Saturday, February 28, 2009

First & Last Roosters:

I think about my dad a lot. That's something I never thought about before he died - he was such a stable presence that I'd never envisioned a world without him. As it is, he remains in my memory. His ways and stories pop up at appropriate moments, just as they did when his keen sense of timing presented them. It would not be accurate to say that he is gone. Maybe, as they say of foxes who elude the chase by entering their den, it would be appropriate to say that he's "gone to earth."

I spent a lot of time with him during the last months of his life, pretty much all of every day, and almost every night. He got up a lot in the night, disoriented, every half hour or so, so I slept on the floor by his bed to make sure he didn't fall or hurt himself wandering through the house. A couple of times when he was sleeping I drew him. I'd drawn him at times over the years, and we were close, so I knew he wouldn't mind. Here are two of those - the first one was at a point, not too long before he died, when he looked younger for some reason. The second one was maybe a week before he died. It's kind of a terrible sight, in some ways, but part of what he'd always taught me was to look at things the way they actually are, and accept reality as it is.

He was an artist himself. In my Aunt Gertrude's scrapbook she describes her younger brother as "the drawer". His first passion was farming though, so all of the existent drawings I've seen are of farm animals. This drawing of various kinds of poultry was done when he was a child.

And here's a photograph of him feeding chickens when he was a little boy. I've always loved this image & I made a drawing of it - but today is too rushed to look through all the sketchbooks and find it.

Maybe a month before his death I had an idea that he might enjoy painting. I stretched a small canvas for him and put out a selection of paints. This rooster is what he did. As you can see, the drawing was done with very accurate and minimal lines - he knew exactly how roosters should look, because he raised them and observed them every day. What surprised me is that he chose not to imitate a real roosters color, and instead chose the primary colors; red, yellow, and blue. Someone familiar with my work would think I had a hand in that, as a "Primary Rooster" would be a very predictable member of two sets of subjects I've treated many times; roosters and primary colored things. But in this case, like in so many other aspects of my life, my dad did it for me.

The word "aspect" reminds me of a story he used to tell. It seemed a backward farm boy went to court a girl in a fine family who considered themselves quite sophisticated. As they were sitting on the porch, a chicken with most of its feathers pulled out by the alpha hens, ran across the yard in front of them. "My! said the young lady, "What a terrible aspect!" Soon after another de-feathered chicken ran across the other way and the boy, hoping to demonstrate that he was paying attention, offered; "There goes another one with its ass pecked."

Tee hee, tee hee. - as my dad would say.

(Conte sketch for a rooster lino-cut, done in 1999, the year my dad died.)


Mary Beth said...

My heart wants to display these with the the drawing that Cebah entitled "sick rooster."

Love, loss, horrible tenderly you handle these subjects! As always, I am in awe.

Cathy said...

Yes, Mary Beth, the great tenderness is the first thing that struck me about the sketches of Dan's dad.

You took his counsel well, Danny dear! Reality observed closely, and with love.

Dan Dutton said...

Mary Beth your heart has its way on our kitchen wall right now ~ primary rooster, sick rooster, & the page of poultry are in a row above the table.

Thank you to both ~ my dad was the gentlest gentleman I've ever known. I aspire to his way, knowing I'll fall short, having my mom's fiery temper & bossiness. But then he loved, or at least endured that bemused with good grace.

Mary Beth said...

My heart thanks you Dan!

In offering the knowledge that far away in a magical spot in Kentucky love, tenderness, and artistic spirit triumph over time and death, you’ve given me the courage to persevere in difficult times.


Dan Dutton said...

I'm very glad of that! It's nice to know that dandyland inspires beyond its material border.

We have a saying about snapping turtles that if they latch onto you they won't let go until it thunders. I like to think of myself that way, when perseverance is needed. Keep on the sunny side, Mary Beth!

SBD said...

You honor our father with dignity, grace and humor. The essence of the man. He was the kindest and most gentle of men. I married one might near that graceful~they had a special kindred spirit.

Apifera Farm said...

I understand the need/calling/? to draw and examine him in his final dying. It's like an experience so hard to comprehend, no matter what your spiritual beliefs. You were lucky to be with him and hospicing him, I did not have that.

David Miller said...

Hum, haven't looked at your blog in a while. You have a video of Grandpa painting a rooster. Is the Primary Rooster that painting?