It’s Miller Time

Chapter 22

October 20, 2011

Jim Fillmore has let it be known that he is engaged to Melody Watkins (sister of Harold Watkins), who lives in Parkersburg.  Jim says that the couple plans to be married in December at the Convent.  Congratulations to the soon-to-be happy couple.

Speaking of the Convent, Harry Singleton says that he has hired Jerry Hall to be the chef at the White Marigold, the restaurant to be located at the Inn.  Jerry is currently the chef at the KSU Faculty Club but says that the hour drive each way is already getting him down, especially since he begins his day at the Club at 4:30 a.m.

Sherri Brown says that thirty-seven people have borrowed the library’s fifteen copies of “Destiny of the Republic” over the last four weeks and everyone is excited about Candice Millard’s visit and book discussion on Saturday at the elementary school auditorium.  Sherri says to come early to get a good seat.

In a town of (mostly self-styled) wine connoisseurs, it’s hard to impress people with local offerings, but that’s exactly what George Finley did on Saturday with his Cabernet Franc.  Jerry Hall says that the wine has notes of raspberry, violets and bell pepper and he plans to pair it with a curried pumpkin soup when the White Marigold opens.

The Main Street/PRIDE committee held a grand re-opening celebration for Gwen Burton’s antique store.  After Gwen sold most of her inventory to a collector in Vermont, her shop was damaged by a water leak.  Gwen saw this as an opportunity to head in a new direction and has switched her emphasis from American Primitives to “French Farmhouse.”  Just an excuse to visit France, Gwen?

Chase Ryan, grandson of Carl and Jessica Cunningham, set a record last week for most passing yards in a Kansas high school football game.  Chase plays for the Garden City Buffaloes and will be attending Colorado State University next year.

James Dane, son of Rodney and Phyllis, has been hired as a business reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Eric Weston, who has been portraying Jaques in As You Like It at the Opera House, has been offered a part in a TV show to be aired in the fall of 2012.  Eric says that he can’t reveal what the episode is about or how he fits into the show, but he did say that his on-going acting experience makes preparing for the part a breeze.  Hmmm…

Randy Higgs says that he has started selling “buffalo burgers” through Good Natured Family Farms.  His marketing slogan is: “Discover Higgs Bison.”  Randy denies he was a physics major in college.

I often deny that, too, so…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent


On Sunday morning, I ran into Eric Weston at Bach’s Lunch.  He was pouring over a thick manuscript and when he saw me, he motioned me over to his table.  Eric, who has been a part of the Aeolian Acting Company for the last three years, is a “criminal impersonator” in Kansas City.  Whenever there is a police line-up, he is called on to portray one of the suspects.  So far, he’s had “roles” as a car-jacker, murderer, purse-snatcher, peeping tom, burglar, and bail-jumper.

“I guess I’ve just got one of those faces,” he says.  Perhaps, but he also admits that he uses quite a lot of props and make-up while taking his place in the “show.”

“Preparing for this afternoon’s performance?” I asked.  Sunday is the fourth of a weekend’s four and I’ve learned that after three, the actors all have to go back and study their lines so they don’t get so comfortable that they forget what they are doing.

“Actually, this is a script for a TV series,” Eric said, under his breath.  “I’ve been hired to portray a ‘criminal impersonator’ on three episodes of Rizzoli and Isles, but there’s a twist:  I actually have committed the crimes I’m supposedly in the line-up for.  It takes them three episodes to figure out that the guy they’ve hired to play an arsonist is actually the arsonist.  I’m supposed to keep this all under wraps, but I know you won’t spill the beans.”

Over the three years that Eric has been coming to Walnut Shade during the AAC’s season, I’ve gotten to know him pretty well and have come to enjoy the stories he tells about being a “CI” in Kansas City.  It’s not often that you know the one-and-only person who has that one-and-only job.  How many people are working on the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland?  Over 8,000.  How many Sherpa guides are there taking folks up Mt. Everest?  About 1,500.  How many Navy Seals are there?  Well, that’s classified, but you can bet it’s more than one, so Eric is in pretty special company.

“My lips are sealed,” I replied, whispering. “Where and when are you filming?”

“I’ll be in Vancouver in February and March; that’s where they film.  It’s supposed to look like Boston and apparently it’s a lot cheaper to do a TV show there.  Should be a hoot.”

“What about your gig in KC?”

“Oh, they are cool with it.  In fact, it’s a great promo for the Police Department.  I’m supposed to get a line in the credits saying that I work for the KCPD.  And I’m talking to my agent about developing a program to train other people to be criminal impersonators.  The tie-ins are unlimited, don’t you think?”  Talking about his new ventures, Eric began to raise his voice just a bit, but caught himself when he noticed that a couple of the other diners were beginning to lean in his direction.  Now Bach’s Lunch is a pretty small place, so if you lean too much, you are in danger of ending up in someone else’s lap, so Eric changed the subject and asked me about Jerry.

“Oh, he’s doing fine.  The surgery was a success, but he’d going to be in a cast for a couple more weeks.”  It seems that one morning when we were out painting (well, I was painting; Jerry is strictly a sculptor, bring sticks home to pile up in the back yard), he was running after a rabbit or a squirrel when I heard a yelp and saw him limping back toward me.  He was obviously in pain, so I gathered up my painting supplies, loaded him into the back seat and drove to Dr. Cramer’s to see what was going on.

“It looks like he’s torn his ACL.  I’m afraid his football-playing days are over.”  Dr. Cramer always delivers bad news with a little bit of humor, which made me feel better, but I could tell Jerry wasn’t smiling.  “I’d suggest that you take him to the Vet School in Columbia.  There are a couple of doctors at Mizzou that specialize in this kind of injury.  With any luck, Jerry will be chasing squirrels again in a month or so.”

Dr. Cramer gave Jerry a pain-killer and called Columbia to make a referral.  An hour later, I was on the road with Jerry snoozing in the back and by four o’clock, he was out of surgery, still snoozing.  Dr. Cook, who performed the surgery, is a leader in the field of veterinary orthopedic medicine, so when I called Judy, I was able to tell her that Jerry would be OK.  I could tell that she was relieved; if she hadn’t had a nutrition class, she would have accompanied us to Columbia.  While Jerry spends the day with me, at night he’s strictly Judy’s dog, curled up on the sofa with her, snoring loudly, but contentedly.

“How was the Art Fair?” Eric asked.  “Wasn’t that last weekend?  I intended to come up to Fairmont, but we had a last-minute run-through of Act II.  Lance wasn’t happy with the music and thought the songs were flat.  He and Greg are not getting along right now, so it’s been a bit tense around the theater.”  Greg is Lance’s partner and plays Duke Senior and a couple of other parts.  He’s normally a happy-go-lucky person, but he was laid off from Sprint in Kansas City six months ago and has had trouble finding a job in the tech industry.  It’s beginning to wear on him and Lance.

“I sold exactly one painting at the Fair and that doesn’t really count since Ron Hawkins, who has no understanding of or interest in art, purchased it.  He called it a ‘sympathy buy,’ since he bought the piece as I was packing up to leave,” I explained to Eric.

Other than that, the weekend was fine.  The weather was perfect and there was a good crowd, just not one that was buying art.  I wasn’t the only one who didn’t sell much.  All the artists I talked to indicated that this was a disappointing event for them.  Perhaps it’s just a reflection of the economy.

The one exception was Harry Morris, who sold out his collection of “organic sculptures” as he calls them.  Not only did he sell everything he brought, he was also awarded the top purchase prize of $1000 for his piece called “Moana Leasa,” a construction of salvaged building materials, tree limbs, and electronic parts, including a still-working black-and-white TV.  Much to the chagrin of a couple of the county commissioners, his sculpture will be installed on the courthouse grounds and will be displayed for the next year.  Part of the artist agreement for the Fair was the commitment by the organizers to show the pieces receiving the purchase awards in the lobby of the courthouse.  Harry’s piece is a bit too large for that space, so it will be out on the north lawn, where he can plug it into the outlet used for Christmas lights.  It should be quite a conversation piece, since Harry said that it is designed to deteriorate and by the end of the year, it should be significantly decayed and collapsing.  Just the type of thing that most city ordinances would require to be removed as trash.  But that’s the nature of art: controversy is built in, even in the most “conservative” pieces.  And Harry’s art is anything but conservative.

The other two purchase award pieces were more “traditional”:  a photograph of the Flint Hills at sunset and a portrait of Alfred Jacob Miller, the artist for whom Miller County is named.  I suspect that the portrait will find a permanent home in the courthouse, since there is no likeness of Miller currently on displayed.  There is, however, a watercolor by him that was brought to the county by an early settler who purchased it from Miller in Baltimore where he had a studio.  Miller was an interesting, if minor, artist who studied in Europe in the early 1800s, copying old master paintings and turning out uninspired landscapes.  He returned to the United States in 1834 and was hired as an “expedition artist” by Sir William Drummond Stewart, who passed through northeast Kansas on his way to the Rocky Mountains.  Stewart was the second son of a Scottish baronet and as such was expected to make the military his career.  He joined the service on his seventeenth birthday, fought in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and retired from the British Army in 1830.  The peace and quiet of the Scottish countryside soon wore thin and Stewart decided to sail to America to participate in the “discovery of the west,” as Turner ironically described the events of the period.

In 1837, Miller sketched scenes of mountain men, Native Americans and the Rockies which he subsequently turned into oil paintings, water colors and engravings.  His oils and most water colors were sent to Stewart in Scotland where they are now displayed in Murthly Castle in Perthshire.  Late in his life, Miller traveled to Denver to visit his son and stopped in Fremont to receive the “key to the county” bearing his name.  In the 1950s, the county commissioners attempted to have Miller inducted into the Kansas Hall of Fame, but the Legislature declined, reasonably, on the grounds that he was not born nor ever lived in the state.  But we Miller Countians defiantly claim him as one of our own.  Of course, Billy Thornton also claims that Miller beer was invented here, so that shows just how far some people will go to consort with a famous name.  And truth be told, Billy manages to consort a lot.

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
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