Tribute to a Kindred Spirit

Sadly enough, many people pass through my life unnoticed. I try to remember them all, especially those whom I have had the privilege to teach, even for a brief period, in these last forty years…but it’s difficult.

Sue Nichols is not one of those that are easily forgotten.

From our first meeting in 2007 when Sue retired from teaching English at Southeastern LA University, I could tell that she would slowly carve her memory into my brain. Sue enrolled in an art class here at The Art Station for the sole reason of “finding something to do”, yet I think it was her husband, Howard, who just tired of seeing her mope around.

So it began. One class after another…none having much to do with the other…just rambling art classes. Yet, after each ended, Sue would write an eloquent evaluation of the experience, all of which I’ve kept to this day. Some were light:

“A limerick
There was a fine artist in Ponchy
Who was classy and never spoke raunchy
She always stayed calm
And taught with aplomb
And was loved by those who were jaunty.”

Many evaluations were more indepth:

                “Man does not live by bread alone (unless there is a jug of wine with it.)
                Man needs artichokes, eggplants, peppers and especially pears--
                the succulent food of the gods. And it is the artist that can turn such staples
                into food for the soul. You have fed us well.”

For some, Sue would quote her favorite authors:

“To see the world in a grain of sand
                And heaven in a wildflower
                Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
                And eternity in an hour.”              William Blake

In spite of her love for oozing paint, Sue did, however, gravitate toward clay. Totally understandable. Clay has a habit of possessing the soul as soon as it touches the fingers. The earth and the human body instantly connect. Such as it was with Sue:

“If I were down to my last $160, would I spend it on food for the animals or on another clay class? Let’s see…No offence, but the dogs would probably get fed. BUT, a class with Denise Austin (clay teacher) can tempt even the most moral among us to consider letting the dogs die. But I’ve still got some money, so…”

Or she might construct a poem:

                “Punital, punitive oh which word should it be?
                They look the same, they sound the same
                It’s all the same to me.

                Each term carries punishment for wrongs that have been done
                For splashing clay upon cement
                And hoping to stay mum.*

                But wine, full-bodied red, the nectar of the gods
                May well ease an angry soul.
                So cheers and spare the rod.”

                                *Not so!

As our relationship grew, I implored Sue to join every community effort, one of which was the creation of Louisiana’s first Quilt Trail. Before she published her book in 2019 about our Quilt Trail journey, she related her own non-quilter experience through a Hamlet knock-off verse:

“To quilt or not to quilt, that is the question:
Whether tis nobler to spend one’s time in idle thought
And ponder life’s eternal questions
Or to take up pencils and by a color create a quilt. To think: To muse.
And by a muse to say we solve the thousand natural questions man is heir to.
Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. To think: To muse.
Perchance to get depressed. Ay! There’s the rub.
For in that pondering state what truths may come must give us pause.
That’s the respect that makes calamity of idle thinking.
For who would bear the crap and shit in life,
The lover’s infidelity, the two-faced friends?
When she, with prism pens, can color out life’s miseries,
And create a quilt.
Thus, thinking does make quilters of us all, and thus the dun of idle thought
Is colored over by the joy of art.
                                                With abject apologies to Wm Shakespeare”

But the most enjoyable exchanges of her written word (which I have in a stack called ‘Sueisms’) were her reports on the days she worked on the retail art side of The Art Station. My favorite awaited me on a cold January afternoon:

“A young girl came in—she was just in the neighborhood waiting on her brother to buy four new tires for $100—Sure.  She steps in to visit and says, ‘What beautiful art you have here!! I love art. Let me show you what I drawed (sic).’  She turns around and pulls down her pants and shows me a tattoo of a winged demon (not unlike Wm Blake’s)!!! One wing per cheek!

‘Lovely,’ say I. ‘It must have hurt!’ Then I get up to see all her piercings: lip, tongue, chin, naval, nipples!! (I was going to suggest to her that if she were to lose 100 lbs., she could be a nude model since she had no difficulty showing herself off.)

Then she expressed interest in taking classes so that she can ‘do art’ with her prodigy son, age 7, on her visitation days. She left with a flyer in hand. You might not get her though, because her favorite kind of art is Poetry!

‘Pottery?’ say I.
‘No, no, Poetry—like rhymes you know,’ says she.
To which I responded, ‘Oh, I’ve never understood poetry. You might want to take a creative writing class at SLU.’

This is why I love coming to the Art Station.”

And, Sue, this is why The Art Station cannot get enough of you! To my kindred spirit, Sue Nichols…may you live long and happy!