, pneuma, that is translated “wind” or “breath.” The English New Testament translates it “spirit.” Today when I think of inspiration or ideas, I think of that word and the ancient metaphor of a breeze stirring or breathing quickened. And I feel that artists, writers, musicians and other creatives struggle just as much as I do, trying to explain that stirring that we all welcome.

Thank you for reading. I plan to continue posting this painting on the blog as it progresses.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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