Milk and Politics
It all started on a visit to the local flower stand in downtown Laguna Beach where I was purchasing flowers for a still life. I glanced around the courtyard and spied five men sitting around a table, animated, laughing, and enjoying life. The sun and their joie de vivre was perfect. I asked the flower shop owner if I could step inside the flower kiosk and surreptitiously take a quick photo of this scene so as not to be intrusive on their private camaraderie. I paid for my flowers and headed home with a smile.
It was not until I got home and viewed the photo that I realized I had providentially captured exactly the scene I wanted. I began painting, ignoring my intentions to paint a still life. The composition painted itself in about four hours. The piece was displayed in the Northwest Pastel Society International Open Exhibit at The American Art Company in Tacoma, Washington, and later, at Art-A-Fair in Laguna Beach. Fair attendees were quite taken with the piece and many good conversations ensued.
In the meantime, I had not realized that this group of men met regularly in downtown Laguna Beach. Consequently, I kept a photograph of the finished painting in my bag, on the lookout for a chance to meet these men at an opportune time and explain that I had captured one of their daily gatherings in a painting. A nearby shopkeeper identified the group and the "ringleader", Walter, as the organizer and the one holding up his hands in the painting. Just a few days later, I had the opportunity to meet Walter as he waited for his friends to show. It was the quiet moment I had been waiting for. I gave him the photograph of the painting, which he enjoyed greatly, and explained that he could see the full size piece on display just up the road at Art-A-Fair. I purposely did not leave my business card or contact information, as my intentions were not mercenary.
A month or so later, I received a call from the shopkeeper who had helped me identify the men, indicating that they had been trying to track me down, as one of the men intended to buy the piece. They got so desperate that they asked the local newspaper, The Laguna Beach Independent, to run an article and photo. The granddaughter of the intended buyer produced a flyer that read "Wanted: Artist Who Painted This Scene" with a copy of the painting below.
The men set the flyer on the table and recreated the scene of the painting (after hurriedly retrieving one of the key cast from the local hot dog stand) and the newspaper photographer captured the scene. The photo ran in the paper the following Saturday.
I joyfully showed up on Monday morning, the painting in tow, and became a temporary privileged member of the "Milk and Politics" group. Ernie, the buyer, was said to have hauled it away sticking out of the back of his convertible. The only complaint from the group was that their newspaper story wasn't front page news. It was a highlight for me as an artist and an example of how the solitary studio time of an artist can yield such rich experiences with our fellow human beings.
Followup note: Several months after I connected with the Milk and Politics group, I received a call from one of the men indicating that the man leaning back in the chair in the painting had died. I had not met him that fateful morning of the Grand Meeting as he was in the hospital. His wife was now asking permission for the painting to be put on the cover of the funeral program. I was so sorry not to have met him in person, but on another meeting with the group, was able to speak to him on the phone. He indicated that he so wanted to be there with the group. There are no words to express the supreme and humble honor I felt at having been asked to have this painting as the cover of the funeral program.....