((Excerpt from "Art For The People: A Collector's Journal"))
Inside a charming house, just outside of Dayton, Ohio, lives a little French woman who has two parakeets, a finch, a cat named Natie, stacks and stacks of books and a big art dream.
"Bonjour Madame!" I yell across the front lawn as I arrive.
"Bonjour!" she yells back.
As I approach her house, an albino squirrel that's blonder than blonde scurries across the driveway on what I assume is a hunt for nuts and other edible morsels.
"Wow! Look!" I say. "An albino squirrel!"
"Yes, come in," says Madame, completely unimpressed. Clearly, she has seen this creature before. However, I'm interpreting its perfectly-timed romp as a sign of something maybe magical. More on that later.
I'm now entering the living room of Madame Annick Noisette. She apologizes for the delightful clutter of her home as we make our way into the kitchen in the rear of the house. Art is everywhere. "It's protecting us," Madame Noisette says.
Annick Noisette's home is a living tribute to her deceased husband, Gordon "Gordy" Richardson. He was an abstract expressionist artist who painted like mad during his short life. Richardson passed away of liver cancer on June 10, 1990. He was only 49. Yet, if one must die, as we all must, we should do it like Gordy did. "He was surrounded by family and friends,"
Although Gordy Richardson is gone, his spirit lingers on through the home the couple shared. His art is everywhere. Annick owns some 1500 of his works that he left behind. As I view the paintings, I see the influences of Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock. Noisette tells me that German artist Kurt Schwitters was also a major influence on Richardson who was a fine arts professor at the University of Dayton for 20 years until his death. Many of Richardson's fine and complicated works are hanging on the walls of their home, but the vast majority of them can be found in Noisette's basement.
As we walk downstairs, a dehumidifier breaks the mausoleum like silence of the cellar. We turn and there they are, stacked on low tables, high tables and inside drawers.
"This is incredible," I exclaim.
Some of the works are small, but most are large-scale. Some have been exhibited, but most have never been seen by the general public ... AT ALL! All of them are works on paper.
"He couldn't afford canvas and this was much more practical," Annick says.
Madame knows her husband's work well. She wrote notes on some of them and others contain references to her. The works range from beautiful collages to paintings that are a stunning display of the false mixture and then separation of oil and water.
"The point is to make them separate, but to have them in harmony," Noisette says. From what I can decipher with my collector's eye, Gordy Richardson mastered the process. You don't have to be an art historian or curator to know that this is pure gold. His work is full of series, tributes, themes and symbols ... like the letter "T" (for time) and maps, serpents and the color gold. Breezing through his work, it's clear to me that his mind was
always spinning with ideas.
As we look at painting after painting after painting and I listen to Annick's surprisingly fresh accounts, I tell myself how fortunate I am to be seeing these works in the home of the actual artist and not in some sterile art museum or gallery. Home is where the art is.
Annick Noisette is a lovely lady of French upbringing and manners. She was born in Cognac, France and raised in Paris. Her French accent perfumes our conversation. We talk about many things during lunch. Politics, education, artists and why more people don't appreciate art. She stands about five-feet tall and has light-brown hair, parted down the middle with bangs, cut short and styled in a pixy-ish cut resembling the flappers of the 1920s. She also has delicate, honey-colored eyes and a narrow nose that comes to a graceful point above thin lips that give life to a lilting, airy voice that only French women seem to possess. On this day, she is wearing a gray, smock-like sweater and a string of black, white and brown beads around her thin neck. In short, she could be Coco Chanel's cousin. Annick Noisette is a throwback to the days when elegance was true and not a weak imitation. I met her through Maine artist Merv Slotnick who told me his own work resembles Gordy's (which it does) and that I should try to contact his widow (which clearly, I did).
Annick and Gordon Richardson met in Florence, Italy back in 1974. She was visiting a friend while on college break and he was taking students on a study abroad program. Cupid was already at work when a mutual friend asked Annick to be the group's tour bus guide. Annick says the students took up all of the seats and the tour was full of serpentine roads. At one point, she said to Gordy, "If you don't mind, I'm going to sit in your lap!" At that point, the students all laughed.
Two years later, the two were big time pen-pals. They wrote to one another about art, politics, poetry and the Vietnam War, which they both opposed. She even translated French songs for him. However, musically she says Bob Dylan was Gordy's hero. Later, she fell in love with him ... and he fell in love too.
"I was so unruly and a little bit wild," says Annick. "I was very independent and I never thought of settling down until I met Gordy."
The couple has two grown sons, Vincent (named after Van Gogh) and David (after Michelangelo's masterpiece). As of this writing, Vincent is a violinist and David works in retail.
Madame Noisette doesn't think she'll ever marry again. "My life is my family and the art and I want the art to be seen by people!"
Which brings me to Annick's dream ... and the dilemma of countless art families. What should the loved ones of deceased, relatively unknown artists do with all of the works that are left behind upon their death? The University of Dayton owns 14 of Richardson's works, but Annick has the rest. "I think he knew subconsciously he wouldn't have a long life," Annick says. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Gordy painted almost non-stop. Unfortunately, he didn't like to sell his work. "I'm rich with the presence of art I've got, but I'm poor," says Madame Noisette who has had difficulty keeping work as a French teacher in Dayton Public Schools.
Now, as the days trickle and zoom by, Madame Noisette is filled with a growing sense of urgency. She doesn't want Gordy's work to be in vain and fall into obscurity. As an art collector, I must admit that if Gordy's entire works were available to me, I would grab everything and head for the hills. It's really breathtaking. Yet because art institutions are so HELL BENT on only highlighting the works of "famous" artists, it's maestros like Gordon Richardson who pay the price. Gordy Richardson is dead, but he lives on through his widow's passion to create some sort of tribute to him and his work.
"I want it to be seen! I want it to be displayed! I'm proud of what he did," says Madame Noisette. "A true artist is a gift given by God."
I think that a retrospective of Gordy's work should be the very least any art museum could do. Alas, art museums and galleries are businesses first and chroniclers of culture second. Understandably, they tend to seek out exhibitions that get corporate support and boost attendance. However, isn't it time for the art world to wake up and start taking care of its own?
Madame Noisette says it best. "Whether anyone is dead or alive, we have to take care of art today!" she says. "Artists are recording what's happening in the society they live in. He (Gordy) is a witness of his time. All the big things of life."
I could go on and on about my afternoon with Annick Noisette. I could mention more about her charming home or the sparkle in her eyes when she talks about her family or her funny pets or Gordy's fantastic journals that are full of his notes, ideas and beautiful work, but I'll call it an essay here.
As I bid Madame Noisette "Adieu," I looked for that albino squirrel scurrying again. It was clearly a rare find and unquestionably at home here … kissed by the golden sun.
As I drove home, all I could think was, "Gordy, was that you?"