Dec 9th 2021

The day has finally arrived to sit down with Charles and deliver the bulk of the items I am hoping tell the story of my father’s life.

The bag has been packed for a couple of weeks and now I bring it up into the kitchen to make sure that it is ready to go on the trip to the studio.

I catch myself today wondering what my dad would think about me doing this. I can only guess.
I think he would be honored to know that we see him as a hero, when his country didn’t and abandoned him
I think he would be humbled that I would even think of something like this was worth doing
I think he would be uncomfortable with being the center of attention about something like this
I think he would be curious as to why I want to spend money on doing this. He would say something like, “why would you want to waste your money on having a painting of me on your wall?”
I think he would be mad. He did not like to talk to strangers about his service and he really preferred to be left alone. This will be something that is a statement and he didn’t live his life in that way.
I think like all things with humans, the answer would be complex and layered. I wish he was here to ask.

The drive down the little driveway to Charles Kapsner’s studio is the final moment I take a deep breath in anticipation of the rich and deep conversation we are going to have about this piece of art he is going to create for my family. This meeting is very important to the process for both of us.

I enter the studio with all of my items in this blue garment bag draped over my arm and I am greeted by the smells you can only find in a painter’s studio. turpentine, lead, wine and something just a little old and tingly to your nose. Charles comes to meet me at the steps and I walk into his space. The wall straight ahead is top to bottom art. Most of it his and it really is amazing to see. The easels are fuller than when I was here in July and I think he has added a new chair to the sitting area. It is dusk and the place is lit by lamps and it has a calming effect on me as I take in a couple of deep breaths. It is time to start the building of the pieces of this story.

He guides me over to the sitting area and I lay my bag of treasures on the floor and unzip it and realize I need to take the items out of the pockets first. I flip the bag around and take out the mug from the U of M and the jade Budda and rosary, I remove the envelope with the photos of wild rice. Each item Charles receives from my hands, he holds it, asks questions and then places it on a small table under the antique lamp. The wild rice poses a challenge, as we don’t have any live plants and they are not easy to come by in the winter or to keep alive while he paints this. He has been thinking about this and wants to do something with a bowl of wild rice. I think that is a great idea. I still leave the photos, just in case he needs them. I flip the bag back over and start to share with him the metals my father had in a frame, the can of chew, the tin of Velvet tobacco and the old faded yellow hat and work gloves. The items that still remain that represent my father and the man that he was to me and my family. We have to pause to let me cry, as it is sad that I am talking about my dad in the past tense so much. With the holidays around the corner, the space that he occupied in my life has been growing to feel more empty and a little larger than before. It is just an empty hole at this time. The tears help to acknowledge that space and his presence in my life.
Once the tears are wiped away we finish with the last item, his military dress jacket. Charles notices right away that he is missing a pin on the shoulder of the uniform. He said he will help to get that replaced, so it is complete for the painting.
I place most of the items back into the bag and then we need to talk size. I don’t want it too big, because this isn’t something I want to take up the whole wall. I also don’t want it so small that we can only put three items in the vignette. So Charles and I agree that a 20″ by 30″ will tell the story very nicely. He just so happens to have a painting of that size in his studio. It is the painting of his father and nephew with the sun setting behind them. It was a lovely example and made us all smile to look at it. We talked about frames a little and of getting digital copies for my brothers and a few friends of my dad. Another sad wave comes over the moment as I recall that I can not give one to my uncle, his brother, as he just passed away in October.
I ask about payment, when he plans to start and what the process will be. Charles in his simple and matter of fact way, lays out the timeline. Between a year to two years, depending on supplies and time in his schedule. I share with him that I am in no rush and that I will enjoy the journey and the process of creating something in honor of him, kind of filling in the gap that remains from his passing.

We wrap up the visit with a tour of what is on the easels right now and what he is working on. He tells the stories of the military women he is bringing to life in a painting about their rise in the military in the Minnesota National Guard and the journey they have traveled to get where they are. He tells a thick book of story on just one piece of wood. I always make sure to ask him to tell me more about his paintings. There is never a shadow not in a place for a reason. It is all a part of the story and I can’t wait to see him bring my father’s story to life on just one sheet of wood.

Dec 20th 2021 – from Charles

I am truly touched by what you have written!!!!!!!!! The documentation on this project will be wonderful and I look forward getting things set up. I have pretty much gotten the rest of the boxes out of the building so I have the area I want to set up the still life; where it will have it’s undisturbed place of honor while it is being painted.
I went to Brainerd Hardwood this AM to get the 24×30 Cherry wood panel that it will be painted on. Wet Paint wasn’t making another panel order until the end of January. Anyway JP at Hardwood and I had discussed them making my panels from here on in; and they are only 25 miles away. The other ones were coming from Brooklyn.
You and Tom have a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS! I didn’t know his middle name was Charles. He and I were the only two born in 1952; and our mother’s both chose our Father’s name as our middle names. Pretty Cool!