In Memory of Thomas Buechner
My experience with Tom Buechner as a teacher happened many years ago, when my triplet girls were four years old, and I was trying to paint seriously again after being consumed with getting them (and us) through the first few years of life. I read of a week-long workshop that the Arnot Art Museum was offering with Thomas Buechner; the brochure had a small black and white image of a painting of a barn silhouetted against the sky on the side of a hill. The piece was an artful mix of detail and suggestion, and I was impressed and attracted. A dear friend offered to look after my children for five days from seven in the morning until about 6pm so that I could drive to Elmira and participate, and I signed up, excited at the thought of brushing shoulders with professionals for the first time since illustration graduate school in Syracuse, five years previously.
The week was a pleasure. Mr. Buechner was an entertaining teacher, his remarks full of humor and wit, his observations sharp and to the point. Marty Poole was his fellow teacher, and he added a great deal to the information disseminated, and spent time with many of us. Not only was I introduced to the advantages of using alkyds in a plein air setting, but I remember a tongue-in-cheek discussion of what SORT of paper towels to use, Bounty being the obvious choice because of their STRENGTH. This became a running joke during the week. Not only did I learn a number of technical tips, but I was introduced to the concept of really thinking about the reason for painting a certain subject, and having that in mind as a goal before starting. My decision to paint a particular scene usually had to do with its picturesque-ness, so to have to think about a deeper concept was a little uncomfortable.
This workshop was my introduction to the vital painting scene in Corning, and it opened a whole new world for me. With Marty Poole’s encouragement, I approached Lin and Tom Gardner at West End Gallery several weeks afterward, and they agreed to show my work. For a time I attended Tom Buechner’s Friday night painting classes at his studio, but the drive home late at night in the dark winter months became a deterrent, as did the demands of my family. I learned a great deal in the weeks I attended, and the memories of Mary Hickey posing and Wagner filling the air of the studio are vivid—as are the remarks Tom made to me about my work. One evening he was looking at my underpainting, and said to me, “You draw very well. You have to be careful not to let your drawing become facile.” This brought me up short, but I understood that it would be too easy to become slick, and lose the careful observation and sensitivity that separate meaningful representation from a sound but generalized image. Backgrounds were difficult, and I struggled with them. I was particularly pleased with a still-life from the workshop until his dry comment during critique that it looked like there was a dust storm going on in the background. Naturally I corrected it at the first opportunity.
As the years went on, I watched Tom Buechner’s work carefully, and bought all his books. I was still painting for the gallery and myself, but family life in a different town, buying a farm and acquiring horses, raising our girls and supporting my husband’s very demanding career narrowed my participation in the artistic life in Corning. When I heard this summer that he was ill and not expected to live long, it rocked me. Mr. Buechner was an institution in my eyes, and even though I had had virtually no contact with him personally for many years, he lived large in my mind and world. When he died, I felt a little as I had after the Twin Towers fell, waking up in the middle of the night and remembering the event with disbelief. Surely nothing so monumental could have happened.
So I am among the many, many artists who owe Mr. Buechner a debt of gratitude for his teaching and interest. I miss knowing he walks the same earth. Like those of all my best teachers, his words and comments will always be with me, shaping my work and my ideas about art and how to make it.