I’ve got Wyle E. Coyote in my head, or rather, his silhouette. Remember all those cartoons where he busts through a wall, (or a cliff, or the ground) and all that’s left is a coyote-shaped absence? In my scenario, the voids are in my heart and shaped like three specific individuals.
As I think back over the past year in an attempt to glean some pattern or lesson, my most significant memories are not exhibits or trips or professional milestones. They are not paintings, drawings, or art of any kind. For me, 2014 is marked by three tragic losses: all friends, all artists, all close to my own age. These individuals were taken by cancer, disease, and a tragic accident; with the last so fresh I may not be making much sense.
While I try not to dwell too much in in the past, the New Year is a time for simultaneously looking back and forward, of figuring out who we are and who we will become. I am sure that many who are reading have lost someone important to them in the past year. Loss is a part of life, of being human. It hurts more than anything, but the reality, as well as the potential for loss, crystallizes everything we do and makes it actually mean something.
The people we choose to know and love make an impression, change us, possibly even embed into our DNA. They shape our character and influence our decisions and perception. Although I would do anything to bring these friends back, I am thankful for every minute I got to spend with them, for every bit of inspiration and laughter and encouragement they shared.
Amy Berkowitz was a Boston-based sculptor and ceramicist. She loved riding motorcycles and bikes of all kinds. Her artwork was about oddball connections and contrasts, and this aesthetic carried over one hundred percent into the way she lived her life. Amy saw value and interest in places where most people see nothing, and a conversation with her always veered into unexpected places.
Her creative practice evolved over many years into a much loved retail establishment, Artifaktori, a mix of vintage, thrift, original art, and handmade objects in a collision of color, texture, and style. It’s no surprise that her store became a creative hub, a magnet for artists in the area. Amy was an inspiration to me in so many ways, most often just reminding me that the world is full of curious wonder. She left behind a kind and caring long-term partner and two kitties. She cannot be replaced and her impact will reverberate and continue.
Claudia Daileader Ruland had an amazing gift with words. She was a talented writer, and published in a number of local and regional magazines when she lived in Baltimore in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. This one, from Baltimore Magazine about a local dog-walking outfit, is one of my favorites. Soon after, Claudia moved to Philadelphia with her husband and they had a little girl. A few years later they moved to Washington, DC where she worked in editing and publishing.
Claudia was open, kind, funny, and a great listener. She was warm and genuine, someone you could talk with for hours whether you were an old friend or a new acquaintance. She was a world traveller and experienced many adventures across the globe. Despite prodigious talents and an accomplished, busy life, she possessed great generosity and humility. Claudia offered solid professional advice to me whenever I asked for it, despite how clueless I often was. Thinking about Claudia and her family breaks my heart, but I know that I am a better person for knowing her. I cannot understand how someone this vibrant, this wonderful, can be gone.
Tom Palermo made exquisite, delicate bicycle frames from his eponymous bike shop. Palermo Bicycles provided cyclists with custom-made frames that can only be described as art. Tom was an avid cyclist and an advocate for better bike safety laws. More importantly, he was madly in love his wife and managed to enjoy every minute he spent with his two young children, even the moments with tears and boogers. Tom had a sweet smile and his infectious laugh was a prized reward for telling a joke. He was a great listener who never talked over others, but someone others quieted down to hear.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to share weddings, laughter, and many New Year’s Eve parties with Tom and his family. Knowing that we won’t be able to do this again in the same way is incomprehensible and heartbreaking to me. At this point, I am sure you have read about the recent events that took his life and the furor over the driver of the car that killed him, but for me, the loss of a friend, and, more importantly, his family’s loss of a father and husband, is everything. (An educational fund has been set up for his children, ages 6 and 4.)
Looking back at 2014, I feel more fragile than I did a year ago. I cannot understand how such tragic losses can coexist with the realities of everyday life. It’s difficult to move ahead each day, knowing these people who lived passionate, positive lives are suddenly gone at such a young age. The world feels forever changed. I suppose you think I have painted these individuals as cliché, but I assure you – none were perfect, but all led exemplary lives. All were artists whose craft and vision has been hugely significant to so many. All will continue to be missed and mourned and their legacy, both from their character and their craft, will continue.
This year I am looking at the New Year with a heavy heart. Honestly, if there were some way to rewind 2014 and do it all over with a different outcome, I would.
I am thankful that I got to spend sunny afternoons and vacations and holiday parties and children’s birthdays with these three individuals, despite the fact that it hurts me to think about them. More than myself, I mourn for their husbands, wives, partners, children, parents, and siblings. I hope that their sacrifice can teach me (and others) to value each day in the studio, each person, each conversation, each meal, each teachable moment.
I hope that 2015 will be the year many of us give ourselves permission to slow down, live in the moment, and stop looking at screens instead of people all the time. For myself, I vow that the losses of 2014 will make me a better person in 2015, with humility, kindness, and a heightened awareness for others – and this especially includes when I am behind the wheel of my car. In 2015 if you happen to find yourself behind a Subaru with a BmoreArt bumper sticker, just settle back, calm down, and be prepared to drive the speed limit.
Author Cara Ober is Founding Editor at BmoreArt.