Marshall Baer, who knew by the age of six he was an artist, died at age 84 in December 2011. From April to July 2011, though his body was breaking down in many ways and his hands were often unsteady, he worked for a few hours each day at his home at Rainbow Lodge in Mt. Tremper on what turned out to be a remarkable series of drawings.
Consider this one from May 2011.
The forceful, converging beam of lines breaking through the inner frame of the picture and the sinuous dancing waves of black and white are mysteriously dramatic. The juxtaposition of these shapes, the sharp, linear force knifing through the waves to the lower corner of the inner frame, as well as the double border of contrasting colors framing all this highly energized drama — ah, Marshall was still exploring, still surprising himself, still at work.
Knowing that Marshall was weakening and close to death when he made this drawing, one is tempted to understand the border-breaking, wave-piercing beam of energy as a disruptive force of death, breaking open an inner frame, crucifying a wavelike dance of life, converging and terminating at an inner bottom edge.
But can this abstraction really be said to “mean” anything, even as sub-conscious, right brain self-expression?
Only this: that on a day in May 2011, at 84, Marshall Baer was sitting at his drawing table, paying focused attention to the energies surging within him, externalizing those energies with skills honed over the course of a lifetime.
He was surely pleased with the result. This was one of a series of drawings from that four month period to which he signed his name. Each line and wave had emerged with flawless clarity, demonstrating that his lifelong sense of self was still intact. He was still capable of exploring the ongoing evolution of his mind.
In July 2014, Marshall’s wife, Eve, invited one of their great- granddaughters to celebrate her birthday with an art lesson. Eve spent several hours drawing and painting with the child at the same table where Marshall was drawing.
After the young art student’s birthday session had ended, Marshall was deeply moved — perhaps by the love and skill of Eve’s teaching, perhaps by the beauty of what Lily had created, perhaps by a realization that it was now time for younger people to carry on the exploration of human creativity.
“I’m done with art now,” he said to Eve. The sequence of drawings begun in April came to an end that day in July. And he stuck to his word.
When I visited with him after that and asked, as I always did, what he was working on now, he said, “I’m trying to live whatever time I have left with as much dignity as possible.”
Make no mistake though. To the end of his days, despite how terribly weak and sick he was, Marshall was proud and happy about his life as an artist, and about sharing his work with others, always one of his greatest joys.
His signature shape, a mandala of rounded, interpenetrating yin/yang, male/female forms, is sculptedhere (below) in soft, finely sanded balsa wood — an enduringly touching emblem of human love, and a genuinely totemic creation, inviting the caring touch of those who love it.
Marshall Baer’s last drawings, created three years ago between April and July 2011, are currently on display at the Rainbow Lodge Gallery in Mount Tremper, N.Y. Call 845 688-7761 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Seiden lives in Venice, Florida, where he writes a column for the Venice Gondolier Sun. He says, “Marshall Baer was a dear friend of mine. When I visited his home in Mt. Tremper this July, his wife, Eve, also a dear friend, told me the story I’m sending you here.”