Friday, March 20, 2009

Fond Memories

I am sometimes reminded of the great opportunities which have come to me across the years. Things I knew at the time were pretty cool, but which usually involved a lot of detail and a lot of work and, at the end, I just moved to the next project.

This week, the reminder was the unexpected death of Will Fahnoe. Will was a good artist and he contributed much to the arts community in our area. And he was my friend.

Twenty years ago, when I moved back "home," Will was one of the first artists I met after I was asked to serve as the Director (volunteer) of the Mayor's Program to Spotlight Local Artists. I visited his studio to select some work to hang in the Mayor's office. I was impressed by the variety of work which he produced in such a tiny space.

Over the next five years, I met and exhibited the work of almost one hundred artists -- from high schoolers to eighty year olds -- who had been recognized in some way outside of our town for their art and most, like Will, I did not know. But, Will was one of the ones whose path began to cross mine and who I could count on for support whenever I needed a group of artists.

When I began to look for participants in Artists Row on Broad Street, he was among the first I called. I knew he had outgrown his small bedroom studio and that one of the five storefronts in the City-sponsored project would be perfect for him. He had a good following of patrons and students, so he could afford the expenses of the rent-free building. He hung some track lights, set up a model stand for Tuesday and Thursday figure drawing classes and hung some paintings -- and some curtains. We had selected buildings which shared a wall, so Will became my neighbor.

For almost ten years, I was involved in the Sister City program -- another opportunity for me. I made my first international trip alone with 19 wooden crates as my personal baggage and experienced Japan for the first time. On my third trip there, I made all the arrangements for six artists and their paintings to go as well. Will was one of the six -- the only male.

As we approached the Atlanta Airport, I realized that I did not have my passport! I asked Will to take responsibility until I could arrive two days later. He handled the chore with good grace, but seemed relieved to give me back the reins. Each of us had a host family and partnered several days with Kansai artists for touring and art discussions. Will's considerable expertise and charm made my job easier.

When we returned, the seven of us planned a show of our Japanese paintings. Will created a delicate drawing for the invitation and painted a large image high on the studio wall -- the contrast of a small pen & ink drawing and a building sized mural being typical of his daily output. His good cheer and jovial laugh rang out during the evening of the opening reception.

Because of Will's death, I have been thinking of other special times in my life. When I returned from a trip to France and was no longer his Artist's Row neighbor, he opened his studio/gallery to me for my show. When I was a guest instructor in France for a group of Canadians, he was again one of six artists who traveled with me. He often greeted me with an insult and a hug -- and that big smile -- whether it had been three days or three months since our last greeting.

Our community gathered in celebration of Will Fahnoe last night. We will miss his drawing skills, his spirited living, his brusque ways, and his gentleness. I will miss his participation in my life and will cherish these fond memories.

My photo of Will Fahnoe on train in Japan. Coincidentally, the train car was #1016; the same as his studio street address at the time.

BushStrokes (c) AAB

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