Kassandra Kelly Bonnie Since 1990 September 2011
my friend Randal Davis came to visit me in Oregon City. I took him around
the property-the creek, tree house, fish ponds-and we ended the tour at
Lee's studio. This building, a converted dairy barn, was the reason Bonnie
and Lee left Portland in 1963-not the acreage or the house. Lee has maintained
a sculpture studio on the lower level all these years, and at the time
of her death in 1990, Bonnie had a drawing studio and sheet metal shop.
When I showed Randal around the place sixteen later, most signs of Bonnie's
studio activities had been shuffled into storage in another building.
Except for one painting, hung high on the wall in her old sheet metal
"Who did that?" he asked.
I looked up at the painting, some eight feet from the floor. It was too
high for me to move without help and there it had remained all these years.
"Bonnie. I'm not sure of the date. Middle 1960's, maybe."
Randal looked at the painting for a long time. It was shadowed with metal
grit and dust but even so the uncompromising palette was clean and penetrating.
I remember feeling sad the painting was so alone up here. Randal said,
"That painting is completely different from your father's paintings.
It's like she came from an entirely different generation." A long
pause. "That's a great painting."
I looked closer at the dominant colors, layers of white and brown over
black that always felt jarring to me. Another thought came to mind, this
time from a wise friend, Adriene Cruz, who once reminded me that beauty
was many things, none of them obvious. There it had been all this time,
a work of art that pushed back at me, insisting beauty lived in the uncomfortable
moments as well as the easy ones.
So like Bonnie, the woman I knew.
When I thought about writing an essay for this catalogue, I considered
starting with the line, "We were often lost together." Bonnie
was very dyslexic and through some strange anomaly, I grew up with one
dyslexic variant-the inability to tell my left hand from right. My daughter,
Lucy, has the same trait. Bonnie's methodology for traveling in the world
was one of unshakable faith-we'd get there somehow. The rest of the world
was wrong about left and right. All we needed to do was use other words.
I remember being lost with Bonnie in Nepal. We were lost all the time
in Kathmandu, on treks, once famously and for hours on the trail to the
mountain fortress of Gorkha. I used to ask her how it worked, this getting
around thing, when Lee wasn't there with his rock solid certainty about
compass points and magnetic north and left and right. Bonnie didn't give
it any thought, in fact I think she was often very happy when she was
lost-"We'll get there. It's not hard. Don't worry."
Not until my daughter was learning to drive did I understand how it worked.
Lucy wouldn't allow anyone to use the words 'left' and 'right' when she
was in the car. I watched the road with her while her brother, Carter,
groaned in the back seat, repeating for the hundredth time: "I don't
understand how you can't see it. One hand is left and the other is your
other left." Lucy flew by instinct, sensing the place she wanted
to be and somehow, bat-like, she found it. Her confidence in the findability
of the world was so like Bonnie's.
Looking up at Bonnie's painting that day, I recognized it. My mother was
alone much of the time, probably never more so than when she made art,
but she continued on her path without hesitation. It must have hurt sometimes
when her work was left stranded at the high tide line but she never talked
about it; she simply moved on to the next idea once the old ideas were
played out. Maybe that was why so much of her art work never made it into
the archive. Once it was done, it was done.
Many people made this retrospective of her work possible: Randal who saw
when no one else was looking, Joan Shipley who never forgot, Melody and
Mark Teppola who are both here in spirit, Ann and Dave Bronson, Margaret
Bronson, Kathy Bronson Dull, Elizabeth Leach, Lee Kelly and Susan Hammer
and Bonnie's alma mater, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, who undertook
this project with great generosity.
I would like to say it for all of us-Bonnie, we got there.