erhardt, a face of islip

Born just before the second world war, Erhardt grew up on a farm deep in the countryside in Germany.  Years after the war ended, as a teenager Erhardt decided to pay a visit to some relatives in Bay Shore, Long Island, New York.  He had no intentions whatsoever of staying in the United States for more than a few days, a conclusion which was strengthened by the fact that the young man spoke no English.  He recalls having wandered out of his relatives' home, through the surrounding neighborhood, and jumped into a soccer match with some locals.  Finding the country agreeable, his former conclusions quickly dispelled, Erhardt made the permanent move to Long Island.

When it came time to look for a job, Erhardt found the language barrier to be quite an issue.  "What could you do, with little to no language skills, when you want to work?  I applied as an apprentice at the local butcher shop, out further west on Long Island.  It's easy to understand 'pot roast' or 'three chicken breast' when you speak as little English as I did back then."  As Erhardt worked, he saved.  He eventually came to begin his own business, on Main Street in Islip.

Erhardt was a wonderful sitter, striking a perfect balance between sitting still, and being animated in conversation.  A few years ago, I painted one fellow in a building overlooking Central Park, and as I painted he held himself so still he seemed like he was going to faint- I had to convince that fellow that "still" is not better than "comfortable."  And so it was that Erhardt and I comfortably talked about raising children, about his dislike for strange and exotic meats, about soccer.  "Oh Kevin, you play soccer?" was the question he asked me.  Like any father of three with only past athletics conquests to speak of, I had the insecure urge to relay a glorious, short lived career as a soccer player in a local college- but I decided to keep it honest and tell him how I was second line at a middling community college.  "I got kicked in the face during a soccer match in the Bronx, and well, my nose having been shattered, my brilliant career as the next Pele was quickly eclipsed.  However, this only skyrocketed my role as water bottle/soccer ball toter" I dryly said.  Erhardt began "Well, I was drafted to play for some pretty good teams, even some national things... but I didn't have my citizenship papers in order yet.  That was that."  I'm glad I went the self deprecating route- here was a guy who seems to have been an Olympic hopeful, and I was a first line community college hopeful.  Sheesh.

I've rarely had any sitter so interested in the craft of painting, as Erhardt.  He was fascinated, utterly fascinated, by the evolution of the painting, the mystery of an oil portrait.  But on my end, as I worked I had this nagging feeling that there was a problem.  I wasn't capturing his personality, something was missing.  "Hey Erhardt, do you happen to have that hair cap that you wear when you are in the butcher shop?"  He lit up into a smile.  "I sure do.  I thought you might want to paint me in that."  The moment he put on the cap, the painting was resolved, the portrait was found.  Nobody in this town can think of Erhardt, without his cap.  This portrait was one of those rare works that sang, from beginning to end.

There is a brilliant painting by Anton Van Dyck, that of Cornelius van der Geest.  If you can get past that horrific Baroque ruff around the guy's neck, and if you can look at the eyes- it is just one of my favorite portraits, in the history of art.  Here's why.  There is moisture in the eyes.  When you get close to the painting, you can see these little flecks of flake white paint, that is to say lead paint, which is globbed on ever so precisely.  When you step back, you could swear that the eyes are alive.  And so it was that I walked over to Erhardt's painting, a tiny brush with a single hair, loaded with lead white paint.  Looking at his eyes, then leaning towards the canvas, I placed that touch of moisture onto the linen.  Done.

earhardt, final, low rez

earhardt, eyes, low rez

Erhardt Hardekopf, "The Nine Faces of Islip"

jack, a face of islip

"Hey Jack, so today, I got a problem for you.  My washer busted, spilling its innards all over the basement floor.  It's a soapy mess.  Problem is, this is the second washer in two years, and I think there must be a bigger problem."  "Well Kev, how's your air intake in the system?  Sounds like your washer is having a pump failure, which is probably due do overexertion, which is probably due to no air intake in the outflow.  You can't run a pump in a vacuum for too long.  Come over here, this is the part you're gonna need."

Jack and I sauntered over to the other corner of the hardware store, maneuvering between stands of hoses, push brooms, and sprinkler heads.  "Here it is, good luck" he says in his quiet, steady voice.  Always composed, always pleasant, Jack helped me lift my fixer-upper home out of disrepair, and piece by piece has helped me restore a beautiful pre World War II Dutch Tudor.

Jack was born and raised here on Long Island, and came to run a company that distributed the fruit juice cups with the tear off, aluminum tops.  Once obscure, the aluminum fruit juice container is now ubiquitous, and is extensively used across all industries and markets, from hospitals to airlines to homes.  All while raising a family in Sayville, Jack played a role in growing the emerging industry, brokering large deals with major hospitals.  In his younger years, he married a woman who still occupies nearly every story he tells.  He laughs as he describes old apartments in Greenwich Village, he smiles as he relays tales of traveling in Ireland with his wife and family.  His eyebrows lift when he describes how he and his wife fixed up a few homes, and the tenants and friends that they had over the years.  Now that he's older, he's taken his expertise in other industries, and is that bottomless pit of knowledge, working the counter at the local True Value hardware, serving homeowners from Islip and Bay Shore for over a decade and a half.

One of the most enjoyable things about painting Jack was coming to learn a particular secret that he held.  This warm spoken fellow on the other side of the counter at the local hardware store is one of the most knowledgeable, passionate enthusiasts of Johann Sebastian Bach.  While he sat for the painting, I randomly turned some music on, on a contemporary violinist's interpretation of a well known Bach violin suite.  He jolted in his seat.  I asked him if everything was okay, and he winced slightly.  "It's just that Itzhak Perlman interpreted this passage just a bit differently, than, uh, than the new generation."  He was kindly saying that this piece of music was something delicate, something of beauty, and the performer was somewhat outside the range of the composer's intentions.  I switched over to Yo-Yoma's acclaimed performance of Bach Cello Suite number 2, and all was well.  Jack went on to discuss the era in which Bach composed, the evolution of instruments, and the various interpretations different eras have had of his work.  For decades, his passion has been traveling to hear Bach performed in major venues by various classical musicians, a passion shared by his sister.

To paint a portrait is to pull back a veil.  As I put the last marks on the painting, Jack turned to look at the canvas.  "You captured my eyes.  There's never been a photograph in my life that has captured what my eyes, as I myself feel them to be.  You've painted about me, how I actually feel about myself."  It was wonderful to paint a portrait of Jack, and get to know the fellow on the other side of the hardware store counter.

Jack with painting, low rez

jack, final, low rez

jack, eyes, low rez

jack, face, low rez

Click the following to listen to Yo-Yoma's brilliant performance of Bach's Cello Suite No. 1