My first piece of original art that I ever paid to have professionally framed was given to me as a gift by a 23 year old, divine, Canadian artist, Lupe Rodriguez, who I knew for a brief, but fun, 7 weeks one summer, 42 years ago. It’s called, “Home Movies”.
That painting has hung on every wall of every home that I’ve ever had.
When you slam the mudroom door in my house, the paintings on the walls sometimes shift. I was straightening that painting recently when I realized that I never saw her again after that summer.
“What ever happened to Lupe?” I wondered.
In the early months of college in 1977, I started to worry about what kind of summer job I could secure so that I wouldn’t have to go back to my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and scoop ice cream at Isaly’s again.
I saw an ad in the back of the New York Times Magazine section for summer instructional counselors at a sports and arts camp in Parry Sound, Ontario.
Something about the arty aspect of the ad appealed to me, so I applied, old school, with a letter that highlighted my brief work history (scooping ice cream, waitressing, working at the college equipment checkout desk) but which also emphasized my major in Film and TV, as well as having to master an understanding of the principals of still photography. Wait. I even mentioned that I was a field hockey player in high school and could easily teach that if called upon. My 20 year old self was throwing it all on the table.
No such thing as overselling when it comes to applying for summer jobs.
A couple of weeks later, I received a letter requesting my references and asking me to call the director of the camp for an interview. (No cell phones in those days’ folks).
I wish that I had been able to record the phone interview. To this day, it makes me think I should have gone into sales. I was offered the job as the Photography Instructor/Counselor. They would secure the necessary papers that would allow me to work in Canada and would pay me in Canadian dollars, which at the time, was about a plus ten cents on the US dollar. It was something like $1200 for 7 weeks of work and all the bug juice you could drink. I did have one small negotiating point that I brought up at the end…I had a boyfriend who was an amazing basketball player and recent college grad. He would make a fabulous Instructor. Could they take him, too? Bingo! My summer was set.
Lupe Rodriguez was one of the first people I met. She had been hired as the Studio Art/Painting Instructor and she was, in my mind, the movie star version of an artist. Not only was she incredibly talented, she towered over me and had this European essence that made me laugh at my plebe-y self. We would take respective breaks from our Studios and meet outside to just howl about ridiculous stuff and smoke cigarettes.
Lupe was a few years older than me and had just finished art school. We compared notes about our dreams of what our futures would hold. She was going to be a famous artist and I was going to be a filmmaker…None of that starving artist bullshit.
When you’re in your 20’s, anything is possible.
Towards the end of our seven weeks, she emerged from her studio with a signed painting for me called “Home Movies”. She had painted it on a piece of linoleum and ran it through the press two times. I got the first one. I don’t know what happened to the second one. I am hoping that I gave her something, too, but I can’t remember.
42 years had gone by when I launched a search for her on the internet.
The first thing that came up was her name and the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Canada. I clicked the link and landed on the exhibit Lupe Rodriguez: Radiant Passion. She did become famous and her paintings were stunning. The opening paragraph on the home page went like this:
As artist, educator, arts reporter, world traveller, cultural celebrity and serious aficionado of historical and contemporary art, Lupe Rodriguez shared her extraordinary passion and remarkable insights with thousands of people in Toronto, the GTA, across Canada and around the world. Her vivacious personality and love of art and life was infectious. Many of those who have known her have remarked that her exuberant and colorful artwork directly reflected the radiance and passion of her character.
I became aware of the Dreaded. Past. Tense. I held my breath and read on:
On October 4, 2008, Lupe Rodriguez passed away after a courageous battle with leukemia, leaving a great void in the lives and hearts of many – but also leaving behind an astounding body of artwork that embodies the spirit of a great life lived.
A wave of sorrow came over me. The only comfort was discovering that she had married, had two children and lived, what sounded like, a most amazing life in spite of it being cut short by cancer. She was cherished. She was loved, which was way better than our 20-year-old selves looking for fame.
I dug into my old black and white negatives from that summer and digitized those that had not disintegrated. I wished I could have shared these with her.
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer as to why we never reconnected. I hate to say the very trite life happens, but it does.
This has reminded me to always be thankful for the small gifts that you receive. Lupe will live forever in my “Home Movies” and in the hearts of everyone she touched, including some 7- week friends, like myself.