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Geneseo Republic - Geneseo, IL
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By Gary DeNeal
Feb. 25, 2013 2:17 p.m.



His closest friend left Southern Illinois, traveled to New York City, where he changed his name (again), and became, if not a household word to the man on the street, at least a notable figure in the art world. Before relocating in the big city, this man of several pseudonyms gifted his pal with an abstract painting, thinking the gift would be treasured for life. The recipient took the painting, thanked him, and with goodbyes said and the door closed, proceeded to scissor the gift into postage stamp-size pieces, which he then rearranged at will. One day, I asked why he had done such a thing, and was taken aback when he replied, “Well, why not? It looked as good one way as another.”

 

That was the bad news. The good news was, he promised to give me the pieces if he ever ran across them. Needless to say, he never found them, and now he is dead, so I guess the good news wasn’t so good after all.

 

Another artist, Joseph Cornell, arranged old photos, watches, curios, etc. within small wooden boxes he crafted by hand, in effect, creating his own miniature worlds. Cornell was a true original and he knew it. Thinking him an odd duck, though harmless, a neighbor lady befriended Cornell, and to repay her kindness as best he knew how, he gave her three of the boxes. Even as she smiled her appreciation, the woman dismissed the presents as evidence of a lonely man’s eccentricity. Later, she threw the gifts away, as would any good housekeeper when confronted by something that didn’t belong. After all, the neat, well-ordered house was the woman’s pride and joy.

 

Imagine her surprise when, years following Cornell’s death, she read in a newspaper that her neighbor’s unique artistry was now on prominent display in museums across the world, and that high end art dealers thought it  a bargain to be able to purchase a Cornell original for a mere few hundred thousand dollars. Because she had nothing else by which to judge the gifts, she thought the little boxes to be worthless, yet any one of them probably had more monetary value than her house and all its furnishings.

 

Originality is often subtle enough to put a polished sneak thief to shame.

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