My introduction to art started as a courtesy. A board member of the nonprofit where my husband works was having a showing at a gallery. Jim Heupel is a photographer, primarily of nature and wildlife. This retired Air Force judge travels the world — all seven continents — photographing animals and their habitats.
That night at the gallery we were mesmerized by a photograph Heupel had taken in Kenya of a field full of wildebeest on their annual migration. Behind them, the sky is a rainbow. Not a rainbow arcing across the sky, but the sky is itself the rainbow: violet on the left, red on the right, and every shade of ROYGBIV in between.
The photograph made no sense. How could it be real? It was beautiful.
So we made our first art purchase ever. “Wildebeest Rainbow” was taken at the Maasai Mara National Reserve, located about 167 miles from Nairobi.
Since then we’ve seen Heupel exhibit in two other galleries. His latest business card is a photograph of a polar bear, taken on a recent expedition to the Arctic.
When it came time to frame and hang “Wildebeest Rainbow, ” I realized I already owned two pieces of actual art, both watercolors by Michael Frary. One is a painting that was rejected from his book Impressions of the Big Thicket, and the other is of South Padre Island, where we vacationed every summer when I was growing up. The paintings were gifts from my parents, or more accurately, from my dad.
My dad cannot resist buying art the way I cannot resist buying books. His walls are full of oils and watercolors, and photographs that look less real than the paintings. He often buys art on trips, so I can look at his framed photograph of the Tetons hanging above the couch and know exactly when he bought it. Perhaps he appreciates art because in his mother’s later years, she left nursing behind and became a painter — much like Heupel stopped donning judge’s robes and became a photographer.
There is a stand-alone room at my dad’s house that was intended to be a wine cellar. He and his mother each chose a wall and painted clouds. Dad freely admits that his mom’s wall is better, more like real clouds. His clouds look like what we think of when we think of clouds.
Unlike my dad buying paintings to commemorate trips, there was no occasion to my husband’s and my purchase of “Wildebeest Rainbow, ” although my mom was sick that year and getting sicker. A year later she’d be gone. In the six years since we hung that painting above our mantel, there are times I feel as if I’m clinging to a branch on that lone tree, knowing the wildebeest can stampede. And the sky is a rainbow.