Many years ago, an artist friend of mine completed a stunning pastel portrait of British-American poet W.H. Auden. I didn’t have much money at the time, but I was so smitten with the work that I plunked down a couple hundred dollars and bought my first piece of original art. That purchase was all-the-more astonishing because I didn’t know much about Auden or his poetry. That work of art now lives elsewhere, and I still don’t spend much time reading Auden, but the memory of his weathered, lined face, his somber suit and his tobacco-stained fingers clutching a cigarette trailing a thin wisp of smoke still hold a place in my memory and in my heart.
Other personal works of art do, too. My daughter is an artist and three of her paintings grace our living room. The dining room is filled with original works by other artist friends: a painting of cowboy boots that became the cover of a novel; an Algonquin scene by a Canadian paddler friend; a pencil drawing of my beloved vizsla nKozi that was presented to me by the artist as a Christmas gift a few weeks after nKozi passed away; two small watercolors: one of Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, the other of our home here in Chestertown that was painted by a New Jersey artist “en plein air” for a competition a few years ago. Then there’s an impressionistic interpretation of the Chester River watershed by a talented young Virginia artist, and an illuminated calligraphy of my favorite dinner grace—you know, the one about ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night. Finally, there is one of my own works of art: a study of the lovely old farmhouse where I once lived, embraced by a towering elm tree bathed in golden autumn light, with nKozi out for a late afternoon stroll. It’s a photograph, but I printed it on linen and put it in a gold frame; most people think it’s an oil painting, but now you know the truth.
Other rooms have still more art: some framed cartoons mocking my affection for bagpipes, a folk-art lithograph of the school where I worked and lived for more than twenty years that was presented to me upon retirement, and an oil painting of an old rowboat and its watery reflection that was rendered by a teacher-friend who started painting seriously when he was in his fifties. Then there are the grace-notes: shelf-filling photographs of our kids and grandkids, along with a few of my wife and me to remind us of good friends and happy times.
None of this art was particularly expensive, but all are valuable, even priceless. For example, on the buffet in the dining room, there is a small terracotta bust created by a Colorado sculpture of a woman with a dolphin on her head. It reminds us of one of my wife’s friends whose dying wish was to swim with dolphins. That wish was thankfully granted just in time.
Do I have a favorite? Not really; I love them all. Which brings me back to Auden, specifically to the second stanza of his gentle poem “The Loving One: How should we like it were stars to burn/With a passion for us we could not return?/If equal affection cannot be,/Let the more loving one be me.”
I am blessed beyond words.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil” and two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.