The ‘Bird’ that Treated Tennessee’s Art ‘Well’
Robert Birdwell – Photograph copyright @ 1992 Mignon Naegeli
When the Wolfman was offered employment upon finishing his PhD, my humans eagerly grabbed the chance to remain in the country of their choice, despite already having booked a cabin, pet kennels, (they even had a London lamp post on the dog run) and cargo space for their old Volvo on the QE2 to return to Europe. The Cancellation was graciously accepted by Cunard, reimbursing even the deposit.
The Wolfman immediately started working for the National Laboratory in the Tennessee town that now calls itself proudly ‘The Secret City.’ My Female, uncomfortable with the city’s past, threw herself full heartedly into the local art scene, meeting painters, sculptors, potters, artisans, eccentrics, and everything in between. She fit right in! Her first works inspired by this strange community were sculptures of wire and plastic maché envisioning art to survive Armageddon. The local art center’s director, Carolyn Weaver, an accomplished painter herself, invited my Female to have her first solo exhibition at the center’s Gomez gallery; a show Caroline sadly did not live to see.
Island of Hope—Caroline Weaver (detail; photography/mixed media on canvas) – Copyright @ 1992 Mignon Naegeli
The art center was the vibrant gathering point of an illustrious group of artists and art aficionados from around the region. For some, it even was the center of their universe! Classes, exhibits, and an art support guild provided ample variety and opportunity for interaction. Caroline made everyone feel welcome, and she successfully managed an ambitious exhibition schedule featuring local artists and art groups, children’s art, photography, as well as the impressive Mary and Alden Gomez Painting and Sculpture Collection. Other treats were an annual open show and the œuvres of itinerant national exhibitions, such as the Hirshhorn Museum’s.
Well known area artists taught anything from drawing, painting, and pottery to printmaking and photography. There was even a tiny darkroom in the back of the center that offered members of the Martin Marietta Camera Club an opportunity to develop and print their own work.
One of the most popular teachers was Robert Birdwell, a handsome, elegant man with a catching wicked smile; an artist of many talents.
In fact, a teacher is anybody’s muse. Although Bob was admired by most, some did not comprehend the master’s conceptions. My female encountered many similar moments throughout her life and career. There are always the stubborn ones, the few who go their own way, and the ones who discover their calling. It is finding the true path, be it in education, philosophy, science, or art. Creativity has many names.
Robert was a man my Female was immediately inclined to include in her Male Human series (although she hasn’t publicly displayed any of her Birdwell pictures—until now).
At one of the always well attended toast of the town artist receptions, the female met Ann, Robert’s young, beautiful, devoted wife, who is a gifted artist, too.
Ann and Robert Birdwell – Photograph copyright @ 1992 Mignon Naegeli
My humans met the couple often when attending art events. The Female was allowed to photograph Roberts life drawing workshops, an honor she treasures to this day.
Robert Birdwell’s life drawing class at Oak Ridge Art Center – Photograph copyright @ 1993 Mignon Naegeli
It has been a while since she saw them last, the Female tells me. Robert and his great love still made a most handsome couple, but the time had taken its toll, as is true for all of us.
Last week we received an email from Ann. She lost her love. His pupils, friends, and colleagues will miss the man who helped so many find and understand what often comes not naturally in our lives, understanding the creativity of others—or if we try hard enough, our own.
Robert Birdwell – Photograph copyright @ 1993 Mignon Naegeli
Thank you, B.D. for your input