By Bob Francis
A disciple told Confucius one day that he was thinking of moving and asked for his advice. The Master said, “Don’t choose the place, choose the people.”
During her last months, my wife Kathy constructed a photo timeline of her life on one wall of her studio. It served as a focal point and prompt for family recordings. On finishing a “final words” recording in the studio, Kathy spontaneously asked her brother Carl, “What stands out about this timeline?”
After a few moments of silence, she broke in and said, “It’s all people. In the end, nothing matters but the people.”
Before getting to the people, I need to relate a little history. In 1965, when I was a grad student at the UW and Kathy was an elementary school teacher, I got a three-month internship at the state shellfish lab on Dabob Bay. Kathy and I rented a shack in Brinnon and spent an amazing summer expanding many of our horizons.
At the end of that summer, and with the help of some friends, we bought 10 acres of timberland bordering on City Lake, part of the Port Townsend water supply network. Over the next 20 years we often returned to that oasis for a few glorious weeks camping in the woods. As our kids became teenagers, we moved back to Seattle where we lived on Capitol Hill for the next 25 years. During the 1980s, we spent most of our weekends building a small cabin on our land and exploring its surroundings.
“Hi honey, I bought a house.”
That was the basic content of the phone conversation in 1986 between me in a laundromat in Missoula Montana and Kathy at a friend’s house in Port Townsend.
“Yea, I bought a house in Port Townsend. It’s almost 100 years old. No worries, the purchase is subject to ‘my husband’s approval.’ ”
“How did that happen?”
“Well, I was all alone in the woods camped out at the cabin and felt like some company. So I drove in to PT to visit Heidi. As we sat outside her beautiful house on the bluff (by the bell tower), I said, “Gee Heidi, this is a beautiful spot.”
She said, “Well, you can have one too. There’s a Victorian just down the street on the bluff that’s coming up for sale. You ought to buy it.”
“And so I did.”
“Hmm,” I said, “What else have you been doing?”
We bought the place. No regrets. We had just landed a grubstake by selling a house in north San Diego County and Kathy wanted to put the proceeds into something real. So, why not a Victorian in Port Townsend?
From 1992 until we were both retired, we spent our summers in that leaky old Victorian, gradually integrating ourselves into the vibrant Port Townsend community. Granted, PT is a beautiful town with its defining old Victorians hanging off the edge of a continent, nestled in the rainshadow of majestic mountains.
But other coastal northwest towns have similar characteristics. What kept us coming back to PT was the people.
During the last decade we lived in Seattle, Kathy retired from paid work. After exhausting the studio art offerings at Seattle Central Community College, she rapidly established herself as a first-class landscape (en plein air) artist. Always open to learning new approaches and techniques, she studied with master artists, including PT’s Diane Ainsworth. As a spinoff from Diane’s weekly studio workshop, Kathy started Weather Or Not, a group of plein air artists who painted together weekly for more than a decade. At various times she was a member of Gallery 9, PT Gallery, Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, and the Artist Showcase at the Northwind Arts Center.
She also took every opportunity to show and sell her work. One venue she loved was Julie McCullough’s Elevated Ice Cream. It gave her work a lot of exposure and her paintings sold very well there. Many folks thanked Kathy for keeping her prices reasonable enough so that they could own a “real Kathy Francis oil painting.” She loved to see people walk out the door with one of her paintings.
During one First Saturday art walk, Kathy dropped into Elevated and picked up the proceeds from a show the previous month. She had sold 22 paintings and walked out with several thousand dollars in her pocket.
Down the street was another well-attended show of paintings by Joel Brock, a beloved Skagit Valley landscape painter who some consider the preeminent Northwest landscape artist of his generation. So, at one end of town, Kathy Francis, and at the other end, Joel Brock―both, by the way, known for their skies.
What’s a person to do at a bustling Joel Brock opening with a glass of wine and several thousand dollars in her pocket? Kathy first put her red mark on a small “reasonably priced” study for a larger painting which was also in the show. A friend suggested that she would get more “square inches of art per dollar” if she bought the actual painting. In addition she could pay for it in cash just by emptying her pockets. So we moved our red dot from the study to the painting.
That painting still hangs in our living room, one of our most valued possessions.
You might say, that’s nice, but what does it have to do with people? The answer is everything.
Where else could you view and purchase such a diversity of art on a single night? As Kathy liked to say, “Twenty-two Kathy Francises equal one Joel Brock.” The previous month she had sent 22 people home with a “real oil painting.” That night Joel Brock sent her home as number 23.
Kathy believed her painting life was not so much about the paintings as the people involved in every aspect of her art.
One more story: During her last few months Kathy spent most of her time in a hospital bed. At last count she watched 70 episodes of a Mexican soap opera. She also watched, from her bed, The Bowmakers, a wonderful film that takes “takes viewers on a journey from the workshops of five master bowmakers in the Pacific Northwest, to the origin of the bow in France, and on to Brazil, ‘home of the imperiled tree from which the finest bows are made’”. The film was produced by Rocky Friedman of PT’s Rose Theater and directed by PT’s Ward Serill.
I had seen the film at the 2019 Film Festival and loved it. Kathy was way too sick to attend the showing, but really wanted to see it. So I trundled down to the PT Film Festival office and asked my friend, Janette Force, the film festival director, if she had a DVD that Kathy and I could watch. .
“Well … no,” she replied, “but let me see what I can do.” Two weeks later I got an email from Rocky saying that he had just talked with Janette, that he understood the situation and could make a copy of the film available to us.
Wow. Kathy and I were thrilled. Rocky then added that he would bring popcorn and conduct a solo Q&A after the film. In the end Rocky was busy, but our friend Evan Millman jumped in, zipping down to the Rose for a giant bag of buttered popcorn and bringing it back for us to enjoy as we watched the film. What a gift!
This whole story is one of love and community. And it’s just one of many. Just ask around. As Kathy said, “It’s all about the people.”
(Bob Francis is a retired UW professor, a jazz pianist and a member of the Rainshadow Journal community. His wife, Kathy, died earlier this year after a long battle with cancer.
PT&Me is a now-and-then series of contributor essays about Port Townsend.)