Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ode to Art Beer

In the1950's GM recruited sculptors to work their skills on a fiber glass bodied sports car, the Corvette. The artists exchanged their normal work man’s clothes and dressed the part in ties and white, starched shirts. For many, it also meant relocation. But at least the pay was steady and that meant a lot to artists with families. My folks had been married about three years by 1957, and I was quite young when they moved. They landed on their feet by finding a rental of "in-law quarters", with the Beer family in Warren, MI. Art was a commercial artist, his wife, Agnes, a gifted school teacher.

I don’t remember much from that time except certain portions of the apartment, and the smell of sweet marshes outside in warm weather. Art regaled Mom with stories about his youth. He held many odd jobs. One was as a traveling window dresser. He’d motor from town to town and do crepe paper ripples behind manikins and in drug store windows. It never paid much, but was enough for a young fellow. One night he found himself in a rural area as it was getting dark. With no place to stay, he considered his options. Art saw some lights in the distance. He made his way to the doorstep of a small farmhouse, and knocked. An elderly man opened the door. "I’ll pay you, if you can put me up for the night," Art said.

"No need for that, I’d be grateful for your company", the man said, and welcomed Art in. Art looked around. There wasn’t much furniture. A large, bare wooden box took a prominent place in the main room. With a start, Art realized it was the man’s homemade coffin. They chatted until late, and the gentleman showed Art where he might sleep. Art lay awake for a bit, then got back up. Taking his tacking hammer and red crepe paper, he worked his magic on the casket’s interior. When the old man woke, he greeted Art with tears in his eyes. "That’s the most beautiful coffin I’ve ever seen".

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