Thursday, May 28, 2009
Art, but not mine, a Long story
I may have posted once before about Woodie Long, a primitive painter who's work I've loved since my mother introduced him to me several years ago. Woodie is the son of a sharecropper from Alabama and was one of many children. He worked as a house painter and would doodle on the house before he covered it with paint. As I heard it, his wife Dot came home one day and he showed her a painting of kids flying kites he'd done and she exclaimed, "Woodie, you're an artist!" That was the beginning of the end of house painting and a great adventure in art.
Woodie and Dot live in Santa Rosa, Florida and when you go to the gallery, it's like visiting with your next door neighbor. Their home is a one story frame house with a screened-in porch across the front. It is surrounded by lots of trees and plants and there is a garden out back with corn, beans, tomatoes, okra, etc. I am always reminded of my childhood by the passion flower that twines its way around the chain link fence. There was a vacant lot in our neighborhood that had passion flower just growing wild on the ground. I thought the blooms were so exotic! Their living room, which runs almost the length of the house, is the gallery. Woodie has painted on everything, the floor, walls, to the point that Dot has banned painting on anything that isn't canvas, paper or at least unattached to the house. So, Woodie often will draw with crayons on small 5x7 newsprint-like paper, like I used in elementary school, when folks visit and are looking over his artwork. The first year we went, we only looked and helped, just by being there, resolve a family impasse. We rang the two doorbells and went on in like the sign said. Dot was surprised to find us there, though I assured her we did ring the bells. She said they were preparing for family visits the following week and oh, by the way, Woodie was there somewhere but, they weren't speaking. She said to make ourselves at home and look around. In a bit, Woodie came in, in his typical jeans and white t-shirt, and said "I guess she told you we're not speaking". We said yes, and the rest of our conversation was them talking to us and to each other via us. Woodie's memorable comment was that in getting ready for company, there had been "too many chiefs and not enough Indians". By the time we left they were speaking to each other and Dot's parting words were: "Blessed are the peacemakers".
Last year, we went with the purpose of choosing a painting for my sisters and me to give Mom for her 80th birthday. She has loved his New York City series of tall colorful building and bunches of yellow taxis and people jumbled up. It is what he thought of NYC when he went there. Unfortunately, there was only one of those and way out of our price range so on we went to the task of choosing another. So I narrowed it down to a few and decided to solicit Richey's opinion, too, via phone and email. Dot was the photographer and e-mailer of the selected art and then Richey and I would talk on the phone about the painting. Woodie drew crayon drawings and took Jim on a tour of the yard while we debated. We finally selected A Windy Day, not knowing one like it was his first painting. It is a beautiful piece with red and yellow kites and children of every color against a swirl of blues and turquoise.
It was a great choice and Mom loves it! It hangs above her fireplace and is a happy addition to her home. Before we left, Woodie asked which of two drawings I liked best, I chose the one of the proud mother watching her little girl pirouette. He said "That's call the Recital". He gave the other of two girls and their mom, to Jim. I put them in floating frames in our living room.
This year, I asked Jim that my Christmas present (and maybe birthday, too) be a small painting of Woodie's. I can't think of anything I'd enjoy more. We headed out to the Longs our last day in FL. We rang the two bells and went through the screen door. Dot was in the office at the computer to the left and we re-introduced ourselves. I told her I was there to choose a painting for ME this year. She turned on the lights and Jim and I had a look around, several times. She told just the kind of stories you tell a friend about what had been happening lately and what had been done to the house, a door added to the bedroom from the gallery, etc. Woodie came in from painting in his studio outbuilding and visited with us. Told us that a doctor from KY had bought three paintings the day before. Dot said he was from Bowling Green. I had heard that Woodie has cancer,I see now on the YouTube link that he has colon cancer. Woodie looked a little frailer, but nothing was said by either about his health. He chatted about the garden and painting. I showed him a photo of Mom's framed painting and that's when I learned it was the subject of his first painting.
I looked at the small 8x10 matted paintings and picked one up immediately. Lots and lots more to look at so I made a stack of "possibles". Some were classic, some newer themes. This year there was a small NYC that went into my stack. I love the kids jumping on the bed, the wagon with kids that says "Western Audo", and the farmer behind the plow but, in the end I chose the first I picked up. I won't get it to "keep" until Christmas. I can't wait for Christmas to come to hang "The Red Hats".
I hope I have many more years to visit with Dot and Woodie Long when I travel to FL and wish him a speedy and full recovery.