I have been thinking of an artist friend of mine who passed away almost 12 years ago. Shirley Wright lived on Lopez Island in Puget Sound in a huge rambling building that housed Grayling Gallery, three sets of living quarters, two painting studios, a wood shop, a ceramic studio, a photography darkroom, and a large roofed courtyard.

Shirley was an excellent painter. She gardened and loved to paint flowers, but her finest work was her figurative series of women. Those paintings are simply amazing in their qualities of light and color.

The most memorable painting in that series was of an old lady sitting on a chair holding her purse. The chair had pink wings and was ascending to heaven. In startling contrast was a beautiful nude young woman with flaming red hair ascending alongside the little old lady. Shirley always said inside every old woman was the young woman she used to be.

Shirley had emphysema from years of smoking and died earlier than her strong family genetics might have otherwise allowed. Until we moved to Montana I used to go start her wood stove in the morning so that she would not endanger herself with the oxygen tank near the fire.

One cold winter night she called to say her time had come and she was dying. We were the last ones to speak with her. I was restless and could not sleep, so around 2 a.m. I wrote the following poem.

Great Hall of Art
Stands in silent momory,
A cathedral of dreams
Made manifest.
Empty rooms hold
Uncanny absence,
The owner away.
Moonlight slides gently
Deep shadows of trees
Touch the sleeping garden.

The artist,
Caught between times,
Struggles afar,
Battlefield of body,
Once in delighted dance,
Lies entangled,
Pathways of fear
Too well traveled
To endure long.
Spirit seeks
A welcome conclusion,
Rebirth in a new world.
The body falters,
Layers of cells
Falling away.
Leaves in decay.

Spirit aims
With steady hand,
Poised for flight
Into unknown stars
Where paintings are born.

And yet, pauses,
Just a moment,
A wave of emotion
Engulfs every beloved
Touch of home.
No easy passage
To a world unseen
When the old
Lies so familiar,
So near, so dear.

Spirit stands patient,
Allowing time
To embrace home,
The hearts who remain,
Sad solemn leavetaking.

Until, at last,
Miraculous note of joy
Rises to the stars,
A flying chair
Gone from our midst.

This post appears in the Carnival of Truth.

Copyright © Lexi Sundell 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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18 thoughts on “Shirley

  1. Hopeful Spirit

    Beautiful. A wonderful tribute to your friend and I thank you for sharing it with me and my readers.

    Thanks for participating in The Seventh Day: Third Edition! The Carnival will be live on Sunday, January 13, 2007, at On the Horizon!

    I encourage your readers to participate, as well. Posts from the prior week on ANY topic can be submitted every Saturday by noon (Pacific time) for inclusion in the next day’s Carnival!

    Blessings to you!

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  4. Lexi Sundell

    Hopeful Spirit and Albert, I thank you for commenting.

    I really just wanted to sit down and have a cup of tea with Shirley, but since that was not possible, I posted the poem about her instead.


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  6. Pat R

    Beautiful poem – captures the love you have for Shirley. I can feel the connection once there and now changed into a different form.

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  8. Caitlin Ertz

    Hi! I recently received a painting with an artist signature Shirley Wright. A photography friend found it in a second hand shop and said it reminded her of me. I wanted to make sure to give proper dedication to the original artist, is there someone who could contact me to authenticate the piece possibly? It is beautifully framed and I want to make sure as it passes down to my girls they have the history of the artist. Thanks!

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