Along an old dirt road, a white-haired man walks his dogs. Quietly, over the footsteps of his years, he walks slowly; he knows how much the piñon and sage have grown, and he feels the aches of age as he leans into his cane. His name is Bill, and he lives alone in a pueblo-style home. His dogs and art are his companions.
Bill’s home is a gallery. The walls are full of paintings, drawings, and collages. There are sculptures of wood, rock and bones, paints and brushes, and unfinished work on tables. As my eyes dance around the studio, a somber feeling of playfulness lingers under the dust of a creative mind. I get the feeling I’ve walked into an artist’s sanctuary while the artist is out. My curiosity pushes me to explore, thumbing through paintings, turning pages, and touching relics of stone. I am intrigued, and when I look over at Bill, I see a tear in his eye.
But this is not a story about Bill. It’s a story about love. Bill is in love with an artist. Her name is Nancy and for over 50 years, Bill and Nancy were loving companions. Her work rests on their silent walls. Framed images, like windows into the past, keep their love alive. His beloved artist passed away and now Bill lives alone in a museum of memories.
Nancy was an artist of extraordinary talent. Like nature, a beauty that never rests, she was always changing. An artist free of academic criticism, she expressed herself prolifically. From primitive to modern art, she pushed herself with passion. She knew her famous contemporaries; she once sat on the lap of Salvador Dali.
Nancy and Bill loved jazz and hung out with many of the modern jazz giants. There is a painting in the hall of Charlie “Bird” Parker from her jazz series. Her visual compositions are very musical.
Together they sailed boats and raised dogs. Asked how they met, Bill says, “We met as her boat came into dock, she threw me her line and I pulled her in, a story that sings like a song, and it was love at first sight.”
Nancyand Bill came from the northern east coast and met in Maryland. Their sensibilities were influenced by the mystical landscapes of the eastern states and the dreamy shores of the Atlantic. They surrounded themselves with water. “What called you to the desert?” I ask. “Her son,” was Bill’s reply, “She wanted to be near her son.” Her heart never left the eastern shore, though.
Bill says, “We were fish out of water, two old souls and a dog. We built our home—the main room is an art studio with the majestic Ute Mountain standing in our window.”
It’s the art she created here that signals a spiritual shift in her work. Northern New Mexico awakened the spirit within her, and like a boat destined for new land, she and Bill found Questa. What is it about this place that inspires artists? The desert, the sky, the mountains? Some might say it’s the spirits of the past. Influenced by the great abstract painters, Nancy began exploring non-figurative work, and her art became more about the color of feelings. The vastness of the San Luis Valley horizon was now her ocean. Her palette became more translucent and atmospheric. She did not paint the usual ancestral or desert landscapes: hers is the work of an artist going deeper into her soul and the meaning of life
I see in her work the subtle vibrations of a mind capturing what’s beyond sight or analytical thought, a portal into a vast universe of dreams. And this is Bill’s life, living in a world of Nancy’s dreams.
Bill is in love and always will be. Nancy has left his world but not his heart. Her works of art are now the children he cares for. He lives simply, walking his dogs and conversing with neighbors. Remembering and remembering, he tells me, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
I began this story as a portrait of an artist. What has transpired is a teaching about the preciousness and temporality of love. How unknowingly we take family and friends for granted, as if we are all going to always be here. Rowing our boats gently down the stream, living in a daydream, we don’t see the rapids ahead, or that water under the bridge is like our years, slipping sand in an hourglass.
So, make every day Valentine’s Day, remember your loved ones, and tell them three powerful words, “I love you.”