A flash of inspiration, or insanity, or both

In the wake of graduation weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I have taught and advised students for 13 years, I have become, at age 58, a student myself. An undergraduate. A beginner.

Freshman art student

In my eulogy for my departed husband, I talked about his life’s mission to send beauty into the world for others via his architecture and art, and how that can be an inspiration for those who knew and loved him. I’ve been trying to use Hal’s outward-directed life as my own inspiration to transcend grief and go forward in his spirit.

The eulogy itself was one way of trying to point outward for others. These blogs in Hal’s memory have been another. Over the past year I’ve been writing a novel for teens and young adults based in part on Hal’s memories of North Dakota, and his passing has given the final edit a freshened message and heightened urgency. I’m working on forming a fellowship in Milwaukee for LGBTQ people of faith, not all of whom are so lucky as me to have love and acceptance from family in times of need.

Finally, there’s Oil Gallery, Hal’s studio and display space in the Third Ward, which has proved to be a place of surprising comfort and rejuvenation. I’ve been keeping the doors open as a continuation of the many fulfilling hours Hal and I spent there together. Hal was well stocked with original art in preparation for the summer show season, and he left many other wonderful pieces that for one reason or another didn’t meet his exacting standards for ongoing display. I have enough excellent paintings for a number of Hal debuts in the gallery, and his popular images of Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis and Chicago will continue to adorn the walls and shelves in the form of reproductions and merchandise. Thanks to modern technology and Hal’s care in capturing high-resolution images of all his work, any painting of the hundreds he did can be lovingly recreated on canvas, even in actual oil paint, which I intend to do in limited editions.

Still, I’ve been saddened that I’ll never have another new Hal painting to show…until a lightning bolt of what felt like either inspiration or insanity hit me. (I know from writing and teaching that the two can go hand in hand.) In part because the exact direction is uncertain and in part to build suspense, I won’t get too specific right now. Suffice to say Hal’s bold brushstrokes and colors may yet find their way into new, original artworks with two signatures, via the inexperienced hands and color-blind eyes of his partner in art and love and life.

The bolt of inspiration/insanity has been received enthusiastically thus far by a small few in the local art community with whom I’ve shared, including Hal’s and my Third Ward neighbors and friends at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, where I’ve just enrolled in a six-week crash version of their Foundations of Drawing course. Hal used to say art flows from drawing. So I’m starting there and seeing where it goes. Thanks to Hal I have what might be the best art studio space in Milwaukee, fully stocked. Why not use it? At the very least I’ll gain a better grasp of what art is made of, and aim to enjoy the ride. Stay tuned.

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