Posts Tagged ‘Hank"s Odyssey’

Working on a Second Tower 55 Watercolor

February 23, 2021
12 x 16 watercolor in progress

With some luck, I should be finishing this watercolor before the day is through. I wanted to have it in time to share as part of my “Hank” series in Palestine when the Dogwood Festival opens. Below is the story I’ve been working on to give it a narrative.

Squealing brakes accompanied by the thundering slam of freight car couplings in the Union Pacific railyard in Fort Worth, Texas hindered Hank from sleeping soundly in the small hotel on the south side of downtown. Wiping sleep from his travel-weary eyes, he sat on the edge of his bed and looked out the second-story window of his room. February. A layer of fresh snow blanketed the parking lot, and as he gazed across the cool blue shadows from his bed, Hank once again felt that old familiar Odysseus-fueled sentiment to wander. Pulling his tattered copy of Kerouac’s On the Road from the backpack, Hank looked up the passage where Sal awoke in the Chicago railroad flophouse, wondering for the moment who he was. Smiling as he stuffed the book back into his bag, Hank reaffirmed that he knew perfectly well who he was—Hank, the wandering mendicant, exploring the world and learning its secrets.

Dawn was just breaking, and in the dim light outside, Hank was confident he could prowl undetected through the busy railyard in search of a slow-moving freight to hop near the interlocker of Tower 55. Just south of the three-story Tower, a long freight of boxcars was crawling slowly southward. Mesmerized by the slow parade, he recalled one of his favorite passages from Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl”.

who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,

A closer scrutiny revealed no open boxcar doors as the train slowly gathered momentum. As Hank continued to watch, he came to the realization that rail travel was not for him. Though he enjoyed the romantic stories from On the Road, hopping a freight seemed too dangerous. Leaving the railyards, he spied the lighted sign of a Rexall Drugs and decided to go inside to look for a road atlas of Texas. Finding a Rand McNally, he paid the cashier and walked out.

Further down the street was a diner, more accurately a greasy spoon. Seeking warmth inside, Hank soon found himself sipping hot coffee from a heavy stained and cracked diner mug. Unfolding his map, he spread it across the table and squinted at it while enjoying the aromas wafting from the kitchen—fried eggs, hashbrowns, sausages, bacon, the steam of coffee. Hank wanted to head south across the state, having already visited the west. But none of the towns along the sprawling highway routes captured his fancy. Turning his attention to railroad routes, he traced southward from Fort Worth’s Tower 55. Palestine appeared to feature a large railyard. It was settled. Hank would set his sights on Palestine. Leaving the diner, Hank ventured in a southeasterly direction, seeking out Highway 287. Surely a motorist would soon pick up a hitchhiker who had just exited a hotel, showered, groomed, and dressed cleanly.

Hours later, Hank emerged from a 4-door Plymouth filled with a happy family with three chatty children. The Palestine railyards lay just south of Spring Street, and Hank looked up and down the tracks, glad he had decided against hopping a freight. To the north, he saw a five-story vintage hotel and decided to walk in that direction. The Redlands Hotel, established in 1915, was a stately structure, anchoring the west end of the city adjacent to the majestic Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Entering the hotel from the west portal, Hank was impressed to see a restored lobby reminiscent of the glory days of railroad commerce. To his left was a lovely restaurant with linen tablecloths glowing in the dimly lit interior. On his right was a small art gallery and AM radio station with a live broadcast.

Pushing on ahead through the lobby, Hank found the office at the far end and decided to inquire about a vacancy. Jeanene, the red-haired proprietor of the hotel, greeted him warmly and told him the hotel featured twenty suites, each in their original apartment layout featuring kitchen, bedroom, living area and bathroom. Smiling, Hank decided to rent for a week. Room 207 was clean and well-lighted, the kitchenette featuring a small round table next to windows looking down upon the handsome Carnegie Library across the street north of the hotel. Breathing deeply, Hank wondered what it could be like to live here for a spell.

Descending the stairs into the main lobby, Hank spotted the radio disc jockey seated in a wingback chair outside the restaurant, sipping coffee and smoking a cigarette. He had just completed his morning show. Carl Harris had been working at KXOK radio since the early 60’s playing top 40 tunes and inserting the occasional news and weather updates.

“So, you look like a well-traveled man. What brings you to Palestine?

“Just a whim. I was in Fort Worth yesterday looking to hop a freight but decided not to risk it.  Assuming Palestine to be a railroad town, I decided to hitchhike down here to see what you have.”

“Can’t say much for the town. It’s alright, I guess. But if it weren’t for the job, I’m not sure I’d stay.”

“How long have you been in radio?”

“Twelve years. By now I’d hoped to be in a bigger city, like Houston or Dallas. Always wanted to travel instead of staying in my hometown. But it’s a good gig. I love music, play guitar, write songs. The job supports my habit. Frankly, I don’t know how much time we still have here. Our rival station KMOX in the next county represents the new wave. I come from the old school of radio rockers, not this new breed of radio talkers. But I guess that is another story. So. What do you do, besides travel?”

“Can’t say for sure. A couple of years ago, I decided I didn’t want to stay in my hometown any longer. So I’ve been on the road, meeting people, seeing different places. Still trying to figure out what to do with my life.”

“You need a job? This art gallery is brand new and they can’t seem to find anyone willing to work for minimum wage. The main artist is from out of town and isn’t here enough to keep it going as it should.”

“I could be interested. Who do I see about the job?”

“Jeanene, in the office. She’ll set you up, I’m sure.”

Now the sun was going down, and the studio was filling with shadows, imparting a feeling of overpowering melancholy to the end of the day. When the light filtered away like this after a bout of fruitless labour it felt as if the sun had disappeared for ever and taken with it all the life and gaiety and harmony of colours.

Emile Zola, The Masterpiece

Hank closed the book with a bottomless sigh and turned out the lights. The day had been long and uneventful, like most recent days, and reading the novel from Zola left him feeling as lost and empty as Cezanne must have been when he struggled to find his way in the painting enterprise. Emptying his glass with the last swallow of sangria, Hank laid back on his bed, closed his eyes and waited for sleep.

Morning. With eyes remaining closed, Hank listened. Mockingbirds conversed outside his open window of the Redlands Hotel. Somewhere nearby a radio was playing. He recognized the voice of Carl on KXOK, his energized voice of the morning show using every trick to capture attention from listeners driving to work. Hank opened his eyes slowly and focused. The alarm clock showed 7:15. Stickiness from the sangria of last night lay foul on his tongue. Stale cigar smoke lingered. The only element offering good will this morning was the clear light of a winter sunrise filtering through the light curtains, exposing myriads of floating dust particles drifting above the foot of his narrow bed.

Hank had slept with his clothes on, again. Rising and shuffling into the small kitchenette, he opened the squeaking cabinet above the sink, pulled down the Eight O’Clock Bean Coffee bag, measured coffee into the basket and poured water into the percolator. Soon the kitchen was filled with his favorite morning aroma. Looking out the window as the coffee percolated, his eyes rested again on the magnificent structure of the Carnegie Library. He needed to pay the place a visit. All he had read for the past six months was the same old books he had brought along in his backpack.

Stepping onto the second-story balcony of the hotel with his mug of coffee, Hank settled into one of the chairs and gazed across Spring Street into the railyard. He had been working downstairs in the art gallery for a little over two weeks now and was beginning to feel settled into this town. He was also beginning to wonder if he could make art worthy of the gallery he sat in each day. If he was to submit his art, it would have to be very soon. February was drawing near its close, and the city’s annual Dogwood Festival would begin in just a few weeks. Artists from around the county would be setting up tents in the street and displaying their work for sale. Hank hoped by then that he would be able to exhibit out of the gallery. Drawing his coat more tightly around his neck, he savored the warmth of the coffee and allowed his mind to drift back to his ninth-grade artistic beginnings.

High School had been a new and daunting world for Hank. He found himself in a different building, four miles from his Turvey’s Corner home. His first class on that first day was Art I. Having won first-place art honors at his junior high awards assembly the year before, he thought he was going to step into a classroom, bearing an aura of respect and admiration. What he found instead was a room filled with juniors and seniors. At the end of his table sat varsity tackle Joe Bennett with his 240 pounds, full red beard, and letter jacket. Senior girls already looking like suburban women with eye shadow and lip gloss chatted nervously in his orbit. Hippies with T-shirts and shoulder-length hair, American flags sewed to the backs of their denim jackets, sulked in their chairs, dark and glum, their clothes reeking of stale cigarette smoke. Hank felt diminutive. Mr. Scucchi entered the room, looking dapper in his tweed sport jacket with patched elbows, his shirt open at the collar. Addressing the class, he spoke in a vocabulary Hank recognized as charged with art speak, little of which he understood. Hank felt himself shrinking with every word.

On the third week of school something happened. Apparently, Mr. Scucchi had been looking at Hank’s daily work. Now, looking over Hank’s shoulder this Wednesday morning while he sketched the still life arrangement in the center of the classroom, the teacher asked, “Didn’t you win the art award at North Jefferson last year?” Hank looked up from his work and only nodded, too intimidated to speak up, and embarrassed, sensing the entire class suddenly looking up and focusing on him with interested curiosity. The teacher, saying nothing, moved on to the next student. “And what exactly are you trying to do with this?”

The following day Hank continued, bent over his work, unaware that Mr. Scucchi had walked up silently behind him again. Reaching over him, the teacher laid a coffee-table sized book on top of Hank’s drawing. In giant letters, the title read ANDREW WYETH. “I think you should look at this.”

Opening the enormous volume gingerly as though it were a museum archive piece, Hank’s eyes widened at what he saw. Page after page revealed drybrush watercolors in sepia tones of ramshackle farmhouses, barns, and outbuildings, all of them looking like his grandparents’ farm in southeast Missouri. Hank’s artistic vision, already keen at this tender age, still lacked the vocabulary to give it definition. He already had vision but lacked articulation. School had never interested him. He had read very little and listened to his teachers even less. His parents had grown up as children of tenant farmers with little schooling in one-room schoolhouses. Thus, they read little and spoke less.  Hank could not voice what it was exactly that he saw that could be called “beautiful.” What was beautiful about decrepit buildings? Where was the artistic aura in poverty? Why was Andrew Wyeth famous for painting such drab subjects? And why could Hank not stop gazing at and admiring these paintings? The artwork rang with authenticity, triggering the deep-seated emotions Hank always felt when visiting his grandparents’ farm.

As high school unfolded in the following years, Hank continued to take art, the only subject where he could thrive, relying on his talent, his eye, but taking almost no interest in theory. During his sophomore year, he visited his grandparents’ farm repeatedly, making copious drawings in his sketchbook of his grandpa’s shack. His second and third-year art teacher, Mr. Hoeh, took an interest in the drawings and encouraged him to study the shack drawings more closely. Mr. Hoeh believed they could yield quality watercolors.

Hank’s second great awakening occurred during his senior year while competing at an art show in a St. Louis shopping center. The competition categories were for student and professional. Hank by this time had grown accustomed to winning awards in student categories, and this show would be no different. What was different was the sight of a high school senior, two spaces down from Hank, competing in the professional category. And winning.

This high school senior, known only as Brad, worked in the J. C. Penney department store in the shopping center. He was not even with his display when the Best of Show ribbon was awarded him; he had to go work inside the store. With his absence, Hank lingered a long time and looked at his work—Andrew Wyeth-inspired dry brush paintings of those same subjects—farmhouses and barns and busted-down fencing. Nearly devoid of color—sepias, umbers, ochres, and warm grays. Plenty of spattering and wet-on-wet bleeding. The peripheries of each composition were left undefined, fading into the white halo of paper. To Hank’s eyes, each watercolor was exquisite, the touch of a master. But Hank still wondered, how on earth could one describe such decrepit subject matter as “beautiful”?

As he continued to drift slowly through the professional displays, Hank found an elderly gentleman in bowtie and beret seated on a stool, bent over a watercolor in progress. His body of work was also remarkable, taking second place. All watercolors. Classic landscapes charged with vibrant color. The old man Hank found to be quite approachable, so he laid aside his shyness, and asked the big questions.

“I never saw watercolor in tubes before, only in paint pans. I thought only oils and acrylics came in tubes. What brand is that?”

“Winsor & Newton, the best in the world, as far as I’m concerned.”

“And what kind of tablet is that? It looks like a sketchbook, but the paper is sealed all the way around.”

“Again, the best paper in the world—D’Arches. This is called a watercolor block. They’re costly, but worth every penny. They keep the paper from buckling while wet.”

“But your paper is wet now. And buckled.”

“While wet, yes. But as it dries, it shrinks, and when totally dry it will be flat as a board again. There is no worse presentation than a warpy watercolor, buckled within a mat and frame.”

Back at his own display, Hank spent the rest of the day thinking over what the old man had told him, and of the remarkable watercolor work of young Brad. When the festival ended and Hank had nearly packed all his gear, he looked up to see the old watercolorist standing before him with extended hand. Eagerly, Hank shook the old friend’s hand, thanking him for patiently answering all his questions. Smiling, the man said, “Just call me Herb. I hope to see you again soon, at another festival. Until then . . .” In his other hand was a leather wallet folded over three times with a thong tied around it. He was handing it to Hank. “Open it,” he said. Frank untied the thong and unfolded the wallet. A used set of watercolor pans was tucked inside. “Winsor & Newton,” Herb smiled. “Best in the world. Practice every day. You’ll get there.” Smiling, he turned and walked away.

Breakfast finished, Hank descended the hotel stairs to the ground floor and entered The Gallery at Redlands. Looking out the window at the Union Pacific railyards across Spring Street, he recalled the early morning in Fort Worth as he stood in the fog watching the trains emerge from the gloom, roaring and expelling exhaust that mingled with the fog. It brought to mind his sojourn in Utah a month ago when he stood gazing at the herd of bison on the ranch. The bison also moved in and out of a mist from the mountains, a mist that mingled with the dust they kicked up from the dirt, and the exhalation of hot breath into the cold atmosphere. Bison and mist.  Diesels and mist. New images were beginning to form in his mind.

Walking to his desk, Hank sat and quickly sketched on his watercolor pad a gathering of bison as he recalled the way they looked on that particular day.

Leaning back from his work, Hank liked what he saw. Now it was time to turn his attention back to what he saw early one morning in Fort Worth as he contemplated journeying to Palestine.

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More later. Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Weaving Disparate Strands

February 20, 2021

You know, there is a philosopher who says, As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos and random events, nonrelated events smashing into each other and causing this situation, and then this happens, and it’s overwhelming, and it just looks like: What in the world is going on? And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely-crafted novel. . . But at the time, it don’t!

Joe Walsh, History of the Eagles

I awoke this sunny, snow-covered wintry morning, my mind jarred by a collision of stories, images and ideas for writing, painting, journaling, blogging, and while I made coffee, I wondered what in the devil I was going to do once I sat down at my desk in Studio Eidolons. The words of Joe Walsh of The Eagles came back to me, so I recorded them, then made the decision to weave the disparate threads of memory that woke me a little while ago.

Life imitates art. Art imitates life. For decades I have chipped away at a project combining my personal memoir with a fiction narrative titled Turvey’s Corner 63050. Pieces of this narrative have been dropped into my blog for over a year now. Today, as I work on piecing together a pair of stories from the Hank cycle, merging bison with diesel locomotives, I am sharing portions of my personal journal along with the newly-crafted stories. Hank is my alter-ego, inspired by friend Wayne White from second grade who will join me along with The Twelve artists re-opening The Gallery at Redlands next month. Wayne is currently a photographer residing in Missouri not far from where we grew up. Most of the stories of Hank are my own, co-mingled with made-up episodes. In this blog, I’ll share the fact along with the fiction.

Last September, Sandi and I traveled to Kanab, Utah to visit Zion National Park. On September 12, returning to our hotel from Zion, we encountered a herd of bison on a ranch near a stock tank. We had seen the herd that morning, but twenty-or-so tourists lined the perimeter fence and we decided not to stop. On the return, no one was at the fence, so we pulled over and I strolled down to the fence line and stayed about twenty minutes, observing the movements of the herd and taking numerous photos with my phone. I did not write about the enounter till September 17, back home in Arlington, Texas. The encounter had composted in my memory for nearly a week.

From my journal, September 17, 9:54 p.m.

So what happened with the bison? I was moved by the idyllic setting. The dust cloud raised. The density of the herd. The cow & calf stepping toward me, then moving into the tank to drink. The amber evening sunset on their coats, highlighting them in golds & oranges, while purple ruled the shadows. I felt a connection, a closeness . . .

The next day, I sat down in Studio Eidolons to attempt my first watercolor sketch of a single bison, using photos from my phone as a reference:

Two days later I decided to attempt a second sketch, this time of the herd, again looking at photos on my phone. I had just laid down Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, which I had been reading since our return home a few days before. I chose to write of myself in the third person.

From my journal September 19, 2020, 1:57 p.m., Motherwell station:

The mad scientist Heideggerian is probing the mists of Being as he bends over the drafting table, spritzes the watercolor sketchbook with a mist of water, then drops in a mixture of Daniel Smith Shadow Violet with Winsor & Newton Cerulean Blue. Then a ribbon of Cerulean below to establish a horizon. Spaced below the horizon, a horizontal line of pale Green-Gold. Below that a hoirzontal line of Transparent Yello & Winsor Violet.

Then, he touched Shadow Violet D.S. in the mists above to begin the shadowy forms of bison emerging from the mist . . .

Returning now @ 2:24 p.m.

Time to draw out the forms, looking at my mist configurations.

Now, I’m sketching out a Hank narrative to illustrate this moment in my life.

Hank gazed across the ranchland at the distant bison herd gathered beside a stock tank, its derelict windmill towering above. He felt a shudder as he watched the sun rippling across the backs of the behemoths. Slowly they grazed among the tall grasses, some of them ambling down into the waters to drink. Adjusting his easel and quickly sketching the profile of the nearest one, he splashed water across the broad body. Then quickly dipping his brush into the Winsor Violet and Transparent Yellow, he touched with the tip of his brush the newly mixed mixture of warm brown, and as the pigment quickly billowed into the water on the paper, Hank tilted the easel just a bit to encourage more movement and watched the color quickly fill the contours of the beast.

As the bison slowly emerged on the wet surface of the paper, Hank recalled the words of Abstract Expressionist painter Robert Motherwell in a recent interview. The artist had driven his car across France toward Spain, arriving at Alta Mira around sundown just as the guard was closing the gate to the cave with the famous prehistoric paintings inside. Motherwell offered the guard a fistful of paper currency, and with a nod, the employee swung the gate back open and let him inside the cave. Finding the ceiling to be low, Motherwell had to lie on his back on an upraised plateau to gaze up at the wounded bison, lit by a single electric bulb. Finding the viewing unsatisfactory, the artist was suddenly handed a lighted candle by the guard who then turned out the electric light. In the flicker of the candle, Motherwell suddenly noticed the impression of the bison moving, shuddering, and he was filled with an emotion never created by the viewing of the photographs in art history books.

Recalling this, Hank looked up at the herd of bison and down at his sketch with renewed fascination. The single watercolor sketch would do for the time being. But one day he would focus on a composition of a bison herd emerging from a dim, misty landscape.

My next watercolor will be a repeat of the Fort Worth Tower 55 I painted a few days ago, but this time with considerably more atmospheric traces of fog and diesel exhaust. As Hank looks at the scene in the early dawn, he will recall the sight of the bison and draw parallels between the diesels and bison stirring up the atmosphere.

In closing, I’m posting a pair of watercolors I attempted of the bison. Neither have yet been framed or put on public display.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

In the Morning Stillness . . .

April 27, 2020
Bust of Democritus

I find it to be the height of wisdom not to endeavor to oversee myself and live a life of prudence and common sense, but to see over and above myself, entertain sublime conjectures, to make myself the thoroughfare of thrilling thoughts, live all that can be lived. The man who is dissatisfied with himself, what can he not do?

Henry David Thoreau, Journal November 23, 1850

Waking before 5:00 this morning turned out not to be a bad thing, after all. When I realized lying in bed that I was not able to return to sleep because the thought processes were moving quickly, I grinned, remembering Carlo Marx in Kerouac’s On the Road: “You can’t stop the machine!” So I rose from my bed, entered my studio of dreams, and after writing out a few random thoughts in my journal, opened to Thoreau’s Journal and found those words posted above.

I have always enjoyed Thoreau’s love of wordplay in his writings. Here, he expresses that he doesn’t want to “oversee” his life, but rather to “see over and above” it and eventually render it “the thoroughfare of thrilling thoughts.” I have decided to read for a second time the very engaging biography written by Robert D. Richardson Jr., Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind. This was one of the texts assigned to me in 1992 when I attended the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar at Oregon State University. I can’t believe that twenty-eight years have passed since lingering over those pages.

My lifestyle has changed profoundly since returning to my home nearly a week ago. My first love in life has been quality time in the studio reading, journaling, making art and cultivating the life of the mind. I frequently did that all day long if no appointments beckoned, and during my two months in west Texas due to the coronavirus precautions, I lived mostly that lifestyle.

Returning to this neglected house that I spent very little time in since 2017, I decided it was time to clean it up (never my strong suit). So . . . for the past six days I have devoted only the morning hours for this meditative life (I am going to devote an entire blog post to that idea later) and then I turn my attention to this dwelling place the rest of the day before retiring to a restful and relaxing evening. What a difference that has made.

Every morning I have tried to balance my attention between reading, writing, journaling, creating at least one small drawing, and then watercoloring. This morning I made another attempt at a brand for my new character Hank. This may turn out to be my next watercolor, I haven’t decided yet.

As I have repeatedly told my friends, I do not draw nearly enough; I just dive stratight into the next watercolor, not even attempting thumbnail sketches or compositional decisions. I am trying to change that. So, for the past six days I have made at least one small drawing during the morning. Here are a few more:

Several months ago, while visiting our favorite barbecue place in Dickens, Texas, I began a watercolor of the sprawling vacant land separating the barbecue joint from the businesses further down the highway.

Because Thoreau in his Journal kept rhapsodizing about the colors of the weeds, I found this watercolor abandoned some time ago and decided to go back to work on the ground cover. Within minutes, I was lost in the heart of this 18 x 24″ picture plane. As I worked, my mind continued to surge, and now I’m going to post what I recorded in my journal as I stopped continually to write out what I was thinking while painting:

I have moved to the window of Eudaimonia Studios. Dawn has broken, a rosy-fingered dawn. A Homeric dawn. Like the women of The Odyssey who weave exquisite patterns daily I am now weaving the dry grasses of Thoreau’s land of wonder.

*Dark Sepia Albrecht Durer watercolor pencil

*Blackwing Matte favored by Steinbeck as he wrote his drafts

*Papermate Mirado Classic from the H-E-B grocery

*Studio Series 4H

*Size 8 Silver Black Velvet Script brush

This is my choir of blended voices singing their Ode to Autumn. I have moved to the window to look out at the neighborhood waking up in the early light. Taking out a selection of pencils, I settled on the Dark Sepia Albrecht Durer watercolor pencil made by Faber Castell. And I began doodling in the massive patches of weeds. Drawing, shading, rendering callibraphic lines, smudging, very subtly weaving in and out among the strands of weeds. Getting lost in tiny focused areas. Thinking of my ninth-grade art teacher Mr. Scucchi. Hearing his voice again as he drones on and on with theory that I understood little of in those days, but somehow remembered his words and now understand and explore their dimensions. Lines, shapes, relationships, paint quality, positive and negative space, tonality. I am exploring these elements of design now that I understand.

Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Andrew Wyeth. Mr. Scucchi continued to urge: “Look at the grasses in Christina’s World. Look at the Jackson Pollock drips and swirls. See all that calligraphy? Look at the Willem de Kooning slashes. See that freedom? Cut loose! Don’t be afraid. Explore. Be an artist without apology.”

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Hank’s Quest to Recover Something Lost

April 21, 2020
My trilogy of recent Hank paintings and stack of journals

As stated before, I am on hiatus as I prepare to go on the road again. My Jeep is loaded and ready, and now I’ve given myself some leisure to read through a stack of my old journals from the past year, and relax awhile on a cool 59-degree afternoon. While reading, the imagination began flowing with a new episode from Hank’s travels. I’ve decided to share that with a painting below:

Ancestral Spirit Withdrawing

Resting on a ledge of the Caprock, Hank gazed longingly across Blanco Canyon, awestruck at the marvel of a landscape 3,000 feet above sea level where he could view for literally hundreds of miles across the Southern Plains. In that quiet expansive space he felt an ineffable Presence. Turning to Emerson’s Nature, he found the passage he had read the night before.

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.

Looking up from his book, Hank felt affirmed by that lingering Presence. Pulling out his volume of Walden, he searched for that passage that had left him puzzled over the past year.

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who have heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

Hank wondered what it was about this passage that tugged at him so. Readers no doubt have wondered what it was exactly that Thoreau had lost and was now pursuing as he authored this book. But what was it that Hank lost and now pursued?

Gazing across the canyon expanse, Hank came to realize what it was he had lost–the freedom to explore. As a four-year-old child, his mother let him go outside daily to explore the world enveloping him, unfettered. They lived on a country road with no neighbors in sight in any direction.

Hank obeyed Mother’s orders not to cross the road or even enter it. This gave him the western, northern and eastern points of the compass. Nothing was visible to the small boy but miles and miles of rolling fields. The small dark dots of cows could be seen in a neighboring pasture several hundred yards away. Beyond that, only distant hills shimmering blue in the summer haze. All Hank wanted to do was walk the land as far as he could, and he did, but never more than fifty or so yards in any direction; he always wanted to look back and see home. Getting lost was a primal fear at that tender age.

When the young boy turned six, two institutions took over his life–church and school. Wandering ceased, except in his mind. Confined to Sunday School and public school rooms, Hank was never “with the program.” All he wanted to do in his seat was daydream of travel, and his imagination conjured up the visual memories of those distant shimmering hills he saw when he was four.

Once high school was finished, junior college and a job took over the guardianship of his daily schedule. Until now. Seated on the Caprock, Hank now was free to track the whereabouts of the hound, the bay horse and the turtle-dove.

For the past hour musing, the Presence never left Hank. Turning around suddenly to look at the canyon ledge in the distance behind him, Hank glimpsed a rider on a horse disappearing over the horizon. Shuddering, he wondered if a stranger had been standing there observing him all this while, or if he had encountered an ancestral spirit of a Plains Indian from last century before it withdrew. What tribe of Indians roamed these Southern Plains long ago? Did they feel the same sense of wonder and belonging that he did while gazing across the landscape? Hank determined that once he got back to Lubbock, he would find the public library and search out these matters.

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Thanks for reading, and please check out my website at www.davidtrippart.com

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Hank Gets a Boost

April 19, 2020
Chilly Sunday Morning with Two Slumbering Dogs

Waking to a chilly Sunday morning with the warmth of two dogs nuzzled against me, I reached for my phone and found a message from a friend that brought to a peak a heartwarming series of events beginning last evening.

After painting most of the day, I packed away Hank and my art supplies for the night and tuned in to NBC to watch the Global Citizen presentation. Throughout the entire performance, I was moved to the point of tears. Professional musicians played without the immediate gratification of a packed audience cheering before them. Medical personnel and social workers tearfully shared their experiences with people they did not even know personally as they fought against the dreaded effects of this virus. Three emcees in separate living rooms spoke only to cameras in front of them, putting out an affirming and entertaining script and conducting sensitive interviews with people around the globe united in an effort to do something wholesome for a population under siege–(all this in sharp contrast to the negative public verbal posturing that has been filling out the daily dose of coronavirus coverage–the worst possible behaviors demonstrated intentionally in front of news cameras). What fresh, cleansing water this night performance offered to us as an alternative to the daily news sewage. What a healing balm. What a display of unity. I felt drawn in and embraced by humanity. Kudos to Lady Gaga, if this was indeed your vision, and to all you others who worked so hard to make this a reality.

As I watched, I frequently reached for my journal and scrawled out observations and responses. And in the midst of the activity it suddenly dawned on me that Hank was conceived during this coronavirus, during a time of staying put in my residence. And as I daily added stories and paintings to the saga of Hank, a number of readers began to join in the chorus, giving further definition to Hank. It was then that I realized that Hank was more than just a fictional character born in the midst of the virus; he became a source of introspection as a number of people began sharing their own personal perspectives about finding one’s way in this world.

The message this morning on my phone came from Dave Shultz, my friend from Palestine, a professional photographer and like myself, somewhat of a wanderer. He has made a home in Palestine, but still owns a home in New Mexico, and the coronavirus found him trapped in New Mexico, just as it confined me to Lubbock, away from my own home. So, here is my mesage from Dave that has helped crystalize what I’ve been feeling since last night’s presentation:

I woke up at 3:30 this morning thinking about Hank. You built a character that has become very real to me. My mind just wouldn’t settle down and I finally had to get up and do some writing. I apologize for hijacking your character but I still want to share my thoughts.

Dave

I don’t see this as a “hijacking”. Rather, I am delighted every time someone else finds a piece of himself or herself in Hank. I believe there is some of all of us in Hank. And thus, this fictional character has in a sense become real. And now, with no editing, I share Dave Shultz’s contribution to the Hank series:

Hank was often asked by people he met on his journey if he was lonely. He would answer with a slow smile and tell them there was a big difference between being alone and being lonely. Some people got it and others were confused but that was always his answer. He thought about it a lot and realized some thime ago that he was never lonely when he was alone. In fact, the loneliest he had ever been was when he was with someone and wished he was alone.

Being alone was a good time to think. There were distractions but they were short lived and his thoughts returned easily to whatever he was pondering on. Today he was pondering on habits and rituals. He came to the conclusion that he did things and performed tasks out of habit but the way he did them was a ritual.

Setting up camp was a habit. The ritual came in how he did it. He always gathered wood in the last of the light and started his fire. Building the fire was a ritual. He used dried grass and bits of bark first. It would always light with a single match. Then he would add small twigs and slightly larger sticks. As soon as those were well caught, he added larger sticks. That was the fire he cooked his evening meal on and just before he crawled into his bed roll, he would build a pyramid of larger logs over the fire. They would be slow to catch and burn slow during the night. In the morning, the unburned ends of the logs radiated from the coals like the spokes on a wagon wheel and he could simply push them into the glowing embers to get a morning fire started.

Preparing his bed was another ritual. He would clear an area of sticks and rocks first. Even the smallest pebble would feel like a boulder at two in the morning. Once the ground was smooth, he would hollow out an area for his hips. He frequently slept on his side and if he didn’t prepare an area for his hips, he would wake up stiff and bruised. Not the best way to start a day. By the time he had his bed roll smoothed out the fire was just right for cooking and that was always his next task.

While he was cooking and eating his supper, he enjoyed staring into the fire but after clean up, he always sat with his back to the fire and allowed his night vision to return. The dark night sky would start to twinkle with tiny dots in a few places and with patience, all the stars would reveal themselves and he would start picking out the constellations his father had taught him as they lay togethr on the backyard grass just before bedtime.

They were old friends and you can’t be lonely with so many old friends to share your evening. He would seek out and visit Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor and note their position in the sky. Then he would find the three constellations whose brigthest stars (Altair, Deneb and Vega) from the Summer Triangle – Aquila, Cygnus and Lyra. Sleep always came easier when he had a clear view of the summer sky.

Hank would take off his boots and place them close to hand before he slipped into the bedroll and as he lay smiling at the stars, he felt a peace he never felt in a city. He knew if he were staring at a ceiling instead of a sky full of old friends he would be longing to be exactly where he was now. He would sleep well and dream of trails unmarked by any boot prints other than those behind him.

Thanks, Dave Shultz, for extending Hank’s story, and thank you readers for always following.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Westward Wanderings with Hank

April 11, 2020

Good morning. I’m thrilled to announce I have broken new ground with a watercolor of Hank enjoying coffee by the fire (written in the previous blog). The painting is underway, but there isn’t enough to show viewers just yet. However, my mind keeps wandering while painting, and so another Hank story has taken shape. I’m going to share it now–the events preceding Hank’s coffee by the fire. When we read a novel, we enjoy the linear progression of events. However, in many cases, the author did not write it that way. More often than not, many scenes were written out, and the progression was arranged before the final draft and publication. These words from N. Scott Momaday say it much better than I ever could:

I perceive the writings herein as the pieces of a whole, each one the element of an intricate but unified design. They are the facets of a verbal prism, if you will, patterns like the constellations.

N. Scott Momaday, Man Made of Words

And so it is with Hank. He only showed up in my writings weeks ago, though some of his stories were written years ago. Now I am piecing together and editing these into a narrative, all the while skipping back and forth from future to past to present. One day I hope to have a book of these stories and illustrations organized to share. Meanwhile, I’m glad to release the fragments as they emerge.

The draft of the following story immediately precedes the events I shared in Hank’s life yesterday, and the painting posted above is a plein air watercolor I did a couple of years ago in Caprock Canyon.

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Hank thanked the driver who picked him up on Insterstate 20 as he got out of the sedan in Sweetwater, Texas. Hank didn’t feel too self-conscious about his appearance, knowing he had showered and put on clean clothes just this morning before saying Good-bye to Uncle Leo in Dallas. Catching the eye of a local old-timer on the sidewalk, Hank said he just hit town and was looking for a decent place to eat.

The old gentleman said “Ya can’t beat Mrs. Lizzie Allen at the freight depot over there” he said, gesturing toward the next intersection, a freight depot at Broadway and Oak. Hank thanked the gentleman and in a few moments found himself seated at a small cafe table. Mrs. Allen not only served up the best fried chicken, fresh okra, corn on the cob, with mashed potatoes and gravy; she also sat down after pouring him fresh coffee and opened up the conversation:

Where are you off to, good lookin’? Hank realized his large backpack identified himself as transient.

“Don’t really know for sure. Left St. Louis three weeks ago and decided to see what was out west.”

“Well, if you want civilization as well as wide open spaces, I’d recommend Lubbock. Just go a little further west on 20 then veer north on 84. Pretty countryside if you like mesas and canyons.”

“Well, I think I know where I’m going now. I love your coffee. Would you happen to know how to make this over a campfire? I tried it a few weeks ago and didn’t much like what I swallowed.”

His stomach filled, a ham sandwich wrapped in wax paper from Mrs. Allen tucked neatly inside his pack, and instructions on how to make cowboy coffee, Hank was ready now to head up Highway 84.

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More later. Thanks for reading, and please check out my website at http://www.davidtrippart.com

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog knowing I am not alone.

Caprock Enchantment

April 10, 2020

Good morning, friends. West Texas temperatures are dropping, and it appears that we will experience some winter weather over Easter. This morning I finished a first draft of my continuing Hank saga and wanted to post it before starting my next painting to illustrate it. I anticipate some changes to the story while painting, but decided to let you in on a sneak preview. Thanks always for reading.

Hank felt rested tonight. After packing his gear to depart Dallas this morning, he made a last-minute decision to invest some of his money in a bus ticket. Hopping a Greyhound at the downtown terminal, he rolled westward for hours, dozing in his seat most of the way. Getting out in Abilene, he then thumbed a pair of rides further west on Interstate 20, getting out where state highway 84 branched northward into the caprock escarpment. Once the territory began taking on the look of western movies, Hank decided to get out where there were no towns, trek off the highway several miles, following an arroyo back between a pair of plateaus. Dropping his backpack, taking off his hat and gazing across the afternoon terrain, Hank welcomed the caress of the cooling west winds in his face. He was glad he decided to leave his suitcase with Uncle Leo. The backpack carried all he needed for travel, and Dallas, for the meantime, could be his homing site. Leo seemed lonely, and Hank felt a need to check in with him from time to time.

October was cool in west Texas, but not yet cold. Hank decided this narrow place nested between two cliffs would make a nice bedroom for the night. Time to make a fire. Gathering clumps of dried grasses, he fashioned a small bowl and lined the bottom with cotton balls soaked in Vaseline that he kept stored in 35mm film cannisters in one of his backpack pouches. Then we walked about, gathering small sticks and dried branches and a larger chunk of wood that may have once been a fence post. Hank was glad he had packed a hatchet left behind by old Philosopher Bob back home. He made quick work, chopping the fence post down to several chunks.

While Hank was wandering and gathering, his mind continued to recall snatches of conversation from yesterday’s time with Reverend Elton. Conversion. Hank was startled that the minister regarded him as thoughtful, perhaps philosophical. As a parting gift of goodwill, Elton handed Hank a small volume of Emerson’s essays and encouraged him to read them thoughtfully while on the road. Before falling asleep on the bus, Hank read the following from Emerson’s Nature:

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.

The fact is this: Hank has always been alone. But reading the Emerson passage made him realize for the first time that solitude was not a scourge when he was on the road or under the stars; it was a scourge in Turvey’s Corner, where he felt that he had never fit, not at school, not at the gas station, not at church, not even at gatherings among friends. Hank was solitary, and now it was alright.

Laying his gatherings down in a pile beside the nest, Hank opened one of the pouches of his backpack and drew out a magnesium rod. Bending over the nest and striking the rod with his Bowie knife, he watched sparks shower into the nest until the cotton balls combusted. Blowing on the small flame while sheltering it with his hat from the west Texas evening winds, he kept feeding dried grasses, then the small twigs, and then carefully stacked the chunks of fence post.

The minister’s voice again was in Hank’s ears: “Hank, I really believe that you are about to embark on a life-changing odyssey. I don’t know if you’ve read or taken an interest in Homer’s Odyssey. It might mean more to you when you’re thirty than twenty-one. At any rate, Odysseus, after being away from home ten years because of that bloody war, spent the next ten years of his life on an odyssey, a journey if you please, trying to find his way back home, to Ithaca. High school students don’t generally find the work very relevant, but the older we get, the more we realize that our life is a journey seeking our genuine home, the center of the self. It is a journey of self-discovery. I believe all humans have that restlessness in their souls, but few act on it. It seems to me that you are now acting on it; you are setting out on a journey away from your temporal home into a land of dizzying freedom, with no one to talk to but yourself, and whatever great minds from the past you care to visit through their writings. Away from the clatter of meaningless gossip you hear among your daily peers, you now can enter the great Silence of the West, gaze into the stars at night, and with no appointments or deadlines, determine just exactly who you are and what you want from life. My advice to you is, don’t come back till you reach Ithaca.”

Once the fire was well underway, Hank pulled out his canteen and coffee pot, poured in the water along with the ground coffee, placed the pot on a flat stone in the fire and waited for the mixture to come to a rolling boil. He also fished out a can of Beanie Weenies picked up at a small grocery in Abilene, poured the contents into a camping pan, and set it in the ashes to warm. After ten minutes, he then poured a little canteen water down the spout and around the inner edges of the coffeepot to settle the grounds to the bottom.

Under the chandelier of stars in the west Texas sky, Hank tasted the best coffee he had ever brewed, and sat back in the darkness, listening to coyotes yipping in the distance. Though several miles from highway 84, he could still barely hear the noise of an occasional truck droning along. Solitude. Supper was finally ready.

In the embrace of the caprock night, Hank continued pondering the ideas brought forward by Pastor Elton.

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I’m feeling a genuine renewal, working daily on this Hank story and finding new ideas to paint. Today I plan to begin the 8 x 10″ watercolor illustrating the draft of the story posted today. I hope you are enjoying the story, and look forward to sharing the painting as it takes shape.

When you get the chance, please check out my website at http://www.davidtrippart.com

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.