It's the thought that counts...
When Jim Gray was painting the three canvases that make up the Joy of Life Parade, I believe he quietly challenged himself to paint every brush stroke with purpose. Do I know this to be a fact? Perhaps not, for he never mentioned that intention to any of his closest friends and family. Yet, the evidence is on the canvases, and each day spent in study of these paintings leaves me feeling more certain that this was a part of his goal.
Take a look at this first image:
Now consider the details that tell their own stories, or at least remind enough to spur the recollection of a particular Joy...
The Joe Jefferson Play house, in Mobile, utilized Jim for set designs and build out. His background with designing and building Mardi Gras floats was a natural asset when it came to creating sets for live theater. Sara Jo Rousch is out front, painting the sign, as it was her smiling personality that promoted JJP to the greater community. Pete Carnahan was the director and Jim has him looking over the parade from the side, much as he would have in directing the actors of JJP. The comedy and tragedy masks nail down in just a few brushstrokes that this is theater.
The space craft Voyager 1 and 2 are not UFO's, but there is one flying in this image!
These two cut ups were Jim's Air Force buddies Pluver and Theisen. Long before I saw their names on the handwritten lists that Jim left tucked away in his studio, I recalled the story that involved these two and Jim in a diner just off Base in Illinois. It was not the faces I recalled, once again it was an almost insignificant spot of bright green, zinging from the hand of one of his buddies. That arching UFO is actually a pickle slice... and of course, there is a story represented here. The guys had gone to town and were having burgers at a late night diner. Thoroughly caught up in telling the details of a story to the other two, and letting his hands emphasize the important points, Pulver managed to bring his hand down upon a fork that had a pickle slice skewered on its' tines. The catapulting action sent the slice over his shoulder and directly onto the neck of the man sitting behind him., where is stuck for a moment and then began to peel off from the top edge. In one deft move, Theisen reached over and removed the pickle slice, laid it on his plate edge, and never missed a beat in his comment back to Pulver. Jim quickly added his thoughts on the subject, with the three guys carrying on their conversation as if nothing had ever happened. The targeted patron reached his hand to the back of his neck and then looked to the ceiling for the source of the wetness he felt. He looked up again and then turned in his seat to glance at the Airmen behind him. No one made eye contact, the conversation continued, knowing they could not break stride or else the whole thing would have to be explained. The other guest eventually got up, paid for his meal, and left. At this point the three burst into laughter, wiped their brows in relief, carried with them a story that was likely passed down to the kids and grandkids of Pulver and Theisen, just as it was to those of James C Gray USAF.
You might agree that there is bit of a circus atmosphere about this parade. The two pups were born in Indiana, and returned to Indiana when Jim and Fran moved up to live near Matt. Oh, back to the circus... these two pups were named Barnum and Bailey!
And no parade is complete without a big bass drum. This one has the initials DD&G on it, to recall the three partners of Ditmars, Demeranville, and Gray Advertising Agency. The pistol is not Jim's comment on the Second Amendment, but rather a reminder of another story of how Bobby would, from time to time, "inspire" the team to creative advertising greatness.
As mentioned in the blog headline, it is the thought that counts. Jim always was a thinking man. He loved working out the puzzle of a composition in a painting. He loved to invent and create. He held several US Patents for medical splinting devices, created initially to solve a problem his Mother had with her hands.
Even in the advanced stages of his dementia, he at times still pondered how to best set up his room for the art class he planed to teach that evening. He took great joy in the process of pondering a challenge until a solution could be found. The fact that his dementia prevented him from recalling those thoughts over an extended time did not change his persistence in doing what he often said... "Keep on keeping on."