REFRESH AND REGROUP
Sometimes You Just Have To Get Away From It All
Every Year Our Church, Topeka Bible Church (TBC), Sponsors A Retreat, “Family Camp”. It Is A Time To Get Away And Spiritually Recharge.
My wife Raychel “Mad Hatter” George and I first experienced Family Camp the summer of 2021. After the pandemic stress of 2020 the retreat was a welcomed chance to relax and escape for a few days. This year was no different. After the horrors of our studio and home being violated and Raychel’s battle with cancer a getaway was desperately needed.
We arrived at New Life Ranch: Flint Valley in Colcord, Oklahoma around 2:00 PM on Thursday Afternoon August 4th. We would have arrived at 1:00 PM but there was a man hunt underway in Pryor, Oklahoma and all traffic was being diverted around the city.
We quickly found our cabin and started unloading our rental car. If you recall our car was stolen a day after the studio break in. Our car was totaled by the thieves, so we were grateful that our insurance policy included a rental car. After the car was unloaded it was time to relax. Raychel took a nap (she does not travel well), and I kicked back on the deck of our cabin to enjoy a peaceful afternoon.
Family Camp is alive with lots of Fellowship and lots of Activities and Raychel plays a major role in one of those activities; Children’s Crafts. Raychel takes over the Activity Hut and leads the Children in Craft Activities every evening after Worship Service. Raychel looks forward to being with the children and spends weeks before Family Camp getting the craft projects together.
For my part I help Raychel set up the Activities Hut and I assist her in keeping order among 30 excited and happy children. Otherwise, I am on my own to create my own entertainment and this year that is just what I did.
I took my portable easel/paint box with me with every intention of doing a painting outside while at this beautiful camp. I had recently gotten the easel/paint box and was excited to use it. The design is based on the easel/paint box that Van Gogh created and with Vincent Van Gogh being my favorite artist well…
There was a great view of a hillside and a pasture from the deck in front of our cabin, so I decided to paint my interpretation of that view. New Life Ranch: Flint Valley is located in the Oklahoma Ozarks, so every view is great. But this one intrigued me. I cannot explain why, it just did so I set out to capture it on my canvas.
The first day I worked on the painting for 3 hours and the second day I finished it in 2 hours. I paint fairly quick but could be faster if I was not so meticulous. I recently read an essay by a well-known artist where his opinion was that “unskilled artists spend too much time on detail”. I disagree! I strongly believe the old adage that “God Is In The Details” and I love the details. For me that is half the fun of creating a painting.
Sunday came all too soon, and it was time to head home. To try and explain how special the 4 days we spend at Family Camp would be like trying to explain the feel of the first warm day of spring; there are no words.
I have something special in mind for this painting which is acrylic on 16” x 20” canvas board. I have entitled it “Flint Valley Pasture”. What will I paint next year when Raychel and I go to Family Camp? Who knows? But I can promise you that I will greatly enjoy capturing whatever scene it is.
I HAVE MADE A DECISION
I have finally decided what I want to be when I grow up: I want to be an Artist. I know, I know you are asking yourself; Will he go mad from eating lead based yellow paint? Will he catch an incurable STD while painting ladies of the night? Will he go blind while laying on his back having paint drip in his eyes while painting a chapel ceiling? Will he paint a self portrait of himself as a woman? Will his studio be in a room so hot that clocks melt? Will he spill paint on a canvas and pass it off as art? Or will he eat a can of soup and think to himself; some fool will buy a painting of this can if I proclaim it inspired. Well the answer to all your questions is YES! But the sacrifices will be worth it because of the Zillion of dollars I will make. Now shut up because you ask too many questions and I have art to make.
Little did I know, when as a child, I finger painted my first finger painting, that someday I would finger paint a self portrait of myself. But as a child I did know one thing… I would be an Artist. While other children had dreams of being Doctors, Lawyers, Nurses, Firemen, Policemen, Scientists, I had a dream of being an Artist; a dream that would come true.
I remember; when I was in second grade, being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “I want to be an Artist, I want to be Famous and I want to be Rich.” I take satisfaction in the fact that I have accomplished all three. I am an Artist; Body and Fine. I am Famous; in Body Art circles and the number of people that enjoy what I create. I am Rich; not monetarily but in the things that mater. But I did not accomplish these three things on my own nor easily I had help along the way.
On this long journey I have had the guidance of God. At times I was too blind to see and to self involved to understand that he was guiding me but guiding me he was. He gave me helpers that at the time I did not recognize as helpers. Some were friends, some were family, I loved some and despised others. Yet all helped me on my journey to being what I declared at 7 years of age I would be someday.
I was always Spiritual and believed in God. I believed that Jesus was his son and died for our sins but my faith was not what it should be. Though I had a successful career, that career came in spurts and had more downs than ups. I always thought; “This is something I can do on my own, I don’t need help.” But I did need help. I needed God’s help.
Once I realized that without God’s help I truly could not accomplish all I wanted to accomplish things started changing for me; for the better. I renewed my faith and have been on the right road ever since. There are bumps along that road but with God’s help I am able to maneuver around any major obstacles.
What do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be an Artist, I want to be Famous, I want to be Rich but most of all I want to be eternally grateful to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that have made my amazing life possible…. and I am all that and more.
-The GYPSY- “Art must evoke an emotion in order to be art. If it only creates indifference then it is not art, it is garbage!”
PASSION AND REDEMPTION
I sat in my Highschool art class and stared at the 11″ x 14″ canvas board on the table before me. I squinted my eyes trying to make the image on the board look better. I closed one eye and tilted my head. No matter what I did I could not make the image I had just painted look like anything I would be happy with.
The biggest critic an artist has is themselves and this day I was ultra critical. I had mastered pencils, charcoal, watercolor as well as pen and ink but this was my first step into acrylic painting. As far as I was concerned I had indeed really stepped into it and the canvas before me was a stink I couldn’t wipe off my show.
“Is that Jesus?” The question came from Karla Weigman. Karla was not only one of the smartest students in my small Highschool of West Platte RII in Weston, Missouri she was also one of the most popular.
I was not popular, I was poor and an outcast. My long hair separated me from the majority of the other students in my class who were country boys and girls. I was a city boy and different; a fish out of water. This never seemed to matter to Karla and she was always friendly with me and always had a smile for me whenever we met.
“Yes”, I said, “I guess so.” Karla picked up the canvas and looked at it. “I really like this” she said. “You like it?” I scrunched up my nose. “Yes, it is very nice.” I looked at her to see if she was kidding; she wasn’t. “You can have it.” Karla looked surprised. “Really?” I smiled, “Yes, really. I’m glad you like it.” That was the last time I saw the painting until a couple of years ago.
Karla had found me on Facebook and Friended me. Shortly after I accepted her friend request she posted a photo of the painting on my timeline. My jaw hit the floor. I had not thought about that painting in almost 40 years. I had almost forgot that it had existed and now here I was staring at my first attempt at acrylic painting.
I do not know what shocked me more; the fact that I was looking at a painting I had attempted at 16 years of age or the fact that my friend had, in all reality, archived my first attempt and preserved it.
As I looked at this painting that had come back to haunt me after all those years in obscurity I resolved that there was something I must do; I must see this as the zero mile marker at the beginning of my artistic journey. I could no longer regard this painting from 1973 as something better left forgotten it was now so much more. This poorly rendered acrylic painting connected my past with my present and the impact was palatable and enduring.
As I studied the painting the first thing I noted was the effect I had attempted to create; the head of Jesus on the cross emerging from the blackened shadows. I remembered that I wanted to make a statement on how the sacrifice of Christ brings us out of the dark and into the light. If I had done this painting in pencil the effect would have been dramatic. However my unskilled hand with acrylic paint made the head of Jesus look misshapen.
The next thing that caught my eye was the garish pinkness of the face. I am sure that in my feeble understanding on how to mix acrylic color kept me from getting a Caucasian flesh tone which I could have easily have done with watercolors. I did notice that I was at least on the right track with the shading in the face but oh that all too pointed nose. Which brings us to my next observation; the hair and beard.
Like most people my age I grew up with “Euro-Jesus” the Blond Haired Blue Eyed Nordic God of Jerusalem. Thanks to the Medieval, Renaissance and Contemporary Artists of my age I just assumed that everyone from the middle east, Jesus included, were Caucasian and of fair hair and skin. Heck, not even the Romans who sealed his fate were lily white or as my painting depicted Peony pink. Now knowing that Jesus was Jewish and not a Germanic ideal I shake my head in the deception that was perpetrated on generations by artists like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Cervantes, Raphael and myself.
Looking at the crown of thorns I shudder. If I had created them in Pen and Ink there would have been depth and detail. These thorns looked like a mass of worms that had been executed with a pen cushion and the blood, oh the blood. I could have created more realistic flows of blood using my Charcoal Pencil than I did with the globs of red that I splash on the face of my unfortunate depiction of the savior. I had to remedy my artistic blunders and find redemption.
Now you will note that I used the word “Blunder” and not “Mistake”. There are no mistakes in art, just as Bob Ross observed, only “Happy Accidents. To my state of mind this blunder verged on the edge of an 18 car pile up at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I resolved to create a new acrylic painting using the same subject matter, The Crucifixion of Christ, and put into that painting all I have learned since 1973 and all I continue to learn. The only question was; when would I do it?
To try to explain to you when inspiration comes for me to create the art I create would be like me trying to explain what lies beyond a Black Hole in space; impossible. Just suffice it to say that I had to wait for the inspiration to hit me at the right time. That inspiration hit on Easter Sunday of 2022 five years after Karla posted the photo on my Facebook page. I set to work and documented each step of the process. As I worked I watched such movies as “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, “Ben Hur” and “Jesus of Nazareth” so that I could stay focused for the task at hand.
I finished the painting and named it “Passion”. The name was not only for the Passion of Christ but also represented the Passion I have had for my God given Artistic Talent my entire life. I sent it to Art Print Express in Topeka to be digitized so that I would have an archive copy for future printing purposes. I knew, when I set out to do this painting that it would never be one that was for sale. This painting would be a gift, a token of my gratitude to Karla Weigman for preserving my first attempt at Acrylic painting.
Now you might ask; if you disliked the original painting so much why are you grateful that she saved it? Because, without her preservation of my first effort I would have never had the opportunity to truly understand how far I have come on my artistic journey. I cannot tell you how many paintings I have created since that very first one, they are to numerous to count. What I can tell you is that each one was a milestone along my road. That road is one that will end one day on this earth but until it does I will continue to create art and mark each milestone. My hope is that by the time I get to heaven I am worthy to paint for eternity next to the masters that have come before me.
On Monday May 23, 2022 I mailed “Passion” to Karla. She received it on May 25, 2022. It is now at home with it’s ancestor, “Head of Christ”.
Acrylic On 16″ x 20 ” Gallery Stretched Canvas.
She stands on the tips of her toes
Letting the music ease her woes
Centuries rest within her line
A silken thread strong and fine
Her Gypsy blood courses true
As her dance entrances you
Rhythmic beat of tambourine
Silver coin with twinkling sheen
Turning twisting left then right
Dancing by the campfire light
Gypsy woman of ancient way
Lover at night Mother by day
The road it knows her secret name
Her Gypsy heart will never tame
This painting was my last of 2021 and my first of 2022 having started it on 12/22/2021 and finished it the afternoon of 01/01/2022.
The photo that this painting is based on comes from the National Geographic book “Gypsies Of The World”. This picture has always held a fascination for me. My family migrated from Sacro Monte, which is near Granada, Spain, to Enigen, Germany in 1543 to escape the Spanish Inquisition. My family consists of Artisans, Craftsmen, Healers, etc. and were prime targets.
Romani businesses and skills are passed from one generation to the next. I cannot help, when I look at the photo of the dancer in the café, but think that perhaps my ancestors visited the café and enjoyed a nights entertainment much as the people are doing that I have depicted in my painting.
I have taken liberties with the photograph and have added my own take on the people within the café. I have also included, in the photos on the wall, members of my family as well as the family crest. Most notable is a picture of Berta Hummel also known as Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel. She is a distant cousin of mine and the Artist who inspired the Hummel Figurines.
There are many surprises and a multitude of stories within this painting. I hope you enjoy them all.
“Art must evoke an emotion in order to be art. If it only creates indifference then it is not art, it is garbage!”
Anyone Can Create Art But Not All Art Can Be Created By Everyone
The Human Species has an ingrained desire to create. Whether planting a garden, building furniture, decorating a home, customizing a vehicle or creating works of art men and women long to create. It is one of the ways we leave our mark on the world and it has been ingrained in our species since the beginning of time.
But the desire to create is not just limited to our species. That desire can be found in many other creatures that we share the world with. Take for instance Djakarta Jim, a male Orangutan from the Topeka Zoo in Topeka, Kansas. Djakarta Jim came to the zoo as an infant in the late 1960’s. In 1971 Zoo Director Gary Clarke was approached by Jim’s Keeper who told him that Jim seemed to be drawing pictures with his food. They gave Jim non toxic paint, a brush and canvas and the rest is history.
Djakarta Jim won awards for his art and opened a door for other animal artists. Research into the artistic abilities of animals was in it’s infancy. But with the public acclaim of the orangutan artist more and more people took notice and more animal art was born and inspired. There are now famous works by Elephants, Horses, Chimpanzees and even dolphins.
If animals are able to create art then so can you. However understanding that you may not have the ability to create all types of art is the first step on your artistic journey. Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to become an artist…
I have people come into my studio all the time and say, “I have a friend that can draw really well and is thinking about tattooing.” My response is always the same, “Just because you can draw a pretty picture on a piece piece of paper does not mean you can tattoo; it takes a certain touch.” This is the same for all art. A Pottery Artist may be the greatest Pottery Artist to step foot on the face of the earth but may be unable to draw a straight line on a piece of paper. Being good at one thing artistically does not guarantee you will be a master in all things artistically and that is OK.
Discovering what your artistic talent is actually easier than you may think. Here is my advise on where you should start: get a pencil and piece of paper. Write down a top ten list of things you like and I do not mean artistically I mean those things you like that make you happy. Arrange the list in your favorite thing at the top and working down to number ten. Now make a separate top ten list of the type of art you like. Examples might be; pencil drawing, pen and ink, watercolor, acrylic painting, oil painting, block printing, decorative art, stained glass, graffiti art, pottery, plaster cast, digital art, pastels, crayon art, portrait art, landscape art, cityscape art, seascape art, animal art, jewelry art, sculpting and on and on and on. The possibilities are endless. Now arrange that list in the order of the type of art you like best with #1 being your favorite and #10 being your list favorite.
You now have two lists; favorite things and favorite art. What are your two number one things? Do you like Motorcycles? Do you like Stain Glass? Now think how you might combine those two things. Maybe make stain glass images of motorcycles or motorcycle events. Do you like Birds? Do you like Decorative Art? How would you combine those two things? Stenciled wall art feature birds or bird themed decorative trim? Do you like Trains? Do you like Graffiti Art? Well I wouldn’t suggest going out and doing graffiti art on trains but what if you painted a picture of a train using a graffiti art style? Are you starting to get the idea?
You can even go a step further; You like old buildings. You also like pottery and acrylic painting. What would stop you from creating artwork in acrylic paint of say an old barn on the side of a pot you made and then glazing that pot. You see where you start on this artistic journey is only limited by your imagination. Now that you have your key elements the next step is fairly simple… experiment and I mean really experiment! Do not just try something one time and say, “Well Gee I guess I can’t do it.” There is an old saying; “Practice Makes Perfect!” If creating art in a style you like is what you really desire to do then practice, practice, practice. But there is a Catch 22.
If you are unfamiliar with what a Catch 22 is it can be defined as a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. Remember what I stated above, “Just because you can draw a pretty picture on a piece piece of paper does not mean you can tattoo; it takes a certain touch.” If you have practiced and practiced and practiced the type of art you have chosen and still cannot seem to get it do not let your frustration rule you or kill your desire to create. At that point it will be time to move on and try a different artistic endeavor. You may go through several different things you like and several different types of art combinations before you find the one that is right for you. But I cab assure you that you will find the magic combination that will have you creating art that you admire and that will be admired by others.
Here is a final word of advice; Do not be afraid to ask for help. Taking art classes or buying books that explain the creative process are things you should be willing to do. The greatest cure for ignorance is education. Become artistically educated and you will find that your art will improve along with your abilities as an artist.
One word of caution however for those thinking about tattoo or piercing art; though there are a lot of videos on Youtube showing how to tattoo or pierce. Those “How Too” videos are garbage. You can only truly learn how to tattoo and pierce properly under an experienced state licensed trainer. If anyone ever tries to charge you for Body Art Training you are in the wrong place. A professional Body Art Trainer makes their money when you start tattooing or piercing in their studio. They do not make their money by taking it out of your pocket and teaching you nothing. Contact your state licensing board for a list of qualified trainers.
So with all that being said I hope that this blog has helped to point you in the right direction on your artistic journey. It is worth repeating to say to you; Anyone Can Create Art You Just Have To Have A Desire To Do So.
“ALONG THE SHUNGA TRAIL“
Oil Painting By Romani American Artist J.A. George AKA; The GYPSY
I get bored easy. Because I get bored I have to constantly be doing something which may explain my artistic nature. I create to keep my hands, eyes and mind from becoming too idle. But I do not create the same things over and over again for to do that would once again bring me back full circle to boredom. So it is that as I create I explore. I explore new ways of doing what I do best; Create art.
When I was a child growing up in Topeka, Kansas I explored not knowing that my explorations would bring about a lifelong need to see what was behind a closed door or around the next bend in the road. Growing up always near or by the Shunganunga creek which meanders through the Capitol City afforded me many opportunities to explore, learn and reach out to a world I would embrace not only as a child but also as an adult.
Long before Shawnee County Parks and Recreations conceived of a pathway following the Shunganunga there were those, like myself, that knew of and explored the many twists and turns that ran alongside the creek. Shawnee County did not create the Shunga Trail, it has always been there since the beginning of time; all they did was to cover it with concrete and put up pretty signs.
So it was as I started out to create my painting, “Along The Shunga Trail” that I sat out to explore a new path I had not traveled before. I usually will create the background for my paintings using acrylics. They are fast drying and allow me to move ahead quickly with my oils on the foreground. With this painting though I had in mind to create the entire scene using oils and a pallet knife. Unfortunately for me however that exploration led me down a path that I did not enjoy.
I laid the canvas to one side and stepped away from it, my attention drawn off on to other adventures and other artistic explorations. Then one day I placed the canvas back onto my easel and let it occupy my mind for a few days. I let it call to me, pleading to be explored and finished. Today I answered it’s call.
Forever the explorer I looked at the path I was to create and follow and thought to myself; What can I do different? Looking at the textures the failed attempt with the pallet knife had left on the canvas a solution came to mind. I determined that the best way to forge this trail was to create the scene with one brush. When I paint I usually use a large assortment of brushes to complete a painting especially when I am painting a scene. Yet this day I would attempt to explore my memories using one simple brush; a number 6 half inch flat synthetic bristle brush.
As I child I would poke and prod at the tadpoles and crawdads that inhabited the calm pools along the banks of the Shunganunga. As I had once poked and prodded at the creatures of the creek I poked and prodded at my canvas until I was satisfied that my hand had captured what my eye had seen within the flowing waters of my mind.
So without further ado I present to you my newest exploration; “Along The Shunga Trail”.
-The GYPSY- January 21, 2022
“Art must evoke an emotion in order to be art. If it only creates indifference then it is not art, it is garbage!”
Copyright Tatman Productions LLC – All rights Reserved. No pictures or text may be copied and or used without the express written permission of the artist and author.
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The Night Santa Saved Christmas By: J. A. George AKA; The GYPSY
The wind rustled the plastic on the windows at 433 East High popping the artificial storm windows in and out like the breathing of some transparent rectangular monster trapped within the window frame. This was made even more unsettling by the fact that the plastic adorned the windows on the inside of the house and not the outside.
Jimmy and Patty sat on the couch, a blanket wrapped around their bodies to insulate them from the cold. The floor heater cracked and groaned but did little good to chase off the cold in the drafty un-insulated little house on Topeka’s east side. Jimmy and Patty watched the old GE black and white TV reflect back images of Bing Crosby as he, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye sang about a White Christmas. Jimmy looked over at the little tree in the corner, the red, green and gold bubble lights sending their tiny endless stream of bubbles up the tubes to go nowhere and disappear in the glass tip of the cylinder. He then looked back at the black and white image of the tree behind the four singers and though their tree was gray within the flickering image Jimmy knew it was a grander tree than he would ever have.
“Is Santa coming tonight?” asked Jimmy’s seven year old sister. “Yes”, Jimmy assured Patty, “But only after your asleep”. Jimmy was 13 and had stopped believing in Santa Claus when he was 9 or 10. Jimmy did pray however that if Santa Claus was real and he was wrong about his existence that he would brave this cold Kansas Christmas eve night and visit their house. Jimmy got up off the couch and led his sister to the bed room she shared with their Mother, Shirley. Tucking her into her bed Jimmy went back into the living room and curled up on the couch to wait for his Mom to come home from work.
As he watched a Cockroach scurry across the floor he prayed that his Mom would remember to pick up some bug spray when she came home from work. The roaches had been bad for the past few days ever since they had ran out of the deadly aerosol the week before. Jimmy watched the little brown creature explore the floor and wondered what went through a roaches head as they scampered to and fro. He hated cock roaches and had no remorse as he picked up a shoe and smashing it flat upon the bare painted plywood floor. Ah, thought the boy, a heel goes through their head. He chuckled at his own small joke. Jimmy left the carcass lie and turned his attention back to the old TV where the Norelco Santa was sledding down the hill on an electric razor.
Jimmy had dozed and was dreaming of dancing mice and singing slugs when the sound of the front door opening jerked him awake. “Hi Mom”, he said rubbing sleep from his eyes, “what’s for dinner?” Normally Jimmy would not ask such a question as he was perfectly capable of fixing him and his sisters meals when his mom wasn’t there but there was no food left in the house and the two children had not ate that day. Shirley looked at he son with a forced smile and said, “Tonight we are going to do breakfast for dinner.” She held up a bag that contained a loaf of day old bread and a carton of a dozen eggs. Jimmy knew what that meant for he had to eat breakfast for dinner before. It meant mom had no money so she had scraped together some change to buy the quarter a loaf bread and the thirty five cent carton of eggs. It was the cheapest meal his mom could throw together outside of a box of Macaroni and Cheese which was also a staple in this home.
Jimmy took the brown paper bag from his mom and headed for the kitchen to drop bread in the toaster and heat up the skillet for eggs. Before he dropped the bread into the toaster he turned it upside down and gave it a shake. The cock roaches liked to hide inside the silver box to feast upon the bread crumbs on the bottom. Jimmy hated the smell of cooking roach so he always checked to make sure none were in the machine before inserting the bread.
Shirley sat down on the couch exhausted. She worked three jobs and still could not make ends meet. She would finish her shift as a proof reader then rush across the street to Pelletier’s Department store where she would assemble bicycles for rich children and wrap presents for even richer parents. On Saturday and Sunday she worked as a PBX switch board operator for answering service near Washburn University. If it wasn’t for the “Aid To Dependent Children” check she received from the state every month to pay her rent and the government commodity allotment she received she might have had to give up her children to Social Services to be placed in foster care. Sometimes she wondered if the children wouldn’t be better off.
Shirley felt fortunate to have her job at Pelletier’s especially since her and her mother had exchanged words three years previous which had led to the eviction of Shirley and her children from her mothers home. Her mother could have fired her from Pelletier’s but didn’t. Her mother was the manager of the large upscale department store. Maybe, Shirley would often think to herself, she keeps me on to alleviate her guilt for kicking me and the children to the curb. The truth of the matter was this however; Pearl, Shirley’s mother, did not feel guilty nor had she tossed her grandchildren out. She had told Shirley to leave but that the grandchildren could remain but Shirley choose, through stubborn pride, to take her children with her. Though Pearl refused to speak with her daughter until Shirley apologized for what she had said to her mother during that argument 3 years hence, Pearl kept Shirley working. Shirley was a phenomenal gift wrapper and a skilled assembly person and Pearl knew it would be bad business to fire such a person from the Pelletier’s team, daughter or no daughter.
Shirley could smell the eggs Jimmy was cooking and looked up as her daughter exited the bed room rubbing her eyes. “Mommy I’m hungry.” the little girl said rubbing her eyes. “I know dear,” Shirley said as she brushed the child’s hair from her face with her hand, “Your brother is fixing eggs.” Shirley looked at her daughter and hoped she would go back to sleep quickly after eating her eggs and toast. Shirley wanted to finish knitting a poncho that she was making for her daughter. She prayed that Patty would believe that Santa had brought it to her for Christmas. Shirley did not know what she would tell her son but she hoped that he would understand why he was getting no present this particular year.
Shirley sighed and laid her daughter on the couch. Covering her daughter with a knit blanket she had made and told her that she would call her when the food was ready. Well, thought Shirley, I better go back and let Jimmy know that there will be no Christmas presents for him this year. Shirley was standing in the kitchen at the back of the house explaining to Jimmy how it is not important to receive gifts on Christmas when the knock came at the front door.
At first it was ever so soft and could have been just the wind shaking the door when the knock came again. A little louder and more urgent Mother and son both looked towards the front door as Patty cried out, “Mommy, someone’s at the door.” Shirley and son headed for the front of the small house. Shirley was concerned for it was almost 10:00pm and she couldn’t imagine who would be knocking on her door this late on a Christmas eve. Jimmy got to the door first and flung it wide letting a blast of cold air fill the house.
Jimmy stood slack jawed looking at the box upon box upon box that filled the front porch. Shirley was speechless and could not imagine that what she was looking at, dozens of brightly wrapped packages, was real. Patty put a name to it as she scurried towards the front porch and the gifts it bore. “SANTA” the little girl cried out, “SANTA” Jimmy, his mom and sister spent the next few minutes bringing packages into the house. As they got towards the bottom of the stack Shirley discovered several boxes filled with food including one box just full of wrapped meat from a butcher shop. One box had canned goods while another had things like pasta and cereal. But the box that fascinated Jimmy the most was the one that contained a turkey that was almost as big as his sister.
The children begged their mother to let them open the presents but she told them “NO, Santa wants you to open your presents on Christmas.” But the children weren’t listening all they knew was that there were presents to be opened so Shirley relented and let them pick one package each to open. Patty’s package contained a new “Malibu Barbi” doll while Jimmy’s package contained a Zorro Hand Puppet. How did Santa know that I like puppets? Jimmy wondered as he fell off to sleep later with a full stomach.
Christmas day the packages revealed a Cornucopia of presents for the children. Dolls, Games, Slot Car Race Tracks, Hot Wheels Cars, Doll Clothes just to mention a few of the children’s items. There was also clothes for the children from socks to shoes to sweaters to coats. New dresses, new pants and new shirts galore. Shirley watched as the children ripped open and revealed their presents and she knew that Santa had, in her hour of need, visited her children. She was a little sad, thinking that Santa had forgot about her when she saw the small Robin egg blue envelope at the bottom of one of the boxes with her name typewritten across it’s face. Shirley picked up the envelope and with trembling hands opened it. Inside was a note that read;
Josten’s American Year Book, Mass Ave. Topeka, KS 8:00am Monday December 29th. Shirley E. Stewart report to Proof Reading Department for orientation. Starting Salary”..
Shirley sat down hard on the couch and read the starting salary again. It was $50.00 per week more than she was making holding down 3 jobs. She swallowed hard and began to cry. “What’s wrong mommy?” Patty asked. Shirley looked at her children in their new clothes holding their new toys and she could smell the turkey cooking in the kitchen where the cupboards were full for the first time in a long time. “Nothing,” she said, “Not one damn thing.” She grabbed her daughter and pulled her close as Jimmy stepped on a cockroach. “I wish Santa had remembered the bug spray!” the boy said as he sent the pest to bug Heaven. They all laughed together, and each in their own way, would forever know that Santa Claus was real and had visited their small home on Christmas Eve of 1969.
In March 1981 during the last visit I had with my Grandmother before she passed away the subject of this visit from Santa Claus came up. I asked my Grandmother what she knew about it and if she had a hand in it. She smiled that smile that let the world know that she was up to some sort of mischief then sweetly and innocently said, “Now Jimmy as I recall I may have said something to Santa about Shirley needing some help but it’s been so long ago I hardly remember”. She then changed the subject and the matter was dropped and never brought up again until Christmas of that year.
Grandma sent a small package of presents to me, my wife and daughter for Christmas. For my wife she sent a antique silk hanky with a Parisian print on it. For my daughter, who is a Christmas miracle herself being born on Christmas eve, she sent an old fashioned small plastic doll with a knit outfit. My Christmas package from my Grandmother contained a Zorro hand puppet and a card that merely read “Ho, Ho, Ho”. I held that puppet close to my chest two months later when news came of her passing.
Is Santa real? Yes he is and I will never think otherwise for he once saved Christmas for my family.
“Art must evoke an emotion in order to be art. If it only creates indifference then it is not art, it is garbage!”
This story is included in my Book “Blogging Kansas: Musings From The Land of Oz” Available on www.Amazon.Com
Copyright Tatman Productions LLC – All rights Reserved. No pictures or text may be copied and or used without the express written permission of the artist and author.
“THE LAST GIANT”
Original Acrylic Painting on 18“ x 24” Gallery Stretched Canvas By Romani American Artist J.A. George AKA; The GYPSY
STORY OF THE LAST GIANT
His name was Matthew Dillon Ceratotherium Simum. We just called him Matt and he was just 15 years old when he died. Matt was also the last of his kind. Matt was the last wild caught Southern White Rhino and he was my friend.
Matt stood 6’ at the shoulder and weighed in at around 5,000 pounds. Captured in southern Africa when he was just a year-old. Matt was shipped to the United States to the San Diego Zoo in California as part of a conservation of species program. After his capture international restrictions were implemented that kept any more Southern White Rhinos to be exported from Africa.
Matt eventually was loaned out to El Paso Zoological Park in El Paso, Texas. The hope was that Matt, whose bloodline was unique and not found in any other Southern White Rhinoceros in North America, would breed with the two female Southern White Rhinos also on loan from San Diego. The Two Females were Miss Kitty, a 17-year-old female who stood 5’ 6” at her shoulder and weighed in at around 3,500 pounds and Daisy May. Daisy was a young and vibrant 10 years old and weighed in at a trim 3,000 pounds and was a petite 5’ at her shoulder. Of the 3 loaned Rhinos Daisy was the most social. But Matt was King.
I received my introduction to my 3 charges when I became lead Keeper of the Hoof stock area in June of 1983. I was used to dealing with small and large species alike. Having come from Abilene Zoological Gardens in Abilene, Texas I had helped birth a Giraffe that was born breach. I had assisted the Herpetologist in getting the 10’ Alligator Humpy back into his enclosure numerous times. Humpy had a Gypsy Soul and liked to wander. My life had been saved by an Asian Elephant 9a story for another day), and I had assisted walking 3-year-old African Elephants around the Zoo Grounds. There are numerous more examples I could give of my work with large species, but you get the idea.
Yet when I was first introduced to these 3 giants, Matt, Miss Kitty and Daisy, I do not think that I was prepared for the welcome I received. The Zoo’s Vet Tech, Claudia Newman, did the introductions. As we walked up the long drive to the central Hoof Stock barn, I could see the 3 Rhinos watching us from their enclosure to our left. This enclosure was large. It swooped down from the central barn towards a lower gutter that sat at the base of a 10’ concrete retaining wall. At the top of this wall and protected from the edge by a short fence and planter that surrounded the hoof stock exhibits the public could look down into the Rhinos curved 100’ x 50’ x 30’ exhibit.
The exhibits substrate was caliche dirt, commonly called desert concrete. This dirt was ideal for Rhino’s with one exception. Miss Kitty was allergic to the dust from this dirt.
As we entered the hoof stock barn the 3 Rhinos rushed up to the stockade fence. This fence was made from concrete anchored wooden utility poles. The poles showed wear from the Rhinos need, like overgrown cats, to rub against them. In this stockade barrier there was a cutaway that was 4’ high and just wide enough for two Rhino heads and that is what greeted us as we walked up to the opening, two Rhino heads belonging to Miss Kitty and Daisy.
Looking at Rhinos from a distance is not like being a foot away from them. It is a little disconcerting at first being nose to nose with a head that is almost as large as your entire body. Claudia made the introductions; This is Miss Kitty, and this is Daisy. Both animals snorted at the sound of their names. That, she indicated the large male Rhino standing back away from the females is Matt. I laughed, “Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty and Daisy?” Claudia nodded, “Yep, the saloon girl.” We laughed and it seemed as if the Rhino’s laughed with us.
Claudia showed me how to apply the Hydrocortisone cream around Miss Kitty’s eyes to help with her allergies. Miss Kitty was used to this routine and stood still as the cream was applied. Daisy nudged her big square upper lip against my forearm. “She wants you to scratch her nose.” I scratched her nose and she purred. I gave Claudia a look. “They are as intelligent as dogs but have many mannerisms like a cat.” She pointed at their wallow, a pit containing their urine and feces in the middle of the exhibit. “They always do their business in the same spot. They rub on things to scratch and leave a scent. They purr and…” Claudia scratched Miss Kitty behind the ear. “They love to be scratched behind the ear.” Miss Kitty half closed her eyes and purred.
Suddenly Matt moved forward and shoved the two females out of the way. His mass made Miss Kitty and Daisy look small. He laid his head on the fence and snorted stamping a rear foot once. “He let’s the females get attention first but when it comes to who eats first the Marshall of Dodge City is first up to the table.’ I laughed and said, “Being from Kansas and being a fan of Gunsmoke I can totally understand the Marshall exercising his rights.” Matt seemed to like the statement as he turned his head towards me and snorted.
Claudia handed me a bucket of sweet horse and mule feed and I held it for Matt as he happily chowed down. When he had enough, I repeated the scenario with Miss Kitty and then Daisy. The hierarchy was obvious, and it would be a scenario that was repeated twice a day in the upcoming months. We took a bale of alfalfa hay from the large stack in the center of the barn, broke it apart and threw it into the exhibit. Claudia said, “Time for the shit cart.”
We rolled the large metal cart into the exhibit and down to the wallow. Using pitch forks we began cleaning out the feces and throwing it into the cart. (I bet you thought a Zookeepers life was all glamour and playing with animals.) At one-point Matt approached us snorting and stomping. Claudia picked up a dirt clod and chucked it at Matt hitting his thick hide on the shoulder. The dirt clod exploded in a rain of dust and Matt ran back up to where Miss Kitty and Daisy were enjoying their breakfast. “Sometimes he likes to show his dominance, but dirt clods shake him up and put him back in his place. He is really a gentle giant” Claudia explained. “Let’s hope I never run out of dirt clods.” I said.
We dumped the Shit Cart in the Zoo’s large dumpster, hosed it out, put up our tools and moved on to care for the next animals; White Tail Deer, North American Bison, Dromedary Camel, Nilgai Antelope and Ostrich. This was my morning routine everyday but twice a day I got to spend quality time with the Rhino’s, and we became close.
June turned to July. July turned to August and August turned to September. Matt and I became close. He started liking the type of attention Miss Kitty and Daisy craved. I no longer had to use dirt clods to spook him; I had learned his language. When he challenged me, I challenged back. I stomped my foot and snorted. I commanded him, “Matt, Get Back!” He would turn and retreat. I had exercised my dominance. Matt was King when I wasn’t around, but I was King when present. But it was more than that. I had developed a deep respect for Matt and the females. I believe with all my heart that respect was returned in kind. In short, we liked each other.
Now do not misunderstand what I am saying. Rhinos are wild animals, and it should never be assumed that they are domesticated in any way. There is an old Zookeeper saying, “Never Turn Your Spine On A Bovine.” In other words, never let your guard down and I never did. One day Matt became agitated because of some unruly children in the public viewing area. His agitation was beyond my control to spook him back. I had to run up the 10’ retaining wall, a trick I had learned as a way to save my life long before parkour was a part of the English language. This skill would again come in handy at a critical time in the relationship between me and Matt.
It was shortly after Labor Day of 1983 that Robert Fulton, the Zoo’s Director, called me to his office. I had been at the Zoo for 3 months and was enjoying every day. I prayed that I was not in trouble. When I entered his office David Benavidez, the Zoo’s Foreman and Claudia were already seated. Mr. Fulton invited me to have a seat and I inquired as to what was happening.
“San Diego wants the Rhinos back.” I was stunned. “What? Why?” Mr. Fulton sighed. “As you know Matts bloodline is unique. We have been unsuccessful in our breeding program. San Diego is upping their program and they want them back. We must send them; they belong to San Diego.” I was stunned. The thought that I would ever lose my friends had never crossed my mind. Rhinos have a lifespan of up to 50 years in captivity and at the time I thought we would all grow old together.
Mr. Fulton informed me that 3 Rhino sized crates were being delivered the next day from Grand Prairie Animal Park. They would be lowered into the exhibit by crane and it would be my job between then and October 10th to get them accustomed to the crates.
So, the daily routine changed. They no longer got their sweet horse and mule feed at the stockade cutaway. Instead, I would pour the feed on the floor right inside the crate. Miss Kitty and Daisy would follow me and had no problem eating their feed in a new way. Matt was more wary. He would snort and stomp and wanted no part of these new arrangements. He missed eating from the bucket in my hand. But even with the trust that had developed between us I could not risk getting up close and personal with him without a barrier. So, I came up with a plan.
The crates had a double layer of bars at the back. There was enough room between these bars for a man to stand. Also, a man could get in between the bars but a Rhino could not. The reason for the spaced bars was to give a animal handler a means of escape or to give a vet safe access to the animal once they were crated. I started standing at the backside of the crate in between the bars and feeding Matt from that side. After a tedious week of on again, off again trust in these new arrangements Matt trusted me and easily came to the bars for his feed.
Since Matt was now use to the crate, I began introducing the feed into the crate. I started at the process at the open end of the crate and day by day moved the feed in deeper. I did this for all 3 animals, and it worked. Soon they were stepping into the crates to get their horse and mule feed.
October 10th came sooner than I wanted it to. The day broke bright and sunny. Fall in the high desert brings a mix of warm and cool breezes intermixed with each other and this morning was no different. The Zoo was closed until all 3 animals could be captured and loaded. Only 3 people were allowed in that end of the Zoo that morning; me, the transport driver and the Veterinarian sent from Grand Prairie Animal Park. The vet’s job would be to administer a tranquilizer if needed and to be with the Rhinos on the long trip to San Diego.
Zoo Staff mingled, anxious outside the zoo’s commissary. They could see down the driveway where the flat bed truck and crane that would load the crates sat. The transport driver had positioned himself on top of one of the crates. He was laying flat, out of sight of the Rhino’s, ready to drop the bar in place after a Rhino entered the crate. The Vet sat on the wall with a dart gun ready to tranquilize if needed. I stood in the driveway, a bucket of Horse and Mule in hand, ready to betray my friends. A mix of feelings filled me, nervousness, anxiety and fear. But mostly my heart was filled with sadness. I steeled myself and entered the exhibit.
Miss Kitty was first. I had treated her eye earlier and I had felt bad that I had not been able to feed her or the other two. They had been fasted since the night before so that they would be hungry and hopefully move into the crates quickly to be fed. I walked backward into the crate with Miss Kitty following me in her big square mouth trying to get the bucket of feed. I stepped between the bars, dumped the feed and as Miss Kitty lowered her head and started to eat the transport driver dropped the bar in place, I exited out the back and tossed a bale of alfalfa into the crate as the transport driver secured the crate.
Daisy and Matt watched with curiosity. Who were these strange people in their home? Why was Miss Kitty sealed in that box? Daisy was a little more wary when it came to her turn, but she entered the crate and was secured. I cannot tell you the feeling of being in a confined space with an animal that could stomp you like a bug or crush your internal organs with the hairy horn on their snout. The saving grace is that within the crate they cannot charge and if spooked they are more likely to back out than lunge forward. So it was with Matt.
As Matt entered the crate, he became anxious. He looked at me, he snorted his anger at being betrayed and backed out as the transport driver tried to drop the bar. Matt ran out into the exhibit and stood snorting and stomping. As I exited the crate Matt charged and I ran, right up the 10’ foot wall. I yelled at the transport driver to stay put and he gave me a thumbs up.
Mr. Fulton came down to see what had happened. We conferred with the Vet and decided we would wait a half hour and try again. We took a break to give Matt a chance to calm down. However, the second attempt to lure him into the crate was just as unsuccessful as the first.
The decision was made to tranquilize him. The idea was to give Matt just enough sedative to make him groggy then the Vet and I would use cattle prods to guide him into the crate. I exited the exhibit as the vet took aim and fired. Twenty minutes later Matt was still not showing any effects from the tranquilizer. He was stomping around the exhibit and letting me know that he was incredibly angry with me and the current situation. The decision was made to administer a second dose. The sound of the air rifle echoed off the steel beams of the barn as the dart entered Matts gray right shoulder just above the first dart.
The effect was almost immediate, and Matt started staggering around the exhibit. The Veterinarian and I entered the exhibit with our cattle prods. The Vet on one side and me on the other we goaded Matt into the crate. All the while I talked to Matt telling him how sorry I was that it had gone this way. The bar was dropped into place and Matt was crated. The Vet entered the backside of the crate where the double bars were located and administered an antidote. I threw a bale of alfalfa into the crate then I kneeled in front of the collapsed Matt.
I was crying and I asked Matt to forgive me for being his Judas. Now before you say that I was being too hard on myself please consider this; I had just broken the trust and respect I had built up with these animals. They had no way of knowing that we were not harming them. They did not know that they were being transported to the home they had once been at with others of their kind. They had no idea that they were going to live their lives under the best care any animal could ask for. They did not even care that they were possibly one of the pieces of the puzzle for the survival of their species. All they knew was that their trusted human had betrayed them. I had turned Judas for the 64 coins I earned daily for my pay.
I said goodbye to Matt, Daisy and Miss Kitty in turn. And as I cried my friends were craned onto the flat bed, secured and made ready for the trip to San Diego. Mr. Fulton stood next to me as we watched this final ceremony in the time that these magnificent creatures had spent at the El Paso Zoo. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go home.” I did not argue. I walked up to the commissary, clocked out and mounted my motorcycle but I did not go home.
I followed the transport and its 3 crates of precious cargo to the New Mexico border 20 miles away. At the sign that stated, “Welcome To New Mexico Land of Enchantment” I pulled over and watch my 3 friends disappear towards the horizon on Interstate 10 that would carry them to California. When I could see them no longer, I said, “our time together was enchanting, and I will miss you. I then turned my motorcycle towards the upper Rio Grande Valley and spent the rest of the day riding the sadness away.
I arrived at work early on October 13, 1983 to a gray day. A rare desert storm was threatening to hit, and I wanted to get my outside duties done quickly before it rained. It had been 3 days since I had said goodbye to Matt, Miss Kitty and Daisy. I thought about them often and knew I had to finish the clean up of their former exhibit and get it ready for whoever the next occupant would be. I had been putting it off because it pained me to look at it. I could see the indentations of the crates and though the wallow was cleaned out and dry it would need to be filled with dirt. Looking at these things brought an overwhelming sadness to me, but I knew it must be done.
I had finished my morning duties and had just hauled the first wheelbarrow full of dirt down to the wallow when Mr. Fulton appeared at the gate. The usually jovial Director was sober and serious as he asked me to step out and talk with him.
“I just received a call from San Diego. Miss Kitty and Daisy arrived safely and are being acclimated.” I suddenly felt my chest tighten. “What about Matt?” Mr. Fulton lowered his head looking at the asphalt floor of the barn. “Matt died in route, right outside San Diego.” I sat down hard on a hay bale and started to cry. “No! What? How?” Mr. Fulton ignoring the crisp freshness of his three-piece suit sat down beside me. “The Vet only administered enough antidote for one tranquilizer. Matt never recovered from the second dose.” I jumped up and looked at Mr. Fulton, “So they killed him?” The Zoo Director stood up brushing off his slacks. “It was an accident.” I was furious. “An accident? How do you accidently forget to give enough antidote? Bull Shit!”
Mr. Fulton acknowledged that it would seem to be neglect. He told me that San Diego was not happy and launching an investigation. “They are not happy?” I shot back. “I am not happy but what good does that do poor Matt?” I started crying again. There was silence in the barn. After a few moments Mr. Fulton cleared his throat and said, “For whatever this is worth San Diego sent a team of Vets out to the transport which was stopped at a rest area alongside the interstate. They harvested Matts testicles while they were still viable. Matt may be gone but his legacy will live on through his offspring.” I looked up at Mr. Fulton and said, “But they are not Matt.”
Mr. Fulton said that he understood how I was feeling and suggested I take the rest of the day off. I said, “I have work to do.” I grabbed the wheelbarrow and went for another load of dirt. Mr. Fulton left leaving me to my work, thoughts and sorrow. As the rain started to fall and I wiped away all traces of my friend it was hard to tell whether my face was wet from the storm or the memory of my lost friend.
You have just read the story of one of the hardest moments of my life. It has been over 37 years since those events took place. Now here we are in 2020. A horrendous year where so many have died so needlessly just like Matt died needlessly. Human or Animal a needless death is still a needless death. It causes us to reflect on mortality, that of ourselves and others.
As 2020 was ending and the last week approached, I was trying to decide on a final painting for this year; a painting that would sum up what this year has meant for me and others. I was coming up short for a subject matter and so likewise was my time coming up short to do a painting before 2021 arrived. With only 4 days to go I saw a photograph by National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Ami Vitale. She has traveled the world over to show us not only violence and conflict but also the beauty and humanity of the natural world.
The photograph that I saw that Vitale took on March 19, of 2018 was of Sudan the last male Northern White Rhino left on earth. The photo was taken at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Northern Kenya, the emotional photograph shows Joseph Wachira, Sudan’s friend and keeper comforting The Last Giant moments before he passed away. It is not hard to imagine the impact this photograph had on me. Grabbing my canvas, paint and brushes I set to work.
Some of you have seen the photographs of my dog Kato Kite watching me work on this painting that is not only a statement on 2020 but also a tribute to Sudan and my friend Matt. It seemed fitting that I have a current animal friend with me as I remembered another animal friend from long ago.
I am an interpretive artist. I do not do photo realism. Though I can see the realistic aspects in a photograph that may serve as my inspiration I paint from the heart. I may overemphasize certain aspects of reality to bring forth the emotion I am feeling or trying to convey. Though my paintings have a base in reality, emotion is the base of my paintings. I could bore you by relating the creation process, but I won’t. What I will tell you is this; as the clock counted down to midnight on New Years Eve and the 1963 Classic Comedy Movie “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” played on the television I signed the finished painting.
I generally will allow the viewer of my work to interpret the painting in their own way. But in this case, I want to explain its motivation. This past year, 2020 caused a lot of pain and sorrow for so many. Such as the pain and sorrow me and Joseph Wachira experienced at the passing of our friends. Both animals were the last of their kind; one the last wild caught the other the last on earth. Both passing’s were traumatic and an immeasurable loss. Yet just as Matts testicles were harvested so that new generations of Southern White Rhinoceros may once again populate the earth so too was Sudan’s testicles harvested so that the great Northern White Rhinoceros may, hopefully, once more roam the earth.
The story of these two Last Giants so far apart yet so intricately linked together can serve as a lesson for mankind. From the travesty and traumatic crisis, the year 2020 has been we can harvest from it hope for a new beginning for future generations. All we must do is harvest the lessons we have learned and push forward into the future. From our pain joy can take root and grow.
I envy Joseph Wachira. He was able to be there in Sudan’s last moments and say goodbye. I could not be there in Matt’s last moments to say goodbye. I have however given Matt a proper send off by sharing with you his story. May this tribute to The Last Giant serve as my goodbye to 2020 and the hope for a brighter better future for us all.
Thank You For Looking At Our Listings. May God Bless And Keep You And Yours Always.
-The GYPSY and Mad Hatter-
Copyright Tatman Productions LLC – All rights Reserved. No pictures or text may be copied and or used without the express written permission of the artist and author.
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