Friday, January 16, 2009

Numerous obits

My, my, my, the days go by with no one person catching my interest and today there are four.

First, Pedro Aguilar, aka Cuban Pete, King of the Latin Beat, Mambo dancer. "While staying with an uncle in Washington, he was taught tap dancing by a maid who reasoned that if she could hear him tapping out steps on a box, he was not getting into mischief." And he gained a lot of his footwork from his time as a boxer. Dance seems to appear in mysterious ways in a lot of people's lives. It seems almost like an unstoppable force, the body expressing itself through movement.

Second, L. Ann Wieseltier, an accountant who worked with all sorts of creative types. And, boy, do creative types need the Ann Wieseltiers of this world -- and those of us who enjoy the performing arts need her, too. I actually prefer the family's obit for this: "For thirty three years Ann helped musicians, actors, artists, photographers, and dancers be successful through her financial expertise and deep sense of caring. She always looked forward to tax season as an opportunity to reconnect with people who were more like friends than clients." What a gift she offered the Bay Area arts community and all of us who enjoy their performances.

Third, there's Rabbi Alan Lew who encouraged meditation as a part of Jewish faith and practice. Nor was meditation separate from social justice. "Rabbi Lew believed spirituality was inextricable from social justice. At execution night vigils at San Quentin Prison, he spoke of forgiveness, compassion and the sanctity of life. He slept on the streets of San Francisco and in Golden Gate Park as acts of solidarity with the homeless, sometimes getting arrested in the process for acts of civil disobedience. Fischer said that on at least one occasion, Rabbi Lew told his congregation to invite the homeless into their homes, reminding them that biblical prophets had urged it." He sounds like a mensch to me.

Finally, Andrew Wyeth, the big name on our list. The thing that strikes me about him is that he kept doing what he did no matter the opinions of people around him. The one that killed me was the reaction he got from his own father.

N.C. Wyeth, the only art teacher Wyeth ever had, didn’t always agree with his son’s taste.

In a 1986 interview with the AP, Wyeth recalled one of the last paintings he showed to his father, who died in 1945. It was a picture of a young friend walking across a barren field.

“He said, ‘Andy, that has a nice feel, of a crisp fall morning in New England.’ He said, ‘You’ve got to do something to make this thing appeal. If you put a dog in it, or maybe have a gun in his hand,’” Wyeth recalled.

“Invariably my father talked about my lack of color.”

So from his father, he was told he needed "to do something to make this thing appeal," and from art critics "Because of his popularity, a bad sign to many art world insiders, Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject...Art critics mostly heaped abuse on his work, saying he gave realism a bad name." I dunno...I think it would drive me mad. His work is strangely uncategorizable, isn't it? Blessings upon him for doing the art he felt called to do. May we do the same.

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