Thursday, July 16, 2009

Receiving, and Giving Back, the Gift of Art

“Giving the gift of art is just as wonderful as receiving it.”

That’s what artist Barry Sons says after mentoring a 9-year-old boy and his father who first visited Atlanta from Alabama last spring. Barry was at his gallery-studio at Tula, setting up a new painting, when the father and son just happened to come by.

The father asked Barry to explain to the boy what he was doing, and Barry was happy to demonstrate some of his skills. He treated the boy to an intense course in painting, including the principles of aerial perspective, and color harmony. Barry even had the boy apply paint to the beach scene he was working on.

After about an hour, the father and son thanked Barry and left. Barry went back to his painting, feeling good about the lesson.

But that’s only the beginning of this heart-warming narrative.

Barry Sons picks up the story, starting with a flashback:

“I am a child of the Alchafalaya Basin in south Louisiana, America’s largest swamp wilderness. Having been raised as a fur trapper’s son, the beauty of these coastal waters, the ever-changing lights, sounds and smells still resonate in my memory as if they were yesterday. This is where I learned about art.

“One steamy summer when I was ten years old an itinerant painter came to town and I watched him paint a picture of our neighbor’s shrimp boat. I was amazed at how he could make that dirty old boat look so beautiful!

“Through half a century of living, the memory of watching that painter create a work of art has remained vivid in my mind and heart. That painter’s name is Sam Fisher, and when I grew up we even got to paint together.

“Last March I was pleasantly surprised when a father and son stepped into my studio. I was pleased to comply when the father asked if I would mind explaining to his son what I do. I showed the boy how I first sketch in the subject, explained a little about my working method and color palette, and even handed him brushes and painting knives so that he could ‘help me paint.’ He was quiet, but a quick learner.”

Flash forward to a week later:
Barry got a call from the boy’s schoolteacher in Alabama, asking if it was true that the boy had indeed “helped you paint a picture.” She told Barry how excited he had been, telling everyone in class that he painted a picture with a real artist. She asked Barry to please send a picture of the painting for a show-n-tell. It would be good for the boy, she said, because he previously hadn’t said two words all year, and now she couldn’t get him to stop talking about painting. Barry said that he would take a picture of the painting and send it.

But just a few days later the boy’s father had suddenly died! The teacher said it was a very sad and difficult time for the boy, and she needed that picture to help him get through it.

Barry answered that he wanted to personally come to the Alabama school to surprise the boy and also to do a painting demonstration with him in front of the class. The teacher agreed, and within days Barry arrived at the classroom.

And what a surprise it was! The boy jumped into his arms with joy.

Over the next several hours, Barry and the boy worked side-by-side to paint a picture right in front of the entire class, which also included several teachers and parents. For Barry it was an especially rewarding experience.

Why would you do all this for a boy you had only met once? “Because his father would have wanted it for his son, just as my father would have wanted it for me,” Barry replied.

“I am grateful to have had this opportunity. Someone gave me the gift of art when I was a child,” he said. “Who knows, perhaps someday this child will become an artist too, and maybe he will give the gift of art to someone else.”

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1 comment:

  1. Art can be such a wonderful medium of communication, as your story shows. Based on my own experience of having a major town businessman come to see my sixth grade project that he'd heard about in a chance conversation with my dad, an experience I've never forgotten, I know that this young boy will always have wonderful memories to help allay the death of his father. I have no doubt he will turn to expressing himself in art forms when he needs to grab onto that childhood moment. Thanks for sharing this story.