Tributes sent by friends and colleagues
William Benton: monograph A Disarray of Intimacies written before McGarrell's death.
Summer Dreams poem written in tribute.
Click thumbnail photo for tribute.
Jim brought me to Wash U for a 3-week visiting artist gig. Sometimes we did joint crits, and we made the perfect team. Despite our own art, Jim focused on form and I on content! We energized one another, and also the students. It was one of my best teaching experiences ever.
This is a story that Max loves to tell, but it’s really about me, not Jim. We (Ann and Jim, Max and me) were in Umbria, driving around. Jim waved at the hills and said he loves taking hikes, would I like to climb one of them with him sometime? I said, “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m not a social climber.”
Besides taking us to the great Pinturicchio chapel in Spello and many other tucked-away gems, Jim
and Ann always knew the best restaurants - in a vineyard, on a farm, a deconsecrated church, what great food and art on those excursions!
He also brought Max to Bloomington IN for a term, fall of 1969, when there were many anti-war demonstrations on campus. We had an infant. We drove all over the state looking at most wonderful architecture with Jim and Ann - especially Columbus with its amazing collection of modernist buildings, the very pure Owenite community of New Harmony, and small towns with Louis Sullivan banks! Ann was a great cook. I remember marveling that she even baked her own crackers.
Oh, and I remember the scores of cats in the Umbertide apartment!
James McGarrell, my mentor in graduate school at IU, died this morning (Feb. 7, 20200, just short of 90.
His work, and our dialog, profoundly affected my life and work. One of the first painters to rebel against abstract expressionism, his exploration of narrative was singular.
While he was well known in the sixties and seventies, in recent years his remarkable work, complex, rich, so intelligent and imaginative, hasn’t received the attention it deserves.
It seems time for a reassessment, especially since it is so timely, still, again.
The first thing I remember about Jim is his voice. He had such a distinctive
and powerful voice that almost preceded what he said. I knew him through my
husband Charles Cajori. I don't know how far back they went but they seemed
to have a long history.
I would see him in the city or at dinner parties in NY or Connecticut. But I
remember vividly our time visiting Jim and Ann at their house in Vermont.
It was an extremely memorable evening. The room itself was an event.
The strong colors in the late afternoon seeping towards evening held us
in its thrall. The narrative a dynamic and active one, no doubt influenced
by Jim's love of jazz. He probably loved other music as well but that is
how I associate his work and his character, angular and bright like certain
What is noteworthy to me is that I can't remember the content of the
conversation but I remember the fierceness of the exchanges. I am sure
it was about art which seemed to be the discussion around Jim most
of the time. Strongly held opinions expressed with conviction and
passion seems to me to have been his way of communicating his ideas
about painting in particular and all forms of the visual arts. They were
always genuine because he knew no other way.
I did not see Jim often so 'missing' is not exactly how I would describe
how I feel about him. More, I miss his work and his place in the arcane
world of representational art of his time. He was like his work and that
will be how I remember him.
Ever since Bertrand and I landed in Bloomington, Jim and Ann were among the first people we met. In fact, I also met a sweet and adorable child - you !
Your mother, in a taxi, saw a for rent sign for our house, Told the driver to stop, got out
and picked up the sign, and secured it for us.
We used to play monopoly with Jim and the Markmans and Baileys. Your father obstinately would not give up until he had all the railways, etc.
I often played doubles with him and Bertrand. God, I really miss him! His life was woven with ours. it is difficult to summarize. I knew his gallery in Paris, and often visited it. I
visited his house In Umbertide in Italy with Ann!
I loved his paintings, and his sense of color. I even have a ring he gave me from one of his travels! They were part of our family!
I am delighted to contribute one of many memories of your father.
I vividly remember his daylong, quotidian work routine in Polgeto. I ventured into his orbit and stretched canvases, badly, for a few days. He teased me mercilessly and said that even after training with Reed Kay, I was a shoddy canvas stretcher! But somehow I wasn’t offended because I was learning studio life, and watched his systems and his set up as a great model for my own studio life. There was a drawing of his in the Polgeto living room. A large drawing of rows of trees on a hillside. It was wonderful, and it somehow connected to Jim’s stopping the car one day on the way back from Umbertide, to tear down a bill board, newly erected, that marred the breathtaking beauty of Umbria from that particular curve in the road.
Your mother, Ann, was attentive and very sweet to me as I hung around learning how to be a painter from Jim. They asked me to paint panels of theirs, set in a folding wooden screen. I was thrilled and set for life. Jim was devastated by Flo’s end in Jacmel, but he was affectionate and caring of me when I came up to Vermont; a good friend till the end.
Jim was a civilized giant, a most courteous man with a twinkle, and an exceptional painter of colors and life. We studied him in art school - in the early 60s - as a courageous figurative painter in a sea of the abstract.
"Oh, to leave a trace." said the poet Frank O'Hara.
and Jim did.
Jim McGarrell was my uncle, and there was never a better one and here is why. I ran afoul of the law due to substance issues and was sent to prison for a 26 month stay in January of 1982. My mother (Jim's sister), was very embarrassed about this and told the rest of the family and her friends that I was in California. My brother told Uncle Jim the truth and we corresponded via mail. He and my Aunt Ann along with my cousin (the late Flo McGarrell) actually drove from St. Louis to Plainfield, Indiana to visit me. I do not believe there was any other purpose for this trip. This was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me and I will never forget it. May he sleep with the angels.
The piece below is my tribute to Jim. I still think of him often—that larger than life voice, the lovely and brilliant work, the generosity of making beautiful covers for my chapbooks. . .and so much more.
STANZAS FOR UNCLE JIM
beast holds his mirror
to beauty’s backside
flipping the negative
party in still life
you keep wine
in all glasses
walking into a dreamscape
one season per wall
with stars on top
forced by the band
you sing growling make me
a pallet on the floor
after the wake
I didn’t know Jim well but I always admired him and his work. He and Ann were a generation older than us. He first came to my attention when I was a grad student as many of my friends who went to the MFA program at Indiana studied with him. He was a legendary teacher and painter and I started following his work at Alan Frumkin’s gallery. I’ve always admired the scale and ambition of his paintings and his luminous color. The large paintings of Italian interiors and landscapes are my favorites. For me, they evoke the poetry of life in Umbria in a very particular way. They’re luminous and at the same time dark, with a complex and saturated color palette that was particular to Jim.
When Langdon and I bought our house in Umbria, our paths crossed occasionally. Oddly enough, I never saw your parents’ legendary house in Polgeto before they sold it - I only heard about how exquisitely beautiful it was. We only got to know them better after they had moved into the tower in Umbertide, and visiting the tower, I had some sense of how beautiful the house must have been..
I really can only add a couple of things to what Caren has written so eloquently and admiringly. I too knew Jim and Ann only slightly really, but we had many friends and acquaintances in common. Openings, a few nice dinners with mutual Italian or American friends where much wine flowed, a few congratulatory notes exchanged here and there. I regret that circumstances limited getting together more often with them as it was clear that stronger friendship was entirely probable had that happened.
In any case, a couple of additional things come to mind:
I've been retired from teaching at the University of New Hampshire since 2009. I did a stint of several years as head of our then fledgling Graduate Painting program, and if memory serves, in the early 2000's, your parents hosted myself, a couple of other faculty and eight or so grad painters in their beautiful home in Vermont. Like my students, I was knocked out by all the the lovely things: the screened gazebo where we had snacks (made by Ann) and drinks; the dining room murals; and Jim's studio with its abundance of beautiful paintings, its bar(!), and the ingenious wall tracks for showing /storing works of all sizes.
What soured the whole magical and warm experience is something you may well have heard about. On our return to campus there was communication from Jim that something had gone awry- a piece of his (a painted ceramic tile?) had disappeared from its display in the hallway!
Knowing the students as well as I did and feeling so positively about them, I was incredulous at first. Just couldn't imagine that any one of them would have "lifted" something from our generous hosts. I assumed Jim had just misplaced the object in question, or that it had slipped behind some furniture and was going to turn up shortly. But it never did, so I had to conclude that there was indeed a kleptomaniac in our midst! My point here is that I would have been incensed had it been me. Jim was infinitely more magnanimous and forgiving than I possibly could have been. He took it in stride, and I don't recall his ever mentioning it again in any subsequent encounter. Think he understood how embarrassed I was.
Not sure about the sequence, but at some point prior (?) to the above, Jim visited the Art Department at UNH where he did a printmaking demonstration. He dazzled us all with his inventiveness and mastery in making an incredibly beautiful lithograph that was used to develop a poster that the Department proudly circulated. As a painter that feels I'm fumbling around and inept in inventing pictorial form, I have always marveled at Jim's
ease with invention and ability to ideate a sensation into convincing imagery. I simply have never known anyone better at doing that.
I was finishing my MFA at Tyler in December of 1969 when at my celebration Larry Day said there was a last minute opening at IU and to call Jim ASAP. I did the next morning and after our conversation he asked for my slides for a review. Low and behold I was asked to come to IU to start teaching in January. My time there was special as it was one of the very best painting programs in the country. I was invited to stay there for the next year too.
Jim and Ann were so kind and welcoming to us and despite being so young and new to academia they made the transition easy.
Many years later when I was a Professor at Hollins University I had the good fortune to start a new Artist in Residence program for our studio art program and I invited Jim to come to join us, and he accepted. He was such a strong presence in the department and among the faculty across the curriculum that he and Ann were quickly adopted as part of the Hollins community.
We were so pleased when Jim offered his painting- “The Holbein Invention” as a gift to our growing collection. It’s a wonderful addition to our collection and it has been shown in our new R Wetherill Visual Art Center as representing him as our first AIR.
Jim will always hold a very special place in my life and he and Ann are sorely missed.
Not only was he a very handsome and charming man, he was generous and encouraging to a younger, less established painter. When he came to my studio, which had twenty or thirty paintings on the walls, I asked him what he thought. He said, "Dynamite!!" I will never forget that. RIP Jim.
To have lost Ann and now her husband Jim McGarrell, as noteworthy a couple as any with which Newbury, or really any community, could be blessed– to have lost them both in such short compass feels almost like a natural disaster. To have had the experience of sitting in their dining room, however, surrounded by Jim’s extraordinary murals and by the spouses’ lively (and often hilarious) conversation, strikes Robin and me as the sort of privilege so rare we almost felt guilty to have had it. As with all such marvelous friendships– and ours stretches back almost three decades– ours seems to have passed in a matter of moments.
But how precious the moments!
A great virtue of being an artist of Jim’s caliber is that one leaves behind a visible legacy, in Jim’s case all over the nation and beyond. Talk about a blessing, then! He gave us a fabulous watercolor painting of a maple tree in mist, along with one of those wonderful blue tiles he wrought perhaps a decade ago. To live with these is yet another privilege; to be reminded by them of Jim’s magnanimity and skill is an even greater one.
To say we are fortunate to have known both McGarrells sounds far too tepid; to say what we feel in our hearts, though, is beyond our capacities.
Jim, Alden Ashforth and I shared a passionate interest in New Orleans traditional African-American jazz, and we spent, episodically, a number of years in the early 1950s pursuing this passion. Jim was sensitive, earnest, and such a good friend - a calming influence when transient angry episodes occurred between myself and Alden - as we all got low-level jobs (Jim worked in a White Castle burger joint), and spent weekends listening to the music in out-of-the-way clubs and following the black Brass Band parades and sometimes funerals. We also, over a few years,
recorded a number of hitherto unrecorded but superb bands, recordings which gained much positive attention in reviews, and which are still available. Jim’s personal project, which he himself recorded and produced in 1954, the" Barnes-Bocage Big Five”, was I think the finest of all the Emile Barnes recordings we were involved in, and Jim told me in later years that he felt it to be one of his greatest life accomplishments. Jim was altogether a remarkable and wonderful person and friend.
In February of 1966 as I was finishing my undergraduate degree in painting at Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts), I received a letter from James McGarrell accepting me into his graduate MFA program at Indiana University. For that I was pleased. All others (Yale, Maryland Institute, Wash U, etc) said “no”…. I said “yes” to the offer from IU. But soon after I received a letter from the US State Department informing me I had been awarded a Fulbright and would be affiliated with the Royal Danish Academy for the Fine Arts in Copenhagen….. I contacted IU to inform them of this honor and to withdraw my acceptance into the IU MFA program. Mr. McGarrell called me right back and said his offer would be left on the table for my return. When I returned from Denmark the next year and contacted IU, Mr. McGarrell said he was out of assistantships, I said "well then I guess I can’t come…. guess I’ll have to stay in New York and go to Brooklyn College and study with Philip Pearlstein.” We hung up. Well, Jim soon calls me back as says: "well, I got you an assistantship, I got you a car"… "A car?” “Yep, every Monday you drive up from Bloomington to IU’s Kokomo campus and teach art appreciation." And so I reaccepted his offer. Jim had kept his word. The painting faculty was young, enthusiastic and, in some manner or the other, all figurative…. Jim, William Bailey, Robert Barnes, Ron Markman... all intense. All with (wonderful) quirks that played off of each another. Jim had assembled quite a crew. Jim was quite supportive of them and of the diverse body of graduate students he had called up. Jim always found a way to get things done so other things could also be done…. He understood import and export. Importing ideas and artists and sending out the same. Stuck with me. Next year he awarded me a teaching assistantship in drawing. And I wrangled another one as assistant to the registrar in the IU fine art museum. Jim was none too pleased when he found out I was holding two. One from Jim and the art department, the other from Roy Sieber and the art history department. He called me on the carpet…. Wanted to know how I did that. Told him he was a good teacher. He threatened to kick me out of the program. Then I asked him who was the most productive grad student he had. Jim grinned. I grinned back. I kept them both. When I last saw Jim (and Ann) it was about six or so years ago at an opening of Jim’s work at a small gallery in Vermont. The three of us were able to have a really good conversation. (Both laughter and tears invaded.) I asked Jim if he remembered the time when he was going to kick me out of his MFA program for having too many assistantships. Jim said “no” he didn’t remember. We both grinned though…. Through the years Jim and I became colleagues and friends…. Whenever I could I would bring him in (where ever I was teaching) as a visiting artist to work with both my undergraduate and graduate students. And to have him introduce his work to the community. I have curated his work into exhibitions, published some of his writings and appointed him to my advisory board when I was director of the Artists’ Choice Museum in NYC… In February of 1982 Jim talked at the annual conference of the College Art Association in New York. Shortly thereafter I was able to publish the think piece he delivered as “More is More: Toward an Art of Eloquence” in the first issue of the ACM Journal. Jim concludes “More is More” with: “We will not accept limitations imposed on visual language which inhibit speaking with eloquence in form and in substance, of our time, our engagements, the ideas of all of our culture and of our own” That is Jim. That is Jim with his sense of place and time, his feeling for humanity, his narrative nature, his inquisitive meanderings. All that jazz was so important to him. Through the years I had many professional interactions and there were many engaging stories to share and to exchange with both Jim and Ann. Jim will remain an outstanding and influential painter... and thinker… and teacher… and provocateur…. Robert Godfrey, Hudson, NY April 2020
Your mother and father adopted David and me 20+ years ago in Roswell and it’s not an overstatement to say they changed our lives. She was wicked sharp and brilliant with words, sparing nothing and no one in her acuity. He was dignified, compassionate, and laser-focused on everything painting. His convictions were deep and he proved them all out on canvas.
Among my best memories: watching the sun set over pecan groves (con vino y risotto), weekly Roswell poker, Jim’s toast at our wedding, our trip to Oaxaca, and even the last time we were all together: our 5 year old daughter Maya insisted on playing endless tic-tac-toe with Jim, and he happily, laughingly, lovingly obliged, beating her every time.
Jim served as an inspiring professor and then as an encouraging friend. At the MFA program at IU in the mid 70’s he swept in for an intense six weeks each semester. His vision of the messy vitality of the world as seen in his inventive realism came across in the undergraduate drawing course that two of us crashed by working at the registrar’s table one day and putting our names down for the “undergraduates only” course. He made me a believer in the idea that a drawing or painting could be created with all compositional elements eliminated – no leading lines or focal points, just endless interesting elements that happened to be next to each other. It was hard to do and was appealing as non-hierarchical approach. We had to portray water patterns that way - and in my work today I am still inventing water forms based on knowledge, although I do use leading lines. I remember the day he brought a large marbled slab of beef to class and had us make up a new steak based on what we learned about how it was put together, and then we had to place it on an invented table with invented cloth. There were days of using paper with two inch grids in which we developed disconnected squares of an imaginary scene -- all based on perception but created for the purpose of the drawing. I chuckle at the contrast between his exuberantly painted inventions and the restrained inventions of my professor at Yale, William Bailey, also deceased this year. We stayed in touch. My literary-inclined husband and I enjoyed a visit with him and Ann in Vermont with a long discussion about poetry and jazz. We regret that we didn’t return to visit him more. He was supportive always, often taking the time to write or email responses to the work in my shows and web presentations. His approach to life, to art and to friends lives on in many of us.
I knew Jim McGarrell as my painting professor in graduate school at Washington University for only a year before his retirement, so I did not get to spend a great deal of time with him and Ann, but was fortunate to visit their home in Vermont twice, memorable experiences of their hospitality, and of a richness of art and aesthetic energy.
I also recall his generosity as a reference and providing a letters of recommendation after graduate school, and words of encouragement on my painting in occasional letter/email. He could be critical--direct in his response to work he felt did not go far enough--and that is useful too!
I met Flo just once, in St. Louis. Many years later, as a guest at an Easter brunch in your parents home, I sat next to your mother who turned to me and said "we have another son", and eyes bright, mentioned you. By your considerate communication and assembling this website tribute, I can see how much kindness and care you brought to their lives.
Suellen Johnson Turman
I remember seeing you when I was in grad school in St. Louis, but I spent quite a bit of time with Flo. It was 1983--85. Thank you so much, Andrew, for putting these memories together.
I could share many memories- but this one always meant a lot.
I watched Flora often, when Ann and Jim went out in the evenings. One time, I inadvertently caught Jim telling Flora a bedtime story. They didn't see me peeking around the door, but I was captivated by Jim's delivery of the most incredible, crazy story! Flora was giggling and rapt in attention- there was very little light in the room. It was a story that would never end- perhaps there were no pauses- his voice was so quick and passionate. I left after just a minute and never mentioned it to anyone. I felt I had witnessed a live action McGarrell painting. I worked for him throughout grad school in trade for one of his wonderful prints.
(Translation to follow)
Gentile Maestro, rimasi folgorato quel giorno in cui osservai per la prima volta le sue opere. Quella luce di candela tenue si conserva nel tempo di giorno in giorno. Resta così in simbiosi con i suoi equilibri opposti tra l'osservatore ed il creato. Esiste nella sua comunicazione pittorica qualcosa che letteralmente mette in contatto con il mistero dell'esistenza. Con la bellezza. Il mondo avrà modo con il tempo di contemplare il suo mondo geniale. Maestro non ho mai potuto conoscerla di persona date le distanze geografiche ma é stato come se non fosse effettivamente cosi. Parlare con lei mi faceva sentire al sicuro nel limbo di una soave trascendenza artistico =pittorica. É stato un legame magico. Lo è oggi ogni giorno che osservo le sue opere. Ci siamo scritti moltissimo anche con la splendida Ann. Anche lei artista poetessa estremamente sensibile. Con entrambi ho avuto lunghissimo rapporto epistolare, scambio di idee e stima profonda. Maestro io la ringrazio di cuore.. Vivo ogni giorno il colore delle sue pennellate. La mia famiglia i miei figli cresceranno con il senso della bellezza. Con il suo contributo di ogni istante. Lei vive sempre qui con me con noi. La sua arte comunica e rifulge Come il segno del destino. Le sue opere sono dei capolavori assoluti é una forza intrinseca che parole non ha. Amo la sua arte come le ho sempre detto anche al telefono. La custodiro' con amore. Anche se ripeto non l'ho mai conosciuta di persona la sento accanto a me, come se la conoscessi da sempre. Le do un abbraccio immenso da qui all'eternità perché quella vibrazione continui sempre a cercare comprendere attraverso quell'atto creativo.. La bellezza il mistero dell'universo dall'inizio alla fine e ben oltre questa esistenza. Per amore. Grazie Maestro.
Translation by Andrew McGarrell
Dear Master, I was struck that day when I looked at your works for the first time. That tenuous candlelight is preserved in time from day to day. It remains so in symbiosis with its balanced opposition between the observer and the created work. There is something in your pictorial communication that literally puts one into contact with the mystery of existence, with beauty. The world will have the opportunity over time to contemplate your brilliant world. Master, I could never meet you in person because of the geographical distances, but I felt that I was close to you. Talking with you made me feel safe in the limbo of a suave artistic-pictorial transcendence. It was a magical bond. It stays the same now every day as I observe your works. I exchanged notes often with beautiful Ann as well. She was also an extremely sensitive poet and artist. With both I had a very long epistolary relationship, exchange of ideas, and highest regards. Master, I thank you very much. I live each day the color of your brushstrokes. My family and my children will grow up with this sense of beauty. With your contribution at every moment. You’ll always remain with me and with us. Your art communicates and shines forth as a sign of destiny. Your works are masterpieces with an inherent force that has no words. I love your art, as I have always said on the phone. I will keep it with love. Even if, as I repeat, I have never met you in person, I feel like you’re beside me, as if I knew you all along. I give you a big hug from here to eternity because that vibration will always continue to seek understanding through creative acts. The beauty, the mystery of the universe from start to finish, and beyond this existence. With love. Thank you master.
I first encountered Jim McGarrell in the mid-1990s. One day a tall, well-dressed man came in, alone, to a restaurant then called Café Figaro, in Bradford, Vermont, where I tended bar and served the wine. After a short discussion, he ordered one of the better bottles with his lunch and obviously enjoyed it. Since he was on his own, I supposed he’d cork up what would probably remain at the end of lunch and take it with him, which is allowed in Vermont. But I was mistaken. He left the empty bottle on the table and walked perfectly steadily out of the restaurant.
A little later we heard from friends Jay and Lois Wright that an interesting couple, he a painter and she a writer, had moved into a house near us in Newbury. “His work isn’t my cup of tea,” said Lois, “but they are good company.”
It’s not certain in my mind where we first had dinner with Jim and Anna, whether at their house or more likely ours, but I do remember being surprised to meet the man I’d served at the restaurant. Ann’s wicked wit led the conversation but Jim had his own way of making points, his voice becoming not louder but concentrated and his speech slower. We had many dinners together and took one trip to Italy with Jim and Ann, a sentimental journey for them, a voyage of discovery for us. Jim was a courtly host at home, especially making sure everyone who wanted it was well supplied with wine, and an appreciative guest when at our house.
In those days Jim was enthusiastic about racquetball. He persuaded me to play with him at a nearby gym, and regularly beat me. In warm weather it was tennis at the court on Newbury Common, where the story was not so consistent, but in any event my wife Lesley soon displaced me as his regular partner. There was no danger of any of us getting to Wimbledon, which however we faithfully watched on the McGarrells’ large screen. TV nights with the McGarrells were a treat for us, particularly the tennis. Together over the years we watched the displacement of the Pete Sampras–André Agassi rivalry by the Roger Federer–Rafael Nadal competition, and then the rise of Novak Djokovic, who eventually outstripped them both.
After Jim had painted a rich panorama of imagined scenes on the dining room walls in their house, he approached me about making a large round table to seat many people for large dinners. We decided that I should build something unconventional of inexpensive sheet materials since the table would usually be invisible under a very large cloth, and for this piece Jim would trade me a painting. We were both happy with the arrangement and henceforth into the bargain I got to sit at the table.
Jim’s paintings always startled me. Working solely out of his imagination, he produced a distinct alternate reality in his subjects and presented them in an astounding color range. The Ragamala series he painted in India was by no means unrelated to his earlier work, but its colors soared to the ether. Jim was a good writer as well, as I discovered reading the liner notes for the Barnes Bocage album he produced in New Orleans as a young man and in other occasional pieces I encountered. And why should he not be?
Flo’s death in the 2010 Haiti Earthquake had a deep effect on the McGarrells' life in Newbury. Ann’s death in 2015, though it came in stages, was another blow. Jim soldiered on. At her memorial he fixed himself on a high stool, ignoring the lectern, and read a tender memoir he had written of their meeting in California and early days together.
In his last days, Jim, a few weeks short of 90, his hair now very long and rather wild, looked like an an old lion. In his sedated dreams he murmured repeatedly of colors, reviewing his formidable palette. An original and distinguished painter, a courtly host, a persistent debater and a good writer—in these roles I will remember Jim with pleasure and admiration.
We knew Jim McGarrell the painter long before we met Jim McGarrell, our dear friend. During the sixties, seventies, and eighties, the Frumkin Gallery was a regular part of our New York gallery walks. The great works Jim showed there always intrigued us, but we had no inkling of the mid-west connections that we shared with him nor of our wonderful friendship to come. We finally met Jim and his wife Ann in the 1990 ’s through Dartmouth connections, especially our mutual old friend Jake Jacobus. We enjoyed visits to their incredible Vermont house where they entertained with fantastic meals cooked by Ann, served in a dining room illuminated by murals with Jim’s wonderful imagery and rich, saturated colors. Our friendship was deepened by Ann’s poetry, which we read in her many publications. Finally, during recent years, we celebrated lunch with Jim and Ann a couple of times each month with the “Tuesday Club,” a group of a dozen friends, who met usually on Wednesdays in Norwich or WRJ. Jim would share engrossing stories from the Venice Biennale, from Italy, France, and India, all places where his long career in the art world had taken him. And although we did not know Jim during his legendary teaching years at the University of Indiana and Washington University in Saint Louis, we were inspired by how, even in his retirement, he always went out of his way to encourage younger artists. We miss Jim McGarrell.
What memories to state about my father Jim McGarrell? Others have had much to say about his accomplishments as an artist, his excellence as a teacher and mentor, and others continue to speak with admiration of his work with New Orleans jazz musicians in the 1950s. I will try to bring together an assortment of personal memories.
This big man was there from my earliest times, teaching me basics, including chess at age four (although I didn’t have a lasting attraction to that). We went over atlases together, helping me get interested in parts of the world and the desire for exploration that stayed with me.
Then, at age seven, I had the opportunity to have a year based in Paris on his sabbatical. There was the lifelong gain for me of spending time in a new culture, and it was great for him to associate with artists and collectors of that time and place. When he went to the great art museums, my wanting to hold his hand was a distraction, and sometimes I was sent away with Ann.
We returned to Indiana and I got to join him in being a regular sports spectator, and I got to persuade him that being a ballboy for his tennis games was a paid chore.
Starting in 1970, it was decided that Ann and I would try living in Europe year-round, while Jim would teach at Indiana for part of the year. The time without him was difficult, but he made things work for the time he was with us, both in organizing things for the family, and in his career as his art was appreciated by European dealers and collectors.
There are the odd circumstances of our deciding to move to Italy after one year in southern France. Between the Rome art dealer’s letter in Italian and Jim’s handwritten reply in English, they decided we would need to go to Rome to meet in person and try to communicate. It happened that it was at the same time that we saw an ad in the International Herald Tribune for a house in Umbria that looked like a better deal than what we were seeing in southern France. After arranging good deals for the art, Jim needed to go from Rome to the U.S. and gave Ann and me carte blanche to see the house in Umbria and decide on buying it. We found the house to be good, and notified him by a telegram with pre-set codes that the one drawback was the “Twistroad,” but it came out as “Inistroad.” He took it to be “sinister road” and had the general idea, and this road’s problems were mild compared to what was needed to get to other houses in the area.
We had some years in this country house, and the surprise that, 17 years after me, there would be a new child who became Flo. Jim had joy at having this child, while he still paid my way to have the best education.
He was there, spending more of the year in the U.S., during my college years and the start of my post-college life. His marriage had some trouble then but, after he took a new teaching job in St. Louis, Ann and Flo moved to join him there.
Jim was there for support, while pushing for me to succeed on my own, as I got started in what eventually became a librarian career. Some of my top memories were through the people with whom he associated in St. Louis, including two exchange students, and his show openings in other places. In 1993, when the family moved to Vermont, there was a new group of friends to know.
Jim achieved a lot in his artwork, establishing a great studio in Vermont and the major Redwing four-wall painting in the dining room, and then letting his painting take a new direction.
He was there for Flo, who chose artistic endeavors that weren’t money-making, had a change of gender identity, and finally worked in Haiti and died in the earthquake there. It was terrible for both parents to have such a loss, but they got through it and continued support for the arts in Haiti; they also gave considerable support for Flo’s Haitian mentee Zaka to immigrate to the United States.
Margaret came into my life, and Jim and Ann were there to put together a great wedding for us in Vermont. Around Christmas 2015, Ann had a stroke and Jim needed to deal with the wrenching decisions around treatment that would reflect her wishes, ultimately letting her die as peacefully as possible.
Margaret and I decided that, by spring of 2017, I could retire and we could join Jim. It may not have been the conventional way of doing things, but it was a good arrangement for all of us, and we appreciated Jim’s constant kindness at this stage of life. Indeed, it comes to mind that he was orphaned at 13, but he was there to give support for me into my sixties. He spent time in the studio, regularly accompanied by classical or jazz music, and a lot of time watching political news, often laughing at the news even when it was bad from his perspective.
There was a gradual decline in him physically and mentally, but he tried not to show it too much, going through most daily activities normally, but shutting down his studio without disclosing it. Then the decline accelerated and the end, as he wished, did not take long. It’s difficult to be the last representative of this family of four, with so many achievements and quirks.
Jim noted that many of his show openings were at times of troubling news, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, snowstorms, and stock market crashes. Now memorializing him is in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’d be disappointed that Margaret and I couldn’t go on this spring’s trip to Europe, and I wonder otherwise how he would be thinking of the current news. A kind and hopeful perspective, I would think. --April 2020.