An Old Friend and "Old Friends" in Washington State

This man is the largest collector of Philip Koch paintings on the West Coast. If you measure by square inches, he may be the largest collector of Koch oils period. This distinction belongs to Frank Baron, MD, a successful dermatologist from Mercer Island, Washington. Here he is with one of my paintings, Beaver Pond, 42 x 63". Frank was a friend of mine from undergraduate days at Oberlin College.

In 1970 he became one of the very first people to buy one of my paintings, an atmospheric and moody oil portrait I had painted the summer before in Rudolf Baranik's painting class at the Art Students League of New York. I think Frank spent all of ten or fifteen dollars on the portrait. When my wife Alice and I traveled out to Washington last week for the show at the Clymer Museum of Art, he came over to Ellensburg for the gala reception.

Maybe we all get a little eccentric over the years (many think I've always been that way). In Frank's case this has involved broadening his resume to include "chicken farmer." After the reception he gave Alice and myself a guided tour of his secret passion, his chicken farm in the little mountain town of Cle Elum. It proved to be more than I'd expected, with dozens of chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys running all over the place. Previous to that afternoon I had known zero about chickens. The tour was a complete hoot. What impressed me about the birds was their beautiful coloring and textured feathers of course. But even more than that when you're surrounded by forty big birds you get a palpable sense of the collective life force that seems to flow through the whole flock. It's a side of nature I'd never been privileged to see before. Next time I buy eggs at the supermarket they won't look quite the same old way to me.

Dr. Frank Baron, chicken farmer

Here's a bunch of chickens huddling under some heat lamps (they're no dummies, the Cascade Mountains are chilly in February).

Here's one of Frank's turkeys all puffed up and hoping to interest one of his female cohorts in some barnyard romance. The colors on his neck were almost unbelievable.

One thing I wish I'd gotten a good photo of were the marvelous array of different colored eggs the birds produce- ranging from almost a pale green blue grey through yellow ochre and burnt sienna colors. Eggs of course are delivered to us from these feathery creatures with an improbably perfect geometric ovoid form. You wonder "how did they do that?"

Egg shells have a surface covered with thousands of tiny pores, almost like porcelain skin, that is a delight to feel against your fingers. Painters I'm convinced do their best work when they love the surface they paint upon. Years ago I discovered the elegant eggshell like surface on Ampersand painting panels. I do a lot of my paintings on them for just that reason.

That evening Frank and his wife Wylie hosted a dinner party at their home for us and a few of their other friends. Their place is lovely and I photographed some of my pieces hanging on its walls. This oil is Two Porches, a view from a hilly street a few hundred yards from my home in Baltimore.

Here is an oil of a 19th century farmhouse in Norfolk, CT (no longer remember its title).

And here is Wylie in front of the big Sycamore by the Stream, oil on canvas, 45 x 60".

Finally Frank took us over to his dermatology office on Mercer Island. Here's two of the group of paintings he has hanging there. The first is Solace, one of the first oils I did in the late '90's directly from my imagination that showed the influence of my then new interest in soft pastel chalks as a source for color.

Also hanging in the lobby is a slightly earlier oil painted up in Norfolk, CT of birch trees. It's approximately 27 x 18".


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