Marie and Marla's magnificent picture frame

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 18, 2002

"This frame celebrates within its simple mat an emerging retrospective of my portfolio, Seasons of My Life."

Cochrane has many fine art galleries and framing shops, and I visit them all whenever possible. I enjoy taking in the beauty interpreted by others and displayed for all to see. But there is one art shop in town I especially like to visit because it features the art of yours truly, glimpses of life that have emerged from deep within my own heart.

Paintbox Artist Supplies isn't exactly a gallery. Owner/operators Marie Sigurdson and Marla Blackwell and their staff do keep some examples of their own work around – and wonderful indeed they are. But Paintbox, as its name announces, is first of all a supplier of paints, brushes, canvas, etc.

There is one exception, however. On the wall facing me whenever I come through the shop door there hangs a rather plain, medium-sized vertical oak frame. This frame celebrates within its simple mat an emerging retrospective of my portfolio, Seasons of My Life.

You didn't know I could paint? Well, even though my middle name is Art, the truth be known, I can't even draw a straight line. Nevertheless, my ever-supportive fans Marie and Marla keep on encouraging me.

Here are just four of the images I've seen as I've paused before the amazing frame:

Last spring there was a painting that goes back to my earliest childhood memories in Buffalo, New York. The lower veranda of a dark-brown two-storey house, some boards hanging loose from the veranda above, fills the upper third of the painting. The middle third is a dandelion-covered lawn that, towards the front, drops down a five or six-foot incline to the inside edge of a concrete step and sidewalk, much in need of repair, that enters the frame from the lower right and moves across the lower third of the picture.

Toward the right, lying at an angle across the sidewalk and bottom of the lawn, is a child's red, muddy scooter. Just beyond that is a teenaged girl holding her arms out toward a preschool-aged tow-headed boy rolling down the lawn, clutching dandelions to his chest with his left hand, and giggling.

The boy is me; the girl, one of my two sisters, now passed on. As I view the painting, I hear refrains from Easter Parade amidst the giggling; why, I cannot say.

This past summer Marie and Marla featured a lakeside scene. At the end of a grassy point of land lush with mature maples stands a red-brick Italianate bell tower, the white sails of a dozen racing boats glistening offshore.

It is a scene from Chautauqua Institute in Western New York where I worked as a bellhop and busboy for two summers while in high school. Contemplating the picture, I hear the quarter-hourly Westminster chimes echoing from the birthplace of the Chautauquas familiar to us in Cochrane.

There's yet another image in the frame, now that autumn is returning to Cochrane. This one is of a middle-aged couple hiking hand-in-hand up a curving mountain trail amidst golden larch. Up ahead, through a gap in the trees, a dusting of snow defines the rock strata in a distant cirque.

The image brings back memories of cool, crisp air scented with pine and earth. I hear a stream gurgling not far away, and feel the warmth of my wife's companionship in a breathtaking journey of discovery.

Winter in Cochrane will soon be upon us. I'm suspecting Paintbox will once more be exhibiting the painting of me in a red suit and hat, handing out brightly-wrapped gifts to my grandchildren while my wife, two sons and their wives look on. Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

And how about you? I can assure you, Marie and Marla are equal-opportunity affirmers. Do you have some favorite images of your own you'd like to see hanging on their wall? They're already framed and waiting for you to come in and enjoy.

After all, Marie and Marla's magic frame embraces no other pictures than the ones already in your heart as you enter the door.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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