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On the map of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is this marvelous sculpture, simply identified by a small black circle with a white number 20 in the middle; a notation in the legend provides that number 20 relates to the grave of George Catlin, “Painter of Indians”. As I stood at the cemetery entrance planning my route using the map, I hadn’t given this legend note anything more than a moment’s consideration. I was preoccupied with a finding a few of my favorite pieces (it had been quite a few years since I last visited Greenwood, in the daytime…but that’s a story for another day....).

Later that afternoon as I was driving toward the exit, I spotted the top of the sculpture – it was so unusual that I pulled over to investigate. I checked the map, guessed that I was seeing number 20, and climbed the hill to see the piece in total. It was while standing in awe in front of this piece, (full name, The Greeter, Black Moccasin Meeting Lewis and Clark), admiring the intensity and detail, practically expecting him to breathe, and it’s placement in this cemetery instead of a museum, that I knew I wanted to learn more. Not about the painter that it honors, but the artist, John Coleman, who created it. According to the plaque affixed to the base of the sculpture, Mr. Coleman considers himself a story teller working in three dimensions to create “a visual mythology written by my hands and spiritual imagination.”

According to an article in the July 2012 issue of Western Art Collector written by James H. Nottage, Mr. Coleman created the piece to honor Mr. Catlin “for the degree to which he had inspired him.” Mr. Catlin gathered stories and created paintings of Native Americans starting in the 1820s (he died in 1872). The sculpture “serves as a metaphor for a life well-lived. [To] remind us all of personal and spiritual obligations we have toward those who are friends, teachers, or sources of inspiration.” According to Green-Wood, when the sculpture was dedicated on the 216th birthday of Mr. Catlin, descendants of the Native American’s that Mr. Catlin memorialized were in attendance…how incredible is this story of honor, history, and love through time?!

You may often scratch your head as to my love of cemeteries, but nowhere else are such beautiful and sincere representations of passion so evident….our modern lives may seem quite tangled at times, but if you need a pick-me-up, go to the cemetery - your faith in what truly matters will be restored….

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I am often asked if I have a favorite piece and I have to imagine that such a question is similar to asking a mother to name her favorite child. For me, every piece is special and has been developed for its own purpose and sometimes that purpose is as surprising to me as it may be to you.  

I recently met a friend for dinner, he was in town for meetings and we hadn’t seen each other for a few years so it was nice to catch up. When we got to talking about my art he asked if a particular piece was someone important to me; the piece struck him as if it was. I explained that the character was not someone specific but I welcomed his interpretation because I hadn’t thought about it in that way.  I share this conversation because while each piece tells a story and I share some of those stories, it is only one version. My hope is that something will resonate with you about a piece and you can enjoy it from that perspective, but it doesn’t have to be my perspective.  

So, coming full circle as to a favorite piece, the answer is that I have favorite aspects of each piece while I may wish to revisit other aspects in that same piece. However, in the end, all of my pieces are special each one reminds me of our shared humanity, and that makes the outcome worthwhile.

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I attended a wedding shower this weekend and on the drive to the venue took the time to visit a revolutionary war era cemetery that I’ve had my eye on for some time. The cemetery is one that I pass each time I drive back to my home town. I was feeling nostalgic on this trip as I thought about how fast time has gone by. I remembered back to the time when the bridegroom was merely a twinkle in his mother’s eye. She and I have had more than a few adventures over the years and have plenty more on the list, but appreciating that her son is now a grown man and seeing the cemetery reminded me that time is precious and every day is an opportunity for a new beginning.

The cemetery and church are in a valley that looks undisturbed by suburban sprawl. The white church has a beautiful spire and floor to ceiling windows while the cemetery contains more than a few listing and toppled tombstones surrounded by a dry-stacked stone wall that has been overtaken by scrub in some places and crumbled in others. Although many of the tombstones were illegible, the very nature of the scene was humbling and inspiring. More than 200 years ago families had messages of love inscribed on even the most basic tombstones and the veterans continue to be honored today for their long-ago service by small American flags marking their graves. Legacies of love, commitment, honor and lives well lived....

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