Elva, a friend who lives on Block Island, likes to read my blog. Every so often, I see her in the grocery store or she sends me an email and she tells me what she particularly wants me to do. Last time we spoke, she said that she loves pictures of doors and windows, because they always tell a story. That made me think of Eleanor’s painting.
Eleanor Garrett was a member of the Spring Street Gallery on Block Island. During her time there, she grew from making and selling crafts to tole painting to watercolors and other fine art painting. She retired from the Gallery, only two years ago, in her early 80's. For many years, and even after she left, she was a reliable presence. She bustled around. She helped at the cash register. She said that the tree roots in the yard made a bumpy walk for an older person. She gave her opinions freely, complained freely and just as quickly let things go. She connected us to our history and purpose. She enjoyed her life. She cared about everyone.
When I think of Eleanor now, I remember her courage in the last weeks of her life and think of how her children so beautifully honored her at her service. I remember how Eleanor told them to tell us that she would always be our friend. I also remember the time that a woman came into the Gallery and bought every single one of Eleanor’s paintings. Edie and Eleanor and I celebrated with champagne that night, and Eleanor said, “My mother did not raise me to put on airs. I am still the same person I was this morning.” And finally, I remember (and this pleases me), that if you go into the Gallery, you will see a picture that Eleanor painted on the inside of the bathroom door.
I’m glad I got to know Eleanor. I’m glad the Gallery was there because that is how I knew her and that’s where we grew together as artists. I remember how she stayed connected, how she didn’t let the changes in her life prevent her from being a friend to all of us at the Gallery.
Eleanor’s painting proudly hangs in my kitchen, and like Elva said, it does tell a story. It shows the chair and table where her mother sat every day, and the window where she looked out, and the Block Island landscape beyond. I liked this picture when I bought it, but now that Eleanor is gone, I love it, because now my sight is layering on Eleanor’s, like pages. I see through Eleanor’s eyes and remember Eleanor, just as Eleanor saw and remembered her mother.
I grew up thinking in practical terms. I could only spend time on the luxuries of life, like rest and connection and beauty, when everything else was done. But there were a thousand things, and I was never done. Now I think it’s exactly the opposite, that these are the necessities; that if you find one thing in your life that helps you, you have to lock it in.
For the first 50 years of my life, I didn’t know I could be an artist. It was the island and the Gallery that taught me what was possible. By being an artist at the Gallery, I saw myself and others grow, gain confidence and courage and skill. I’ve seen art help with great losses. I’ve seen it show what matters. I’ve seen it bring people together.
I try to imagine my life without the work I do now, or without having known Eleanor and the other people I’ve met through art and through the Gallery, and I don’t think I’d be the same person. I look at the walls in our house that are covered now with my own pictures and the pictures and paintings made by my friends. That feeds my heart. I think of my friends and family and I realize that by showing them what I love, they can see me better, and I can see them.
It’s so funny because sometimes people think of Block Island as a place to come and party. I remember being on the boat one time and a young man had left his wallet in his car. His friends said, “Get off the boat, Dude. Get off the boat! There’s nothing to do on Block Island if you can’t drink!” Well, I’ll just say Block Island is a place where you can come and live deeply. And art can help with that. I’m glad Block Island is a place where people can grow as artists. I’m grateful the Gallery has been here for us at the center of what art has meant on Block Island for a generation and that it made a way for Eleanor and me. And now many other places are here as well, in part because of the Gallery, and art is alive and well on Block Island. So it’s all good, and everything is moving forward and meantime I have Eleanor’s picture and it will help me to remember.
P.S. With regret, I won’t be showing at the Gallery this year because it’s a co-op and I won’t be here enough this summer to do my part. I'm also getting organized. I have thousands and thousands of pictures. I very much want to take some time and look at all I have and the best way to offer it to you. I will have a show in the fall at HeArt Space on Block Island, and people can contact me through this blog for more information about how I’ll be handling orders. My "Wave" book is available at HeArt Space and at Island Bound. I'll let you know as I work out other venues for the book.