Untitled, Acrylic on Panel, 18" x 24", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
Our father always had a few paintings in process. He passed away on Christmas Day 2013. Posted here are a few of his unfinished paintings. Had he died at a different time, there would still be a set of unfinished work, but different from these. The painting above was part of his Urban American Realism, a period in which his mind resided for an extended time (and to which it frequently returned for visits). The painting immediately below, posted for comparison, was made during the same period and is of a similar perspective. Unlike the painting above, it is signed by the artist.
Untitled, Oil on Panel, 23.5" x 31.5", Richard J Van Wagoner, Circa 1995, Courtesy Van Wagoner Family Trust**
My brother Rob and his wife Cheri live in Concrete, Washington. They with their sons Phoenix and Shae moved from Ogden, Utah to Concrete about 19 years ago. Concrete is a former Portland Cement Company town located in the Upper Skagit Valley some 90 miles north-northeast of Seattle, on the west side of the North Cascades. In the town’s heyday, it supplied cement for the construction of multiple hydro-electric systems, including the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams. Cheri and Rob’s property borders the Skagit River, the second-largest river on the west coast of the continental U.S. (only the Colombia is larger). The setting is remote, wild and gorgeous. When global warming takes fuller effect, I suspect it will be among the regions where people flock. Life there is about water, salmon and timber, elk and bear, coyotes and bald eagles, and rain, of course. Lots of people up that way live off the grid. Literally.
Their 12 acres includes an old barn behind the house.
Rob, who is a talented fiction writer and novelist, became proficient in construction and carpentry, including finish carpentry. He acquired an affinity for the varieties and beauty of the wood from that region, the firs and cedar and maple and poplar. He poured a cement floor on the old barn’s main level and built a workshop, which he filled with various saws and planers and jointers, routers and drill presses, air compressors and hand tools and work tables. He built himself a studio for writing (not shown). He would eventually undertake the full remodel of the barn, inside and out. In addition to making a workshop of the barn’s main space, he would convert the hayloft above and one wing of the barn into large, finished areas with heating systems. More on that later.
In 2011, when our parents' health had declined to the point they were unable to fully care for each other, Rob (with Cheri's and the boys’ blessing) insisted Mom and Dad uproot from the Ogden, Utah area—where they had lived their near 60-year marriage and raised their five children—and move in with them in Concrete. The transition was destabilizing for all, but Rob, Cheri, Phoenix and Shae did their best to neutralize the considerable angst Mom and Dad experienced with such a massive displacement. They remodeled their home for Dick and Renee’s safety and comfort and filled it with the things that provided them a sense of continuity. Dad was always more adventurous than Mom, but she found stability and comfort in performing daily chores, in caring for Dad and attending the local Mormon ward. Mom survived Dad by a little more than two years and was blessed to be with Rob and Cheri’s family through her loss and grieving. The boys spent time with and cared for Richard and Renee when they were not away at college. Rob insists this was a rich experience in the circle of life, caring for parents who happen to live long enough to return to childhood. Before their move to the Pacific Northwest, Dick and Renee lived just 60 miles north of Salt Lake, where I live. Even so, I couldn’t have taken them in the way my brother and his family did. The thought never entered my mind.
At the time of their northwest migration, Dad still believed his best paintings were yet to come. He had a spacious studio in his North Ogden condominium, replete with northern light. His studio there was strewn with easels, small tables on rollers, metal tool boxes, fishing-tackle and military-surplus-ammo boxes filled with metal tubes of paint, quart-size wide-mouth bottles jammed with brushes and oily rags, palettes with gobs of oozing paints in various stages of hardness, plastic buckets for water, sponges, cans of thinner, stand-alone lights, a wooden box-set of drawers for cataloging his thousands of slides, step ladders, and a screen and slide projector. Abandoning that space for something unknown was very difficult.
So Rob, hoping to smooth the transition and keep Dad painting, undertook the barn remodel, constructing an art studio with large north- and west-facing windows on the structure’s main level, adjoining his own woodworking shop.
This photograph is from inside the studio showing the blinded windows from the other side, and Richard, in his overcoat, painting a watercolor with a shirtless Shae reading on his tablet beside him. A friend and I loaded a snow-mobile trailer with the contents of Dad’s North Ogden studio and delivered them to his new studio in Concrete. It’s amazing how familiar “stuff” can bring a measure of security.
The room Rob built in the barn’s former hayloft now serves as a gallery/heated storage for some of Richard's art and a place for work, meditation and contemplation. Please notice the ceiling structure which is mostly constructed with old boards from the barn’s original exterior. The floor was hand-milled from old-growth cedar logs salvaged after a logging company abandoned them for the fir logs they preferred. Rob designed and installed it in “antique” style using hand-cut nails.
This next unfinished painting was the start of a couple's portrait, I suspect as a gesture of gratitude to Rob and Cheri for opening their home and hearts.
Rob and Cheri, Oil on Canvvas, 32" x 50", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
An unfinished watercolor of a scene from the old neighborhood.
Untitled, Watercolor, 21.5" x 29", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
I am uncertain whether the next two pieces are unfinished. They are unsigned. I would, however, happily hang them in my home or office, finished or unfinished.
Untitled, Watercolor, 10" x 20.5", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
Untitled, Pen and Ink, 11.75" x 12.5", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
*My brother the fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to lastamendment.com
**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed nearly 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in lastamendment.com are hers.