Monday, May 31, 2010

Calvin Grotepas

He went to West High in Salt Lake City, Utah. I'm not sure of his graduation date right at the moment, but he did graduate. He went to the University of Utah and majored in art—I don't think he ever finished his degree, but I'm pretty sure he was only a few credits shy of getting it.

He loved to work with his hands. When I was a kid, he made jewelry from polished wood—earrings, mainly. He taught me to whittle, though I sucked at it, and he made me begin with a bar of ivory soap. I didn't see the point. I wanted to start on my first masterpiece immediately. I wanted to be like Henry Moore, whose work he loved.

While he was still enrolled in college, he worked for the Deseret Press, the printing and publishing arm of the LDS church, and that's where he met my mom, who was working as a typesetter (to me, working in the publishing world, this love story is beautiful). She saw him first, so the story goes, and it was love at first sight. Later on, when they were married, he worked for a few other companies running their presses. He loved being a pressman.

They bought a house in Farmington, Utah, and he finished the basement—my mom and him, working as a team. After that, he worked long hours to sculpt the tiered yard into a beautiful landscape with flowering plums, spruces, Ponderosa pines, peach trees and cherry trees, yuccas, red buds, oaks, and the crowning piece, an almond tree (it died rather soon). The yard was a work of art—the railroad ties that delineated the grassy areas from the plants and trees were axe-cut by him (he cut his head open this way, once).

Years later following his divorce from my mom and after digging into pottery—mainly wheel-work—he found his niche. At least, it felt to me like it was the stuff he had always wanted to do. Hand-built pottery and bronze-casting. Some of the most organic-looking pots came out of this period of his work. Great, curving vases glazed in dark oranges and deep reds, but so finely done that they weigh much less than they apparently should. In a way, they remind me of something from another world, something from a science fiction novel. It's a fitting marriage of two distinct disciplines because he loved science fiction, space, and Carl Sagan.

Sometimes we realize that the only way to understand the interior of a person is through their creations—the way they organize the unorganized, apply order to disorder, filter beauty from the mundane. Sorting through the remnants of a life, we find that we didn't understand a person at all and we see that we measured them by the wrong instruments. When we were looking at the disorder of everyday matters, or the things on which society focuses, we should have been looking at the language they spoke best.

When I looked for my father on Google, I found two links: one from a news article from forty years ago when he was rescued in a skiing accident by helicopter and just a few other links regarding court cases against him. The cases were all reasonable, I'm sure, and I don't blame the people who were charging him because he suffered from severe mental illness and could be very difficult to get along with. That was the other part of his life. The messy part.

Bu I want him to have another legacy on the Internet. I want him to also be remembered for the good things. I didn't understand him completely, but I know from his art that he was beautiful.


Christy said...

I liked reading this article about him, Nikki! I feel honored to possess one of the pottery pieces he created. Thanks for sharing. My condolences to the family.

N. Grotepas said...

Thanks Christy. :) I'm glad you have one too. I know you appreciate it as much as I do.

Big D said...

I loved this Nichole. I feel bad that we never kept in contact with our cousins over the years. Not sure why families lose contact with each other especially when we were around the same ages... I love what you had to say here; I think its a very beautiful way to remember him.