I was asked once about a year ago by an art patron at a gala event "what's your 'Butch's watch'"? This caught my attention, a Pulp Fiction reference in a fine arts event conversation? I never really considered what that meant before. It took a great time of thought. As much as I love my computer and several hard drives they don't mean much of a hand down heirloom. Nor do any of the watches I own. I had inherited a leather briefcase and a doctor bag from my great grandfather each of which suffered water damage over the years and would not likely make it to my son and even so, how do these decisions begin? Puzzled I told the patron I didn't know but I thanked them for their interesting question and it remained with me for weeks in the back of my head.
After much thought I concluded my 'watch'. It wasn't a watch, it wasn't a bag but a pencil. Yes a pencil. See, about two weeks before I had a conversation with my son in my studio while I was sketching out a design for a project. I was changing the pencils and pens I used and he had been very observant. He noted that each time I signed a print I had used a blue pen. I told him it was a mechanical pencil. He wasn't familiar so I showed him what kind of mechanical pencils I had over the years and it dawned on me where this came from. It was like a euphoric feeling from the film, Inception, an epiphany.
You see, as a child I spent much time with my grandfather who entertained me by sketching and watching nature shows, talking about the cultures of the world. I spent much time with him in his shop sorting part and repairing items we would find on Sunday outings. He seemed to have an interest in drafting (of no coincidence I had pursued in college). On a trip to Seattle at the UW bookstore going to visit my aunt with him he browsed over the mechanical pencils in the cases amongst the vellum and t-rulers. I looked to one side of the store what seemed endless, a wall of art papers I was immersed and captive to this place. He asked what I thought about the pencils and explained the purpose of the different leads and all the planning that went into drafting.
"It doesn't mean you can't use this for sketching if you like, that's what most 9mm are used for but most work comes from the 5mm" he said. "ok, if that's the best all purpose one, then sure" I picked out a Niji 500, blue 5mm reading made in Japan on the side. I walked to the counter with him and it's only long after being asked this question what object means so much to you to pass down that I uncovered this memory.
One might wonder why it's not an adze or the doctor bag I have to give over, well here is where I explain. This moment with my son, sitting at my desk where he asked "is that something you would give to me someday?" and to my curiosity I asked why he was interested "well, it's something important to you and I know it. I love to draw and I know it's important to you." I then and there told him where it came from and how and why it was important to me. He smiled and said how he thought that was so cool and went on to ask why we'd ever need pencils if we had these and lead and I told him I asked my grandpa the same thing.
I write this post up late as usual or 'early' I should say, because after much stress of not knowing where that object was I found it tonight. I had been looking for a cable and desperately grabbed at a kleenex size box. I was taking out one item at a time trying to keep patience and then my son saw me light up in silence and perhaps react in slow motion. There it was, he came to my side to see and he had the biggest smile. "that's it! Dad, that's it right?!" to reply I turned to him and said "yes, son that's it and someday it will be yours".
How trivial it is what objects mean to us. One would imagine I have a mask in our family but we are not mask people, we do not have ownership of Skwai kwe. Nor have I inherited carving tools from my grandfathers beyond my great uncle. The tools of our traditional craft are not everyday and I don't plan to impose my chosen occupation on my son because his life belongs to him. The world changes in many ways but a writing instrument is universal and necessary.
This moment I see in piles of boxes what I knew was important all along. My son, his well being and what I can pass on to him. And then after all that he said, "dad I really like your long shot 70-200mm canon lens, can I have that too"? to be continued...