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Filtering by Tag: Knoxville



I’ve never been the most consistent housekeeper, but you all pretty much know that by now. I do make lists often though, so will attempt to briefly update you on what we’ve been up to since the last post about the Land Ho! Art Sale in June.

The Sale is over!


The Land Ho! sale ran for two weeks, and we sold a nice amount of work! Enough to get a good nest egg going for our Land Fund, even after paying off all of the costs of scans and canvas and paint and shipping supplies. It was a lot of work to get everything ordered, packaged, and shipped, but it felt good to wrap up that whole effort and call it finished. Big thanks to everyone who ordered something, or sent in a donation, it was mightily appreciated!

Finishing up at Keren and Bobby’s …


After hogging Keren and Bobby’s basement and driveway and back yard for months on end, with all the forging and art making and sprawling that we seem to do, it was time to move on. We had to finish up some work first though that we’d started before the Art Sale became a thing, so we focused on the renovations in the basement that had been started before it was turned into a temporary studio and shipping center. Lots of trim and painting and flooring and sanding and door hanging before we had to call it quits because Michael had a Sol LeWitt job coming up in Cambridge Massachusetts … but first we had to get the trailer to Chicago so the boys and I could help out at my folks while he worked at Harvard.

Getting Out …


Getting out of any long-term stay is hard, and leaving after 6 months is even more difficult. There was a torn awning to remove and dispose of (sadly), many tools to sort and stow, and a seemingly endless list of things to pack and dispose of and tend to. We badly wanted a few days to ourselves before landing in Chicago, but it seemed like the window was getting so small that we might not have more than a night or two on the road. We had to be there by Friday August 10th at the latest. On August 3rd, we got a call that my Dad had something that appeared at first to be a heart attack, and he was in the hospital. We prayed, packed faster, and managed to get on the road on the 6th. After a few hours of heading over the mountains, we knew that Matilda’s transmission wasn’t just sending out warning signals, it was in its death throes.


After stopping for a night with Caleb and boys (pure bliss!) we tried to limp North but had to admit that we weren’t going to make it. We were forced into a …

Mini Transmission Vacation!


It was now Tuesday August 7th and we were in Wilkesboro NC with just 4 days until Michael had to hop on Amtrak in downtown Chicago. It was now looking like Dad had open heart surgery looming in the next week or so as he had some afib and a faulty valve, and they were busy giving him tests to rule out possible complications. We had to find someone who could get and replace the transmission in a 1995 F250 in 2-3 days. We asked God to point us in the right direction, limped into a big truck body shop, got a recommendation for a transmission place in the next town that said they might be able to help, and landed in a VFW campsite nearby.


After chatting with a friendly veteran, befriending the camp host’s 4 crazy dogs, and getting the camper set up, we took off to see if these folks could indeed help us. Matilda’s 20’ of red and white loveliness looked like the runt of the litter when parked among the rest of the trucks in Gear Jammer Transmission’s crowded lot. The mechanics came on out, crawled under Matilda and poked around, and made a few phone calls. After being assured they could get a new one and put it in in the next 48 hours, we hitched a ride back to our campground with the friendly owner.


Before collapsing for the night, we took the transmission guy’s recommendation of a hole-in-the-wall BBQ place a short walk from our campsite, devoured a quiet and delicious meal together, and mused on the way in which we were getting my strongly desired “few nights to ourselves” before landing in Chicago. It was hard to fully relax with the worries about Dad and his pending surgery, which ended up suddenly scheduled for Friday the 10th, but it was still lovely to be on our own and puttering for a couple of nights. We got a purring Matilda back late on Thursday, and prepped for an early Friday morning start.

Dad’s Surgery


Friday was our drive to Chicago day, and Dad’s surgery. I’d talked to him a couple times by phone, and knew he had no fears at all. We trusted that all was in God’s hands, and got on the road. He was scheduled for a valve replacement, a double bypass, and an ablation. He ended up with a quadruple bypass, a new valve to replace what they discovered was an abnormal 2-flap one, and a maze procedure. By the time we arrived in their driveway just before midnight, he was out of anesthesia and back in one piece in the ICU.

Michael and Harvard


Saturday morning we took stock of the state of things at the house where my brother Stephen and his wife Rene and son Paul were caring for Mom, briefly visited Dad in the hospital, and then Michael packed up in time for me to take him to the train heading downtown, where he’d hop on Amtrak to go East. I must have messed up my Metra schedule while reading it on my phone in the truck the day before, because the train he was to catch only ran on weekdays, and at the last minute I had to hightail it into Chicago to drop him directly at the station. The prospect of Michael being gone for 5 weeks while I was helping with Mom and Dad and the household, while also parenting and homeschooling, loomed large, and I tried to get my head around how to handle it all as I drove back to the house.


Michael dove deep in Cambridge where he was helping re-install a huge Sol LeWitt wall drawing in a museum on Harvard’s campus. A 5-story atrium with tight spaces and convoluted scaffolding and minimal AC was more challenging than some jobs, and between Harvard’s work rules and delays from the construction crew working in the same space, the job stretched to 7 weeks. Getting him back at the end of that time was pretty delightful.

The Scene at 4N405


Since we arrived on August 10th, much has changed. Dad was in the hospital for another two weeks after we got here, and was more than ready to come home when they pulled the final drainage tube out. Mom took a pretty steep dive downwards after he went into the hospital, missing the connection of being with him daily, and having seen what happened to him when he passed out while at the park. Their bond is a huge part of what keeps her going, and without seeing him or being able to be with him at all, she lost a lot of ground and basically stopped being able to walk.


Her care needs increased a lot as a result, and she currently needs 2 or 3 people’s help on a daily basis. They decided to move into the in-law apartment at my brother’s new home, which includes a flat floor plan and wider doorways, and plans are in motion to add a kitchenette and laundry to accommodate their needs. In the meantime, we have added a Hoyer lift, a wheelchair, and a ramp down the front steps to the household. Dad has gained strength steadily, and recovery is going well enough that he’s back to work and up to long walks and carrying boxes to the car. Those boxes would be the result of the sorting of his vast book collection down to one bookcase’s worth to take along to the new place.

A telegram my grandfather Elmer sent to his fiancée Juanita for Valentine’s Day in 1937, 8 weeks before they were married.

A telegram my grandfather Elmer sent to his fiancée Juanita for Valentine’s Day in 1937, 8 weeks before they were married.

We’re currently taking care of Mom with a lot of help from my sister Martha, working on sorting and emptying the house of a lifetime of accumulation (it is minimal by most standards!), and preparing to fix the house up for sale once they move. There’s a lot to do, and we’re here as long as we’re needed.


The land we had our eye on is still available, but we’re not focused on it at the moment. We’ve tried to just do what’s in front of us for years now, and the current situation is no different. There are needs, there is work that we know in our hearts is ours to do, and we’re in it with everything we’ve got.

Onward …

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Market Square Shuffle


The first time I went to Market Square to draw portraits, I made $101 bucks.  That was the day after the Chalk Walk and I haven't finished writing about it.  The second time I went to Market Square was after two weeks of rain on a Saturday.  The Farmer's Market was underway, and my grassy area was full of tents for the 200th anniversary of the Civil War.  I made my way to the main square and waited an hour for the vendors to pack up.  I chose a nice spot in the shade of a fenced tree, and set up. 

It wasn’t long before a large black man with a bellowing laugh engaged me in conversation.  I could tell by the way he scoped the square while he talked that he was hustling something.  Turns out he’s an artist named Shawn.  He showed me the Mother’s Day card he was selling prints of for $10 dollars.  It was nice.

You’d have to be pretty charming to sell them for 10 bucks, but he was.  He was very at ease and each time he let out a laugh, he’d study its ripple to the far ends of the square.  As we talked, a grungy girl of maybe 30 trudged past, loaded down with sooty bags.  “Hello,” she said.  I was looking at Shawn at the time and assumed she was talking to him.  I waited for him to respond.  “I said, HELLO!” she said indignantly.  I looked up.  She had stopped and was staring at me.  I thought, what’s this homeless girl with attitude want from ME?  Shawn kept his mouth shut.

“Hello,” I said guardedly.

“Unh!”  She turned in disgust and headed for the shade of the next fenced tree.  I watched, puzzled, as she plopped her bags down, keeping her back to me.

“That’s Foxy,” Shawn confided.  “She’s a spray paint artist.  She’s very, umm … temperamental.”

“Ohh.” Now I saw I was possibly in her regular spot and I had not responded to her attempt to be friendly.  Whoops.

Shawn wandered off and I began to draw a portrait of Bethany from my phone.  An older man, maybe 58, in a straw hat and dress shirt ambled up.  He watched me draw for a minute.  “You new here?”

“I was here 2 weeks ago.” I replied.

“I could tell,” he said, “I’ve not seen you before and I know everyone in this square.”  I kept drawing.

“Have you met Foxy over there?”  He nodded her way.  “She’s a good friend.  She has her ups and downs,” he made a roller coaster with his hand, “but she makes nice work.”

“I said Hi to her,” I allowed.

“And down there at the end of the square … that’s Harley.  The Magician.  He’s a friend of mine.  And over there …” he pointed, “that’s my buddy Hank.”

“You must spend a lot of time in the square,” I observed.

“That I do,” he said, pleased I was catching his drift.  “Truth be told, I do a little drawing myself.”

“Really?” I said.  I put my china marker down.  I could tell he wanted my full attention.

“That’s right.  Portraits, like you, only I do mine in pencil.”

“Oh, Yeah?”  I was remembering that event services said there were no portrait artists.  I was also realizing he was doing a territory dance.

“The name’s Doug.”  He stuck out his hand.  I shook it. “Yeah, I’ve been doing this for about 21 years now.  I haven’t set up yet this year.  I’ve had a bit of money come in and haven’t needed to.  But I normally sit at that table over there until about noon then move to that table to stay in the shade.”  As I turned to look, he took the opportunity to lean his bag against my easel leg and sat down in the customer chair.  This was an act of aggression.  I considered starting to draw him but sensed he’d find a way to sabotage it.  My best course was to keep playing nice.  “You had any problems with the police?”

“Not yet.” I said.  “I talked to a couple cops two weeks ago when I set up.  They didn’t seem to know what laws applied to me.”

“Well, I’m good friends with the sheriff…”

What followed was an hour of him giving me advice that was largely unnecessary and telling me stories that revolved around how well connected he was.  I had to pull out my “I worked in Times Square” card to take a bit of the wind out of his sails.  Eventually he left, and I went back to drawing my wife.

Within 10 minutes I felt a presence watching.  I looked up hoping for customer, only to find a balloon vendor rocking on his heels and grinning a practiced stage grin.  “Hello! I’m David and you’re new here!”  He stuck out his hand.  It was a welcome contrast, this straightforward communication.  I seized his hand. 

“I’m Michael!” I belted back. “And I am!”

“Well, that’s a firm handshake!  And you have a very professional setup!  AND you do very nice work!”

“Thank You!”  A flat wire basket hung from his neck at chest level, in which he kept his twisty balloons and a hand pump.  Several pre-twisted balloons and a sign were attached.

“Are you, sir, aware of the laws governing your table?”  He asked.

“This, my good man,” I retorted, “Is NOT a table.  It is an Easel.”

“Well put!  An Easel!”  He marveled.  “Good answer!  For you know, it is Illegal to set up a table without a permit.  That is why I,” he gestured to his basket, “carry my table with me.  I can see you are an articulate man,” he flattered. “Let me ask you this: How much do you charge for one of your portraits?”

“Nothing,” I smiled. “I ask only for a donation.”

“Another good answer!” he exclaimed.  “We are not allowed, as buskers, to SELL our wares.”

We proceeded to have a lengthy conversation concerning the laws of the square, in which he was very well versed.  His speech and approach were so like my Father’s, I found it quite enjoyable.  He told me stories of encounters with event services and the police.  His lawyer/girlfriend, Peggy, researched and provided printouts of the most current legislation.  He used to set up a balloon tent with a helium tank.  He also plays clarinet.  He used to bring drums and instruments in for the kids to play.  He’d play the clarinet while the kids played drums and had balloon sword battles.  I was delighted!  Then they changed the law to disallow tents for buskers.

While on this topic, Doug returned looking a little redder in the nose.  I could tell from his approach that he was seething with aggression.  He planted himself standing almost between David and I and folded his arms.  There was the slightest hesitation in David’s story but he went on “ – and so I removed my tent and I replaced it with a table.”

“Only an asshole would set up a tent,” Doug declared.

“That’s true!” David smiled in agreement, as if Doug meant breaking the law.

Vehemently Doug said “No!  YOU’RE an asshole!”

David took a step back, bowed his head and said “Thank you sir.”  Then stepping forward again, “I don’t believe we’ve met.  The name’s David.”   He stuck out his hand.

Doug took a step back, arms still crossed.  “I know You and you should know me, I saved you from getting punched in the face.” David looked at him for a second.  “Thank you,” He said sincerely.

Then turning back to me, he continued. “And then they changed the law to exclude tables.”

It then fell to me, whether I would continue conversing with David, tacitly agreeing the matter was settled and the interruption was over, or would I respect Doug’s misgivings as to David’s character and seek to delve deeper into the mystery of its origin.  I reasoned in myself that even if Doug’s assessment of David were true, his method of conveyance broke social protocol and made him appear to be the very thing he accused David of.  Our anger at others, more often than not, is directly proportionate to our intimacy with that very shortcoming in ourselves.  I concluded that David’s graciousness had netted my attention.  “So that’s when you started wearing your table?” I asked.

“It is!” David beamed.  “Now I carry everything with me and wander freely about the square.”

Doug stormed off in a trail of obscenities and entered the nearest bar.

“What do you suppose that was about?” David’s eyebrows were raised.

“I don’t know.  You handled it very nicely, though.”

“Why, thank you!”  He gave a little bow.

“Perhaps he felt that I was his territory since he spent an hour telling me, the nubie, the ropes of the square,” I suggested.

“Hmm … very insightful,” he mused.  “Perhaps.”  Then  he launched into the story of how 16 nails had been pounded into all 4 tires of his car while in a parking garage some years back and the culprit had turned out to be a bar owner who had recently gotten out of prison for laundering drug money for his brother.  (That bar right there, actually, where Doug had gone in.)  David didn’t know why the guy hated him, but he’d gotten a brand new set of tires out of it, from his insurance.  He said he has a strong personality and it sometimes has that effect on people.

While he talked he noticed my attention drifting to Foxy, who was explaining how hard and stressful being an artist could be to a glazey-eyed couple.  They kept nodding soberly. “That’s Foxy,”  David pointed with his chin.  “Steer clear of her.  She’s Manic.”  Well, everyone can agree on one thing, I thought.  “At least she’s out here making art,” I said.  

“Well, I should let you get back to drawing.  It’s been an unparalleled pleasure!”  David bowed and sauntered away.

I went back to drawing Bethany, but my phone was dying.  I was getting antsy.

Finally, around 7:00, two young black girls approached. “How much are your pictures?” one asked.

“They’re for a donation,” I said.

“We only have two dollars,” she mourned.

“Have a seat,” I commanded.

While I drew them, I felt a presence lurking.  I knew it was Doug without looking.  After a lot of throat clearing he leaned into my space and said “I’m gonna leave my bag here, I’ve gotta go to the market.”  He started to put it against my easel leg.  “You’ll be here for awhile, right?” 

I didn’t look up from drawing, but pointed.  “Not on the easel.   Put it against the fence.” I commanded.  He tried to say something else but I was really focused on the portrait.  He left.  I did a respectable job finishing and the girls were delighted.  Unfortunately I had pulled in no more business and was sitting idle when Doug returned.  He was fairly drunk.  I leaned against the fence to help him avoid using my chair.  He leaned beside me and offered me some corn liquor from a water bottle.  I declined.

“Sorry for embarrassing you, earlier.  It’s just that guy is a … well, he’s been really nasty to some good friends of mine.  The owner of this bar here.  He’s a really good friend.  He lets me draw in there late at night when the crowds out here die down.  That’s a good gig, you know, people are really generous in a bar, of course you can never draw for long because people keep buying you free drinks!”

“Well, what did he do to your friend?” I ask.

“It’s a long shtory,” he said, with a sidelong glance to see where my loyalties lay.  “Too long to tell,” he decided.

“Well, I gotta pack up and go home to my wife,” I said, realizing how much I was missing her.

“Will you be out tomorrow?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I said flatly.  I packed and left.

As I carried my things past Foxy I glanced at her work.  It was painstakingly wrought.  Not the slick caliber of the NYC spray artists, but at least it was her own, not formulaic.  I thought, You go, girl, but I did not engage.

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