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Part 64: Wild Riley Shepard: A Memorial

Today is Sunday, February 7th. I heard something the other day about how when a death toll reaches a certain number, people begin to check out a bit. It doesn't mean as much to the public as it does when a single person dies, or an entire family dies in a freak accident. When the deaths reach into the hundreds, and then thousands, people cannot absorb it. Perhaps that is happening now. One of my college friends lost her mother to COVID, a Seattle friend we know from the theater just said her husband is ill, even though in both cases, the people who caught the virus were extremely careful. More and more people I know are getting vaccinated. My husband has his second shot on Valentine's Day.

My friend and business partner died on Friday morning, and I'm reeling from the news. She had cancer. I haven't seen her in over a year, our communication was all by texting. This morning, my friend Jules called, she'd just heard the news, and was shocked. Our friend was young and we didn't expect to lose her. It was nice to hear a friend's voice, her thoughts, and her memories.


I wanted to give blog number 64 some texture and color, and thanks to an artist in town, we have that.

Below are several photos of a 3-D painting by Seattle artist Carla Elise. She titled it "Wild Riley Shepard." Before she began the 3-D creation, Carla wanted to know stories about my Dad. I told her about his cooking and baking skills, how Riley loved making cinnamon rolls and pies from scratch. I spent hundreds of hours watching old movies with Riley, and he would tell me stories about the actors; Divorces, marriages, affairs; which artists came from wealthy families, and who grew up dirt poor, which artists were blacklisted during the McCarthy years, who turned other artists in.

Riley loved his Corona typewriter, unless the black, ribbony tape got tangled, then he'd say "shhhhhhhhhit" drawing out the S and the H like he was shushing someone with a rage. I grew up in a cloud of his cigar smoke, and I'm pretty sure this lung x-ray I had to have years ago shows the impact. His chosen brand was Sante Fe (the big ones...I don't think they make them anymore, but Carla found an old box on eBay and glued it on the canvas). Dad’s talent for making “smoke rings” blew my mind as a little girl. I was easily pleased back then.

Once, when I was five years old, I was curious about how many numbers there were, and asked Dad to count until “the end of numbers." He counted for a while, then paused. I’m sure he was sick of my pestering, but he didn’t show it. He said something about infinity which I couldn't grasp. I begged him to keep counting, so he did for a while longer, to humor me. Finally, he said, "and it goes on like that."

Carla placed little numbers in the smoke rings to honor that memory, and painted some of his stage names around the cigar box, which opens to Riley performing on stage. He pops out of a cream pie, smiling and ready to play his guitar.

I cried my fucking eyes out when she first showed me.

To the left is a bride, clinging to a shadowy figure on the move. Carla used real fabric for her veil. Detail, below.

When the cigar box opens, Carla pasted a few of his stage and pen names inside.

Below is a detail of the top of the cigar box with a quote.

"When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained."-- Mark Twain

I'm going to take a break from weekly posts, and only write when I find out something new. I should also go back and find all my typos (yikes. Tedious). I’ll also continue fact checking myself. Sorry about repeats, I write to understand and sometimes it takes a minute. I hope you enjoyed this mini-art show and memorial.


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