A Grandfather’s Legacy

My grandfather was an artist and an art restorer. My first job was in his studio making cotton balls out of huge sheets of cotton batting. It paid 25 cents an hour. He would paint at his easel nearby and we would work together in silence. He would come over every once in a while to make sure the cotton balls were of a consistent size, but I think it was just an excuse to talk to me and to cultivate in me a certain attention to detail.

When he died I wasn’t a visual artist yet, so most of his tools were sold off or given away. Over the past few years, though, a few things have found their way to me, passed down by my grandmother, my mother, my aunt, and my cousin. Each time I get something of his I am overwhelmed by the connection to him, by the idea that I’m carrying out his legacy in some way. He has always felt very present in my life, but when I am working with his tools it is as though he is still sitting nearby at his easel, checking in on me every so often.

I have some of his clamps, his polaroid camera, his calligraphy set, his colored pencils, and some of his sketch pads. A month or so ago, my mom visited me in my studio and put an old beat-up Thom McAn shoebox on one of my shelves. “I thought you’d like to have this,” she said. It was a crazy time for me and I didn’t pay it any mind. Then I forgot about it all together.

Yesterday, while cleaning out my studio, I found the box. I opened it and inside were all my grandpa’s gold leafing supplies including hand-written instructions for how to prepare a surface to receive the leaf and how to treat it after the leaf had been applied. Seeing his handwriting surrounded by gold flakes, I broke down. His gold leafing brush was inside, the one that I have clear memories of him holding and working with, the one that I was now holding in my hand.

For two years I have had an idea for a project that involves gold leaf, but I have put it off because the materials were prohibitively expensive. And now everything I need has literally fallen into my lap.

In adoring memory of Bernard Rabin (1916-2003).

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