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Sunday, June 12, 2011



Big thunderstorm a while ago lasted a long time, poured the rain, sky banging and rumbling for something like an hour. Caterpillar hid in her most secure hiding place. During a quiet time she came out of her cubbyhole behind the tub. I was sitting, looking at a Harper's magazine. Didn't want to use the computer or the jukebox or watch a movie. Nothing electronic. Caterpillar sat on the local newspaper lying on the floor beside my chair. I picked her up, turned the light out, held her in a cradling way she likes and sang her song to her. Right away she started purring and the eyes were closed. The next round of thunder kept her anxious, but I sang to her in a whispering tone that held her attention better than a loud voice. I held her for quite awhile in the semi-dark until the storm passed. She got up on her feet and jumped to the floor. I think she went to her present sleeping place in a box.

Saw Duke Bledsoe at Selma's coffee shop yesterday. It's always a treat to see Duke. He told me several stories from the past sitting at the bar with a moca before hitting the road to Woodlawn for the show. He kept me entertained for a half hour with rattlesnake experience stories, like the time he and somebody else were out in wilderness somewhere, and the other old boy was petrified of snakes. They came up on a rattlesnake and killed it. Then a couple hundred little ones went squirming about. He said the other fellow went into a stomping fit, Duke too, and thought they got them all. Another time, Duke lifted a rock and a rattlesnake under it coiled up. He let the rock back down without incident. He picked one up in an old-timey hay rake once that was striking at him on the tractor, but couldn't reach him. When he saw what was happening, he loosened the pressure of the hay on the rake and the snake wiggled out and went on its way, most likely with some broken ribs. Or maybe not. Duke is not one to be afraid of snakes. He's respectful, but they don't scare him, that is, past the initial moment of seeing it when a shiver runs up your spine.

Have finished the painting of Willard Gayheart up to a touch here, touch there, and signing it. After I sign it I don't ever touch paint to it again. As it is when it's signed is as it is. I'm happy with it. Of course, when I look at it I tend to see what it is not instead of what it is. I focus on the zones where I had a difficult time and am not completely satisfied with, but I can't get it any closer without making it worse. As with everything in art, there is no finishing it, only abandoning it when it has enough balance to stand on its own. It feels like I reached my goal the best I was able. I set out to make it look like you are looking at Willard, not just facial features, but the essence, the feeling of actually seeing Willard eyeball to eyeball. No matter the details I'm not satisfied with, the most important part I am fully satisfied with. The eyes look like they can see. When I paint eyes, I fuss over them and fuss over them and then it happens, they can see. I don't touch them again.

Painting the face was the same. While I'm filling in the features, the roundness in a cheek, the lines that run up the sides of the nose, the shadow under the chin, the shadow under the lower lip, the glasses where I don't paint the glass but it looks like you're seeing through glass, I am projecting feeling into the shapes, shades and lines to feel like seeing Willard when you know him. I want to paint who his, not just what he looks like. Of course, I can only paint the Willard I know. I paint Willard the musician. I do this to celebrate Willard as an important musician in the music of the Central Blue Ridge. I don't mean important like self-important, but one active in music with 3 superlative bluegrass/old-time bands along the way and several excellent recordings by each of them, Willard playing solid rhythm guitar and singing good old songs like Take Me Back To Tulsa. Yellow Rose of Texas he made his own on the Skeeter and the Skidmarks project. He sang several songs he wrote with Alternate Roots, like Robin D, a river boat in Charleston, West Virginia. Willard's music with his son-in-law Scott Freeman is music that won't be appreciated until off in the future when people will say he was among us and we didn't even notice.

I was taking the painting to Woodlawn to let Willard see it as soon as it was done. I wanted to bring it back home for a week to finish it and sign it and put the hanging wire on the back. I took it into the coffee shop to show it to Selma, propped it on a chair and left it there while I sat at the bar. Duke Bledsoe walked in. I said to Duke, 'I just finished this picture of you.' On sight I saw Willard. Duke has a moustache similar to Willard's, white, and his facial structure is similar, wearing glasses and in a ballcap. He couldn't believe the likeness. He asked how I did it. Did I use a photograph? When did I get a picture of him? It was like a practical joke that didn't work. I had to confess it really was not him, but Willard Gayheart of Woodlawn. He knew Willard's pencil drawings, but didn't know he was a musician. From there we sat at the bar and he entertained me with poisonous snake stories. The joy of the coffee shop is that I never know who I'll see there and it always turns out to be a good time.


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