The Fine Artist

Written by Lisa Williams

The Simmons Public Library was a melting pot of the haves and have-nots, a mixture of homeless people and the wealthy older residents of the nearby neighborhood.

One day, Elenore Wilson was patiently waiting in the one-hundred-year-old library foyer for her chauffeured ride to her estate, when she witnessed a man, maybe in his early thirties, sketching a charcoal portrait.  She could not help but notice his ragged clothes as he sat on the floor, drawing away.  He seemed unaware of anyone else in the room.

He was creating a drawing very rapidly, with what seemed like short strokes of shape, on the drawing paper.  His hand moved with a rhythm that fascinated her and reminded her of Elenore’s favorite artist.  Elenore noticed that his sneakers had the toes cut out, and his madras shirt was very faded.  His jeans were worn thin and looked like they might rip at any minute.  She was very curious about his work and who he was.  After all, she visits the library often, and she had never seen him there before now.

Immediately, memories from fifty years ago came flooding back.  She remembered being a young girl of nineteen working her way through college toward a librarian degree.  Eleanor Wilson, then Eleanor True, Wilson being her married name, came from a family of very modest means, so it was necessary for her to work to pursue her dream of graduating from the University of Wisconsin.

During her summer break that year, she decided to take a position working as a “summer girl,” taking care of three small children, for a wealthy family on the North side of Chicago.  Her boss, Mr. Jack Davis, was a stockbroker on the New York Stock Exchange and a significant donor to the University of Wisconsin.  His wife had died from cancer a few years before Eleanor had started working for him.

Being in the big city gave her a sense of vitality and vision for her future.  The buildings were taller than any she had ever seen in her small town of Kenosha, Wisconsin. She felt an urgency to learn all she could about the city and soon realized how little she knew about it and herself.

Working for the ultra-rich, Mr. Davis was a job full of cultural protocols, many of which were unfamiliar to her.  She was constantly struggling with learning to do the appropriate thing.  It did not seem to matter how much common sense a person had, everyone, especially the children, had to act appropriately in every circumstance.

On her days off, she would venture to the Chicago Art Institute, riding the EL to get there.  She loved to plunge herself into the works of Monet, the great Impressionist.  Monet’s work entitled “Impression: Sunrise” was the first to catch her eye when she visited the museum in 1953.  She enjoyed the way Monet used color and light to create a feeling of calmness in a world full of cultural complexities. She had read that Monet once said, “Never, even as a child, would I bend to a rule.” (Claude Monet)

The Impressionist Era of Art was quite appealing to Eleanor because of the instantaneous capture of the subject without all of details and accepted cultural conformity of the time.  You could say impressionism nurtured Eleanor’s adventurous spirit.

Startled from her memories, Elenore was awakened by her chauffeur, Mr. Green, who had arrived to take her home.  She asked Mr. Green if he knew where the young artist went.  He seemed to disappear from the library.

Mr. Green or Bob, which was short for Robert, knew whom Elenore was speaking.  He looked all around the foyer and the front section of the library to no avail.  Bob advised Elenore that it was time to go home so she could prepare for the Charity Dinner she was hosting that night at her estate.  Approximately fifty guests had been invited to the fundraiser for the Simmons Library.

The next morning, Elenore reflected on the success of the dinner, which netted five hundred fifty thousand dollars for the new wing of the library.  It pleased her very much that so many of her old friends, now well into their seventies and eighties, supported her endeavor for the sorely needed library improvements.  After all, most of the guests had known her husband, Ernest C. Wilson, who was from a very prominent family in the State of Wisconsin.  Ernest’s father had once served as governor of the State.

It seemed like only yesterday when she had been introduced to Ernest at a sorority dinner party at the University.  He was home on leave from Camp Lejeune, where he just completed officer training.  Elenore thought he was very handsome in his uniform, and his manners were meticulous.  They fell in love and were married in 1955.

Elenore loved the many adventures she had with her husband.  Whenever she was allowed, she traveled with him to the military bases he was assigned.  She would pick up jobs at the base libraries to stay occupied, especially when he was out of the country.

Ernest was her rock.  He was her reason for living.  Her most favorite day of the year was November 10th.  The day of the Marine Corps Ball.  She loved to dress up in one of her floor-length ball gowns and dance while being held in the arms of her Ernest, who was always decked out in his dress blues and white gloves.

The following week, Bob drove Elenore to the library.  As she was about to enter the building, the young artist, dressed as before, jumped up from his spot on the floor and opened the door for her.  To her, he seemed to come out of thin air. She thanked him for his kindness.  It was notedly difficult for her to open the heavy oak door as she walked with a cane in one hand and her clutch in the other.  After all, she was now 86 years old.

As Elenore walked over to her favorite computer desk cube, the young man followed her.  He asked if she would allow him to sketch her.  He explained that she could go on with her work as he was creating the drawing.  She agreed and told him that she was delighted to be chosen by him for a portrait.

Turning on the computer, she decided to ask the budding artist his name.  “What is your name?” she asked directly.  The man replied, “I go by Carl.”  “Do you have a last name?” she asked.  “No.  I just go by Carl”, he said as he flipped his sketch pad to a new page.  After pulling bits of various size charcoal from his pocket, he began sketching.

Elenore was particularly fond of utilizing the library computer to look up works of art.  She began searching for something by Monet.  She found the wonderful oil on canvas entitled “White Water Lilies,” which Monet had created in 1899.  It was one of a series of paintings depicting his personal garden of water lilies.

Viewing the shades of green, pink, and blue water lilies floated her thoughts to a cooling moment on a hot summer day when she an Ernest sat on a park bench delighting in the flower garden before them. As she studied the reflection of the sky and green plants in the water, she was transported to the garden. The bridge in the painting, which did not connect on either side, paralleled a timeline to her of life and death.  One of Monet’s quotes came to her mind.  “People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand when it is simply necessary to love.”—Claude Monet.

“Carl,” Elenore said with a curiosity to her voice, “where is your home?”

Carl continued drawing without a reply.  “Carl,” I asked you a question.  “Did you not hear me?”

He stopped sketching and replied, “I live in your heart.”

He was right. Marine Captain Ernest C. Wilson was killed in combat in Vietnam in 1965.  He was 29 years old.  Elenore was 32 years old.  They had been married a short ten years.  Elenore was so distraught by his death that she began living in a world of her own making.  She would drift into and out of reality.  It was not known by those who cared for her that she decided to make the library her home.

Elenore went missing for many weeks after Ernest’s death.  Friends of the family searched and searched for her.  Bob, who had long served as butler and driver at the Wilson Estate, discovered her in the Simmons Library, where she had been living as a homeless person.

Elenore laid her head down on the table.  Her faint muffled crying could be heard by those who passed by.  Bob called to her softly that it is was time to go home.

Note:  You may not be aware that many Libraries provide shelter for the homeless folks in the area.  They also serve as a source of information regarding food pantries, legal aid, jobs, and medical resources. 

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