Too. Many Stories to Tell
by Pam Newton
June 25, 2021
Growing up with artists and linguists and their powerful images and sounds has left me with a growing sense of being under siege. The dead crow revives in the middle of the night and haunts me when he flies too close to the sun. It is dead again on my studio wall when I awaken.
In this case, Henry Niese’s beautifully framed piece on hand-made paper led me to writing an email to my dear friend James Kearns asking if he had seen this driftwood framed work of art. There are many stories that opened up (unfolded) on account of my query, but the final chapter has Jim at 97, reading me a 2016 letter to him from Niese over the phone, Jim refers to him as Hank who had written this to him two or three years before his death on account of an article I had written about the fantastic artist James Kearns for the JUNG JOURNAL Summer 2007.
This letter that I heard just last week tells me things I never knew before about my family. My mom had painted a large landscape of a nearby farm, one of many such paintings. It turns out that this was owned by Henry Niese’s grandfather who lived on Mt. Kemble Ave. in Morristown, New Jersey. He gave my mom The Dead Crow (detail shown below) in exchange for that colorful painting. His brother then absconded with the painting and Niese never saw it again.
And, it turns out, The Dead Crow artist thought my mother was a “rather gifted amateur painter“ and my dad was enjoyable to talk to. Just hearing about the Mt. Kemble farm landscape makes my mind drift backwards. I see her, my affectionate, exotic, enthusiastic, generous, and creative mom. She has smudged oil paint all over the place, a lot on her beautiful face: nose, high cheek bones, and side of her chin. She is sitting with her easel and large canvas at the side of the road, way out in the farming town she recently discovered.
Or, perhaps she just stopped somewhere spontaneously on her way to the Huntington County Art Gallery near New Hope, Pa. My young brother Ron and I are let to our own devices as she concentrates on her beloved tubes of color. Golden ochre, Titanium white, Burnt umber, and Cerulian blue squirt out of the wide sky and out of the tubes onto her wooden palette. Brush and palette knife compete as instruments.
Us kids are hanging over the splintery wooden fence. Then, we decide to play Hide ’n Seek and weave our paths back and forth across the road, hiding behind an ancient tree or in a wicked wet gulley. One lone truck roars around the bend on the hill, and we startle into a more alert state. I realize we could have been killed, and it is my job to be the protector.
Ron and I giggle and run down the road again to pick Queen Ann’s Lace, Black-eyed Susans, wild Poppies, Daisies, and other wonders. Mom’s big hoop earrings sway in approval when we return carrying a large bouquet to Mummy Margot. We will love her forever and ever and create images of our own in her memory until we too die. The wild Morning Glories pop out on my rock wall onto an inner screen, hauling me back into the present – a story I am writing in June of 2021.
Hank Niese wrote on Jan.1, 2012, “I enjoyed talking to Anson, because he flew B-26’s in the ETO. The B-26 Martin Maurauder was a hot 2 engine medium bomber & he was a squadron commander, flying medium & low-level raids over France. He bragged about how he never lost a plane, because he had put all his pilots thru a strict course in evasive maneuvering.” Even my brother who lived at home much longer than I had never heard the precise number and degrees that my father described to this man who never even knew me.
My dad rarely talked about details of his many missions and life as a Squadron Commander in France. He came home hating Germans and loving all Black people and immigrants. I do know that he loved having his laundry done by French women and eating Dijon mustard and Camembert Cheese during his year at war, but that’s about all that was discussed. Beyond the fact that he bombed bridges and factories and had one tail gunner die, he would just pour himself another Scotch and change the subject with a cigarette dangling between his lips and his crossed right leg pumping madly up and down.
But, I want to return to my first direction. I am hearing out loud the specific details of why he lost so few planes, and Jim then goes on to tell me how much he owes to my two parents who both died young. A well-trained artist himself, he was looking for kindred souls when he moved to New Jersey. They were his first friends, his entrance to the Morris County Art Association, and his introduction to Ben Shahn who became his mentor and supporter. We talked about an hour, and then I felt blotto; I told him that I would let him go for now. We got off the phone, agreeing that we should have this kind of call more often. I am still looking forward to setting up another time that was so pleasure full for him and got me a copy of the letter in half an hour that his daughter Diane e-mailed me. The onslaught of new memories and images leaves me wondering just when I will be ready.
In the meantime, I have reluctantly agreed to be a member of the Jung Institute of New England’s Training Committee starting July 1 for exactly one year. Today I got an e-mail that informs me that one of the perks is having a fully paid for San Francisco Jung Institute e-library link and account. The JungJournal:Culture & Psyche, Volume1, (2007) is one of their vast holdings. My article that James Kearns sent to Henry Niese in 2012 is in Vol 1, Number 3, (Summer 2007). There are 5 color plates of his beautifully rendered paintings showing his fantastical approach to creation and three black and white pictures of The Woman Who Would Fly in terracotta clay and Beast in fiberglass. I can print them out for free any time I want, or is that just another figment of my psyche’s imagination?