Dick Wray is one of the artists on this city project that is taking so much of my time. His design was completed just a month or two before his death and we are about to begin fabrication of the work. But Dick won't see it finished. He won't be there when Mayor Parker cuts the ribbon in early summer.
Earl gave the eulogy and every time he practiced, his words brought tears to my eyes. So there was that too. There were other speakers. All the the old guys. We are truly getting old, aren't we? Or getting close to 'old'. Richard Stout opened the service. Bill Camfield spoke. David Brower and Jim Edwards spoke. And then it was my turn, right before Earl's eulogy, which by the way was delivered with force and grace and humor. This is the second eulogy that Earl has given for a good friend within a year's time. That has to be hard.
I was on the program because Dick Wray's wife Beth asked me. I am the one who can talk about Dick's final work - that big four-story civic art piece that he designed and will never see complete (though he may see it from another dimension). This final and very public work is Dick Wray's only civic art commission and was a very good thing to tell folks about. The work is something that everyone at the service can look forward to.
The Rothko Chapel holds 200 people and was crowded with every seat taken. We played our parts and Dick's life was remembered all the way back to the 1960s. We listened as his son Robert told about growing up in his father's household and spoke of the things that his father taught him. "Always push yourself. Think way outside the box."
I thought about my daughters again, because hearing Richard and Bill speak reminded my of carpooling days when Anne, Ginny and I divied up days and times, each driving six kids with no seat belts over to the the UH lab pre-school.
The years go by. Now my daughters drive my grandchildren to preschool and first grade. With seat belts.
What does Dick Wray's memorial service have to do with car pools and feelings of melancholy? With my daughters and grandchildren?
Not much, except it is life, passing by with each moment.
Here is what I said this afternoon:
For the record, I cannot speak from the same perspective as all the others listed on the program. I didn’t know Dick Wray as they did.
I can only speak about the last twelve months. And as you can see, and as Beth said days ago, I also speak as the token woman in this service.
Almost a year ago, I made an appointment to talk with Dick Wray. I had an agenda, having been charged by Houston Arts Alliance and the City of Houston to gather artists to create civic art for an 80 year-old, four-story warehouse on the edge of downtown that the city is reclaiming for its new permitting center.
Dick’s piece was to be, and will be, the icon on the front of this repurposed building.
What I didn’t know last spring is that Dick had never accepted a public art commission from any governmental entity or institution.
What I knew, or felt, was the enormous energy in Dick’s paintings. They leap off the canvas or else they suck you right in.
Dick was the artist who could, and would, make a bold statement for this city building.
If he said YES.
And so, last May, I walked into his Heights home and found him reclining on a new king sized bed.
His wife Beth said, “I call that bed Dick’s office.”
I climbed up on the bed with my laptop and a rendering of the building.
Dick seemed interested and weeks later, the architect for the project, Bill Neuhaus, and I returned for a second meeting. This time, all three of us reclined on Dick and Beth’s bed with a huge roll of plans spread out among us.
I think Dick said yes to the project that day. I don’t know whether it was those meetings on the bed or a wish, at last, to make a big public statement.
What I do know is that Dick Wray was terrific to work with. He labored on the design all summer.
And when we saw his maquette and drawings in September, we were blown away. Dick’s design is the icon we hoped for. This public work will be four stories tall with the force of his painting rendered in laser cut black steel. You’ll see it from the freeway as you bend around downtown Houston.
It IS a ‘piece of work’. And Houston is lucky to call this work and Dick Wray our own.