Saturday, January 9, 2010

Stephen Huneck--a very sad goodbye

I found out this morning that Stephen Huneck, the remarkable Vermont artist, killed himself while sitting in his car outside his psychiatrist's office. Stephen was best know for his wood sculpture, often misidentified as folk art, and for his books like "Sally Goes to the Beach."

I went to high school with Stephen and we shared a suite of art rooms at school for many years. For two years we shared a studio class with Bud Madru, that unforgettable and not always entirely predictable teacher. I wrote at some length about Stephen in my second book, A View from Vermont, a story adapted from a review and interview I originally wrote for Burlington's arts and comment weekly, Seven Days.

I won't pretend I know him well, but I loved and bought his courageous and curiously schmaltzy work--I have one of his angels over the fireplace in the living room, and I was hoping to one day afford a life-sized Labrador. His work was driven by a deep trust in the human-animal bond, which is an important thing to make art about--I wrote a whole book about it, in Conversations with a Prince. Stephen mattered.

When he was young, he was studiously silent--he seemed partially frozen but his work was always fresh and good. I once bought one of his water colors because it seemed happy, and happiness was something he had only in short supply. I don't know what when on at his house, but it wasn't good.

Later, when I interviewed him and we reconnected a little, I was amazed to find him incredibly talkative--"In 1965 Huneck was inward and impenetrably silent; now his heart is often on his sleeve and he won't shut up," I said in 2005. And now Stephen is gone, and I feel a light has drained away. He took the great risk of learning to love, and now we can no longer love him back.

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