Mary Lou Williams

The three calligraphy brush strokes I learned are "bone", "needle", and "growth & decay"

Just last night I wrote a little story about the three college painting professors in the art department at the University of Nebraska thirty years ago who influenced my life. The story wasn't quite ready for prime time, so I only sent it to my college friends. By email reply I learned that the last surviving professor passed away yesterday. My reaction was immediate and physical--goosebumps, a sense of neon energy shooting through my arms, and a kick in the gut.

All day my mind has replayed scenes from Mr. Butt's classroom where I studied drawing, composition, and watercolors. In my mind's eye, the day is an overcast April Saturday. The air is heavy with tornado potential The sculpture garden below is rich in greens and pinks. The trees Mr. Butt has taught me to read are swaying and floating. I draw them with cobalt violet, and trace over the lines with a watery brush.

I have a privileged key to the classroom. The room is my sanctuary. I add silver ink and rubbing alcohol into the Windsor Newton "Neutral Gray" washes to create the loaded storm clouds above the paths of the sculpture garden.

Mr. Butt arrives. He lights a cigar, and unlocks the stereo cabinet to play some Mary Lou Williams piano jazz. I am mixing olive washes with hints of gold ink. Mr. Butt is watering his bromeliads. Bromeliads line the shelves in front of the windows, in all their varied greens. The clouds outside turn to charcoal and resemble a pregnant woman ten days after her due date.

To Mr. Butt for teaching me to know when the painting is finished, and to strive for clarity within richness.

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