Life and Death – Winter #1


Life and Death - Winter #1


To Everything

As the song and bible passage goes, To everything there is a season. This has been a recent season of death for me. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a natural thing. And no, I am not the one doing the dying, at least not in the short term. But in general I am at the age when one comes in contact with death a bit more frequently than when younger. In the past week specifically my father-in-law, Tom Reynolds, and a friend, Oren Miller, have died. A little over a month ago my Aunt Jean died. My father, Skeets Coleman, passed away less than a year ago. In addition I have a friend, Charlyn Shelton, almost die in a car wreck. On social media many of my friends have shared about their loved ones passing away as well. And so I have been thinking about death recently.

Sunny Mexico / Cold USA

Two weeks ago my wife and I took off on a vacation to Punta Mita, Mexico. It’s on the Pacific Coast, just north of Puerto Vallarta. We went with her brother and sister and their spouses. It’s the first vacation of it’s kind we have ever taken together. On the surface it seemed like we planned it pretty well. Mexico was at 78-80º every day while almost all of the US was below freezing with ice, snow, wind, sleet and general weather misery.

Winter Brings the Sweetness

But there was more to this trip than the good timing of being in warm weather while our homes were in freezing temps. There was also this:  We all bought trip insurance because my wife’s father, Tom Reynolds, wasn’t doing very well. He had been battling cancer for over 12 years and it finally seemed to have got the better of him. While there was some hope, it was slim. But we made our best guess and thought it would be best to go on this trip sooner than later and so we did.

But with a day and a half to go in the vacation we got the call. He had taken a turn for the worse and was in the hospital. We did our best to figure out early flights home but it was not in the cards. That meant in spite of the situation we were going to be in Mexico one more full day, leaving the morning after that.

We had a choice to make. We could lounge around the pool and ocean, static and disconnected, giving us time to dwell on our not being able to get home, or we could go out and do something. We chose to go out and do something. We spent the day at a small beach village a few kilometers away from the resort.  We ate, we bought some gifts, we walked around the town. We found a real estate office and fantasized about buying the various houses that were pictured for sale in the window of the office. We people watched. I took a lot of photos of scenes on the street.

We hadn’t forgotten about Tom, but we still had to live in our circumstances. And while we had some guilt for not being there or being able to get home right away, we also had enhanced gratitude for our lives knowing that someone we loved wasn’t far from being at the end of his.  In other words, it was the winter of his life that gave a portion of sweetness to the summer of ours.

Warm Life in Winter

We did make it back on schedule and went straight to the hospital. Tom was holding his own but the overall situation wasn’t looking good.  The cancer had spread to his brain, he had had seizures, his blood pressure had fallen then risen and he had contracted pneumonia. He was sedated, in no pain that we knew of, and had a ventilator doing his breathing for him.

Yesterday morning, 5 days after we returned, we got another call. His blood pressure was falling and his meds were maxed out, they couldn’t adjust for that anymore. We were told to gather. With his entire family was around him those closest to him told kind and funny stories about him. They told of his passions and eccentricities.

One of the great things about his family is they were raised by him and their mother to be musical. Linda’s sister taught music and choir in high school for decades. Linda had been an opera singer in her past and their brother had been in choirs as well.  And so, as we gathered around him, they started singing his favorite hymns and some of our favorites, among others. I sang in the background or hummed along as I was able. But a lifetime of them knowing how to sing with each other came out and soft transcendent harmonies of love and beauty sent him on his mysterious way.

And then he was gone.

Warmth of Life in Summer

But we aren’t gone. We remain alive. We still eat and breathe and sleep. We still laugh. We still tell stories and wonder about things. We still worry about others.  We still create and talk and love.

With a loved one’s passing or winter encasing us in cold we tend to see the negative, and it’s hard to argue with that.  But ask yourself this: when do you most frequently hear admonitions to enjoy life, to embrace the joy and to live in the moment, to not let any opportunity pass by where you can let a loved one know (or a stranger for that matter) that you love them and are there beside them. Who do we hear that from the most? From one who has lost a loved one or almost lost their own life. It’s that brush with death that brings out in them the passion for life, right?

Running Life

After Tom died yesterday we lingered around the hospital until the funeral home came to get the body. We then went to lunch. After that it was time for me to go home and shortly thereafter I went to my job coaching runners. It was my first run in almost 2 weeks (I slacked off in Mexico, don’t judge). It was cold, foggy, misty and a bit windy. And I loved it. I loved it because I was alive to love it.

What and who are you alive to love?



Drawing and commentary by Marty Coleman

Quote by John Steinbeck, ‘Travels with Charley – In Search of America’



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“What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

Turning 60, part two

I turned 60 last month and posted ’60 at 60′, a sort of list of things I want to do this year. One on the list was ‘visit 6 new places’ and I am at #1 on that list this week.


I am in Punta Mita, Mexico. It’s north of Puerto Vallarta by about 45 minutes. I was raised in San Diego, California as a young boy but surprisingly never went farther into Mexico than Tijuana. So this is my first time beyond the border.


I am here with my wife, her brother and sister, and their spouses. The 6 of us have wanted to do something like this for a while and two of us turning 60 was enough of an excuse to make it happen.

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It’s an all-inclusive resort, Iberostar. I was a bit worried about that since my preference would be to experience Mexico more directly than through this filter. But it’s turned out to be better than expected and very easy, something a few our party really wanted.


The key for me so far has been to choose as authentic a direction among my choices as I can. This means that while the restaurants and buffets do have ‘American’ food they also have pretty amazing Mexican food choices as well. I continue to choose those.


We’ve been on one excursion so far, to Islas Mariettas, two islands off the coast of Punta Mita. One has a hidden beach you have to swim through a cave to get to. It really isn’t hidden, a lot of tourists go to it, but that’s ok, it was a cool experience and not that crowded in the morning.


So, Here’s an example of ‘authentic’. When we got off the boat I had to go to the bathroom and didn’t want to wait until after the bouncy drive back to the hotel. The little spot filled with fisherman and others, music, smells, carts, dogs, fishing nets and beer bottles. The bathroom was not going to be the sterilized American style, I knew that much. But it was the best smelling urinal I had been in in a long time due to their life hack of throwing their used limes into it to compensate for the smell. It’s been my favorite part of the trip so far.


The Blind Spot – On Purpose #5


The Blind Spot - On Purpose #5



This quote brings to mind one of my favorite lines in a song lyric:  “Sometimes you are blinded by the very thing you need to see.” It’s from a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter, one of my favorite singer songwriters ever. What I like about it is how it continually teaches me to see things as clearly as possible, even those things so bright and shiny, so ‘perfect’ that they blind me. They might be the very thing I need to see.

And this quote is about the same thing.  Am I aware of my blind spots in life?  My attitudes, that are so ingrained as to be unseen?  My behaviors that I have rationalized for so long that they are now completely legitimatized and seldom questioned?


In a car, the blind spots are those areas that are blocked by the car itself.  The frame of the car holding up the roof, the hood bulging out in front, covering the engine. Visors, mirrors, seats, decals, and more also add to the visibility problem.

And how are we trained to compensate for those things?  We are taught to be slow and deliberate, to be methodical. We are told to move our head and body to see around the obstructions.

This can be applied to our attitudes and behaviors as well.  Stop and think. In my words am I perpetuating something I have not evaluated and considered in a long time?

Looking Deeper

The other way we do this is by seeing only the surface of something. We deem something as being without value in its current state and so we overlook it.  How we see the elderly is a perfect example of that.

I remember way back when I lived in San Jose, California. The pastor of our church had been fired and we had an interim pastor.  He was very old, retired as a full time pastor and now just filling in as an interim when needed.  On one occasion he complimented me on my suit, which included a short waisted Eisenhower style jacket.  He pointed it out and said he thought I looked sharp. After that I started to look at him more closely. He wore well tailored and stylish clothes that were appropriate for his age and position. He dressed better than 90% of the men in the congregation, that was for sure.  That led me to imagine him as a younger man.  I saw him romancing his wife on the dance floor, looking sharp in a military uniform, and any number of other activities he might have done back in the day, all done with panache and style and a twinkle in his eye, which he still had.

We became ‘shake hands at the steps’ friends, talking about the sermon, complimenting hats, jackets, vestments, etc. He turned out to be one cool dude.

What are you missing in your blind spots?


Drawing and commentary by Marty Coleman

Quote by George Herbert, 1593-1633, English poet


This and many other of the napkins are for sale.  Please inquire at to find out more. 

The Forgotten Pants – A Short Short Story

Inspired by a true event.


The Missing Pants - A Short Short Story


Chapter One

Heather played her horn for 3 hours, the entire length of the gallery opening.  Her legs were cold the entire time.

Chapter Two

When she got home and undressed she realized she had forgotten to put on her pants that morning. Heather was relieved because she had been worried she might be getting bad circulation issues in her legs like her father had.

The End



Drawing and story by Marty Coleman



Robert Arneson – Artists I Love


When I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1978 I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Within 3 months of my arrival the Mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White.

Three years later a bust honoring Mayor Moscone, created by the artist I am highlighting today, was unveiled. Here it is.




The artist is Robert Arneson. Take a close look at the detail picture. Can you see the ‘Twinkie’ and the ‘bang, bang, bang, bang,; on the pedestal? Those referred directly to the assassination, along with the imprint of a gun on the backside. As a result, the bust was rejected by the City Council and not put in City Hall as expected. The other result was Robert Arneson and his art became known throughout California and the nation.

I was at the start of graduate school at San Jose State University and learning about the fantastic artists that practiced in Northern California. There are already two of them in this series, Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn. And another was Robert Arneson.



Robert Arneson, 1930 – 1992


Arneson was a co-founder of the california ‘Funk Art’ movement of the 60s and 70s. He was not a painter but a sculptor using ceramics combined with non-traditional objects. He was breaking the mold of what ceramics should be by moving away from functionality and creating political, social, artistic and personal statements driven by his personality, aesthetics and beliefs.


I thought about not putting a photograph of him in the article because, well, here… take a look at who his subject matter most often is.


kiln Man

Kiln Man



‘Pic’, 1980, Lithograph. Photo courtesy of Rob Corder



‘Brick Bang, 1976



‘Head Lamp’, bronze with wood and bulb, 1992


Humor as Social Commentary

Obviously you can see he is very funny and works that humor into his art. But it’s more than just silly humor. It’s using humor as satire, and farce to make a statement about the social and moral issues of his time.  He is in that long tradition in art that reaches all the way back to Honore Daumier in France, through to William Hogarth in Britain and on to Thomas Nast in America to name a few.  Satirical art that pushed the powers that be by lampooning them has continued into the present day of course, with it’s most tragic manifestation being in the murders of the staff of Charlie Hebdo by Islamic terrorists in France in January, 2015.

It takes courage to make fun of people for a reason, and Arneson didn’t shy away from it. But, as with the great satirical artists before him, he often wasn’t pointing so much at a particular person as he was using that person as an example of a larger corruption, a more widespread idiocy in society or morals.


Colonel Hyena, ceramic on metal base, 1985


Hiroshima Urn

Hiroshima Urn


Nuclear Warhead, 1984

Nuclear Warhead, 1984


'Primary Discharge', 1990, earthenware and glaze

‘Primary Discharge’, 1990, earthenware and glaze


Upending the Classical

He also liked upending the aesthetics of the classical.  To do this he literally just did it. He took something classical, a column. And upended it by adding a head on top, on bottom, falling off, etc.  Of course the head in all these cases was his own.



Pedestals, 1992, Bronze, UC San Francisco



Big Laughs, Ceramic



Temple of Fatal Laffs – detail



 Egg Heads

Towards the end of his life Arneson started doing a series that seemed more melancholy and universal, the ‘egg head’ series.  They are more of a meditation on life and death than anything else, and it makes sense that they would be as Arneson was by this time diagnosed with cancer and was struggling with these monumental issues.







See No Evil, Hear No Evil (Egghead series), 1989, UC Davis


And More

As with any prolific artist there are a lot more pieces you won’t ever see than that you will see. Here are some others I thought worthy of your attention.


Wolf Head (Jackson Pollack), 1989, Bronze and Redwood



Sinking Brick, 1966, terracotta



Brick Bang, 1976



Golden Rod, 1969, Luster Glazed Ceramic



Benicia Bench, 1991, Bronze


Courage of the Artist

What I appreciated about Arneson more than anything else was his determination from early on to be truly himself. What I mean is he withstood pressure to be a classic ceramic artist, to be serious, to be socially active the way others had been before him. But those things weren’t him and he knew it. He stated in his life and in his work, ‘This is who I am and what I do.  These are my creations done as I see fit.’  Which is, after all, the essential job description of an artist.


To learn more about Arneson and his art world, you can use these resources: 

San Francisco Chronicle – Obituary

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – Interview and interactive show

UC Davis – ‘Serious Idea Behind That Humor

Funk Ceramics

More Artists

You can read about the other artists by clicking on my ‘Artists I Love‘ series at the top of the page.



Writing by Marty Coleman

Artwork by Robert Arneson

Some artwork photographed by Rob Corder.  You can see a much larger collection of Arneson’s work at Corder’s flickr page as well as extensive photographs from many art museums.