A Visit with Gordon

polaroids 2004-5 (from various visits)

To get away from things, we often headed out to Winamac to see Gordon and Lee at the Inn overnight. Things were a little different there now; Lee had taken a job as a long-haul truck driver to help pay the bills associated with running the Inn, stables, etc. We pulled up to the house on a crisp, early spring afternoon. We walked into the house, and Gordon called us into the kitchen where he was pouring some coffee. We exchanged hugs, and he offered us some coffee and tea. We headed into the living room to talk; I loved listening to Tom and Gordon talk art. It comforted me somehow, allowed me to escape from the details of daily minutiae that were always dancing around into my mind. Gordon lit up a cigarette and offered up a story about de Kooning or Jasper Johns. He and Tom carried the story to distant art history, and back again to Gordon’s projects. At that point, we headed over to see what was happening in the studio.

We stepped out onto the back deck in the bright sunlight and felt the eyes of several cats turn towards us. A couple of them walked over to greet us. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little head peek around the edge of the house, a tiny white kitten with one eye, almost in the center of her face, like a Cyclops. She was a creepy little girl. Gordon told us she lost an eye when another animal in the woods attacked her. She was one of many animals we saw on our visits to the farm over the years.

When we entered the studio’s central space, Gordon showed us some room screens. It was common for Gordon to work on several projects at once, adding a little bit to this piece and moving to another. I was drawn to a room screen with details from hundreds of old black and white photos collaged on one side. There was thin, transparent, striped muslin over them. The striping resembled the uniforms of prisoners in the concentration camps from World War II. On the other side were sections of maps collaged together, covering the solid part of the screen. The top border of the screen was framed out and had pieces of lace and cloth woven across. It was a lovely piece, sad and sensitive. When we walked up to Gordon’s studio’s lofted living area, he showed us some more works we had not seen before. I noticed the kitchen table stacked with bills, papers, and mail and wondered how they pulled all this off.

We decided to go into town for an early dinner and invited Gordon to join us. We ended up at a supper club on Bass Lake. It was the kind of place that was popular in the 60s and 70s that served a relish plate with radishes, celery, carrots, and cheese, with small dry breadsticks wrapped in plastic. The waitresses were older middle-aged women, and the food and politics were everyday, white, middle American. I had been to many places like this growing up when we would visit my grandparents in Iowa. We ate and talked as the sunset over the lake, and the talk at the bar grew louder.

When we got back to the Inn, Tom and I went down to our room. They had five suites at the Inn, each with a different theme, accented with Gordon and Lee’s artwork. Our favorite room was what we called the Moroccan Suite. They painted it with warm, earthy colors and faux finishes that resembled large stones, and furnished it with tapestries and surreal furniture made by Gordon. It had a king-sized bed with plush bedding and blankets, which was perfect for curling up or rocking the Casbah.

After breakfast the next morning, we all headed out for a walk. Gordon wanted to check in on his friend Dale who lived about a mile away at the end of their property. He and one of his dogs, Bear, took us on a path that went along the side of the Tippecanoe River. It was a gently worn path, one  Gordon, his dogs, Dale, traveled frequently. At the beginning of the path was a twenty-foot section of a wall of sticks and branches. Gordon brought back branches from his walks and wove them into the growing wall. As we walked along in a single file, we came upon several art installations made by Gordon and Lee over the years. They were kooky, sometimes ironic, and earthy, and always made with found materials. Gordon often pointed out plants of interest; it was on this walk that he introduced me to Columbine, which became one of my favorite native spring shade plants. Bear suddenly ran ahead of us to greet another dog, and the two of them disappeared ahead of us into the woods. We could see a small cabin through the woods; as we approached the building, Dale came out.

He greeted us with a big, almost toothless smile and hugs. He looked a bit like a tiny wizard with his long white hair and beard. He lived in this remote cabin on the property for a few years and seemed to love the solitude and freedom it provided him. We walked into the tiny structure, which had been built upon four large stones as the foundation; you could almost see the ground through the wooden floorboards. The place was tidy and spartan. The kitchen consisted of a two-burner hotplate and a removable tub with a small pump for retrieving water from a well beneath it. There was an antique drawing desk with an elegant desk lamp that lit up a sketchbook and all of Dale’s pens and pencils inked and sharpened and ready to work. He showed us some recent drawings in ink and spoke about his career as a magazine illustrator, working out of Chicago. Then he took us into his bedroom. The walls were covered with shelves filled with books and DVDs. He spent most of the winter curled up in his cozy den watching movies and reading. The bed was loaded with layers of blankets, which he folded up and put away as the weather got warmer. The house was missing one thing; I asked where the bathroom was. Outside of the cabin, about 30 feet away from the front door, was a cute tiny structure painted blue and white, with a small heart carved out of the door. Dale opened the spring-loaded door and bowed gallantly. It was an outhouse, clean and cute, with wallpapered walls that featured a delicate floral pattern. There was a small, framed mirror and some toiletries on a tiny shelf. There was a cushioned toilet seat atop the hole in the ground.

Before we left, Dale took us to a deck off the side of his house. An almost life-sized replica of R2-D2 was next to a small table and chairs. A miniature train track laced around the deck and in and around the house. Dale flipped a switch; we heard the faint sound of a train whistle. Moments later, a train approached from the back of the deck to where we were standing. It was a delightful cap to our morning excursion. We headed back to the main house, where Gordon and I watched an old western on TV. Tom went out to paint a watercolor landscape on the property before we headed home.