Photo: Parnilla Carpenter
A year ago, we said goodbye to our dear friend Liz Gerard. For any who may not have known Liz well, here’s a little about her:
When I met her in 1995, Liz was a framer. Her standards were exacting, and she enjoyed the craft of presenting and preserving clients’ work, whether paintings worth many thousands, or someone’s family photos. The first time I priced materials with her, she offered a deep discount. She said “I don’t need to make money off my friends.”
Liz was a talented artist, a potter whose work was at once quiet, inventive, whimsical, and elegant. To me, it seemed a direct reflection of her spirit, her personality, and the value she placed on touch. She took these photos of her work for a show with her partner, Marty Poole.
Liz was a skilled and intuitive masseuse. She once told me that she didn’t think in terms of healing her clients; she tried to hold a place where they could heal themselves.
Of course, she was many other things: Devoted daughter, sibling, partner, friend. We all have cherished memories, our own Liz stories, and anyone who’d like to share theirs is encouraged. Here are a few of mine.
In the late nineties, Liz offered me a job at Corning Art & Frame. I was recovering from a back injury, and it became obvious that simple things like bending over the V-nailer weren’t doable yet. Disappointing, but I’d learned some things about framing, and I’d also begun to learn about Liz’s thoughtfulness and generosity: She’d decided running shoes would make the basement’s concrete floor more tolerable than my work boots, and she’d planned to buy me a pair.
To Liz, this was a small thing, and if she could help, she would. If she could, she would. We all know different sides of our friends, maybe. But that’s such a big part of who she was.
Fast forward a few years. Liz sold Corning Art & Frame. West End Gallery moved to 12 West Market. One day we were talking at an opening, and Liz asked about a drawing of mine that she liked. I’d taken it home, reused the frame, and I found the matted drawing and gave it to her. Her thank-you card said a surprising thing: When I think about you, I think two things: Simple and true. The more I thought about that, the more I liked it. No matter what your beliefs or approach to life, simple and true is always good. It’s become one of those measuring sticks I use to evaluate work, especially my writing: If it’s not simple and true, it’s not good. If it can be simpler, more honest, it should be. And so with most everything, really.
I don’t think I ever told Liz this. She’d probably have been interested; she was interested in nearly everything (exceptions included talking about the weather, and meatballs). She’d probably say, Oh? and laugh a little. I wonder if she ever realized how much we all valued her take. I need to be as willing to listen, to give my friends’ concerns my full attention, to consider as carefully as Liz did before I blurt.
We learn from those we admire and respect. I learned a lot from Liz.
Not long after, I was leaving another opening when Liz pulled in. We talked for a few minutes, and she produced an envelope and handed it to me beaming. Open this when you get home home, she said. When I did, I found a $1000 gift certificate at CAF. The note explained that as part of the sale she had a large credit at the shop, of which this was only a small part, etc. Of course, this was anything but small to me. It was huge, stunning. That $1000 bought a lot of mats, and enabled me to be in many shows I wouldn’t have otherwise. Again, that’s just who Liz was. She knew I was shuffling frames, and she did something about it. When she saw a need she could meet, she did. When she could bless someone, she did. Still is, will be as long as any of us who knew her are here.
A few years later, another opening. Liz was looking at my drawing Grace, and I said I should take this one home, I didn’t want to sell it any longer. Liz said it was her favorite of my current stuff too, and asked what I liked about it. Most of us enjoy talking about our own work, and I probably rambled some. I’m a fairly private person, but Liz was always an easy person to talk with. We didn’t talk often, but no matter how long the interval, no time or effort was ever needed to reconnect. I expect everyone felt that way about her.
Grace sold, and when I stopped in to pick up the check, the drawing was waiting for me, with this note:
Moments of grace are rare–
hold on to this one.
I loved hearing your feelings
about this piece– what a gift.
When you surpass this one (and you
will) you can give Grace to me
(or not– you decide).
Either way, I look forward
to hearing about it.
I’m glad I have this; it’s good to be able to share a few of her own words here. Of course, I left the drawing for her, with big thanks. And I’m honored it still hangs in the home she and Marty shared.
Liz liked the film Pay It Forward, and believed in doing just that. I can’t repay her friendship, her support and encouragement, her time and thoughtful counsel. I don’t know how much good I did her; I doubt it began to approach all the ways she blessed me. What I can do is pay it forward, try to do something of the same for others.
It’s important to talk about the good things, to thank and honor those we love and miss. But Liz was crazy funny too, and she wouldn’t want this post to be all serious and sad and mopey. So here’s one more story, from a WEG picnic.
Parnilla and I were in the pie room reloading (well actually I suppose there was a lot of other food left, and Parni was likely considering things like salad and cheese, but my focus by that point was nearly exclusively pie). Liz was browsing too. Bridget came in and went into the bathroom, and Liz decided we should leave her a gift outside the bathroom door. This was startling but a kind suggestion. What should it be. There was a comforting amount of pie left so I wasn’t too grudging about agreeing pie would be good. So a slice on a plate was placed carefully outside the door. Then at the last moment its position must be quickly adjusted so Bridget would see it but not step in it and the intended effect be minimized at best. All done trying to maintain radio silence of course. Except for muffled giggling. Or at least mine. Bridget came out and found the waiting pie and was unfazed but not unpleased and ate it. Somewhat anticlimactic in terms of storytelling, but one of my favorite Liz moments. Unexpected and fresh and fun.
It occurs to me now that for Liz, even playing like this involved a gift. I think it was second nature to her. She gave generously of any resource or capability she had. She’d likely dismiss this, say something self-deprecating or funny. But simple and true as I can say it: Liz was one of the best people I’ve known, and we were all blessed to know her.
– Mark Reep