was March, still cold outside, but the spring ritual had
already begun in our home. David, my green thumb husband,
was preparing the seed trays with tender love. I was happy
that the gloomy winter was over, but the artist's joy
lay in the anticipation of what would bloom and grow as
subjects for his still lifes.
Trays of tomato, cucumber, cabbage, and other vegetable
seeds set in small containers were left covered near the
kitchen window, where they would receive plenty of light.
morning he uncovered the trays to look at the seeds' progress.
Often, as I was ready to take a bath, he would call me downstairs.
"Come, come, hurry up!" he would cry. Quickly, I
would put on my robe and run barefoot downstairs. "Look,
we have a birth. The baby cabbage is the first born!"
Flackman, portrait artist and student of the late Pietro Annigoni
of Florence, Italy, became a still-life painter when we moved
from New York City ot my mother-in-law's house on Long Island
after she lost her husband. It was then that David, changed
from Gucci wardrobe to K.M.'s jeans and for the first time
he held a spade, hoe, trowel and other garderner's tools.
His artist's hands became rough and calloused and his fingers
stiff, but he felt the need of physical effort. Didgging and
hoeing eased the pain of his father's death and calmed his
mind. He found truth in the saying: "Natura Artis Magistri"
(Nature is Master of Art), for when David finally returned
to the easel his soul and mind beheld the Creator's beauty
and he humbly painted what he had grown.
At last when the harvest time arrived, the best vegetables
did not enter my kitchen. They went as "divinities"
into his studio, where the artist painted their portraits.
His work was so realistic that it seemed as if he had breathed
onto the canvas. It was through nature, like St. Augusting's
"First Philosophic Way", that he found God. Cabbage,
eggplants, tomatoes poised in front of the artist who took
a long time to finish a painting, and they slowly died a natural
death -- old age -- but their beauty endured on David's canvases.
Among the many wonders in David's garden there was an eggplant
called Agora, which comes from Italy, and it has been defined
as the Platonic eggplant for its perfect shape. His Marmande
tomatoes are also visible in Louis Melendez's still life --
the 18th century Spanish painter, who inspired David to grow
and paint them -- and even the delicious Zucchini Tondi, which
the Incas originated in Peru, were among Flackman's specialities.
Going from David's vegetable garden to the flower beds was
a daily activity. David had painted his flowers -- roses,
peonies and lilies, but his interest in irises began while
visiting my family in Florence, Italy, where he admired the
Palazzo Pitti, Hugo Van Der Goes's painting, "Adorazione
dei Pastori", a triptych with a still life of irises.
beautiful flower, often mistaken for a lily, is Florence's
symbol, depicted in paintings as a red flower on a white background.
Back in the United States, David began his Iris garden. He
collected 150 irises of six different types from Italy and
Japan, which added to his gardening chores during the busy
summer season. David spent hours gardening while I sat inside
playing the piano. Whenever I received a phone call for him,
he would run inside with dirty feet and dirty hands and perhaps
not quite in the spirit of St. Francis, I would bless all
the gardeners, the painters, the birds, the seeds, the vegetables,
the rain and the sun!
my admiration for David endured, as I watched him work in
the garden and in his studio love and care.