Loss in the Midst of Bounty

It’s a fact that we all march on with our lives, lurching or gliding, and then something stops us in our tracks. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Oh boy. So true. (Actually, I just googled that phrase, and it seems that it is attributed to someone named Allen Saunders who wrote an article for Readers’ Digest in 1957, with that phrase in it. There you go….the marvels of the internet. Most of us know this phrase from a wonderful John Lennon song, “Beautiful Boy.” If you’re interested, see this.)

Archie at Edinburgh College of Art, 1960s.

I did not mean to digress. Nothing can match that feeling of hurtling along through life and having all your plans stopped cold by an event, a moment after which nothing can ever be the same. During the morning of November 1, only 10 days ago, I learned that Archie Brennan had passed away during the afternoon of the previous day–Hallowe’en. At that moment all my whirling and spinning stopped. I know that thousands of others, across every continent, felt that same shock. Dear Archie…. he meant so much to everyone he encountered.

I imagine his many students and friends are in much the same position I’ve been in lately: struggling through current projects, delving into uncharted, creative ground, making progress and facing setbacks. The bounty of our work: I have too many projects going on at once, and I imagine you do too. Inspired chaos….well, hopefully inspired.

So what do we do with our grief? With our wonderful memories of classes and workshops with him? Meals shared–pizza and Chinese take out? With the memories of his humor, his gentle critiques of our tapestry work? Most of us who studied with him are not spring chickens ourselves at this point. What’s the best use of our own time left? There’s no one answer to any of these ponderings . But there are lots of possibilities for each of us to consider about our own creative output, whether in tapestry or some other art form, or in the way we interact with others. Everyone who encountered Archie certainly got a glimpse of how creatively Archie looked at the world. There was humor and a gentle social commentary in every piece that Archie chose to spend his time creating. He was endlessly fascinated with getting know the people who crossed his path, and he was generous, so generous with his knowledge. Those of us who weave are much indebted to what he taught us.

Someone once asked Archie what was the most difficult piece he had ever woven; he answered: the one on the loom right now. …and there it is, the very nature of everything we do. Each of our hurdles advances us some tiny bit forward for the next hurdle. Archie was part of our advancement, either in tapestry weaving or in looking at the world in a more creative and socially conscious way. The best we can do is take our hard-won knowledge and use it, over and over, and remember him often along our journey.

I am not a religious person, but it was poignant that Archie left this world during the hallowed evening, on the precipice of all saints. His patience and his humor always made me think he was a bit of a saint…. Farewell, dear teacher.

Archie, standing with his tapestry “The Mary Powell,” at the opening of the Wednesday Group’s exhibition of works inspired by the quadricentennial of Henry Hudson’s exploration of the river that bears his name. The Arts Society of Kingston, Kingston, NY. 2009.
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Date: Monday, 11. November 2019 11:34
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