In last week’s post, I wrote about my painting of people dancing at the Nevada County Fair. The work had been commissioned by the county’s Board of Supervisors to decorate the county’s newly constructed administrative center. After the painting was installed, I left California and spent a few months painting in Spain. When I returned to the U.S., a message on my studio’s answering machine cast a shadow on my happy homecoming. A gruff male voice in a menacing tone demanded that I phone him: “Hey, are you the guy that did that painting that’s in the new county building? The people dancing? Well, I got something to tell you. You call me right away, you hear?”
I couldn’t imagine why this man was angry, but his tone of voice led me to expect the worst. Had I painted him dancing with someone else’s wife? Or equally unfortunate, had I depicted his wife dancing with someone she wasn’t supposed to be dancing with?
I waited until the next day to return his call.
To my surprise — and relief — he had merely sounded menacing and, as it turned out, gruff was his normal way of speaking. “I don’t know anything about art,” he said, “but that’s the best goddamn painting I’ve ever seen in my life, I’m not kidding you. That’s me and the wife dancing on the left side there. Isn’t she beautiful?”
He went on to tell me that, two year’s previously, he had met his wife at a similar dance at the Fair. So “you could say we were celebrating our anniversary of when we met. You know, on that day I was just standing there with my hands in my pockets watching other people having fun when this beauty in a muu muu came up to me and said, ‘Hey cowboy, looks to me like you wanna dance.’ That was the happiest moment of my life and we’ve been happy together ever since.”
When the county eventually held a dedication ceremony, I invited Merle and Darlene to be my guests
That’s not quite the end of the story. After the article and photograph appeared, Judith Mooers, the Union‘s Editor, reported receiving indignant phone calls, most of them questioning why the county chose to spend $3,200 on a painting when there were more pressing priorities. One “angry county employee” at the Nevada County Courthouse complained about repairing the woman’s restroom on the second floor near the justice courts: “The tile at the bottom of the wall is falling off, the paper is curling, the place is a big mess.” Another caller complained about the downstairs women’s room “where the soap container fell of the wall eons ago and has not yet been replaced or repaired.” Still another caller suggested that the money should have been used for “roads and dumps” and added that “it would be nice to add a psychiatrist to the mental health department… who should devote his attention” to the members of the Board of Supervisors “who need him badly.”
I didn’t blame the people who complained; their objections were legitimate. I hope the Board listened to them and repaired the restrooms. I didn’t blame the Union either for misspelling my name five times. I’m just content that the painting has lived in the county administration building for almost thirty years and, from the feedback I’ve gotten personally, has given a lot of pleasure many people. It should. The subject is so simple: people forgetting their troubles and having fun on a warm summer day.