As artists our most successful works are the ones we never made.

Posted on April 23, 2017

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Lethe_30x30_COS

Lethe River of Forgetfulness Digital Montage On Aluminum 30 x30 David Lee Eubank 2016

After all where does art live? As artists our most successful works are the ones we never made and have now faded from our memory. It is not really about things so much as about life and how we live.

As I read Jerry Saltz self criticism, “My Life As A Failed Artist.” I had a surge of memories from my own life. I asked myself. Are we living in a time when we are creating the artifacts of a failed civilization? Do we really need to create any more cultural artifacts? Artifacts, objects that might be found by some distant surviving human future generation? Of course this is a response to Donald Trump. Trump seems to represent the deconstruction of everything? Then there is the Korean thing. Nuclear war is still very much a reality. The role back of EPA regulations, the denial of climate change and a host of other very disturbing Trump proposals not the least the destruction of the Affordable Care Act and really the healthcare system. Which does directly threaten my life at this moment. Very disturbing and depressing. I mean WTF?

So I have to start now. Today and I’m in a hurry. I promise I will be jumping around a lot if only I could still jump. You see in 2 days from now I will either be on my way to recovery or dead. It is a fact that I have struggled with but have accepted over the last four months.

So it began in mid November in 2016. I had a colonoscopy. The doctor removed 8 polyps. I thought, man em I ever thankful for Obama Care or as some people know it as the Affordable Care Act. You might be wondering if we really need access to healthcare? The short answer is YES you need access to healthcare. YES access to healthcare should a be a right, it should be an entitlement and YES we need comprehensive National Health Care. I don’t have the time to debate the issue because that horse is dead. See the horse didn’t have healthcare.

You know the lack of healthcare for artists of all types ended more artist careers than we may ever know. I have been told by countless artists that they took job X because of the need for health insurance. Much of that changed with the ACA, AKA Obamacare.

So after the colonoscopy I had terrible pain the rest of that day and really that week. The pain slowly went away. The other thing the colonoscopy revealed was that I had mild diverticulitis. I knew this because the first one I had in my fifties identified the same thing. Diverticulitis is a common problem and shows up as we age. It is these little ticks or pockets that form in the colon. The doctors just tell you to eat a well balanced diet with good fiber and stay away from seeds and some nuts. It is really had to stay away from the nuts though. I’m surrounded by them…

So it was on a Sunday December Eleventh. I had worked all day in my studio painting. It was a normal day, I managed to make a mess of another fine canvas. It is what I do. I ate dinner and was cleaning up the kitchen. Then about a half hour later I was suddenly overcome with pain, nausea and violently vomiting. I briefly passed out. I didn’t know what was wrong, I had had no immediate prior warnings. I had felt good. So I thought, maybe food poisoning or it was from doing the dishes. My wife Barbara was very concerned and said we need to go to the hospital. I refused took a shower and went to bed. It is an old school remedy. One I don’t recommend. A little while later as the pain increased and I knew I was in serious trouble. I somehow made my way down stairs and told Barbara. I need to go to the hospital. After the shock, maybe panic? Because she knew if I was asking to go to the hospital something was really wrong.

Once I was in the ER everything just started escalating. Within minutes, it was a slow night to my advantage, a CAT scan revealed my bowel had ruptured. A far more common side effect of colonoscopies then we are told about. Fact is after sixty serious complications occur in 5 percent of patients. My complication was as serious as it gets. I was in life threatening trouble. Blindsided by what was happening. We all worry about a lot of things, other things, but not your guts exploding. That is what happens when diverticulitis become acute. My body was in shock and I was fast becoming septic. Sepsis is the natural result of your bowels emptying into your belly. So it began. First came the pain medication, then the antibiotics, then emergency surgery. The surgeons removed the damaged part of the colon and stapled it all back together. When I woke up I was still deathly ill with infection. Four days later the surgery failed, another rupture. The infection was just to much and the bowel could not heal. Rushed back into surgery within the hour again. This time I woke up with a colostomy. Still at deaths door. The next week was touch and go. Pumped full of Dilaudid or fondly called Binladden for pain, I was in some space between conciseness and dreamland. A pain medication pump at my finger tips helped the pain subside for evasive periods of time. The trade off was a sense of drifting with no control over the direction or destination. The other thing that was happening is the doctors were pumping me full of antibiotics and fluids to fight the infection. If you can picture the guy in the South Park episode who was wheeling his testicles around in a wheelbarrow. Well that was me, fluids have to go somewhere. It is called the Third space. Well my third space was as full as you can get and my balls were the size of cantaloup. Because when your septic your body is in shock and everything starts shutting down. So this is when they come and try and get you up to walk. I got up but couldn’t walk far, those pesky testes of melon fame made it almost impossible. This is the point when you lose all self respect. It is a fuck it moment, because everything in that moment of the ego is crystal clear. If you can’t laugh at your own demise or balls, then what can you laugh at. Laughter can keep you in the game, keep you alive.

Surrounded by family, especially my wife Barbara, we have been together for almost 40 years. Now Sixty Four I found out my true love still does love me. I felt the pain she is feeling, you feel the pain of your children, pain you are causing. Everything is upended out of control.

At night when things settled down for a few hours, no-one is poking, sticking or doing something else to you and Binladden is onboard. Is when you try and think in the dark. Drugged, dazed and frightened a lot of self loathing is going on. You think about what you didn’t do what you now may never do. That is it for an artist. Always reaching for some distant star that seems always out of reach, still so close.

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David Lee Eubank, by Jacob Eubank 2008

As artists our most successful works are the ones we never made and have now faded from our memory. I realized it is not really about things so much as about life and how we live.

In those dark hours I thought about how I lived my life. I thought about the tradeoffs I made because of family verses career. I can tell you without reservation my family is my greatest work. A living ongoing live performance installation always evolving. You see when you raise kids in a creative environment they become very interesting people.

I thought about all the jobs I have had just to pay the bills. Almost always Interesting jobs, jobs where I used my creativity. I had started out as a carpenter. I worked on my first construction job for a family friend at 14. That was in the sixties a time when even if there were rules they were ignored. By the time I went to college I was a Journeyman Carpenter. I had a lot of craftsman skills. Skills that have served me well throughout my life. I am a builder a maker of things.

I had bought a 35mm camera in 1974 and I wanted to know how everything in photography worked. I decided to take a photography course at my local University. I never realized that someone like me could actually go to college. I got all my records together and applied. See I had dropped out of school at sixteen, well really fifteen because I just didn’t go. I got my GED while in the Army. I also took my SAT or some equivalent. I had those records on hand or at least my mother did. I was pretty bitter over the whole Vietnam thing and had for the most part destroyed everything connected to the military as a form of protest, self therapy or self loathing. I can never be sure of which, but probably all.

So I entered the University of Akron. Photography 101. Only when I got to the first class, the professor had died a few days before. Yeah no shite, really. His name was John Cook and I never knew him. So the department head Irving Acorn stood in his place until we got an new professor. I stuck it out, which was rare for me. I had little patients for anything that wasted my time except for wasting my time. I was hooked though on learning. I don’t know what it was, curiosity or healing? I was a very angry young man. Never the less I fell in love with making images. I had always had my hand in art. Drawing, making crafts, painting. Looking back I was an outsider type artist now in formal training. I was clueless then, I think I still am. That is what drives me forward. The need to answer the question, the need to find the question I want answers too.

Being an artist is joyous insanity, you can create your own universe if that is what you want to do. The only boundaries that confine us exist in our own minds. This is where art happens first. The object is the physical record of the idea.

I had bypassed all the academic courses my first and second quarter. Someone told me I needed to do the core academics if I wanted to ever get a degree? So I think I believed I needed the validation, today I know I did. I remember my first college english class. I hadn’t taken english since maybe 10th grade because that is when I quit going to school. Talk about ignorance in the face of dreadful fear. I had no clue. It all stated off easy enough. We just had to read these couple of books. Alice in Wonderland, Tom Sawyer and a compilation of great plays. We talked about what we read and I liked talking about the books we read. I guess I could have skipped college english and joined a book club? Maybe I will if I recover?

Then we were asked to write a paper on something that had a major impact on our lives. Well that’s when everything turned dark, very dark. I wrote about my experience in the Army. Even if I knew where that paper was today I’d be to afraid to even look at it. It was full of rage, despair, pain, just extreme anger. So I turned it in and I can say I was oblivious to the impact that paper would have on my professor. Next class he handed back everyones paper with grades except mine. He asked me if we could meet after class to discuss my paper. I figured it was about my grade. So bad he couldn’t just hand it back to me. I figured he would tell me I wasn’t ready for college. I thought all kinds of things.

After class he politely invited my to the staff lounge. He asked if I wanted a coffee. Yes, so we sat down. He just started asking me about myself, no mention of the paper. We talked for a long time until finally we got to the that paper. In simple terms he just said that he felt I was to angry to get my point across in a way people would understand what I really wanted to talk about. He wanted me to rewrite the paper and try to do it in an objective way. I sort of got what he wanted me to do but not really. So I went home and rewrote the paper. It took forever. I turned it in and we met again after class. I sat there while he read the paper. Then we talked for like a couple hours. Yes he had me rewrite the paper again.

Again we repeated the process. This time though he said the paper was much better, he gave me a C plus. I was fucking thrilled, honored that this man thought I earned a C plus. You might question me, but I will tell you that when you are a known academic failure, a D and F student a C plus is a winner. My grades slowly went up and I became a better student as I went forward. I think this was a turning point in my life. It is when the healing began. Oh the pain the anger is still there, it is just like a scar. You get the occasional twinge of pain from the adhesion. And the really sad thing is.  I don’t remember his name, my professor the man who gave me a new beginning. He was an adjunct professor so the name of the department head is on my transcript. If I live I will have to find him if he is still alive. And so it is. Great works and great people fade away with the memory of time.

It was late at night and the night nurse came in. She wanted to look at my incision. Barbara woke up, she was staying with me in the hospital. The nurse Carol an old school no nonsense kind of pro said. I think the incision is infected. So she and Barbara took pens in hand and started to trace round where they thought the infection was spreading. When morning came and the doctor came in he looked and sure enough the incision was infected and it was spreading fast. He said the only thing to do is to open it up and let it drain, let it heal. So he pulled the staples and took his finger and opened it like a zipper.

Now split open like an old fat carp I had an enormous wound in my belly. Once they figured out I wasn’t going to die they got me ready to go home. I got a machine called a Wound Vac. It is just like it sounds. They take this foam, cut it to fit the wound. Put this plastic skin over it and attach a vacuum pump it and pump the infection out of the wound. It speeds healing by a factor of 3.

So after a month the wound was almost healed. I was going to the wound clinic on a weekly basis. They took the wound vac off on a Thursday. I was almost healed. So then the company that leases the machine wanted it returned right away. So we shipped it back on Friday because we didn’t want to have to pay for it. Then on Monday when I went to see the surgeon. He was poking around and said I still had a deep infection. He said the infection will always go to the internal stitches. So with a local and a scalpel he opened me up and removed all the internal stitches. Now I was back to square one. By the time I got back to the wound clinic it was too late the get the wound vac back. So it was the slow old school road. three months to finally heal the incision. Barbara was my primary care giver. She changed the wound dressing twice a day for three months.

Columbia Mountain

Columbia Mountain, Columbia Falls Montana By David Lee Eubank 2017

In spite of all that Barbara took me out on these little day trips. Trips where I could photograph the Montana landscape. So at least I was working a little and I got some pretty good shots too. Mostly we both got out of the house.

Back to the college days. Art was my passion. I really did have some great people who were trying to teach me about art. Always putting opportunities in front of me. Like my part time job at the Akron art Museum. I could knock down or build a wall in no time. I could build cabinets, hell I could build anything they needed and I did. I think the time I spent at the Akron Art Museum was most likely what fueled my development as an artist and eventually as an art curator and executive director.

Marge Harvey my dear friend was always calling me to do something. John Coplans was the Director. John created a lot of excitement during his time at Akron. He was very well connected to the art scene of the 1970s. John curated some of the most important exhibitions of the time, well really any time. Then there was me. A carpenter trying to become a photographer an artist. I got to do some pretty fantastic things and work with some amazing artists that became familiar names known throughout the art world. Like I built the pieces used in Robert Morris’s installation. Working with the artist, his drawings and instructions. I worked with Buky Swartz, helping him build one of his early video installations. I went on to work with Buky again and we became friends. He reviewed my senior portfolio show when I graduated from the University of Akron. What did I ever do to deserve such an honor. He was kind, direct and honest. He told me I needed to get out of Akron and see some more of the world. So I did.

I was a photographer, a urban street photographer. I had started to build installations combining photography and sculpture. I had worked with Vito Acconci and met Ben Lifson, Lee Friedlander while working at the Akron Art Museum. I’m sure they had some influence, at least their work did. It was the Famous Weegee that had a big impact on me. John Coplans had curated I think the first exhibition of his work. Even though Arthur (Usher) Fellig was long dead his work was stunning. I had made a very larger than life photograph of a deadman, who had been shot in the head and bleeding on the sidewalk in New York City for the show. Weegee left an impression. Although later on after I moved to Arizona and I was working with the homeless on the streets, not as an artist but as a crisis (social) worker. I was in the middle of some of the greatest human suffering I had ever witnessed and I never took one photograph. Certainly not Weegee’s style. I felt it would be to invasive in the lives of the people I was out there trying to help. I had another reason for being there and it wasn’t about making art or taking pictures. This was life and death for a lot of people who were homeless. The severely mentally ill, veterans, teenagers. My only mission was to get them the help, the services they needed. It was very creative and still today the most rewarding work I have ever done.

I would say now too that I never had the courage the commitment, the insanity of Vito Acconci. This is the guy who hid under a false floor in a gallery. If the patron could find him he would masterbate for them. Now that was performance art of the seventies. Vito was a lot of fun to go drinking with and very interesting to talk to, I’ll give him that. I was just never in that league.

I got a full Teaching Assistantship to graduate school at Kent State University. In sculpture. Like I said I was doing a lot of different things. I had energy. Just before I started. I got a call from the Art Department Head Stuart Sharr. He told me that the gallery director was leaving and that the graduate assistant who had been there was also leaving. They needed someone with gallery experience to fill in until they could hire a new director. He asked if I would consider switching to the gallery for a semester. Was eager to please, after all I was getting a free education. Remember you heard it here for the millionth time, nothing is free. I was getting paid to go to school. So I did it. As it turned out the experience served me well later on. After a year I was ready to switch to teaching sculpture 101. I was getting deep into my work and the gallery was too much of a distraction. I had good people around at Kent. But as that came to an end it was time to move on.

My wife Barbara and I decided that Ohio was done. She had transferred to the University of Arizona my last semester at Kent. So I finished up, loaded, up the Datsun pickup with everything I could tie on it and headed west. I had been making monumental sculpture, out of steel and wood. Far to big to transport. So these pieces were scattered around Ohio, still might be? So that chapter of my early artist career ended.

Arizona was very different. In school everything is pretty safe, you learn the rules and bump along the edges. You find yourself surrounded by people with like minds and interests. I mean it was art school. But now in the real world, away from school away from the art museum. Life was very different. So I needed a job. I saw a job at a One Hour Photo, they wanted someone with photography experience. I don’t know why because it was all automated. The machine did pretty much everything. You stuck the film in one end and pictures basically came out the other. It paid minimum wage. I thought man I just spent 7 years in college for this? So like I said I was a carpenter by trade. I went to the local union hall paid my back dues and went to work at scale, 5 times the minimum wage. I wasn’t making any art though. We lived in a studio apartment, then a one bedroom. Very little space. I still had a camera. But nowhere to set up a darkroom. There was no Photoshop then and no personal computer. Telephones were stuck to the wall. Still though I could work. I thought film and processing was cheap. It really wasn’t, it was actually incredibly expensive. Ten bucks or more on average. That cost did not include enlargements. Looking back those cost were was very expensive compared to digital, which I said is really at almost zero cost until you print. Then even when you print the costs are far less than they were 40 years ago. Of course the price this remarkable technology was the cost of millions of jobs and businesses. Polaroid, Kodak, One Hour Photo and many others just faded away like so many of those images that were captured on film.

Then I saw a job looking for a vocational teacher. They wanted someone who knew screen printing. So I applied and interviewed for the job. Anyway I had a background in printmaking and photography so why not. The job was teaching kids who had gotten into trouble and were on parole from the department of corrections the printing vocation. We designed, printed tee shirts, bumper stickers, decals, signs. Eventually as the program expanded we were printing on glass and ceramics. All things I had learned in college. In those days everything was still done by hand. The computer was just starting to be introduced into the business. So we still used production cameras. These were room size cameras used to make a photographic plate or PMT for printing. The kids were great, they were engaged in the whole process. Some more than others. We had the solvent Sniffers and printmaking in those days used a lot of heavy solvents. In fact solvents were and are now recognized and a major environmental and occupational hazard. So policing and controlling solvent use and exposure became a major responsibility. Eventually the program got a GED instructor and all of the kids started working on their GEDs. But like all things government. One day the State funding ended. Success always results in a loss of funding it seems to me as I look back. Why is it we can’t just keep doing the things that work? Why do we have to break it only to fix down the line over and over.

So I went back to the union hall and was swinging a hammer again. It was the kids that lost. I could relate because these kids were me not so many years before. I just hoped they got enough of a vision of what was possible and that some of them made it. Some of them did get their GEDs and work experience.

See it’s all about what you see or learn is possible. When you are stuck in hell it is hard to see the sun for all the smoke.

So by now I had 3 kids and the responsibility of a family. Well I’d had 2 kids while I was in college. I started school late. But now the demands of family took most of my time. I still wanted to be a working artist. So we moved everybody into loft, in an old hardware store in downtown Tucson. I started painting again. Barbara was working for the City of Tucson as a Fire dispatcher. I was still working as a carpenter. See I was a “working” artist. Then came another recession. Which just aided the union busting of the 1980’s.

So the work dried up. See that is always how it is as an artist. If you have to work a day job for the money you have very little time to make art. If you don’t have a job but time to make art you don’t have any money.

So this friend of mine a riding buddy. We’d ride our motorcycles down to Nogales and get pissed drunk, sleep it off along the side of the road and storm home. Nothing like the sound of a couple Harley’s full throttle echoing across the desert. It was a blast, stupid? Maybe but a blast. Bill was a social worker working with the homeless told me the agency he was working for needed a mobile crisis worker. They couldn’t find anyone who wanted to go out and work with the homeless on the streets of Tucson. He and his partner were doing the job but they needed a third person. Someone who would go out at night. Yeah prowling the streets and washes of South Tucson after dark. Looking for homeless people. Who’s idea was that. Oh sure “Mark” you got funded but was it really a good idea? No…

So I got the job. I had gotten some training in social work when working with the youth program and of course I took Psych 101 in college? So I went to work. I had a split schedule between days and nights, 3 days 2 nights. So at night I went to homeless shelters, food sites and interviewed, screened people and scheduled them to come in during the day. Typically the people who worked in the shelters had a list of those they were referring to services. I worked for Travelers Aid in Tucson the go to agency for the homeless then, don’t know about now. They had a tried and true program. A tough program that really worked when it did. The program was far from perfect but it accomplished a lot of good. We as a case managers could in those days write actual checks to help people pay rent, utilities and buy cloths. We had a direct linked relationship with the county jobs program. A special program designed for homeless adults. We could pay for housing and clothes. Did I say that? Even transportation and expenses for job interviews. If a guy or gal got a job out of state. Which many did, through connections with family and friends. We could help them relocate once they had a guarantee of employment. If any of you think it could never be you. Well… I met people from all walks of life from all backgrounds, shite does happen. So there’s that.

But then; there were the mentally ill. I will just say I had or developed a talent for working with the the mentally ill. Many were veterans. Travelers Aid was just across the street from the VA. So we had a good connection and got a lot of veterans the help they needed. But far from all. I wasn’t making art though, but I was doing fulfilling work.

Then I was approached by another agency that got specific funding to do crisis outreach to specifically the homeless mentally ill. They had a plan to build a program. So I joined the RAPP Team. The Readily Accessible Peoples Program. Christ who thinks this stuff up. Same guy who thought prowling the streets of Tucson after dark was a good idea. Any way get it RAPP “talking.” So the focus of the program was to again go out on the street and find people who were mentally ill, offer and provide treatment and services. We had 3 outreach workers, like me, a Nurse and a Doctor, specifically a Psychiatrist. The program was a good fit in the Tucson / Pima County social safety net.

We did our thing on the streets. We were very successful and creative. So one day the bosses asked us what we would do if we had the money. See we were so successful and their were so many people who were in need of treatment. We overwhelmed the clinic we were based out of? Or maybe it was because our clients smelled bad. I don’t know, but they wanted us out of the building.
So we said we needed our own digs and we got em. We rented an old house that was connected to 5 smaller units. These had been railroad housing units back in the day. So we had 5 studios. We could provide emergency housing to those who needed it while we started treatment for them. We also had in the large house a shower and laundry facilities. We had a big kitchen too. We did French Toast Fridays or as my partner in crime EJ called it, “The power of shower hour.” So it was, we were making a big impact with the homeless mentally ill. We could provide direct medical treatment and other important services. We were directly linked to the state, county mental health services. So we could refer patients, clients, people to the help they needed. Man they wrote us up in medical journals about psychiatry and we enjoyed our spot on the front pages of the newspapers for the work we were doing. It was fun so much fun Bill followed me and became part of the hip team. It was serious and it was fun. We all felt good about the work we were doing because the proof was in the outcomes of our clients. Sometimes you just need a hand and a friendly smile.

But remember what I told you about government funding? Right a shift in funding. You see politics are everything in our lives whether we know it or not. Political budgets serve politicians more so than the rest of us. So funding changed. A new agency was created. An agency that would provide all things mental health. Treatment and referrals to the treatment network. The new agency would be the parent. It was an early HMO model more or less. So I moved. It was a state funded agency. It worked pretty well in the beginning. I moved up to a team leader. I was part of the management team managing 3 outreach teams and the money for services and treatment. Turned out I had a lot of experience by then in an area where few people had any. See most people who work in mental health don’t go to school forever just to chase nuts down the street, as it turns out. Most people like working in an office. Working in the safety of a facility. That is not how we rolled. Everybody at every level, clinical aides, case managers, counselors, nurses, doctors all made house calls. We took treatment to the patient. Now you might be thinking this takes a lot of time. You might be thinking this isn’t efficient. I say think about this. A big part of mental health treatment is about trust. So here you you are face to face with someone who is obviously responding to internal stimulus, hallucinating. They believe the hallucinations to be true. part of their personal reality. Kinda like your uncle the Trump supporter. Your job is to convince them their reality is not true. Their reality is false. Ike Eisenhower isn’t still alive hovering over head in an airplane watching you. It’s the NSA, I mean really.

So when you sit down with someone at their kitchen table you learn a lot about how they are doing and you build trust. Very useful for when things go wrong.

So by then my fourth kid came along. We had bought a house. I was painting some. Life was stable.

Then yep the government funding again, after several years shifted. We were directed to do these BEMIS assessments on everyone, on the patients. Bemis is a maker of toilet seats by the way. Yeah go look, odds are you have one on your toilet? That is where these assessments should have gone.

Those who were stable. You know the people we worked with for years to get them off the street and into stable housing and treatment programs, with case management that kept them out of the hospital. Those people. We were told to discharge them from the treatment services. They were stable! So we could just let them go. See we had so reduced hospitalizations the hospitals were hemorrhaging money. This was a countywide program with mental health outreach centers spread across the total of Pima county. Again we went to the patient. You know we made home visits. But we spoiled profits. So there was a political backlash from those poor hospitals corporations.

So as the money was reduced so was the agency. We were all offered buy outs and I’d had had enough of the money politics. So I went. I’d gotten an adjunct job teaching art history at Pima Community college, so I had that. Then I went back to work for the county in the Youth Summer Education and Employment Program.

Again I was working with at risk youth as they were officially called. I was recruiting kids into the program, going out the the high schools and various service agencies like the Urban League. So, basically we helped poor kids get summer jobs. The catch was academic testing. So if the kid wasn’t testing above grade level we split the job with summer school. They got paid 20 hours for school as long as they maintained grades and 20 hours of work from their employers. We also had a mural program that many of the kids who couldn’t find other work got to work in the art program and they got paid. The Tile Cutters we called them. If you travel through Pima County you will see these beautiful murals all over the roads and highways. These kids working with artists made them all. The added unforeseen benefit of the program was a reduction of destructive graffiti too. I wished I could have been hands on, but I got the funding and the pledge of jobs from local employers. So it was I was administrating. Which is kind of like menstruating. You bleed a lot.

The really important part of the program was academic recidivism. Over the summer most of these kids lost the gains they made in school the previous year. Attending summer school with the requirement they participate and maintain their grades. Kept the majority on track and at or above grade level. Graduation rates increased. Of course they made some bucks, the carrot and learned how to work too.

So Barbara was pretty much done with Arizona and I was too. So we sold the house, packed up the kids and went on a pilgrimage. We landed in Columbia Falls Montana. Columbia Falls is a small town just outside Glacier National Park. We rented an old farm rehabbed the barn and were both making art. We were happy.

The regional Art Museum was looking for an Executive Director, Curator. I had actually applied many months before and now they were finally getting around to hiring. Turned out it took them so long because they didn’t have any money. Anyway I interviewed and got the job. If I had known what I was taking on I would have done something else. So as I started I found out the real story of the museum, the finances and the condition of the programs and collections. All had been deteriorating, under funded for years. So I hit the ground running and went to work. Very hands on and with some very talented and dedicated people who worked their hearts out. We together changed the course of the museum and it’s future. So if any of you slackers are reading this now. You, your hard work and commitment is why the Hockaday Museum of Art is still here today twenty years later. Because it was sinking before you helped bail it out. Art is about community, right.

So I heard over and over in my head. John Coplans saying to me years before. You curate your community and everything else will follow. So that is what I tried to do. After five years of nonstop work the museum was secure and operating in the 21 century. That is the task I had agreed to do. I was working in the arts, statewide I might add. Montana has a unique exhibition touring program MAGDA. The Montana Art Galleries Directors Association. I severed on the board of directors, which was just a hands on working job with no pay. The purpose was to help Montana Artists exhibit and tour those exhibitions. It was great fun. We were able to help a lot of artists and we were able to get good high quality exhibits to Montana Museums and Art Gallery’s that served the public.

So when I got to the Hockaday Museum of Art the interim Director Joan Baucus told me about the George and Ellie Poindexter collection of Modern Expressionism.

http://missoulian.com/entertainer/glories-of-the-west—poindexter-collection-exhibit-is/article_4a22e5a7-f352-5e77-bc22-15cb30cd0097.html

So it seems that George was a Montanan who found him self in New York City in the middle of the American Expressionist movement. George knew all these artists and started buying their work. Later on he and his wife donated the collection, part to the Montana Historical society where Joan had worked and the other part to the Yellowstone Museum. Turned out these artworks had not been exhibited or seen since the sixties. Joan had wanted to show the work, but our museum couldn’t meet the environmental and security demand of this kind of exhibition.

Joan was persuasive and I agreed to go with her to Helena and look at the work. The collection was stunning in fact it just floored me. I knew now why Joan wanted to get it out of the basement storage for the public to see. These were important and very valuable works. DeKooning’s early Woman, early work by Jackson Pollack, Robert De Niro Senior, Diebenkorn, all the players in the expressionist movement were represented in the collection. After meeting with the museum staff and getting the lowdown on what we would have to do to barrow from the collection. I told Joan I would work on it but that pulling it off was a long shot. See our museum was in poor shape and had no money to fix what needed fixed. A big exhibit of this kind would require a transformation of not only our program but the building itself. Well like I said I am a Carpenter and I know how to build. So I started writing grants and talking to politicians and I got funding. We fixed the building, fixed the security we did everything we needed to do. It took several years, but we got it done. By then however the Denver Art Museum got word of the collection, they wanted to show the work. See I had hired one of their chief curators to do a conservation assessment of our collection. Carl must have blabbed about the paintings. So because the Historical Society had agreed to let us have the work first they asked us if we would consider letting the work go to Denver first. Denver in return agreed to conserve the paintings in the exhibition they choose. I felt the work deserved conservation, something neither the Historical Society or we could do. So the work went to Denver. Then it came to the Hockaday Museum of Art. A little regional Montana Museum. It was fantastic. The look on the faces of people who knew what they were seeing was priceless. Visitors from around the world were stunned to see this kind of exhibition in Kalispell Montana. So now over the years the Poindexter collection has enjoyed the light of day across Montana. It really is a Montana Treasure. I don’t know if that was my biggest accomplishment. But it was one I look back on as a success.

The other great success story I had was with an outsider artist. Bill Ohrmann.

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The Optimists Oil on Canvas Bill Ohrmann 1995

http://www.ohrmannmuseum.com

When you partner up with guy’s named Bill. It’s going to be a wild ride! And do not mix chocolate after Tequila. With it OK but not after. Watch out for the shrimp too!

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Bill Ohrmann

Bill walked into the museum one day with his wife Phyllis. Each had a box of paintings in their arms. Bill was a cowboy if I ever knew one. Tall, slim and a grin ear to ear. Shyly he asked if I would look at his paintings. So he and phyllis stacked 40 painting against the gallery walls. I was just mesmerized. Before me was I think some of the greatest most honest painting I have ever seen. I mean the work was profound. I’ve called it the Noah’s Ark of Art. Bill said quietly, would you ever consider showing my work. Why do the people with the most important messages alway speak quietly? I stood there just looking at him eye to eye. The plan developed in my head almost instantly. I said yes. So we showed Bills work. Then took it to MAGDA and toured the exhibition across the state. Bill’s career took off now that he was in his eighties. He became a Montana Master, a legend. He was also a great friend. He passed a few years ago and I miss Bill, the earth misses Bill. He was a special human being. Bill also had a day job his whole life. He was a cattle rancher. He ranched a thousand acer spread in Drummond Montana. He was a true practicing environmentalist. He raised beef a Montana ranch staple. He made no excuses. He did though raise his cattle sustainably. About 50 head to a thousand acres was the balance he told me. Once we talked about vegetarians and the value of life. Living as humans, to eat we take life. No vegetable is grown without the sacrifice of life. As Bill often asked. Is the mouses life less important than the cows. How about the rabbit? See these are old tales first told by the ancient Native Americans around here. Other artists like Charley Russel and Ace Powell talked about these philosophy’s in their work too.

Bill though unlike his predecessors had witnessed the full impact of the modern world on the land, on the environment, on us today.

So then back to money. Funding funding funding. That is the primary driver of an Art Museum. You gotta have bucks if you want Buck Rogers to show up. It is an exhausting job in itself to raise endless money. Add everything else you have to do in a small museum and it is just too much. The job becomes a life style just like that of being a working artist, but it is not. It’s like always a bridesmaid never a bride. The work is meaningful, but it is not the same as being a working artist. Although you are a working artist who doesn’t make art. Who has time. So burnt out from working. I got another job, another crazy job.

I saw a job for a Carpenter with the National Park Service in Glacier National Park. The job was in historic preservation, of buildings and other structures. My wife Barbara had worked in the program. She had moved on after a bout with cancer. We had no health benefits and we needed health care insurance. So Barbara went to work for the local hospital for benefits. I went to work for the Park Service. As a seasonal employee you don’t get benefits. The pay is OK and the job is very creative. So the next fourteen years I spent working on old log cabins and chalets in the mountains and back country of Glacier National Park. I loaded up the mules with tools and materials, yes pack animals are still the primary mode of transport in Glacier, and went to work. I could write a book on the work I did and adventure I had. It was always exciting and challenging. There is never a normal day, well with regard to the real the modern world.

One story. I nearly lost my life one early morning riding my old horse into Park Creek. The pack train, a string of mules and horses being lead by a packer and followed by me, dead last. We were making our way along a trail on a scree slope. Oh maybe a thousand fifteen hundred feet to the bottom. When all hell broke loose. It was late August. That is when the ground bees are hungry for protein. The pounding of hooves on the ground stirs them up. So soon the bees were attacking the horses and mules. Everybody went crazy, a wreck as we call it was in the making. Me being dead last knew what was coming. I grabbed hold tight of the saddle as my old horse became a bucking bronco. I mean it was a rodeo ride for sure. As the horse being stung on the legs and belly bucked. With me clinging to it’s back, we made it through. The old Packer Tim said with an astonished look. Boy Dave I thought that cocksucker was going to throw you or roll you down the hill. I looked at Tim barely composed and said, Yep. Tim said you lost your hat. You wanna go down there and get it? I looked down that steep slope and thought. There ain’t no hat in the world worth climbing down there for and certainly not back up. See for Tim every horse and every mule was named cocksucker, that’s why they all had numbers branded on them. It is just how it is, no offense. I learned a lot in those years. A lot about life and myself. All I can say is the experience was a s real as it gets. A long way removed from the urban life of a city.

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Ace Powell

I wasn’t the only artist who had a day job in Glacier. Remember I mentioned Ace Powell, April 3, 1912 – January 25, 1978 Ace had come to the town of Apgar, which is in Glacier National Park as a one year old child. Some where around 1913. As a boy he would sneak over the Charlie Russel’s cabin and watch him paint. The two became friends and Ace learned to paint. The story goes that once Ace showed a drawing to Russel that had Russel’s famous signature buffalo skull. Russel explained to the boy that signatures were unique and personal. So Ace being a fast study came up with the Ace of Diamonds for his signature. Ace was a cowboy and many other things. He is said to have made 12 to 15 thousand artworks? I don’t know but he made a lot. I can tell you that during winter in Babb Montana a fellow has a lot of time on their hands. Just up the road is the inspiration for the Shinning. Many a caretaker of the Many Glacier Hotel outside of Babb went a little crazy.

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Three Wise Guys Oil on Canvas Ace Powell

Ace though like me was a working artist most of his life. So as luck would have it I drew this sweet little project in Avalanche Camp Ground. The restoration of a one room historic cabin. If you are into wood working, into building I promise you’d pay to be able to do this kind of work. So after a full assessment of the cabin and what was needed we set out to find material. In log restoration is is important to match species. Like cedar to cedar lodge pole to lodge pole and so on. This cabin had been made of big logs of large diameter. It had been paint the familiar red oxide of the day. See back in the day you had red oxide, copper green and yellow ocher and white. After WWII everything sorta went grey. We didn’t have enough battleships left to paint I reckon.

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Avalanche Cabin

Anyway, originally it was thought the logs were cedar, the cabin sits in the middle of the trail of cedars. One close examination we discovered the cabin was made of lodge pole. Now like I said these were large diameter logs, 18, 20, 24 inches. That is really big for a modern lodge pole. So it was apparent these where old growth logs harvested during the building of the Going to the Sun Road. Cut down lower along Lake McDonald and moved up to what would become Avalanche Camp Ground. So for a week we went up into a burn. A burn is where a wildfire has burnt through. We have a lot of burns these days. So we hunted through a burn of old growth and finally found enough large lodge pole. We fell the trees and hauled them to the site. A lot of work. So now confident we had enough material to do the work. We disassembled the cabin piece by piece. As we were taking off the roof one of my co-workers found a log signed by Ace Powell. Powell it seemed had his hand in the building of this sweet little cabin. We talked about the quality of his axe work, which was just beautiful. So there you have it. One artist working a day job to build something special and another restoring it until the next one needs a job. See as a preservation carpenter your like Sisyphus. You just push the rock as far up hill as you can. The rock slides back down and the next guy pushes it back up the hill.

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Avalanche Cabin Restored

Another thing about the Avalanche cabin was the door. On the inside of the door was a record of these women who used to come around to the work site during prohibition. The cabin was part of the work camp for the workers who build the Going To The Sun Road. The ladies would preach abstinence to the workers. I can only imagine Ace, who had a bigger than life reputation for his drinking. Like I said it was a different kind of job. Always a challenge never boring.

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Avalanche Cabin Before

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Avalanche Cabin Restored

 

About that government funding? It was a good job, I had most of the winters off. Which gave me time to make art. But is 2012 the sequester wiped out the funding. With no notice our program funding was just gone. Cultural funding is a low priority. So I was lucky. I had a part time gig with the Office of Disaster Assistance. I had just got home after working hurricane Sandy. So I was able to get on full time with ODA.

So what did I do? I worked for the SBA, the Small Business Administrations Office of Disaster Assistance. The SBA makes all of the US governments disaster loans to businesses, home owners and individuals. The SBA also puts the numbers on the cost of disasters. Why the SBA? The mission is to restore the economic security to a disaster area, natural or manmade. In my job I went out and did the initial damage surveys that the President uses to determine the scope of disaster response. Then another part farther a long after that decision is made. We did the assessments of specific damaged to homes, businesses and non profits used to put an actual cost of the damage. This helped people get funding, Federal disaster loans to rebuild or repair their businesses and homes. Again it was exciting work that used my Carpenter, Administrative and Artists skill set. I did get to help a lot of people, artists too. Along with non-profits, galleries and museums impacted by disasters. But now that has come to and end because of my health.

I had planned on making art full time once I retired from my day job. Life though wrecks plans, does it not?

I have been able to work on my artwork a lot over the past 10 years. I’ve hit a couple home runs I think and a lot of strike outs. Maybe a few walks. I have sold some which is always good, but still I doubt I could pay the bills with sales alone.

I don’t know if it ever turns out like we hope or dream. Life Happens. When I was at Kent State a professor, Mort Grossman, whom I never took a class from. He came by the gallery for donuts every morning. Yes we were the donut and coffee connection too. It how we bankrolled our budget.

Mort said. To be an artist is about how you live life not about the things you make. Now looking back I think Mort was right. I’ve lived the life of an artist even though I have done so many other things. It is the experience that adds value to what we do. How can you get experience if you don’t live life as it comes. Sometimes we just can’t see the stars for all the meteors.

Some parting thoughts.
Be Honest! Be honest in your work, don’t try to be something you are not. No matter how dumb, crude you think your idea or execution of your idea is be honest. If you are honest, if you make honest work. It will be meaningful, it will shine through.

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Skyland Cathedral Digital Montage David Lee Eubank 2014

My latest work is about us, the environment, nature. I started experimenting with digital photography. A throw back to my education that was well before the power of the personal computer and photoshop came along. Irving Acorn, one of my professors was into special effects. So we did a lot of cool stuff for the time with actual film. All this experience messing around came in handy in the real world where those skills had at the time real commercial value. Today though in the digital world, those techniques can be accomplished and enhanced with a few key strokes and a bit of code. This is an amazing time to be an artist a photographer. I mean you can work anywhere. We are connected, so we can send our work our data anywhere in a nano second. We can reproduce our work endlessly in digital format with almost zero expense. We can professionally print at our desk or where ever the printer is located. The printer can be thousands of miles away. You can be standing on top of a mountain. If you have a signal you can work, you can communicate. That is just amazing.

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Chaco House Digital Montage David eubank 2006

Back to my current work. It is about the environment, nature. Climate change poses the greatest threat we humans will ever face next to an extinction astroid or nuclear war. These days we know all 3 are very possible once again. We have to do what we have to do about climate change. We have to act and adapt. Those who tell you different are liars. Like I said I’ve been at ground zero many times. If nature turns against us as is predicted by scientists and the evidence we are in real trouble. So my plan is to document everything I can over the next few years if I make through this last surgery. Yes I am going to trust SCIENCE with my life. The surgeon plans to use a robot to preform the surgery. A ROBOT yep that’s what I said. Amazing, just amazing. I will keep writing too. Much more often that I have for a while.

Oh and another thing. I have found myself in a very vulnerable situation. I never saw myself as vulnerable, ever. I have been very ill. Without healthcare I would be bankrupt dead or both. It is also amazing that you can be dead and bankrupt, isn’t America Great? I still have a battle ahead to get well and I will. I am stubborn that way, determined, I fight. But this political debate over healthcare in the United States is monstrous. I just don’t understand how anyone can even imagine we don’t need a comprehensive healthcare system that includes everyone. I’ve thought this long before I was sick. I would say that those who are anti national healthcare are offering a system of neglect. Organized Genocide not to mince words, to be specific. Think about it. All of this takes me back to my experience working in Metal Health. Our Medical Director Dr. Jose Santiago said it then, long before Obamacare. We have a system of organized neglect. It is just not right to deny those who are suffering, those who are ill and vulnerable healthcare. I can tell you I have been very frightened by all of this politicking bullshit. Because I became vulnerable in an instant. This can happen to anyone of us or to someone we love. So I’ll just say it. We are all in this shite together and we need to stand strong and take care of each other. Even if we don’t know each other. See that is what makes a country and society great. Not some twisted version of Ayn Rand selfishness. All this talk about socialism is just that talk, it is bullshit. Societies are collectives that depend on cooperation between the citizenry. We can guarantee each other healthcare. We can afford it. Hell we can’t afford not too.

So now I will enter the next chapter of my life or maybe my death. It is a big surgery and I am pretty beat up. I feel strong enough, but I know what is ahead and I know what can go wrong. So I if make it I will let you all know.

If not, I’ll see ya when I see ya!

Johnny Cash – We’ll Meet Again

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