Pictures & Blather: Assistant Fog Keeper by Dmitry Samarov

Dmitry Samarov

Words and pictures. Whatever happened during the week that I can remember. Occasional pleas for money. A new one every Monday.

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Ever since I read an article about the imminent opening of The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation, I’ve been champing at the bit to go. I booked a flight for May but had to cancel it when their opening got pushed back. Then I wrote to the director to ask if they’d be open by July 11th and was assured that they’d show me around even if they weren’t yet letting the public in.

Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof

I landed at LaGuardia, took the shuttle to Alamo, and followed the Google Map directions I’d printed out over the Manhattan Bridge. My friend, Gil, who I’d planned to meet at the museum, texted that he was waiting at a coffee shop across Delancey Street, a couple blocks away. I parked a few paces past the entrance and Gil walked up a few minutes later. Workmen were busy installing a new front door to the former synagogue which used to house Resnick’s studio, so we had to wait for one of the staff to lead us in via a back door. In the lobby we were met by Geoffrey Dorfman, Resnick’s biographer and former student, and Nathan Kernan, the museum’s president. They led us on a tour, with Dorfman doing most of the talking.

A New York Jew straight out of central casting, Dorfman eyed me suspiciously as he asked what my interest in Resnick was. My saying I’ve been a fan since art school in the early 90s was met with wary acceptance, while the Russian Jewish heritage I share with Resnick may have actually earned me a few hard-won points. There were paintings from different periods on each of the three floors we saw. One of the distinctive qualities of Resnick’s work is that much of it is practically unreproducible. All the scale, texture, and presence is lost when reduced and flattened by the camera lens. This is true for all art but especially so for painting which depends on minute surface differences like his. I would’ve liked to’ve spent longer sitting in these rooms but our hosts had a museum opening to prepare for the following day so time was at a premium.

The last thing they showed us was a little alcove housing Resnick’s final studio. Works in progress were pinned to the wall along with doodles, magazine cut-outs, and notes. Brushes, paints, paper, and bric-a-brac took up the rest of the tiny room. A protective piece of fiberglass barred entry but Dorfman slid it out of its notched groove so we could walk in for a minute. The room just outside, used now for stacking chairs, was the artist’s last bedroom, in which he ended his life with his WW2 service revolver at age 87 in 2004. That fact followed us like a ghost as we bid our goodbyes and walked out into the humid NYC summer afternoon.

Dmitry Samarov

Gil and I found a coffee shop nearby and took a table by the window. He set up a microphone to record our conversation. If he posts it, it’ll be my third time on his show. I drew his portrait as we chatted. Just outside the window two middle-aged beardos kept taking selfies together. It was a good time.

I drove Gil to the Upper West Side garage where he’d parked, then continued north toward Maine. My brother, Boris, and his wife, Blakeney, had invited me to visit their new summer house there. I’d printed out the directions but somehow missed a turn or two which took me needlessly through Rhode Island and added an hour and a half to the ride. Good thing I was in no hurry. I had to return my rental and Boris texted me he’d meet me in the basement of the Alamo but I was too tired or spaced out to get that Pee Wee Herman joke.

Dmitry Samarov

We spent much of my first day there wresting/repairing one of the porch screens. On breaks, I swam in the lake that is steps from the house. In the evening we went to a drive-in about an hour away to see The Incredibles 2. The fact that drive-ins still exist is a tiny bit of hope for this hopeless country in my book.

We woke at the ass-crack of dawn the next day to make the 7am ferry to Monhegan Island. We got there with minutes to spare and the car basically running on fumes, gas gauge past E. The boat ride was full of postcard views as was the island itself. I informed Boris and Blakeney I had no interest in hiking, then promptly followed them into the woods. We emerged covered in sweat and bug bites a couple hours after. We sat on a bench looking over the town and the neighboring Manana Island to recuperate.

A little museum next to the lighthouse was full of photos and artifacts from the many decades of artists’ time there. I learned to my surprise that Zero Mostel, who’d originated the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, was a regular visitor and avid, if not particularly talented painter. In one of the last rooms were a couple plaques, one for lighthouse keepers, the other for a job I’d never heard of. The fog keepers were listed going back to the 19th century, but it looked like the job had been eliminated in the early 60s. At the bottom of that plaque was a short list of Assistant Fog Keepers. I found Boris and told him that that sounded like the job for me. He went over and actually read the wall text and was about to inform me what it actually entailed but I stopped him, saying I preferred to make up my own job description. At a coffee shop near the dock I was happy to see my friend Chris Brokaw on the schedule of upcoming entertainment. It made me feel a bit of connection to this place which had otherwise felt so remote.

The last morning in Maine I painted a couple views of the inside and outside of the house. I was thankful to have been invited to share my brother’s and his wife’s life for a couple days. It’s a privilege to get a peek into how others spend their time. I couldn’t imagine doing all the work they’ve done on this property or even owning property at all. But that’s the beauty of other people. They’ll show you worlds which wouldn’t occur to you in a million years.

At the airport I got news that my book of sketches and memories called Music to My Eyes will be published. Maybe I should get out of town more often.

More next Monday,

Dmitry

Photo: Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof
Artwork images: Dmitry Samarov

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Originally published in Dmitry Samarov’s Pictures & Blather here.

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Dmitry Samarov paints and writes in Chicago, Illinois.
More information here.