Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Alchemist by Kathy Tucker Longwith

For the occasion of reception and memorial: "The Alchemist: an Exhibition of Paintings by Francis C Tucker"

November 4, 2013

My family and I would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to Jack and Rosemary for their generous contribution that made this Exhibit possible and for their loyal friendship to the man who is being honored here today.

We also would like to thank President (Buffington) for hosting this lovely reception and Lisa Scarpello for her time and hard work in pulling everything together, including the many hours she spent with my father organizing the catalog and the paintings. Our thanks as well to Sean Dyroff, Sid Sacks, Bill Scott, Drew Lowenstein, Wing Chan, Michael Cirervo and John Thompson for everything you contributed toward this show. To everyone who played a part in making this tribute happen, we are extremely grateful.

My father had so many names and titles: Dad, Pop, Poppop, Tom, Francis, Franny, Tucker, Tuck…. When he was being totally stubborn, Mom would call me to say that “John Wayne” was acting up again. I think the one nickname that he laughed at the most was the one his grandson gave him a long time ago: ATM. “Here comes ATM,” he would say, “my own personal Automated Teller Machine.” My father was a husband, a father, a brother, a grandfather, a friend, a mentor, a professor, an artist, a framer and, according to this show, an alchemist.

As you may know, an alchemist is one who creates gold from lesser materials or someone who tries to change or transmute one substance into another. Calling my father an alchemist acknowledges the magic he worked while practicing the science of making art. He taught students how to make gesso out of rabbit skin glue, how to grind and make paints, how to stretch a canvas, the chemistry of mixing painting media like oil and turpenoid, how to carve and gild frames. He also taught them how to be an artist, that is, how to make something extraordinary out of not much of anything.

Sometime in the 1950s, my father signed up to donate his body to science. So, my whole life, I have known that when he passed away I was to call this number that he kept in his wallet and we would have 8 hours to get his body where it was supposed to be. When he began hospice last year, he gave me all of the information I would need for that to happen and also insisted that we not have a funeral for him. He said he didn’t want anyone getting up and saying how wonderful and amazing he was … because he thought that would be a bunch of crap. Those of you who did just that today, beware that he just may be haunting you tonight! Instead, he said, make this show a celebration of his life. “Put my work out,” he said, “and tell them the SOB had a great time!”

None of you will be surprised to know that “the SOB” had me laughing all the way to the end. On the night he left us, I did as he asked and called to have him picked up. When they came, after we said our goodbyes, they took the blanket off him and, I confess, I laughed out loud. In the midst of tears, I laughed. He was dressed in his homemade, striped green and white pajama bottoms – what I called his “elf pajamas” – a plaid pajama top and … and tie-dye socks. All I thought was, the student who gets him is really going to wonder, “Where did this crazy guy come from?” They are going to laugh at this sight, for sure. When I remember that moment, I smile. I inherited his sick sense of humor, and I know that he would have wanted me laughing instead of crying.

A friend of my father’s asked me recently how it was being raised by Tucker. I didn’t know how to answer, because I’d never really thought about it. When I did think about it, I realized that, yeah, my upbringing was a little different than other kids’.... We vacationed in a place called Tittyuck on the Allegheny River at his best friends’ house, where we would canoe, fish, swim and make homemade ice cream. My sister and I would play hide and seek in the house, which we really thought had ghost in it. At home, Tucker painted our garage with nursery rhyme pictures, Humpty Dumpty on one side and the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe on the other. Our neighbors never knew what he would do next, and I think he put them in shock when he had a whole dump truck of sand dumped in the yard for us to play in.

Dad was an original hippy, driving a red VW Bug with a big peace sign painted on it. I remember him throwing big parties at our house with all these artsy people, roasting a pig in the middle of the yard, and going on picnics along the river in Pennsylvania. One time, Dad told my sister and me that we could do anything we wanted – swim in the creek, play Frisbee – anything EXCEPT eat the brownies. Now I get it. ☺
Some evenings, we went to fancy dinners at Ben Bernstein’s mansion, where my sister and I would play in the dumb waiter and slide down the spiral staircase. Most evenings, though, we would follow him into the woods where the Damn Dam was and play on a tire swing that he’d made while he painted.

As an adult, I would come from work and there would be a message from him on my machine with the joke of the day. He made me laugh, he made me smile, and he was my rock, my hero. Growing up with Tucker was an extraordinary experience and not just because of the crazy fun.

No matter what was going on, he had a way of always teaching something. I’m sure the advice he gave me over the years also was given to some of you: Live life fully while you're here. Experience everything. Take care of yourself, your family and your friends. Have fun, be crazy, be weird. Go out and screw up! You're going to anyway, so you might as well enjoy the process. Learn from your mistakes: find the cause of your problem and eliminate it. Don't try to be perfect. Don’t forget to laugh at yourself and enjoy the ride.

If you knew my father, you know that he also said other things that I cannot repeat in this setting. ☺ But no matter what he was saying, it was direct, to the point, free of drama and No BS.
And, most of the time, it was also very funny.

Mom and I were invited to a memorial and thank-you event from the Humanity Gifts Registry, the program to which my father donated his body. What an emotional day! A student who spoke thanked us, the family, for the gift of our loved one and then directed these words to my father: “Thank you for being my last teacher, for being the one who gave me the knowledge to look in an ear and know that it is damaged, to see first hand a kidney that is healthy. For giving me the knowledge to cure a sick child, to change the future. For being my last class, my last exam, my last professor.”
Only my father, the alchemist, would turn what should have been ashes into a life lesson that a student values more than gold.

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