Picking the Items

Nov 20th 2021

Early, during the quietest time at our house in the morning, I went to the stack of my father’s most valuable belongings and I I started to sort out the items that would be part of his memorial painting.

I was asking myself questions like, who was he, what are the objects that demonstrate who he was as a human, an american, a decorated war veteran, father, loyal employee, family member and friend.

The easy items were the military uniforms, his medals.  That was easy, it was the items after that.

I picked a can of Velvet pipe tobacco.  He smoked a pipe for years before he turned to chewing tobacco and that was his brand of pipe tobacco. 

I included a can of chew

I added a pair of leather work gloves – to represent his year of labor in the fields

I picked the winter hat that he wear to blow snow for fifty years, yellow with a little pom pom on the top.

I went to my safety deposit box to retrieve the jade Buddha that he wear and had in Vietnam and next to it in the package he gave me was the note from his mom and the rosery he had with him.  I included those

I added in the U of M mug to have something in honor of the place that he worked for over forty years and loved 

There was a colorful belt that I added that is Native American

His service hat was packed into the garment bag of items I was bringing to the artist when we met in a few weeks to talk about these items

I added in the set of wild rice photos that we found in all of his stuff.  Large twenty by fourteen photos of the plant that he studied and grew for his entire career.

As I was hunting down items from the pile and the few items I personally owned I really kept asking myself, how do you sum a person up in just a few items.  It reminded me of trying to put together his obituary.  In just a few words how to summarize a life well lived.  This is the same, how in just a few momentos and things can I summarize my father.  He was complicated in life and I want to make sure that in the painting it shared some of that complexity too.

Trusting Charles to create a visual depiction of my fathers life.  A person the rest of the world would have viewed as ordinary and a little ornery is part of the challenge.

This is the second time I have gone through my father’s things with this intention.  Days after my father’s passing I reached out to Charles and asked if he would be interested in doing something like this with me?  He thought about it and got back to me with a yes.  So from the first weeks of my father’s passing I have been thinking about the creation of this story as told through art.  As we cleaned out his home of forty years, I would find pieces that I knew belonged in the painting or at least should be considered. 

About two months after my dad passed away in the ICU unit of St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth of throat cancer, I bought three garment bags of stuff to Charles studio and we unpacked parts of them, and I left them for a couple of weeks for him to look at and ponder over.  Then I received them before the funeral (Covid-19 changed everything and his funeral needed to be postponed until enough people were vaccinated to attend.  It was over two months later.)

Charles had a short list of what should come back to be considered for the painting.

Each time I go through the items, each time I touch them, it is part of my healing.  I get to tell his story as I know it.  I get to share my grief, my frustration, my sadness and my joy. I get to celebrate the man that he was in my life and also reflect and who he was for others.

I keep going back to what started this whole project in my mind.  It was the paintings Charles has done of the service men and women at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls in the committal hall and the couple of paintings after those with the american flag as the drapery.  I remember the first time I saw the way he painted a flag and captured the depth and breath of the flag in a way that only a person who loves that flag can do.  My father loved and stood for that flag.  He made sure there was one flying high each day at his place of employment.  He made sure it wasn’t tattered or torn.  I knew even before the day my father took his last breath on this earth that I wanted to create an image that could be past on for generations that told the story of my father and his love for us and this country.

This will is going to be my journey through the grief of all that has been lost, the history and the dreams of what could have been.