Two Thanksgiving Stories
Philip Koch's easel set up with White Mountain Pond, vine
charcoal, 8 x 12", 2014
Two stories . Things that happened to me early in my four decades of painting the landscape out in the field. Both still make me smile.
First the funny one, though in a slightly painful way.
In the summer of 1972 I was just about to leave Indiana University in Bloomington with my newly minted MFA degree in painting. I had been very happy living in an old army barracks that had been converted to married student housing. So for one of my final Bloomington paintings I was set up in a field painting the somewhat dilapidated building that housed my apartment. It was going well and I was pleased with myself.
A young girl wandered by and stopped to see what I was doing. She looked for a long minute and finally asked me "Did you paint that?" I readied myself for the praise I was sure would follow and pridefully responded "Yes."
The girl managed a sad smile and responded "Well, I'm only eight years old and I'm already a much better painter than you are."
Philip Koch painting in the White Mountains, New Hampshire
A happier story occurred the summer before.
This was the first year I was trying my wings with painting out on location. I had discovered nearby Lake Monroe, "Indiana's Largest Lake" as the Chamber of Commerce pridefully proclaimed. Up on a distant ridge the large gravel parking lot of the extremely modest Scenic View Restaurant provided the viewpoint I needed.
I worked away for five hot June mornings on my new painting (the Midwest I discovered can be painfully hot). As I was largely unfamiliar with this whole landscape painting business, I was lucky to be stumbling into what was probably my first genuinely professional level landscape painting.
The back kitchen door of the Scenic View opened and out came a 50-ish woman wearing a soaking wet white apron. Peering at my canvas she told me she worked as the restaurant's dish washer and that she'd been watching me from the window over her sink. Finally she just had to come out to see what I was doing.
Unlike the upstart young artist in my first story, this woman loved the painting and said "How much does it cost?" Honestly I had no idea as I'd barely sold any of my paintings before and never one to a complete stranger. And how much could a dishwasher in rural Indiana afford anyway? Out of nowhere I heard my lips say "Oh, it's $60."
A moment of silence. Then the woman said, "This is the view I see out my window everyday at my work. I think this painting should be on my wall. That's a lot of money. Could I mail you ten dollars a week until I pay it off?"
I was surprised. Actually stunned is more like it. Something about her made me nod my head, and more remarkably, hand the wet painting to her right then and there. Mind you I thought this was the most accomplished painting I had ever painted. I hadn't even photographed the thing yet. But the woman's straightforward sincerity had bowled me over.
As promised the next Monday an envelope arrived in my mailbox. In it was a ten dollar bill. The next week the same thing happened. And the following four weeks the same thing continued without interruption.
All these decades later I have sold hundreds of landscape paintings. Mostly they go to lawyers, physicians, and stockbrokers. But one of them always stands out in my mind as my favorite art collector. Her name is lost to me. But I do know that for many years she used to wear a wet white apron.