Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jimmy: a painted biography by me

I've never made a major piece just about Jimmy before, and this one isn't huge, but I think of it as major.  It's 73"h x 37"w, and I named it simply "Jimmy," after having a working title called "Poppy's Puppies" for a long time. It's really more about Jimmy and much less about our dogs. :)

I finished this piece two days ago, on January 16th, after beginning it way back on July 10th, when I had two students here for a weeklong Turtle Art Camp. I needed to do an airbrush demo for the class, so decided on making a painting of Jimmy, close to life size.  Painting it pretty fast, I spent the rest of my free time in camp writing on it. But the camp ended, and I needed to get back to finishing my Quilt National entry (which I can't show online til after the opening on Memorial Day weekend.) 

I picked up this unfinished Jimmy piece and went back to writing on it about two weeks ago, and now it's finally done!  Before I show you details of the finished piece, here are three pix from my blog about the Turtle Art Camp in July, showing this piece being started, along with the captions I put with them then:

Back to work in the studio on Saturday afternoon: I started an airbrush demo about Jimmy. The theme the day before was Shoes, and I'd missed starting a piece on it, because I was teaching airpen. All I could think about was a print I'd made of Jimmy with his French hammer and a boot upside down on a shoe last, doing some shoe repair, back when I was going to college, and we were much younger.  I decided to make a sort-of lifesize piece and not go back and peek at the woodcut I'd made at The College of Wooster, and just wing it. And I added all three of the black lab girl dogs Jimmy and I had over a 30 year period: Lucy, Elvira, and Hattie. (Lucy came with her name, Jimmy named Elvira, and I named Hattie, our last doggie, who's been gone now nearly 3 years.)

Here's what my Jimmy painting looked like, when I had all the colors airbrushed into it, and it was ready to take down and heatset, before starting to write on it with airpen.  I think its title is "Jimmy Acord, I Love You." Sez so at the top anyhow.

Oh, and the theme for painting on Saturday was Tomatoes, so I stuck a tomato into my shoe piece, and that tomato is ME. (One of my nicknames is Lucky Tomato Pincushion. Ask Elizabeth Owen.)  The "rules" here include being able to lump two themes together, besides not even doing the theme the group makes up. All sorts of cheating are allowed here.  MY rules!

Here's my lifesize Jimmy ... and my lifesize Jimmy.  :) Now I have to go back and read what I've written here, so I don't repeat myself, when I do the rest of the airepn writing on it.

OK, back to pix of the finished piece:

I'm putting up some closeups, so you can try to read it, if you like. The big writing across the top of this piece says "Jimmy Acord, I love you." That and all the other thick lines are done with my Aztek double action airbrush, and airbrush paint, which is kept pretty thick for doing the drawing and big lettering parts.

I ended up giving Jimmy the 3rd eye (brow chakra eye, invented by the Hindus) and 4th eye (throat chakra eye, invented by me...), even though he's not much into that stuff. Still, I think he's pretty intuitive, so that's that.  I gave him the big, fluffy, crazy hair he had when he was young, when we were young together.  Now he ties his hair back, into the ponytail he always said he wanted, but couldn't get his hair to grow long enough for.  Sometimes I miss his big hair, but I'm sure he also misses my really long hair.  We got older!

I did all the small, diary writing with my airpen from Silkpaint, as usual, with black Jacquard Textile Colors fabric paint. I wrote stories as I thought of them, and marked down little notes to tell what stories I'd written about, so I'd have a record of what went into this piece. As I was doing a lot of the writing this month, I included stories from world news, such as the shooting rampage in Tucson, on January 8, where 19 people were shot, 6 of them dying. The main target was Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who is now recovering from a gunshot that went through the left side of her brain. Possibly the gunman was influenced by violent political rhetoric we've all been hearing a lot more in the last few years. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are trying to watch what they say, and I hope they keep that heightened sense of conscience and public influence. To me, the viscousness of politicians and talk show hosts has become more like hate crimes than political speaking.

"When we were young" means in the 70s and early 80s, I guess. He was so skinny for a long time!  And when I met him in 1976, when he was only 22, Jimmy was wearing western style shirts and this gigantic belt buckle that had a real marijuana leaf embedded in some kind of resin, in the middle of the buckle. I think there was abalone around it. Very hippie fancy!  I was absolutely intrigued by this down-to-earth, but rebellious young man. AND he was really nice to me!  :)

I put all three of the black lab girl dogs we ever had, all together into this painting, even though we'd have one, then it would die, and then we'd get another one, for a total of 30 years' worth of black labby girls.

Lucy was our first lab. We got her in 1978, when we were living in the second Needle'd Eye commune, and Sara Garl was living there and sold her pup to Jimmy. Lucy was the first dog I'd ever been around that would really listen to us. I was amazed!  Lucy faked guilt really well, and was so smart, she'd jump off of our waterbed, when she heard us coming home. She'd be yawning on the couch, while the telltale waterbed was still sloshing, from her leaping off of it! :)

Our next lab girl was Elvira, not named after the movie queen, but after Jimmy's grandmother: Elvira Almeda Acord. Grandma Acord said she was happy about having a dog named after her! Thank goodness she wasn't mad! ;)  Elvira was great with our cats, as Lucy had been, and she loved catching frisbees, etc.

Next came Hattie Spooler, who arrived while my father was still living with us. I told him we were naming the puppy Hattie, and he asked "You mean, like Hattie Spooler?" I remembered that name from some of Dad's stories about his mother. This was one of her cousins, so I'm some kind of cousin to the first Hattie Spooler, too. Hattie was the first dog I was very involved in raising from 8 weeks old. She was like a baby to us, and it seemed like we couldn't let her out of our sight for the first year of her life, or there'd be trouble. She was very gentle and good, but loved to chew everything. There's a picture of her wearing an Amish straw hat, that she'd eaten the top out of, and yes, she's feining shame quite well.

Hattie and I walked everywhere together from the start. I wished she was a guide dog, so I could take her into stores with me!  But she wasn't, and I don't see badly enough to warrant a guide dog, really. She wasn't as big on snoring as Elvira had been, but Hattie snored a little, and she had a sleeping buddy: Evil Tulip.  Tulip would come into our bedroom like clockwork, lie down in front of Hattie, and start licking Hattie's face.  Hattie would growl. Then Tulip's grooming would escalate into her biting Hattie's nose. Hattie would growl louder, but never snap. We'd tell Hattie to get the cat, but we knew she wouldn't. And every night, the next thing was that it would be all quiet again, and the two of them, Hattie and Tulip, would sleep all curled up together til morning.

So those are our three labs. I've never put them all into one piece before, so now I've flattened time, and their memories are all trotting around Jimmy as he works in his leather shop. I really wouldn't want three dogs at once, but it's nice to imagine, only imagine!

Around the sides and bottom of the border of this piece, I wrote the words to a song written about us by Ron Jarvis. It's called "Susi and Jimmy," and it's on an album named "Let's Make Art," by Macaw, a northern Ohio band. I had asked Jimmy to look my writing over and tell me if he could think of anything else he'd like for me to write about, since I'd now have the newly added border to write on, too.  I think Ronnie wrote that song for us for our wedding. It's very sweet.

Barnfire Leather was the name of Jimmy's leather shop for many years, til we moved out here to Armstrong Drive. He had his leather shop in about five different places over time, starting at the first Needle's Eye commune in Woooster, in the basement, next to my Barnfire Pottery. Jimmy would only do custom orders, and he'd figure out how to make you anything you walked in the door to request. Everything got made, from leather sandals with adjustable straps, starting with him tracing your feet - to leather cowboy hats, motorcycle saddle bags, and all kinds of garments.  I helped him a lot early on, by making custom fitted garments, and later, when I went back to school, I had to teach him how to sew, as he wouldn't give up making the custom made coats, vests, etc.

In 1997 Jimmy began focusing his leather making entirely on fly fishing equipment cases, and that's the year we started both of our websites, including James Acord's Leather. You can go there and see examples of the custom orders he's done for people, for cases for fly rods, tied flies, reels, flasks, equipment bags, etc. He only does custom orders, just like way back when he started, but now he only moves away from fly fishing cases to make cases for bird hunters. His artwork is both carved into the leather and painted after the carving. And all of his cases are his own pattern designs, made entirely by him from start to finish. There are no two alike.  His work has become well known in the fly fishing world, as collectible, heirloom cases, which are totally unique pieces that you can enjoy, whether you use them in a stream or Just look at them.

Jimmy did shoe repair for a while, back in the 80s, and the image of him here is of him holding his French shoe hammer, and working on a boot, which is turned upside down on a shoe last.  I'd made a woodcut print in college of him doing this, and I'd called it "Billet Doux," which means Love Letter in French.  I didn't take time to root around in my stuff, to find the print, to study it for this piece. I just did it from memory, taking a side step into this one's look, which is different, yet the same. Same skinny guy with big hair and a hammer.

Since I started this piece last July, it was left with about 2/3s of the writing to go, and the tomato was empty. (We had themes in this July Turtle Art Camp, and I'd gotten behind on the theme paintings. I made this one count for Shoes and for Tomatoes. But I'd left the tomato blank and folded up the painting til January!

When I started the painting in July, it had been almost 3 years since we'd lost our last lab, Hattie, to old age. We hadn't replaced her.  But NOW we have Libby Spooler!  And it only seemed right to find some way to put her in with the three lab girls and Jimmy.  So she became our little tomato dog! We just got her dog license the other day, and now we've ordered a ID dog tag for her, which will include the message that Libby's allergic to all grains, and give her vet's name, along with all of our own contact information. It's pink. And tonight Jimmy's been modifying Libby's old harness, that she's outgrown, stretching it with new pink nylon webbing.

In 1978 Bill Jones came into our lives. Jimmy and I had spied on Bill Jones' Leather Shops in Cleveland for a year, checking out how the leather inlaid buttonholes and pockets were made in jackets, seeing what they were getting for sandals, etc. We were out back of the Needle's Eye, working in our leather shop on a snowy winter day, and there were several guys hanging out, like they always did around Jimmy. The door opened, and a guy said "Hi, I'm Bill Jones. I saw your smoke from your wood fire, when I was shopping down the street at the Food Co-op, and they said this was a leather shop. So I came to see what you're doing."

The other people didn't know who Bill Jones was, but Jimmy and I about peed! We tried to be cool, but we were in shock.  This guy owned four big leather shops!! We talked all afternoon, and that became the start of a great friendship. One time Jonesie taught Jimmy how to set a boot's insole on fire, to quickly get rid of the old cork - a great parlor trick, too! Now the two of them often go down to Weaver Leather in Amish Country together, on little buying trips. Jonesie, aka David Hazelwood, only makes handbags now - fabulous, earthy bags that are quite famous. Jimmy mainly does fly fishing cases, still all custom ordered. And they always have to stop at Boyd and Wurthmann's in Berlin to get a light lunch, followed by some pie.

There are stories on this piece about Jimmy's birth in Fairfield, Illinois on November 26, 1953, his childhood, his family's move in 1964 to Ohio, to follow the oil field jobs to Wooster. How we met in Wooster in September, 1976, finally got married on June 30, 1990, and some of our adventures all through the years are touched on here. There's so much more I could write about my Jimmy. Stepfather to my Gretchen. Grandfather to Eva. Honey of my life.  My Jimmy Bear.

Here are some early pictures of Jimmy. Enjoy!

This is Jimmy with his burgandy MG Midget, when he first moved in with us at the Needle's Eye, our little hippie commune on North St in Wooster, in January, 1977.

Gretchen was six here, in the Summer of 1977. Watching a movie on TV at friends'.

This is Jimmy sewing on leather in the winter of 1978.  He's always done a lot of hand sewing, but for garments, we bought this Rex commercial machine that works great on leather. I used it a lot back then, too, and Jimmy still uses it today, but not for his fly fishing cases, which are all hand sewn. He has lots of other machines, many for shoe work, which he still owns. There's a great old Singer patching machine, that uses a treadle, which we just finally got repaired again, for patching jeans, etc.  Here it is:

This 1914 Singer patcher sewing machine is something everyone falls in love with in Jimmy's shop. Jimmy does hand sewing on his fly fishing cases, but when he needs to repair leather stuff that's hard to get into, this is what to use. (He doesn't do repair work for hire anymore. Forget it.)  I used to use it to repair jeans knee ripouts, when I was The Jeans Doctor, back at our commune. It can sew in a 360 degree angle, so you can sew in every direction, in a tight spot, without having to keep turning the thing you're sewing. Just turn the sewing head! And it has a lovely treadle, like the Singer I learned to sew on at home!

Our bedroom was so pretty back at the Needle's Eye. We always had lots of Indian tapestries and other patterned surfaces, like this old rug.

Lucy became our dog in the summer of 1978, when she was around 6 months old. Jimmy's bringing her into the leather shop behind the second Needle's Eye, on N. Grant St.

This is us at Rick and Karen's wedding in July, 1980.

Gretchen took this picture of us in November, 1981, when she and I had moved to Kent, in June that year, for me to go to graduate school and Jimmy stayed in Wooster and came up once a week to Kent. He'd just gotten our Ford Mustang repainted.  That's a different belt buckle from the one I was telling you about. This is the one Jimmy made in Gert Weaver's silversmithing class at the College of Wooster. He still wears it. It has a big turquoise stone in the middle of it. And on his left wrist, he's wearing the silver and turquoise bracelet that Gretchen and I had bought for him in 1977. He still wears that bracelet every day. It looks good on my Jimmy.

Jimmy brought me this photo to add here. It's us at our engagement party in May, 1988, on my mother's birthday. I was living in NYC, doing a six months artist's residency, thanks to the Ohio Arts Council, and we decided it was time to make our relationship more formal. Then they all wanted to know when the wedding would be. At that time, we'd been together for 12 years, so we said it would be by 12 more years, 2000.  But we got married just two years later instead.

We got married on June 30, 1990, in the gazebo at Christmas Run Park in Wooster, after living together for 14 years.  In this picture, we've just gotten married, and you can see Gretchen, our Maid of Honor, and Ron Frazier, our Best Man, right behind us. The 24 bridesmaids in rainbow capes had formed a rainbow circle around the gazebo during the marriage service, and our families sat inside with us.  

Gretchen came home from her first year of college that summer and helped me make the bright colored cotton capes.  I could make you a whole blog entry about our wedding - maybe I will this year for our anniversary!  Family came from all over, along with good friends. It started at 10 AM with a smudging ceremony with my Oasis women's group and ended after dark, when the jam session of music ended.  In the middle we pinned lots of gifted quilt blocks to four sheets, opened presents, and had a carryin picnic.  What a wonderful day it was, thanks to so many great people!

Here are a couple of pieces of Jimmy's leather work for you to check out:

This is a custom reel case he made for a customer in August, 2007. It's fully lined with shearling, so the reel fits snugly. All the imagery is carved in by hand, not stamped. Jimmy dyes the leather and paints his images, after carving.

Here's Jimmy carving a scene on a piece of leather he couldn't leave flat to carve.  He's not looking through his magnifier, but it's on his head. Jimmy uses carving tools that he's modified, some being former dental tools. He wets the leather before carving, and needs for it to be just the right level of softness, so the marks will stay in the leather.  It takes a long time to create these realistic compositions.  Oh, and then he has to put the pieces all together.

this is the top of a flycase Jimmy made for a woman to give to her husband this last Christmas. The image is based on a photo she provided, and Jimmy hand interpreted with carving and paint. Remember, he's starting out with oak tanned leather hides - big flat expanses of leather, like how we start with yardage of fabric to make clothing or quilts. I love to watch Jimmy's creations going through all of his processes!

Here's Jimmy holding our granddaughter Eva on November 4, 2004, when she was just two weeks old.  Eva's now six years old  and calls Jimmy Poppy.

And here's Jimmy last night, playing with Libby, who's five months old now and still growing. :)

So that's my Jimmy.  :)