Ephemera

Street dancers on Gibbs Street at Rochester Fringe Fest 2017

Part of this, for the time being, all-consuming show is filling a four foot by seven foot display case. A place for ephemera related to the “Witness” show. I could fill ten of those cases with my father’s sketch books but there is only one.

I snuck a few mug shot flyers out of the office when I worked for the cops in 1976 so I’ll show those. They used a transparent overlay system back then called “Identikits” to construct what perpetrators might look like. This kind of mustache, this kind of smile, a wide range for goofy haircuts. Some of the suspects are pretty Frankenstein-like.

I saved the newspaper clipping from the time the District Attorney bought my sketch of Arthur Shawcross. And I’ve been cutting out the Crimestopper page since the Times Union was around. My sister, Amy, saved a few articles about my father that describe him out there in all four seasons sketching the Can of Worms construction project. And there’s a 1970 letter from my father to my brother who was serving time in an Ohio prison for a a minor pot infraction. The letter is precious for a number of reasons. I recommend it.

When my brother, Mark, was up last he talked about his reaction to my latest batch of drawings. I liked what he said and I asked if he could write it down.

“Looking at my brother Paul’s paintings, based on mug shots, always brings up a mix of thoughts and feelings for me ranging from artistic appreciation to memories of personal experience. They’re all portraits of real, and various people who are sharing a certain exceptional experience. They’ve just been arrested, stopped suddenly in the tracks of a free life, and are being transitioned to captivity. They’re all entitled to the presumption of innocence. But it’s a hugely degrading experience. They’re now prisoners, about to be put in a cage. Yet for me Paul’s paintings expose their dignity, their humanity – their emotions: of fear, sadness, embarrassment, defiance, anger, or resignation.

For some this is their first arrest. For others it may be another of many. But they were all innocent children once. They all have families, most probably have families that really care about them. I did when I was arrested in 1970. It was a cold February night and I felt free enough to leave my college dorm with a couple of friends and walk to a distant ball field to smoke a joint. We were looking forward to returning to the dorm to listen to “Let It Bleed,” The Rolling Stones album that just had come out. Then the cops came around a corner, with guns drawn, and in that instant I lost my freedom.

I was handcuffed, forced into a patrol car, then fingerprinted, photographed, and locked up. Paul’s paintings capture people at this border moment, when they’re told to stand at a wall and how to hold their head. They’re portraits but not in the usual circumstances, and I see the dignity in all of them, as I’m reminded of my own experience.”

3 Responses to “Ephemera”

  1. Lisa Says:

    What a beautiful letter.

  2. stephen hoy Says:

    Never go to college in Ohio. Better yet avoid the State completely. That was one of the worst thing I have ever seen happen to anybody I knew. Mark leaves out the part where he does hard time in prison.

  3. Secret Admirer Says:

    That letter! No wonder you are as you are! I once got a letter from my father and went pretty much straight to the psychiatric hospital. He was a brutal man, sometimes, emotionally.

    What a beautiful message your father writes on how to live. Thank you for sharing it. Proud to know you.

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