On Tom Buechner/ Kathryn Cummings

This past fall the gallery hosted a tribute to the late Tom Buechner, who passed away earlier in the year.  The exhibit featured work from many of his students and painting companions, each of who provided a short essay about their time spent with Tom.  We are trying to run the entire series of essays  here on this blog and will continue until the end of this year.

Today we feature Kathryn Cummings.

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It’s Elementary Dear Tom:

Tom was eager to share his enthusiasm for art as a subject or the technique or any aspect of the painting with anyone who responded with interest or with respect.

Tom enjoyed story telling, too. One night he pondered why the 4th grade boys, who drew thank you images for their recent field trip to his studio, portrayed him as they did. He guided me to the kitchen. On the refrigerator door was a contour drawing of a couch with a gentleman in a reclined position dressed in a sleeveless undershirt, boxers, and socks with garters. There was a panel onto which the man was painting or drawing.

Tom’s response was that he just did not understand why those little boys were fascinated to portray Tom in just his underwear!  Well, if you were fully dressed for the studio tour, Tom, I guess those little boys were being creative and imaginative.

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A Universal Question For Tom: 

From the viewpoint of the high school art teacher, the field trip should open the possibilities for both the future art student and for the future everyday art appreciator. I found a fellow advocate in Tom and, between the two of us, we were able to give the students not just a day (a whole day!) away from school, but an educational experience. There were field trips to the Arnot Art Museum where Tom had work displayed. He discussed it, then we all went to his Studio in Corning by school bus, of course. As a featured artist at West End Gallery, he discussed the painting process at the “Gallery Talk”, we again visited his studio. We also visited 171 Cedar Arts Center. Once a year, the students were introduced to how to enter an art museum, gallery or studio expectantly, appropriately, and appreciatively. The very fact that they learned the addresses and the locations of those places was a starting point. Because I had been painting with Tom and Marty, I applied their technical points and palette choices, which expanded the students’ base line of experiences.  Because I needed remedial painting experiences, I had my students draw the subject from life, then paint a griselle or an underpainting, and then apply local color, scumble and glaze.

The field trip in October to West End Gallery reinforced and stimulated the students and the whole reason for doing art was made real. The PBS video about Norman Rockwell that Tom participated in became even more pertinent to the students after they met Tom because they HAD met him, so attention was paid, without my having to bribe, cajole, or grade the students as to how they watched. High school art teachers have to provide art lessons that will give the student a portfolio of substance. At one of the

West End Gallery talks, a drawing and painting student named Amos asked the question that every student, every adult, and everyone who has ever painted have asked. It was, and I quote, “How do you know when a painting is done?” Tom answered the question as if it had never been asked before. “That is a very interesting question and I will try to answer it!” I told Tom later that one boy’s response to his Dad’s question of what he thought about Tom’s portraits was “Dad, there was a portrait of a suited business man that I swear if, I stuck out my hand, he would have responded by sticking out his hand and we would have shook hands!” Tom’s response was something like yes, ‘but that was not the intent of the painting’. He elaborated, and his dissertation was similar, the answer to that UNIVERSAL QUESTION.

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Summation:

In 1988, when I started to paint on Friday nights with Tom and Marty, I was introduced to ‘new-to-me’ techniques and approaches. Eventually, I passed on what had become pivotal information to my students.

The gazillion techniques that describe how to evaluate someone’s legacy are printed in an overabundance of books.  None of us are isolated.  Tom impacted unknown or nameless people in positive ways because he enjoyed his life so much. He was willing to share within a structure that allowed him time to paint. Because I was able to co-ordinate those magical field trips with installations of Tom’s work and his invitations to tromp through his house and studio, my students were touched. Whether they became hobbyist or career artists, former Williamson High students know that art studios are not a mythical place. Many students left the talks and tours with the intent to do better, knowing that there could be a place for them at the table of art. The immediacy of the paintings was inspiring.  They appreciated what they saw and heard.  The students were awed and giddy based on what they had experienced and for what they imagined about their future prospects.

Kathryn Cummings

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