What drew me were the colors, the vibrant yellow, orange, and purple on the umbrella. On that spring afternoon, that umbrella with those intense pigments shouted to me from across the park. I nudged my husband, and half walked, half ran past other displays to the tent that held that piece, fearing someone would beat me to it.
I smiled at the man, the presumed artist that stood beside the tent. I hurried past him to stand in front of the canvas. An elegant, slender African woman carried a young boy on her back. Her soft eyes held hope. The boy's told a different story. My gaze shifted back to the woman.
She held the umbrella in her hands and I knew it shielded them from the scorching sun, rather than rain. I wanted to touch her face, her full lips, the cover the vivid oils formed over her head.
There were elements in the image I disliked. I looked around the tent, at his other works. This was not his best piece, but for some reason I couldn't stop staring at the woman's beautiful face, her eyes, the umbrella.
I wanted this work of art. Wanted to hang it in our tiny apartment. Wanted to come home each day and have her greet me.
My husband chatted with the man, the artist. Overhearing portions of the conversation, I realized they shared a distant past. They talked about guitars, music, of long ago late night sessions.
When I approached, my husband said, "He's one of the most gifted guitarists you'll ever meet. I had the privilege of jamming with him when we were younger."
I smiled and said, "I love your paintings."
This was one of his first art shows and he had no prints available, he was selling original pieces and even I knew the prices were low. He seemed eager to make a sale. But, money was tight. Jay and I talked and I finally agreed to make the purchase I hungered for.
When we walked away, Jay said, "PoPimp was the best guitarist I ever knew. I think he could have made a living playing guitar, but the drugs took over. I was surprised to see him here. He probably hasn't been out of prison long."
"PoPimp? Prison? For what, drugs?"
"No, murder. He killed a man one night. I think it was his dealer. It's good to see him. He looks good."
Over the next few years, his artistic talent was getting mention, he was often winning best of show. I knew he was now selling prints, and I planned to obtain more of his work.
Then, nothing. We looked for him at area shows, searched for him in the press. It seemed he had vanished.
In time we discovered he was once again confined within prison walls. He was paroled a few years later, after being diagnosed with liver cancer. John would spend his final months at home with his family.
Like the woman and her umbrella, his half century was often filled with brilliance, hope. And, like the little boy's sad eyes depicted, his life was often overcome with overwhelming hopelessness.
His piece still hangs in our living room. A daily reminder to let hope prevail.
John W. Butler
May your soul be filled with peace.