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Family Stories

Nat'ral Truth cover

Below is a link to The Nat’ral Truth by Arch Warnock. We called him Grampie. My mother, Elsie, put it together with artwork by her brother, Reese. I remember watching some of the reel-to-reel recordings made in our living room on Calion Hwy. It took a little warming up from Mother to get Grampie to tell his stories. This little book has become a treasure for our family.

Beyond these tall tales that Grampie told, we collected family stories passed down over the years. Some are in writing, but many are passed along verbally. I would encourage families to tell stories of their childhood and what they remember about parents and grandparents. It’s comforting for children to know they’re part of a family’s story.

Click link to open the book: The Natural Truth by Arch Warnock Elsie Warnock Reese Kennedy 1970

Nat'ral Truth2

 

The Gift of Imperfection

Jim Elsie Jimmy

Elsie and Jimmy Warnock with their son, Jim

I’m thankful to have been raised by courageous parents. If Mother didn’t know how to do something, she’d read up and dive right in. She tried to do things right, but often said, “Some things are worth doing poorly.” She didn’t hold others to perfection, often saying, “When in doubt, take a step.” You might learn something new. She practiced this all of her life to the benefit of those around her, especially her children.

When Becca and I had our first daughter, Elsie gave us permission not to be perfect parents. She reminded me of the time she took me to the bank when I was 10 to deposit eight silver dollars my grandmother had given me over several years. The bank teller repeatedly asked if she was sure we wanted to do this. Mother later learned the silver dollars were worth much more than any interest from a savings account would bring.

Following our first daughter’s birth, Mother gave me a small framed set of eight silver dollars with a lettered message: “No one said parents are perfect.” No, perfection wasn’t required but viewed from a distance, my parents were pretty darn close.

SilverDollarsr

Gift from Elsie to Jim and Becca on the birth of Christen in 1987. The frame and lettering were done by Reese Kennedy, Elsie’s brother.


My mother died on February 25. During the last few weeks, I visited my mother daily to assist with her evening meals. On one of these visits, I leaned over her bed and clearly said, “You were an amazing mother!” It felt awkward to say something so obvious. Her eyes filled with tears and she smiled. Over the weeks as she became less responsive, I read from a little book of memories she wrote in hopes that she would still hear me.

On February 24, I found some poems in the back of one of her books. I hadn’t seen them before and one caught my attention. It was the response to a writing assignment that she titled A Poem for Jimmy. She called my father Jimmy.

Mother would say it’s not great poetry. I would say it’s heartfelt and poetry at least worth reading. This  was the last thing I read to Mother during our last visit.

A Poem for Jimmy
By Elsie Warnock

This is a poem for Jimmy
Who made my life begin.
Who has doubled life’s joys
And halved its sorrows.
We have worked together;
We have laughed together;
We have grieved together.
I will remember always
The marvelous quiet times of our lives.
This is a poem for you.

JC and Elsie with vase

Art Travels

Reese Kennedy was my mother’s older brother.  He was an artist.  He was a complex, soft-spoken man, but there was a richness and generosity in that complexity. He was kind and gentle, and loved his family very much.

I’ve written the story of convincing Uncle Reese to draw a Texas Longhorn for me when I was five.  What I didn’t tell was how that ink and chalk drawing later disappeared.

I assumed that it was lost or accidentally tossed when my parents moved several years after I graduated from college.  I would think of it often, but eventually gave up on ever seeing it again.  I was sad that this icon from childhood was lost and possibly destroyed.

While attending Reese’s funeral, I thought again about that drawing while hearing stories of those he influenced over the course of his life.  Stories were shared of his work as an artist, teacher, father and friend.  He had led a distinguished life personally and professionally.  He was a founding member and first president of the Southwest Watercolor Society and taught art at Stephen F. Austin University prior to his retirement.

Several years later I was helping my parents clean Aunt Lucille’s home following her death in Nacogdoches, Texas.  She and Reese were both highly respected watercolor artists.

While I was sorting through books, Reese’s son-in-law, Larry walked in and said, “Is this something that belongs to you?”  He was holding the Texas Longhorn drawing.  My parents theorized that they had given it to Reese years before, with the idea of having him make a frame for it in the frame shop of his Nacogdoches art gallery.  It ended up in one of his collection folders and time passed by as it sat safely in his home.

I had the drawing framed, and it is now on display in a prominent place where I see it daily, thankful for this gift from the past.  Knowing Reese, he would humbly say, “If I’d realized how special this drawing was going to be to you, I would have spent more time on it.”  I would reply that in dealing with me at age five, he probably needed to make that longhorn appear quickly to hold my attention.  It was beautiful to me then and still is today.

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I posted the initial story of this drawing in January of 2014.

In July, I received the following email from the feedback page of my blog.

 

Jim

I think I have one of your uncle’s watercolors. The signature matches the one on your longhorn painting. The piece I have is a watercolor of a log cabin. Would you like me to email you a photo of it for you to see?

Scott Dressel-Martin

 

Scott

I would enjoy seeing a photo of the painting and forwarding it to Reese’s daughter.  Reese was a founding member and first president of the Southwest Watercolor Society.  He was a wonderful person.

 

Scott Dressel-Martin lives in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.  After visiting his web site, I realized he was a gifted professional photographer.  He once worked with one of my favorite nature photographers, Galen Rowell.  I was delighted that my blog entry had led me to an artist who appreciated Reese’s art.

Then in August, the story continued.

Jim

At long last, here is a photo of the painting I think is by your uncle. Thank you for your patience. It’s about 20×24 framed, and it’s beautiful. I keep thinking it doesn’t match anything in my house, but it’s such a lovely painting I was never able to let it go.

Does this look like his work and signature to you?

I was given the painting by a friend in Vail about 20 years ago as he was moving out of town. I’ve enjoyed it ever since.

Cheers!

 

Scott,

That’s my Uncle Reese for sure!  That is a beautiful painting.  He once drove up scenic Hwy 7 through Arkansas, stopping to paint and photograph old barns and structures.  Could have been that this old barn was from one of those trips.  Or, it might have been a scene from East Texas.  Thanks for sharing the photo.

The next message from Scott was a complete surprise.

 

Jim,

Now that we’ve determined that this is your Uncle’s work I’d like to make you an offer. If you’d be willing to pay for the shipping I’d be happy to give you the painting. I love the piece but it truly doesn’t fit in our home decor. It would make my wife and I very happy to know the work is being appreciated and cherished by someone that has a connection to it. It would feel like the piece is going home in a way.

Scott,

Wow!  Must say you’ve brought a tear to my eye with your kind offer.  I would be delighted to have this painting and would treasure it for years to come.

Just let me know the cost after you ship and I’ll gladly reimburse you to your Garland St. address.  I will also make a donation to the David Kennedy Music Scholarship fund in appreciation for your gift to me.  David, a gifted classical guitarist, was Reese’s son pursuing a doctorate in music performance from North Texas State University in the 1980s when he died in his early 30s.  Reese’s daughter, Carol, has applied any sales of his paintings to the scholarship fund over the years.

 

Jim,

Excellent!!  I will have the painting shipped in the next week and let you know when it’s on the way.

It is wonderful to know that we are playing a small part in helping the scholarship fund. Music and theater are important to us and helping students in need is always a worthy endeavor.

I can’t wait for you to have this painting!

Cheers!!

 

And so, this is how another painting by Reese Kennedy came into my possession.  It is perfect for my office and even ties in with our school colors of green and gold.  I look at this painting and think of Reese’s brushes shaping every inch as he sat behind his easel along Highway 7 or somewhere in an East Texas field.

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Reese was an artist.  He couldn’t help but paint, but I wonder if he had any inkling of the paths some of his art would travel?  That one of his drawings would be “lost” then found and cherished years later.  I think he would be pleased to know that his work would be treasured and shared for years into the future.

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I enjoyed showing Reese’s painting to co-workers and sharing the story behind that big box in the office.

The painting was shipped with care.

The painting was shipped with care. After seeing this photo, Carol (Reese’s daughter) said this is what Reese called called “ink and wash” technique — some drawing with india ink (often with a quill) and when the ink dried, he would add the watercolor washes.

“CAN You Draw a Texas Longhorn?”

My mother with older brother, Reese Kennedy

My mother with older brother, Reese Kennedy

 

Yesterday I was reminded that January 4 would have been my Uncle Reese’s 90th birthday.  He was my mother’s older brother and she loved him very much.  As a child, I was in awe of him because he was an artist.  As an adult, I was in awe of him because of his adventurous spirit, his open questioning mind, and his talent.

When I was 5-years old we were visiting Uncle Reese and his family in Dallas.  For reasons I can’t recall, I was obsessed with Texas Longhorns.  Shortly after we arrived I approached Uncle Reese as the adults were visiting and asked if he would draw me a picture of a Texas Longhorn.  He said he’d do this later and continued to visit with my parents.

I approached my uncle several more times over the next day or two and each time he was polite but probably assumed his five-year-old nephew would become obsessed with something else if he delayed.

My mother tells me that I finally approached my uncle and asked clearly, “Uncle Reese, CAN you draw a Texas Longhorn?”  He quietly got up and led me to his art studio where I watched in amazement as he made a Texas Longhorn appear before my eyes with ink and chalk.  He then signed it “TEXAS LONGHORN drawn for Jim Warnock, Thanksgiving 1960, Reese Kennedy.”

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This hangs on the wall of my living room today and I treasure the memory of that one-on-one time with my uncle as I watched him produce this drawing.

I’m not sure that this early success at getting my Uncle Reese to do what I wanted him to do predicted my future work in education or administration but he and his family definitely shaped my thoughts about the place of Fine Arts in education.  I view the arts as central to learning.  They are not optional but an essential part of any effective curriculum.

I’m thankful for my Uncle Reese and only regret that we were not able to spend more time with him and his family.

Additional historical note: Four years after this event, Reese Kennedy founded, and was the first president of, the Southwest Watercolor Society.  This association of artists continues to this day.

Reese Kennedy

Reese Kennedy in front of his home in Nacogdoches, Texas a number of years ago.

Reese painting in Mexico.

Reese painting in Mexico.

April, 2016: Thank you to one of Reese’s former students for sharing the following newspaper clippings. He also shared the following comments about his memory of Reese.

Reese was one of my heroes. I only have three heroes so this is a sincere complement. The other two heroes are my dad and my high school football coach, the two heroes that sent me to SFA on a football scholarship in 1965. On arrival to SFA, I visited the art department and had a short conversation with Reese. I was sold immediately on signing up in his classes, not sure of which ones, but that is not important as I sooner or later took all of them. I was hooked on his personality and charm, not to mention his love for the arts and water coloring quest for excellence. – Mike Mikulenka

Reese Kennedy Showing 1973 1Reese Kennedy Showing 1973 2Reese Kennedy Showing 1973 3Reese Kennedy Showing 1973 4

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