Many people considered my father to be a better-than-average amateur artist. He carved, sculpted, and painted. Having lived his entire adult life in the Pacific Northwest, all of his artwork was reflective of this region’s diverse natural and manmade resources; dramatic seascapes, weathered marinas, salty boats of all styles and sizes, old rustic barns, flowered meadows and forested mountains, and wildlife (whales, dolphins, sharks, fish, small and large animals, and birds of all varieties). In his younger days, he won a few blue ribbons, but was never interested in selling his work. He would just find vacant spots on walls, shelves, and tables in our house to place them.
In his later years, he painted a series of birds on pieces of flat driftwood he had picked up along many of the beaches he and my mother loved to beachcomb on. But as his health deteriorated, so did his ability to steady a carving knife or paintbrush. It must have been so difficult for him to still have the creative passion but no longer the ability to create.
My father died four years ago. Sometimes I have difficulty with that timeline. Sometimes, it feels much more recent. A few days after my father’s passing, I went into his studio, and discovered the painting he had been working on. A Western Tanager on a small piece of driftwood. I immediately recalled an earlier conversation I had with him on Tanagers. I had included a Scarlet Tanager in a novel I was writing at the time. He was partial to Western Tanagers, as they lived in the same region we did. They are both striking birds.
Over the last several years, I have had the same internal discussion about my father’s Western Tanager painting. A part of me wishes he had finished the painting before he moved on. But another part of me likes the painting the way it is. Unfinished. I realize it’s a meaningless discussion, but I find myself leaning towards the part of me that prefers it unfinished. Why? Because up until my father drew his last breath; he was also a work in progress. He was still unfinished. Just like the rest of us.