“Life is full of mysteries in which unfathomable forces produce mystical results”. Robert Edsel, author of Monuments Men.
Since starting this project, especially the traveling portion of it, life has been full of mysteries. Every day I go into wherever I’m stationed expecting nothing other than interesting conversations. Some have been mindboggling close to the bone like Griff Holland, the WW II pilot who, for a lifetime since the war, “hated” the Japanese and then, upon visiting the Women’s Memorial to see his portrait hanging, meets a Japanese American woman who changes his life. Smaller serendipitous moments including a man who was on the submarine that rescued George H.W. Bush after being shot down -this within days of reading about it in the book Fly Boys.
Traveling to Boerne Texas brought me into the life of Rick Taylor, the transplanted Canadian, Willie Nelson look-a-like within days of a dream I’d had about meeting the real Willie Nelson. Here in Palm Springs, after talking to a WW II veteran visiting the museum about the German pilot Franz Stigler, whose portrait I’d just completed and the subject of the book A Higher Call, he remarked “I knew him.”
What is particularly heartening is the sight of people taking the time to read most, if not all, the stories connected with the portraits. Getting to talk to them to flesh out some of the stories is my reward. “You should wear one of those white shirts,” a woman said to me yesterday referring to the many docents who “work” here daily. I had shared the Stigler story to her and her family, walking them to the B-17 hanger to show a painting depicting that incident and going into the dramatic details. That’s a joy for me to tell such amazingly true stories.
Part of the journey too is making it continue. My goal as many of you know is to travel the world. To do that, of course takes money. Survival is about exposure and contacts. One of the ways of funding this is by taking on commissions. Since November, not one has come through. This is not a gripe. What that statement by Edsel says to me: expect nothing, reap what’s thrown in your path. For me, the riches have come in many forms. As I’ve said many times, if I were to paint in a studio and merely display the finish work, the point of the tour would be soul -less. I’ve joked about “show me the money” being my mantra. It still is, but tongue-in-cheek.
The next part of this adventure is returning to camping out in order to save money. The “birdcage” house proved insufficient and expensive and fraught with wildlife scratchings in the middle of the night. The odd thing about making this decision is not a sense of panic but just the opposite: calm. I’m looking forward to this part of the adventure. I’ve never felt more in touch with myself and my work.
Today brings in Cindy Wright Astor, here to pick up the painting of her father. I’m looking forward to meeting her, sharing a bit of the exhibit and the museum. Daily the Spitfire airplane sits next to me, a video about an American pilot’s experience flying one loops throughout the day. One would think, as it did for me at the Women’s Memorial, it would drive me crazy. In fact the opposite is true. Each morning I hear the voice of the older pilot, in the video 83 years old, recounting his service. John Blyth’s voice is soothing and conversational, reminding me of so many of the WW II era people I talk to daily. They have lived a life in which, as young people facing a world war that lasted years, forever changed them. Each day brings in more surprises and joy as I meet and discover a glimpse of who these people were.
“Life is full of mysteries in which unfathomable forces produce mystical results”.