Saturday, March 15, 2014

Peace on earth

When a friend told me that painter Louisa McElwain had died at her own hand at her home in Santa Cruz, New Mexico I absorbed the news in the abstract but not as a flesh and blood occurrence.  That was a year ago.  And it’s not as if I knew the backstory, the lead up to such a tragedy.  We were on a painting and photography trip into Canyon de Chelly back in 2004 and traded stories around the campfire.  And I’d spoken with her at a couple of her openings.  That’s about it.  It just didn't seem plausible for someone at the peak of her talent and success to take her own life. She was just 59.

Recently as I was sorting through some portfolios I chanced upon photographs I’d taken of Louisa in Canyon de Chelly and those images prompted this post.  She was in love with painting en plein air and her excitement to make art in the warm canyon sunshine was palpable.  Her students watched her intently, happy to be in her circle of influence.  They were acolytes.  They wanted to paint like the Louisa McElwain. 

Louisa painted big, bold and prolifically.  Two or three 3’x4’ pieces a day, paintings selling for $10,000 or more even then.  And she sold plenty.  Not that she got all the money.  She talked about one gallery absconding with $300,000. For most artists that would be a career.  For Louisa it was a nuisance. 

She was also newly in love with Joe Emerson, her neighbor in Santa Cruz.  He catered to her every need in the canyon and did so with great joy.  He was as en rapt as she.  They married.  But he died after a brief illness in January 2013.   I remember that Joe, a retired Army Major, was politically to the right of Attila the Hun and had utter disdain for all things foreign especially the French.   Xenophobic is too mild a description. Joe was a tough guy to like.
The nature of their recent relationship is unknown to me but it’s reasonable, given events, to think that Joe’s passing had affected her greatly.  Nearly as conservative politically as Joe, Louisa had recently become deeply Christian, a combination that isn't rare.  One wishes that her faith had comforted her more.  We wish that she had found peace in life. 





11 comments:

Daryl A. Black said...

These are lovely images but I particularly like the second one where her hat issues the challenge of discovering her mysteries.

artistdeb said...

I appreciate your insight into this matter Steve. Every once and a while this comes back to me and I ponder how it can be that one so full of beauty and wowed by the Grace of God flowing through could choose to do what she did, and no longer live physically. I have not as she experience such deep grief but I can see how one in such a place might see it as their only hope of relief.

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