by Mark Dance
I suppose my thoughts reflecting upon Rea may be personal but I am happy to share a few.
Twenty years ago, when I endeavored to become an artist, I realized that I was entering into a lonely life where friends were few and far between simply because we work in exile. As a transplanted Southerner new to the Chadds Ford area, I did not know many people outside of my wife's family. Unremarkable circumstances brought Rea to my attention. I regularly saw him around town; a gentle small framed man with gray hair who wore paint splattered jeans and spoke a kind and soft raspy voice. In the coming years Rea's watercolors became well known to me. Finally, I approached him and struck up a friendship. Like many, I suppose, I reveled in his stories. Stories of his past, his screenplay writing, the movies, painting, and aviation. Subsequently, to my delight, he agreed to give me private lessons. Thus our friendship became a teacher-student relationship.
My most cherished memories are when Rea would give me watercolor demonstrations. While he masterfully spread and manipulated the pigment into the tooth of the paper. He would almost unconsciously speak of the most fascinating things. Be it pertaining directly to the demonstration or reflecting on old times in Chadds Ford painting with Andrew Wyeth. He would spill these jewels of technique and I knew that they came from his schooling with Carolyn Wyeth and perhaps from NC Wyeth himself in some manner. I often found it hard to concentrate on his watercolor demonstration.
While sketching out in the field. Rea would explain the vagaries of drawing a tree. Though the tree may be beautifully well shaped to the ordinary, one must take into account how that tree grew. He went about sketching the trunk of the tree explaining that it is a painful thing to grow and twist out of the soil. And, as artist, we must try and portray that pain. That fight to grab sunshine and expand while trapped in hard bark. That night I looked over my sketch book and realized that I was a thirty-three year old artist and had drawn my first tree.
I always treasured the opportunity to be in Rea's studio. The studio looked as if an "art-bomb" had exploded leaving shrapnel in the form of watercolor portraits of Abe Lincoln or Union and Confederate soldiers. Crows and foxes in sun dried cornfields. Aviators and W.W.I war birds plastered the walls and ceiling. Every square foot was occupied by books, paint and the wonderful watercolors- windows and observations of the pageant that was an artist's life.
I will miss you Rea. You were one of my dearest friends and I hope you knew that. Your interests coincided with my father's concerns in an uncanny correlation and this brought me closer to you. If I shed a tear I know it is only because I am a selfish bastard. Escape the hard bark. Grab sunshine. You did good work in all realms and you were tired. Now paint that canvas sky.