By David Sapp
Jacob wore big plastic dayglo green earrings to match a grandmother’s housecoat he wore as a dress, a yellow and chartreuse print muumuu. He was unlike any other student in my painting class. He reminded me of Chris Farley or maybe Jonathan Winters cutting up Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show fifty years ago. Everything about Jacob was big – his personality, his laugh, his generosity. His sarcasm was enormous, loud, and harmlessly savage. It had to be. He was out, largely so, long before it was acceptable to be gay at this little college, long before LGBTQ was a household acronym, before they/them was a preference, before Obergefell v. Hodges, when it was dangerous to be proud of his identity, never mind outspoken in this backward, rural town.
For the fourth portfolio assignment, he created an abstract shaped painting constructed of two by twos, plywood, and stuffed with second-hand clothes from the thrift store to give it form – all covered with stretched canvas. (I later wondered if Jacob intended any symbolic significance in using clothing or whether the method was simply an inexpensive convenience.) It was sealed in white gesso primer then painted in bold, almost garish colors. It was Jacob. It was beautiful. It was beautiful because it was Jacob. I acquired Jacob’s painting for the college and together we hung it proudly in an empty hall on an empty white wall. I passed it nearly every day going to classes.
Twenty years later, after losing track of Jacob, the maintenance crew removed the painting, misplaced it, and thoughtlessly tore a hole in the canvas during a renovation. You could see part of a shirt sleeve and the buttons of a sports jacket through the opening. When I eventually found the painting and discovered the damage, I was nearly fired, nearly perp-walked off the campus for hurling exquisite expletives in the halls – aimed at no one in particular as no one would fess up. No one seemed to know or see anything. No one was remorseful. (I would have gladly welcomed a simple “sorry about that” from anyone.) A committee was called, a meeting convened. I was admonished for my behavior. A reprimand was issued. And the painting simply vanished. There was an unspoken understanding: no one was to inquire about the disappearance of Jacob’s painting.
Around the corner, there’s a drawing of a surrealistic landscape by Mike, who would go on to get his MFA; a quiet still-life by the odd and shy Ava; a wood relief by Autumn, the gal who changed her own brakes and repaired her own plumbing; a print by Jeff, who died of lung cancer; a painting emulating O’Keeffe by Phyllis, a concert flutist until arthritis; Andrea’s etching, a quirky depiction of her parents with their camper; pictures by Liz and Taylor – they were always seen together at receptions and I called them Liz Taylor. Now, when I pass the empty wall, the empty hall where my memory of Jacob’s big personality once hung for everyone to enjoy and admire, I mourn his absence.
David Sapp, writer, artist, and professor, is a Pushcart nominee. His work appears
widely in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. His publications include chapbooks Close to Home and Two Buddha, a novel Flying Over Erie, and a book of poems and drawings titled Drawing Nirvana.