Saturday, November 16, 2013

HOW WE DARED TO BE GREAT

An early photo of Chuck, which Cindy distributed to all his students
One of Chuck's favorite sayings in the sculpture studio is Dare to be Great! "If I were a young artist like you," he might say," I'd accentuate this line here. I'd exaggerate the curve from waist to hip; I'd pay attention to the muscle definition in the arms."  Dare to be great, he tells us.  "But it's up to you. You're the artist."

This afternoon we had the privilege and also the sadness of one last class with Chuck.  Some of his students have been with him for decades, so as we arrived at the studio, we felt a little fragile. "It's bittersweet," said one, as I passed her in the lobby.  Several others repeated these words over the next few hours.

And yet it was also another afternoon, dedicated to sculpture. Waiting for creation and focus. Another afternoon of hurling out clay, and taking out half-finished work, and looking at it, and adding to it, and cutting things away.  Of seeing, and trying to see more, while Chuck in his wheelchair, asked us to turn our stands.  When he gave me a thumbs up, what pride I felt at that! "See how strong it is," he said.  Then later, when he saw my petty preoccupations, "Don't worry about the face," he admonished. "Pay attention to the body."

Chuck can always see more.  And he's taught us to see with care and sensitivity, taught us to notice how there are no straight or flat lines on the human body, how even the most direct line might turn inwards or curve.

And this afternoon, as we began to see once again, to really see what we were working on, we forgot about being sad.  Instead we got lost in the process. He came around and told us what we needed to see right until the end, when we sprayed down our sculptures and wrapped them in plastic until next time,  as if there was a next time, because there always was one,  and then we put away our stands. 

Chuck sat in his chair. And then he said in as firm a voice as any of us could have managed, "I want to thank you all, for thirty years of fun."

Cindy gathered up the moment admirably, after that. She wouldn't let it sink.  She'd arranged a gathering at a studio on the other end of the building.  "Why do we have to go there?" Chuck asked.

"Because there are lots of others waiting there to greet you," she said. So we headed over for coffee and a slice of the enormous chocolate cake (because we all know how much Chuck loves chocolate). On the cake there was a picture of Chuck, and in icing the words: "You're the artist."

Many old friends had gathered. Harriet was there and so was Bob and Mary, now in a wheelchair. And there were other former students who had given birth to children since the time Chuck had taught them, and also the students from the Friday class - Fran, Susan and Trish and all the rest.  Livia took photographs and so did Iurro.  Our celebration was full of joy and good work and shared love and gratitude.  But also there was sorrow mixed into the joy, but only because ours was a full expression of just how much Chuck meant to us.
One of my fellow sculptors, Scott, with Chuck.

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