The Sunday Painter by
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My father was a lover of all things related to art — galleries, museums, magazines, and huge, coffee-table books. And for as long as I can remember, he was a Sunday painter. He took lessons in oil painting from a local artist and produced a huge inventory of art, much of which he gave away. His paintings are scattered throughout the family, some on people’s walls and others in storage.

One of Dad’s paintings hanging in my house

My father instilled an appreciation for art in me, filtered through his lens of what constituted good art.

As children, we toured many museums with Dad acting as docent and delivering in depth lectures on what we were seeing. My younger brother and I drank the Kool-Aid, while my middle brother remained rebellious and uninterested in my father’s passion for art. After my parents had both died, when we divvied up their possessions, middle bro remained steadfast in his aversion to the art, preferring to take furniture and electronics. Thus, I have a fair amount of my parents’ art collection.

Oldest graduate of Wayne State University

After he retired from his accounting firm at a relatively young age, a job he loathed, my father returned to Wayne State University to complete a degree in art history. He was briefly famous at the time for being the oldest graduate of the school. My parents opened an art gallery near their home, Towne Center Gallery, in Southfield, Michigan. My mother and her partner were the face of the gallery, charged with selling the art, while my father ran the business and traveled to art shows and other galleries to collect pieces that he deemed worth selling. Eventually, he had a falling out with my mother’s partner, who wanted to sell artistic jewelry and decorative pieces to bring in more business. Dad refused and the gallery fell apart.

This happened in the 1980s when I was busy raising my family and had long been away from my Michigan roots. While we visited the gallery when we were in town, its main impact on my life was being gifted with art that wasn’t selling for every special occasion. We were never consulted about the numbered and signed prints that soon covered many of the walls in our home, although thankfully we liked most of them.

After the collapse of the gallery, my father joined IRP of the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit, an organization of retired professionals who volunteered to give lectures in their areas of expertise. Here, he finally had the opportunity to teach art history and have an audience that truly appreciated his lectures. He learned to use a computer, surf the Internet and even create Power Point presentations.

My father instilled an appreciation for art in me, filtered through his lens of what constituted good art. Strangely, he also denied me the opportunity to create my own art. I was permitted to accompany him to his Sunday painting sessions, which I found to be very boring. When I asked if I could take my own lessons, my request fell on deaf ears. I think there was only enough money and ego to support one artist in our family.

All but the Venetian glass piece from my parents’ collection, now in my home

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Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    A fascinating story about your father, Laurie. And just when I thought it would be a “feel good” one about his lifetime love of art, even as an amateur, it turned bittersweet. I am truly sorry for you.

    That said, I do like your father’s art that you exhibit here, having always appreciated geometric abstractions. (I remember going to the first op art exhibition at MOMA when I was in high school.) He was truly an artist — including in the ego department.

  2. Laurie, I can see your dad was talented, altho abstract art is not my cup of tea – nor yours I know!

    But what a gift he gave you in it’s appreciation!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    I give your father credit for following his passion, even late in life and going to Wayne State. But it sounds like his need for constant control was a source of some conflict within your family. You have written before about feelings toward your father, but it would seem to color some of your art appreciation as well, though he did give you some background and that would be a good thing? It seems art and family were complicated for you.

  4. I love your dad, Laurie…he reminds me of someone else I know. We can get a little obsessive (now, there’s an oxymoron for you). Still, I’m sorry his shortcomings short-circuited your own creativity, but at least you found another avenue in your wonderful writing — for which we’re all grateful!

  5. Marian says:

    You so well recount your father’s connection to art, Laurie, but the last part of the story is so painful, with you being denied the chance for artistic expression. Do you think your path might have been different if you had been allowed to do so?

  6. Suzy says:

    Fascinating story about your father, Laurie. Glad he got to have that second act, but how sad that you couldn’t have lessons of your own. Are the two paintings in your bottom photograph ones that he did, or just ones that he collected? I love both of them!

  7. In contrast to some other commenters, I love much abstract and geometric art and that includes what I see here. In common with others, I am moved by the trajectory of your father’s life; i guess those years when (as I recall from a comment on one of my stories) “Chrysler was king” were not satisfying years for him at all. You give us a really well-crafted and seemingly objective portrait of this man with all his complications. I thought it was a note of grace that you saved for the very end the more subjective and rather sad dimension of the story.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I hope I didn’t diminish my father’s accomplishments as an artist and student of art history by sharing that he denied me and my brothers the opportunity to follow in his footsteps. He was a complicated man, but what he achieved after he retired was amazing.

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