Sometimes I Can See You...


Sometimes I Can See You is a life affirming multi-generational tale. Some parts are made up while combining with a realistic memoir of a real person long involved in the art world.
far from being a family memoir, though it is that, these are luminous fragmentary tales of strong women and how they reacted to the men in their lives, sometimes disastrously but often strengthening. Plus a vivid journey back into 18th century colonial life in Virginia and a visit told with great ...
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Sometimes I Can See You...

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Sometimes I Can See You is a life affirming multi-generational tale. Some parts are made up while combining with a realistic memoir of a real person long involved in the art world.
far from being a family memoir, though it is that, these are luminous fragmentary tales of strong women and how they reacted to the men in their lives, sometimes disastrously but often strengthening. Plus a vivid journey back into 18th century colonial life in Virginia and a visit told with great immediacy to a small Ohio town in the 19th century which are intricately intertwined. The writing carries teh freshness of watercolor paintings with warm hearted view of life itself with all its fragility, losses, triumphs, and happiness.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781491800232
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 10/29/2013
  • Pages: 602
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Read an Excerpt


By Polly Brewer


Copyright © 2013 Polly Brewer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4918-0023-2



I see the connection of my own fragmentary writing to visual work by artists that are important to me. There are often parallels. I have made use of these similarities so I write about their work as introductions to the various parts of this tale of my own family, both known and unknown as well as portions of my own story. I have called them "From the Portfolio".

For most of my life, visual art has been intensely important. Different styles, subjects and mediums whether they are abstract or realistic are immensely pleasing, maybe because a painting, sculpture or fine craft is one into itself, but it is not. Everything is connected. A style emerges from each one. Also the old adage holds true. "The more you look, the more you can see and the more you see, you are more able to look".

I've selected certain artists, mostly from Fresno whose work especially resonates with me and I know all of them well. Hard choices to make as I really do admire and relate to so many others. I also took pleasure in selling their work as I featured them in my gallery.

Yet because of her layering technique with its rich complexity, my first choice is her because of her use of light and shade through layers of color. June Schwarcz, not so well known, but is in her quiet way, so very distinguished. Regarded by many as the nation's leading enamellist, she has been honored with over twenty five solo exhibitions and over fifty group shows. She has also been the recipient of many important awards. If she was Japanese, she would have been designated a National Treasure for her immense contribution and creativity to raising the bar of the art of enameling.

Though we don't often meet, I've had the privilege of June's friendship for nearly forty years and for Don, it's been even longer. He first met her when he was a young curator at the La Jolla Museum of Art and she was just getting into her highly specialized field of enameling. Some years later, she and her family moved to Sausalito.

Soon after Don and I were becoming a couple, we attended a gathering where we knew she had been invited; I could tell it was important to him that June and I should meet, like each other. That we did, though I'd hope that June and I have long been friends on our own. For sure, she's been a role model and an inspiring delight to visit. She and I can rattle away on the phone, talking of grandchildren, new work, recent events, whatever. Don looks on, shaking his head, wondering what on earth we can say, it is taking so long.

I carried some of her small pieces when my gallery was open, but it wasn't the right milieu for them. Her work was too specialized, expensive and unconventional for Fresno buyers. However, a splendid bowl with an inside of velvety sky blue, shot through with gold and violet and a dark, iridescent, textured outer surface. It went to a friend of mine who knew what a treasure she was buying. But it seemed, by and large, I didn't have the kind of gallery where her work could be properly appreciated.

But since then, the city has grown up a bit. Several years earlier, Don had given June's 80th anniversary catalogue of her exhibition held at the San Francisco Craft Museum to Jacquelin Pilar, good friend and former curator at our own Fresno Art Museum, with the hint that the Museum should show June's work. In 2008, the Museum gave her a large retrospective exhibition with its Distinguished Woman Award. Pilar compiled a beautiful catalogue, calling the exhibition, "The Resonant Form"—what lovely, apt, words!

She wrote about how the original form of thin copper changes shape in the heating or firing process becoming increasingly more luminous. "By etching engraving and hammering, June created a dimensional texture on the surface of the copper and then used the transparency of enamels to create a sense of depth as in an alchemist's lab she uses her own base metal to create ingenious objects and become sculptural presences that command one's attention. These pieces stand or sit, bending light through the structural arrangement, texture, density and color created by her process. Organic in nature, they remind me of the hidden treasures that one finds when strolling through a field or wood, coming upon the flotsam and jetsam of life in all its myriad forms."

June herself commented in the catalogue, "I do not know how you draw the line between fine art and craft or between the utilitarian and the non utilitarian. I want to be an artist. I intend to walk where I choose and not care which country I 'am in." This from a tiny, now fragile lady now in her nineties!

The work assembled for the exhibition contained a range of growing, evolving styles, most of it from the collection of one person who has long held great passion for her work. He attended the exhibition and, as with all of us, was astounded by seeing the collection as a whole so beautifully presented with proper museum lighting and display cases, set at just the right eye level for observing both the shape and the interior and exterior of the pieces, all of them becoming increasingly complex. Intricate shapes, glowing depths of color—you could lose yourself in each piece's shimmering depths. If June was not such a good friend and lovely person, I would be reluctant to compare my writing with her work, but her process of building and changing resonates strongly with me.



It is like taking a late afternoon walk with no shadows ahead but quite long ones stretching behind. I remember a quote from a wonderful book that had a comment that really resonates with me. It is: Stories have to be told or they will die and when they die, we can't remember who or why we are here. For some time, my mind has been full of family tales that are so intertwined with memories of myself growing up, hell bent to leave Norfolk. A plunge into relationships with artists, some of which were disastrous and others quite splendid soon followed.

Just out of college and, thirsty for big city challenge, it was clear to me that I must leave Norfolk and to get into and on with my own life. And so I did, even to being called Polly instead of my given name, Mary. I can never remember liking the name Mary, especially since it was pronounced in our Southern household as MayREEE, except by my father who always said something like Mahrry. I dreamed of being an April or Emily, but I was delighted to learn somewhere in my teens that Polly was a nickname for Mary. There is no connection, even in sound, but that disconnect pleased me, and still does. There is something freeing in having a new name.

I still feel strongly about my middle name that has long since dropped off the legal IDs. The fact remains, too, that my father's name of Elliott never meant much to me growing up. I shed it as fast as I had done with the name Mary. It wasn't until years later that I really thought about that dismissal, since it is a rich name, spelt with double L's and T's. The El is soft and quiet, the next LIO is stronger and more lilting then, TT decisive and unhesitant. In fact, it sounds very like my father. It is of Scotch origin. Its clan still exists in Scotland with a fine blue tartan.

But certainly my old daddy was not from these blue tartan Scots. He was descended from Scotch-Irish people, some of whom immigrated to Ohio.

In addition to my immediate family there are two other women that I especially want to seek out. Rachel Upshur many times great grandmother and Martha Oliver Elliott, my father's mother who has left only the barest trace of herself. My father was no saver of writing or records nor was he talker of his youth. So few wisps remained. In finally finding Martha's and husband Sam's grave, there was a sense of enormous accomplishment that they really existed and that dates were almost exactly with what I had guessed.

Much more is known about Rachel. I believe that, however hazily, these women are part of the strong threads of the many complicated, resourceful people who have been in my life. Rachel's ancient trace of DNA, is part of me that I have passed on to my own daughter and grand daughter. Cousin Petie and I gave our girls as middle names her family name of Revell as a way of honoring her. Somehow, up until now neither Rachel nor Revell have ever been passed on like so many of the Upshur names. It is a funny omission from our prideful family, since as the third Mrs. Upshur, she bore three sons who founded branches, so she was crucial in insuring that a strong Upshur heritage would be passed along.

What was it like when all these people were younger? Since they are all gone, many of the stories will be invented though I will try to represent them as they might have been, based on what I know and what few facts are available. Some actual journals notes and even two books on the Upshurs exist, far more than is found in most families.

It is the not so apparent life behind these records that fascinates me. All the hidden things, how they reacted to joyous and tragic events, make me very curious. All the intertwining, connections, or their lack. All of these people are living in my DNA but who were they, really?

Except for my cousins, Bo and Petie, my immediate family is mostly gone. There is really almost no others of our generation except we three though we all have grown children and grandchildren. Far from being untidy and disparate, the memories now seem more like samples that I had seen on display at the fine craft shows I had attended, chosen carefully to fit into my small budget, so I generally knew what to expect when the actual objects arrived. When they came, I dived into the bubble wrap to find buried there those beautiful things looking so pristine and perfect, I couldn't wait to put them on display. They had all been made for Plums. It is the same now, thinking of all these things and persons.

My own memories are kaleidoscopic enough. Grounding them a bit in the past appeals to me. My life is not so much in pieces like a patchwork quilt, but separated into widely different sections. Yet here I am, not feeling in the least like battered tumbleweeds. Just the opposite. I have been an active, and for the most part willing participant in all of these divisions.

To probe what I don't know or remember and to verify or reject what I think I have come to know should be exciting, not daunting.

There was Ladymum, grandmother, matriarch, would be ruler of us all. And the others mother, aunts and their relationships to the men in their lives. The mutual losses and loves, pleasures, adversities, the ability or inability to listen to ourselves, to change, lose, rebound, obtain some state of grace, to be free.

The stories as well as my own are certainly full of changes, losses and achievements. There is a long string of sad, funny, hopeful, beautiful, difficult complicated events trailing behind, all part of me, living so strongly in my shared genes and memories. Now, all mine to write about.



Looking back, which now is a very long way, Don's and my first meeting seems like one of those convergences that either was pure chance or a highly likely event because we, in our own ways, were so ready, like footsteps walking along, following the other logically in a pattern that led us to interest in the other.

In "The Art Lover" a poetic, wonderful book by Carole Maso, a writer I have recently met and admire tremendously, there is a passage that has already said what I am after here, better than I can. The quote is: wanted so badly to get her right. To get at the truth of her, where likeness turns into recognition.

Before I first met Don, nothing in my earlier life had warned or prepared me for the quagmire I found myself in relationship with Tom Downing. Only a terrible sense of bewilderment and loss, as I did not know what I could or should do about anything. And there were always Robert and Lelia as priority considerations. What to do about them? But far from being a burden, they were my lodestars.

Then there was Don, so full of emptiness. His reserved nature wasn't helping his deep sense of everything being awry, as he had no one whom he felt he could confide in. He never did talk much about that time, except to say wryly that he saw a psych who left him feeling more closed than ever. "Maybe he was trying to pull stuff out of me, and I didn't like that so I suppose I did clam up" he once said, "but the fellow was a total jerk."

Don said to me in planning for his celebration of life that we both knew would be soon.

"No one will mention my dark side, so you should do it. I hated being so obsessed, addicted to alcohol and smoking."

I could only answer but that wasn't a dark side, rather illness that you triumphed over and gave them both up, alcohol so many, many years ago, and even smoking cessation was long past. He looked at me sadly and said,

"Not soon enough on the smoking, that I had to live with the regret that my lungs had been so compromised. And you should say that." So I will, but not at the celebration.

He always gave a lot of support and keen editorial assistance to my writing, but he did not want to read the parts about himself.

"Don't want to get in the way of your scenario and hate thinking about that time makes my skin itch."

Likely I became to him a sort of solace, a protection of sorts against his reserved nature, as I could always easily penetrate his barriers yet my outgoing nature never seemed to clash with his quiet manner.

He had a lovely wry sense of humor that he showed often to me and which was always endearing, as was his steadiness, gentle nature and wonderful art eye.

To go to a museum with him was like having a genial informed personal guide who could open my eyes to details or richness of a depth that I have never seen before.

Before his and my many friends, I wanted Don to shine, be himself, the one behind his mask.



I did well enough this past summer though it consisted of a massive plague of ants and the knowledge that it was surely Don's last months. The hospice nurses who attended him often told me I was doing everything so well, but I wondered if they were guessing that needing reassurance was a priority, since I was consumed with anxiety and an unnerving sense of not being myself. In truth, selfishness and exhaustion were my constant companions though I was given a lot of welcome help and encouragement from the nurses, family and friends. But Don was in the last summer of his life. It left me short tempered, fearful of so much and angry at myself for many short comings in the face of it all. This was likely my period of grief because both Don and I knew that his time of fairly comfortable years of long invalidism was over as irreversibly as a tide flowing out.

He hadn't been the fellow I knew and loved for a long time, but we jogged along with his declining energy well enough. A sense of limbo, but not yet loss. Now it was a summer of the ever going air providing concentrator thump, to which I listened to each morning, checking to see if it was still going before I went into the living room sofa where he was most comfortable. The thump of the concentrator told me he was breathing in air from the bulky machine that pumped air into his system as it worked in place of the normal bellows like function of the lungs. The long pauses and then only faint thumps of the machine meant how shallowly he was getting any air, so a steady thump was the most noisy but reassuring even as the level of oxygen needed had been moved to higher and higher levels.

Often when I reached him, he was still asleep, but woke up promptly when I spoke to him. The sofa was familiar to him as he had long taken naps on it and he was insistent that he use it for evening bed being familiar and comfortable. The practical hospital bed was uncomfortable he said, but his firmness in avoiding it said more. I felt some relief at his alert waking response, but was glad that this was the morning one of the hospice nurses was coming, anxious when it was not.

Excerpted from SOMETIMES I CAN SEE YOU ... by Polly Brewer. Copyright © 2013 Polly Brewer. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


PREFACE....................     ix     

PART I....................          

FROM PORTFOLIO I....................     1     

POLLY WHO?....................     4     

FLIGHT....................     8     

GO DOWN DEATH....................     10     

SIX MONTHS LATER....................     15     

FROM PORTFOLIO II....................     18     

PEACH PIT VIEW FOR SWC....................     21     

AUGUST PICNIC....................     25     

FOR RACHEL....................     31     

RACHEL'S STORY....................     38     

PART II....................          

FROM PORTFOLIO III....................     81     

RIPE PLUMS SHOULD BE SWEET....................     83     

FROM PORTFOLIO IV....................     88     

THE COUSINS ARE COMING....................     90     

SKETCH-SCENE I....................     102     

STELLA'S STORY....................     104     

A STRANGER TO ME....................     124     

FLYING AWAY FULL OF THOUGHTS AND NERVES....................     128     

SHOWERED....................     133     

GLIMPSES OF AN UNKNOWN LADY....................     138     

THE PIE....................     195     

"WHAT WHITE SKIN HE'S GOT"....................     203     

LIKELY LETTERS FROM MARY LEE....................     216     

CORN PUDDING AND PORCHULACA....................     219     

JACK....................     242     

JUMPING OVER THE CANDLESTICK TOGETHER....................     245     

FROM PORTFOLIO V....................     290     

OH MY DARLING DAUGHTER....................     292     

BRINGING HOME THE BABY....................     314     

MARGARET....................     321     

SOMETIMES I CAN SEE YOU....................     324     

PART III....................          

FROM PORTFOLIO VI....................     367     

WRAP ME IN WARM SILK....................     369     

REVISIT TO TRAUMA....................     371     

WORTH THE WAIT....................     384     

MEMORY EDGES....................     389     

ROYAL FLUSH....................     393     

930 RALEIGH AVE....................     395     

FIRST TIME OF DYING....................     407     

HOME BASE....................     410     

FRIENDS....................     422     

NOTHIN' COULD BE FINER THAN SPRING IN CAROLINA....................     429     

WASHINGTON D.C. NOTES....................     437     

FROM PORTFOLIO VII....................     440     

INTO THE COLOR SCHOOL....................     442     

AFTERWARDS....................     477     

ICE....................     489     

FROM PORTFOLIO VIII....................     496     

CRY CALIFORNIA....................     498     

PART IV....................          

OTHER STARTS....................     541     

FROM PORTFOLIO IX....................     545     

AUTUMN APPROACHES....................     547     

WINNING CHESS GAME....................     548     

INTERLUDE....................     553     

RHIZOMES....................     556     

ARE YOU REAL?....................     560     

PETAL POWER....................     569     

WALK UP THE BEACH WITH BLUE STONES....................     574     

REGROWTH....................     580     

FROM PORTFOLIO X....................     582     

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS....................     587     

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