My late father-in-law Morris was an artist. I think that in his younger years he had hopes of becoming a big name artist. He was an art teacher in the New York City public school system, and by the time he retired he was an art supervisor in Queens helping to create and develop art curricula across his school district.
During his long life (he lived to be not quite 98) my father-in-law produced a large body of work.
When my husband was given the monumental job of closing up his parents' house in Queens, my husband gathered up all of his father's paintings and drawings stashed all through the house and stored them in a storage locker in Long Island City.
A couple of years ago I found a link to Lost Art Salon, which collects, displays and sells the art of accomplished mid-20th century artists who nevertheless never achieved fame. It seemed to me like it might be a good home for some of my late father-in-law's work.
When we went to San Francisco this past spring, we made sure to visit the Lost Art Salon. We arrived unannounced. We met both of the owners of the gallery, Rob Delamater and Gaetan Caron, and were struck both by their kindness and their love of the work of the artists whose work they curate.
Recently, Gaetan and Rob informed us that they had scheduled a trip to New York and asked to go through the trove of Morris' work that my husband was ready to part with.
Yesterday we met them at the storage locker in Long Island City.
Gaetan and Rob asked to see the oil paintings first. Before my husband began to pull out the paintings, he showed them several photos and self portraits of Morris so they could get a sense of who Morris actually was.
Then my husband began pulling paintings out of the storage locker.
It's amazing how much he was able to fit into such a small space.
There were large-scale experimental works my father-in-law made when my husband was an adolescent, using sand, paint and a vacuum cleaner.
I was seeing some of these pieces for the first time.
They began propping paintings along the walls of the storage facility so they could look at a life time of painting.
Some pieces were familiar to me from the walls of my in-laws' house in Flushing. Some have lived in our apartment. These photos were taken at the beginning of the process before the battery in my camera died.
Rob and Gaetan walked along the hundred or so paintings that we had all set out and selected the ones they thought would work for their gallery. They chose about 60.
In the weeks leading up to this meeting, my husband was anxious, sleeping badly. How much of his father's work was he willing to give up? During the last few weeks my husband has been going through the locker, looking through the trove of paintings and drawings. He found drawings of my mother-in-law from their Biloxi years during WWII.
While my father-in-law had a huge body of work done in oil on canvas or on board, his best, freshest, and most original work was done in pen and ink.
Soon it was time to begin showing Rob and Gaetan the drawings. There were some themes that Morris returned to again and again: birds, chickens, fish, horses, naked women on horses, mythical beasts, architectural fantasies.
For my husband this isn't just nice art work, this is the contents of his father's internal life. My husband thinks of himself as being very un-materialistic. He has no need of fancy things in his life.
On the other hand, I think that he is actually very materialistic. He is deeply tied to objects that are connected to people he cares about or remind him of a moment of deeply held emotion. My husband has kept a shell necklace from a party we attended and had fun at decades ago. He has kept a bit of his blankie, a toy given to him as a joke award for clever Purim spiels written long ago, a bottle of aftershave his older brother gave him before we had even met, the fancy soap given to us as a house-gift thirty years ago, ugly ashtrays given to his parents as gifts by dear friends. My husband looks at those objects and is reminded of the moment they came into his life.
Morris' art work means even more to my husband that the gifted soap. Giving it up is really hard. While it fulfills the wish of everyone in Morris' family that Morris get some recognition for his skill, giving up possession and ownership of this artwork is just plain hard.
As we worked, Gaetan and Rob kept asking questions about Morris, about his biography, his approach to art. They will create a virtual gallery of his work and the images of the drawings and paintings will not be taken down from their website even after the pieces are sold. This was a great selling point for my husband.
In the end, my husband let many drawings and paintings go to the Lost Art Salon.
It was a day of large emotions, and I think my husband mostly feels that he has done the right thing. I look forward to seeing Morris' work not stacked in a basement in Flushing, and not in a storage locker in Queens but beloved and admired on the walls of new homes.