"Three Young Texans" by Russell Cushman
A few years ago Hurricane Ike roared through the Gulf Coast and devastated many homes. It spread destruction and heartbreak all around Baytown, Texas, and yet in the process, brought me and an old customer back together... and an important reminder.
A Saga of Three Young Texans
Jan only had a few hours to make critical choices about what would go and what would stay. Another terrible Texas hurricane was on the way, and after the destruction from hurricanes Katrina and Rita the year before, she and her husband decided not to weather the storm, but vacate and take what they could with them. Only so much would be able to go. She snatched up those essential things that occurred to her and stuffed her car full. Then she looked on the wall at one of her prized possessions. A large picture with a mammoth rustic frame pleaded for passage. It was a print of a little girl playing with her kitten and ragdoll, deep in pioneer Texas Hill Country. The little girl’s eyes had always had a soulful appeal to her, and now more than ever.
She took the large limited edition art piece down and rushed around looking of a place that might hold it above flood level, somewhere where the “Three Young Texans” might survive, in case of a direct hit. She had owned and loved her signed copy of my watercolor for nearly thirty years, and the babies in the painting were like her children. They had to be saved. Desperately, she placed them on her bed, right where she normally slept, and covered them with blankets, pillows, anything that might protect them. Then it was time to go. She took one last look at her home, and they rushed away.
The storm did hit, with devastating force. Jan told herself, “We are alive, and that is all that matters,” but as they returned to their home days later, the heartbreak began to unveil itself, one painful loss after another. Some of the house was still intact, but in her bedroom, was a giant oak tree. A limb had thrust right through the picture, shattering the glass, and damaging the print beyond repair. Strangely, the frame was almost unscratched. She told herself it was a minor loss, compared to what might have happened to them if they had hunkered down during the storm, and she had been laying there instead of the picture. Pictures can be replaced. It was as if the Three Young Texans had died in her place.
She did not have the heart to throw the image away, even after the insurance had been collected and their life had been reconstructed. She began to look on the Internet for me, to see if I was still around. She found some leads, but they never lead to the artist himself. As with much of the information on the Internet, it was mostly obsolete. It was obvious the artist was still active by all the listings, but she could find no website. Months passed, and occasionally she would do a search. Nothing new popped up. She began to think about giving up, and settling for something else. But she knew that nothing else would do. These were her babies for thirty years…
I painted Three Young Texans in 1979, while Linda and I were living in Altair, Texas. This watercolor was one of my very first “major pieces.” Because the model for the painting was our niece Jennifer, Linda requisitioned the painting almost immediately. Jan purchased a framed print of Three Young Texans from me during theTexas Renaissance Festival during the fall of 1980.
Thirty years later, I had let my website go into Internet oblivion. But in the spring I taught an outdoor painting workshop, where one of my students directed me to a website company that soon solved my website deficiency.
Almost immediately Jan found me. Relieved and grateful, after months of searching and losing hope, she told her story. And I had great news for her, because we had kept the painting all these years. I had no extra copies of Three Young Texans… but I could make a giclee for her from the original watercolor. Her search for her babies was over.
She told me about the symbolism in the painting, which had so much meaning to her. Her mother had grown up in a central Texas cotton farm, and had a little ragdoll just like the girl’s in the watercolor. She explained how the little girl’s eyes spoke to her… And how she felt as if the Three Young Texans had taken her place.
The hurricane took away an old faded photograph, and God saw to it, in His time, that it was restored better than new.
It was such a long shot, after such a brutal attack from the forces of Nature, that most people would have given in from the sheer time and impossible odds and the tragedy that had unfolded. They would have bought something else and gone on. But Jan proved something special beyond personal taste or materialism. She illustrated the power of art.