Hats Off

Recently my great-uncle by my maternal grandmother shuffled off the mortal coil. I didn’t see him much, only at family picnics in my youth and not for some time since. The youngest of the children, he was very special to my grandma.

He was an accomplished artist even though, to my knowledge, he was never formally trained. As I heard it he picked up a paint brush, began painting, and the rest is history. Unlike many artists, he generated an income from his art: I have seen original paintings command five figures. Whilst vacationing in Hawaii, my mother ran across some of his work for sale and had to convince them that she really was his niece.

He also possessed a great sense of humor. One year his Christmas card was a black-and-white drawing of Santa sitting on a log and barbecuing his dinner over a campfire. It took me a second or two to notice a subtle detail by the edge of the log: a red nose.

To fulfill a mandatory requirement in college, I took an introduction to art class. The teacher was a cliché, e.g., her biggest piece of art was a papier mâché book that looked like hands and contained her journal about her inches-long fingernails. In the first day of class she asked if any of us had relatives who were artists. I proudly raised my hand. “My uncle is a painter.” “What does he paint?” “Clowns.” “Oh, he’s just an illustrator.” He was more of an artist than her, even without the fact that people pay good money out of their own pocket for his work.

Requiescat in pace, Bob.

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