Retracing Scenic Highway 7 in Do South Magazine

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Barn near Lead Hill

Do South bylinesI’m always honored to publish in Do South MagazineIt was a treat to share a photo byline with Reese Kennedy, my mother’s older brother. Our drives up Scenic Highway 7 were separated by thirty-eight years, but I discovered some fascinating connections. Below is an excerpt from the article and link to the digital version of  the article.

 

At 5-years old, I approached my mother’s older brother. “Uncle Reese, would you draw me a Texas Longhorn?” He was a soft-spoken art teacher and politely put off my request. Finally, after two days of repeated appeals…

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Hwy 7 crosses the Buffalo River in Jasper

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Railroad north of Camden where Reese and I both stopped 38-years apart.

 

David’s Bread, Memories, and a Chance Meeting on the Trail

David

David

My cousin, David and I were born the same year.  He died in 1983 while working on his doctorate in music at North Texas State University.  He was an amazing classical guitarist, a brilliant and gentle young man.  David’s death was heartbreaking to his parents, my Aunt Lucille, and Uncle Reese, his sister Carol, and our extended family.

I learned a lot about how to deal with a loss by watching their lives.  Uncle Reese wrote a book that was a great tribute to David and comforting to friends and family.

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For several years, David baked whole wheat bread, sharing his recipe with me. I don’t remember ever using it while he was alive.

After David’s death, I began to bake his bread recipe each Christmas.  This baking of bread became one of my annual traditions and a time for me to think about David and what his life meant to our family.

David's bread

David’s bread

Not long after his death, fellow musicians held a tribute concert in David’s memory. Proceeds went to a memorial concert fund at Stephen F. Austin University where David got his college degree and where Uncle Reese worked as an art professor. Our family drove down to Nacogdoches for the concert held at a local coffee shop. It was a wonderful event.

Both Uncle Reese and Aunt Lucille died several years ago, but David’s death was a constant shadow of sadness in their lives.  The memories of our loss of David still sting today. I sometimes wonder how his talent and kind spirit would have influenced the world if he had lived longer.

Fountain in the restaurant of the Saint Francis Hotel.

Fountain in the restaurant of the Saint Francis Hotel.

A couple of summers ago, I took Becca to Santa Fe.  We stayed at the Saint Francis Hotel.  We weren’t roughing it but had access to some beautiful hiking trails.  I would rise early and hike, and then return for some afternoon touring with Becca and a good meal.  We called it food tourism, and it was great fun!

View of Sante Fe Baldy from my break spot.

View of Santa Fe Baldy from my break spot.

While taking a break on a day hike up to Santa Fe Baldy, two ladies approached up the trail and asked if I was alright. Maybe I looked tired from the elevation, but I replied, “It’s 60-degrees with no humidity, so this guy from Arkansas feels great!  It’s in the upper 90s back home.”

One of the ladies said she knew about high humidity, having lived in East Texas for several years. I said I used to have family in that area. She asked where, and I said Nacogdoches to which she replied, “That’s where I lived.”  I mentioned Reese and Lucille’s name, and she said she knew them well.

It turns out that she owned the coffee shop where the memorial concert for David was held, and she remembered it well. We shared memories of Reese, Lucille, David, and Carol. The lady with her just stood there stunned at what she was hearing. I only saw two hikers on the ascent up to Santa Fe Baldy that day.

Looking down on Lake Catherine from the top of Santa Fe Baldy.

Looking down on Lake Katherine from the top of Santa Fe Baldy.

At the end of the day, while preparing to drive away from the trailhead, the two ladies came off of the trail. The one who had lived in Nacogdoches came running up with a trail guide she thought I might like to have, saying it was an older edition but had some good hikes around the area. I thanked her and gave her an Ozark Highlands Trail Association water bottle.

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As I drove away, I was thankful for this chance meeting on the trail and the kind words I heard about David from this “stranger.” I was reminded that there are no real strangers on the trail, where we often have connections with others just waiting to be discovered.

This evening Becca and I tasted David’s bread, and it was good. I read an excerpt from his father’s book and pulled out the old hiking guide to view the trail to Santa Fe Baldy. I thought about David’s far reaching influence and how memories of him and his parents live on in others.

Art Travels

Note: This isn’t a typical Ozark Mountain hiking story but a personal story of how two works of art have traveled my way.  It’s also the story of how some good connections are made using technology.

Reese Kennedy was my mother’s older brother.  He was an artist.  He was a complex, soft-spoken man, but there was a richness and generosity in that complexity. He was kind and gentle, and loved his family very much.

I’ve written the story of convincing Uncle Reese to draw a Texas Longhorn for me when I was five.  What I didn’t tell was how that ink and chalk drawing later disappeared.

I assumed that it was lost or accidentally tossed when my parents moved several years after I graduated from college.  I would think of it often, but eventually gave up on ever seeing it again.  I was sad that this icon from childhood was lost and possibly destroyed.

While attending Reese’s funeral, I thought again about that drawing while hearing stories of those he influenced over the course of his life.  Stories were shared of his work as an artist, teacher, father and friend.  He had led a distinguished life personally and professionally.  He was a founding member and first president of the Southwest Watercolor Society and taught art at Stephen F. Austin University prior to his retirement.

Several years later I was helping my parents clean Aunt Lucille’s home following her death in Nacogdoches, Texas.  She and Reese were both highly respected watercolor artists.

While I was sorting through books, Reese’s son-in-law, Larry walked in and said, “Is this something that belongs to you?”  He was holding the Texas Longhorn drawing.  My parents theorized that they had given it to Reese years before, with the idea of having him make a frame for it in the frame shop of his Nacogdoches art gallery.  It ended up in one of his collection folders and time passed by as it sat safely in his home.

I had the drawing framed, and it is now on display in a prominent place where I see it daily, thankful for this gift from the past.  Knowing Reese, he would humbly say, “If I’d realized how special this drawing was going to be to you, I would have spent more time on it.”  I would reply that in dealing with me at age five, he probably needed to make that longhorn appear quickly to hold my attention.  It was beautiful to me then and still is today.

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I posted the initial story of this drawing in January of 2014.

In July, I received the following email from the feedback page of my blog.

Jim

I think I have one of your uncle’s watercolors. The signature matches the one on your longhorn painting. The piece I have is a watercolor of a log cabin. Would you like me to email you a photo of it for you to see?

Scott Dressel-Martin

Scott

I would enjoy seeing a photo of the painting and forwarding it to Reese’s daughter.  Reese was a founding member and first president of the Southwest Watercolor Society.  He was a wonderful person.

Scott Dressel-Martin lives in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.  After visiting his web site, I realized he was a gifted professional photographer.  He once worked with one of my favorite nature photographers, Galen Rowell.  I was delighted that my blog entry had led me to an artist who appreciated Reese’s art.

Then in August, the story continued.

Jim

At long last, here is a photo of the painting I think is by your uncle. Thank you for your patience. It’s about 20×24 framed, and it’s beautiful. I keep thinking it doesn’t match anything in my house, but it’s such a lovely painting I was never able to let it go.

Does this look like his work and signature to you?

I was given the painting by a friend in Vail about 20 years ago as he was moving out of town. I’ve enjoyed it ever since.

Cheers!
 
Scott

That’s my Uncle Reese for sure!  That is a beautiful painting.  He once drove up scenic Hwy 7 through Arkansas, stopping to paint and photograph old barns and structures.  Could have been that this old barn was from one of those trips.  Or, it might have been a scene from East Texas.  Thanks for sharing the photo.

The next message from Scott was a complete surprise.

 

Jim,

Now that we’ve determined that this is your Uncle’s work I’d like to make you an offer. If you’d be willing to pay for the shipping I’d be happy to give you the painting. I love the piece but it truly doesn’t fit in our home decor. It would make my wife and I very happy to know the work is being appreciated and cherished by someone that has a connection to it. It would feel like the piece is going home in a way.

Scott,

Wow!  Must say you’ve brought a tear to my eye with your kind offer.  I would be delighted to have this painting and would treasure it for years to come.

Just let me know the cost after you ship and I’ll gladly reimburse you to your Garland St. address.  I will also make a donation to the David Kennedy Music Scholarship fund in appreciation for your gift to me.  David, a gifted classical guitarist, was Reese’s son pursuing a doctorate in music performance from North Texas State University in the 1980s when he died in his early 30s.  Reese’s daughter, Carol, has applied any sales of his paintings to the scholarship fund over the years.

 

Jim,
Excellent!!  I will have the painting shipped in the next week and let you know when it’s on the way.

It is wonderful to know that we are playing a small part in helping the scholarship fund. Music and theater are important to us and helping students in need is always a worthy endeavor.

I can’t wait for you to have this painting!

Cheers!!

 

And so, this is how another painting by Reese Kennedy came into my possession.  It is perfect for my office and even ties in with our school colors of green and gold.  I look at this painting and think of Reese’s brushes shaping every inch as he sat behind his easel along Highway 7 or somewhere in an East Texas field.

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Reese was an artist.  He couldn’t help but paint, but I wonder if he had any inkling of the paths some of his art would travel?  That one of his drawings would be “lost” then found and cherished years later.  I think he would be pleased to know that his work would be treasured and shared for years into the future.

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I enjoyed showing Reese’s painting to co-workers and sharing the story behind that big box in the office.

The painting was shipped with care.

The painting was shipped with care. After seeing this photo, Carol (Reese’s daughter) said this is what Reese called called “ink and wash” technique — some drawing with india ink (often with a quill) and when the ink dried, he would add the watercolor washes.