I seldom give my paintings as gifts. Frequently it creates a wall space crisis and then there is the problem of one family member loving it while others really hate it. Even though I recognize these problems, and apologize for them in advance, I’m giving David and Judith Mallery this painting anyway, and hope that the associated problems won’t be too difficult for them to surmount.
During the famous Mystic dinner party a year ago, this painting arrived in my head nearly as you see it here tonight. There were a few changes along the way but this is what I “saw” in my mind’s eye. When this happens to me I am compelled to paint what I "see". Various busy things happened to me during this year and I had several commissions to complete before I could start work on Mr. Mallery’s Legacy. In fact the time line of the creation of this painting was a textbook case of procrastination and in some kind of weird mystical synchronicity the painting was painted in exactly the same spot where the idea for this party was hatched and the painting was conceived, 1200 miles from my home and studio. Working at my easel I stood in the exact spot where the chair had been that night at the dinner table. I didn’t realize this weird coincidence until today.
Mr. Mallery’s class in English followed what was a nightmare year for me in Miss Barker’s tenth grade class. She made us read books that were dreadfully boring and filled with symbolism that I felt were stupid and pretentious and she and I wrangled over books like Ethan Frome until she was compelled to give me a grade that just squeaked me past failing. I had heard rumors that Mr. Mallery’s class was something else again. I remember the first day of school when a somewhat frenetic Mr. Mallery barged into the classroom, a few minutes after the bell, his arms loaded with books, exuding high energy and creating a trail of excitement in his wake. It was probably my very first glimpse of passion in a human being. And his passion was something I could identify with, because it was about ART.
What this party is all about tonight has to do with David Mallery’s unique ability to reach into people and change them, in the same way ART does. I was changed that year, because Mr. Mallery was able to convince me that I was not stupid and lazy and that I had something to say that was valuable, and therefore I was valuable. He was the first teacher who listened to me and supported my opinions and ideas. He was the first teacher (beside Mary Lou Scull) who encouraged my creativity. I adored him for that.
Many years later David Mallery saw some of my paintings and he sent me a hand written note telling me how much they moved him. Once again his faith in me allowed me to keep on keeping on in my profession, which is often lonely, brutal and filled with shallow politics. I thought to myself “it doesn’t get better than this”. To have someone who I admire, admire my work is enough. I don’t need to be seeking New York critics and museum curators to give me more rejections. My job is to keep on creating what I create and leave the politics to others.
My painting is a thank you to David Mallery for expanding my narrow world. The big ah-ha experience of eleventh grade English was about the living, breathing human being who held the pen to write those words who created the stories we read. It was about passion, and about people who were passionate souls with words in their hearts who could transcend their lives and leave a legacy. I always wanted to be an artist. The notion was terrifying and unattainable, until one day in class Mr. Mallery said to us “do you think that this book was written by the author in an ivory tower?” I was changed that day too by that idea and the discussion it engendered. Suddenly the notion of being an artist was about work, discipline, craft honing, and not about having the title conferred upon me by some remote committee who decided these things. I could self proclaim myself as an artist. The notion was wildly exciting to me, and literally started me on my journey, which continues to this day. My medium is paint, but it could have been words, music, dance, film or clay.
This painting is about that year, 1958, a turning point in my life. No longer were ideas in books something that I had to know in order to have something to write on an exam. This was about ME. Those authors, poets and playwrights were saying something to me, personally. And more importantly, I was allowed to dislike and reject what I didn’t like. I could write an exam on how much I hated and disagreed with the author and David Mallery celebrated me for that! This amounted to a revolution of my spirit. I wonder sometimes what I would be like had I not had these experiences. I wonder what I’d have become if I had not encountered Germantown Friends School and those gifted teachers who showed me possibilities, directions and pathways. Mr. Mallery’s Legacy has to do with inspired teaching, which is about reaching people’s hearts as well as their minds. That we are here, incredibly almost half of us, says that each of us had some kind of personal experience of Mr. Mallery. Merely saying thank you isn’t enough for such a huge gift. That kind of inspiration requires inspired thanks. It is my hope that you will be able to look at my painting from time to time as you go about your daily life and know that you left a legacy, that as a teacher you affected our lives, and the world is a better place for it.
October 4 2003