Thursday, October 22, 2015

Jim West & Others

One of the lesser-known and seldom-seen aspects of being one of the official NAN photographers is the chance to get people.  When I heard of Jim's passing, a little bell started dinging in the back of my mind.  For all that I barely knew him, hadn't he given me... something... special... a good shot?... once?
I went back through hundreds of photos, and there he was.
Oh Jim.  It's after the first shock passes that the loss of you really starts to hurt.  How could anyone ever fill those boots?!?
At North American Nationals 2013, in Harrisburg:
Doing what he did so well,
And with that famous grin.
This one was good enough to zoom in on.
On a day when he manifestly had a million other more important things to do, when I aimed my camera at him he found time to give me a smile.
This is my own moment with Jim.
Any good photographer will tell you there are just some people who are kind to the lens.  They look good even if, as in this case, the photographer was excited, shall we say.

In the same batch of photos from NAN 2013 was this one.
I'm 99.9% sure that's Keith Bean.
Is it just a cruel coincidence, to have two rare fellows in the hobby taken, one after the other, and both way too soon?

Out of thousands of literary references and quotes on the subject of death, these two have risen into my awareness more than usual lately.  The "Cabby" is the driver of a hansom (horse drawn) cab.

"Now then, now then," came the Cabby's voice, a good, firm, hardy voice, "keep cool everyone, that's what I say.  No bones broken, anyone?  Good.  Well there's something to be thankful for straight away, and more than one would expect after falling all that way.  Now, if we've fallen down some new diggings -- as it might be for a new station on the Underground -- someone will come and get us out presently, see!  And if we're dead -- which I don't deny it might be -- well, you got to remember that worse things 'appen at sea and a chap's got to die sometime.  And there ain't nothing to be afraid of if a chap's led a decent life.  And if you ask me, I think the best thing we could do to pass the time would be to sing a 'ymn."
--- The Magician's Nephew, by C. S. Lewis (1955)

"The news of Farah's death to me was hard to take into my mind and very hard to keep there.  How could it be that he had gone away?  He had always been the first to answer a call.  Then after a while I recognized the situation:  more than once before now I had sent him ahead to some unknown place, to pitch camp for me there."
 --- Shadows on the Grass, by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)  (1960)

My thoughts travel backwards in time, across the hobby as I've known it, ranging all the way back to 1979.  Who else joins this elite company: gone too soon, that I knew?  The rest of this post will be a Retrospection, with the last 2 paragraphs about Jim.

Of course the first next name is Karen Grimm, 2011.  When I was emerging from my treatments she was facing her final challenge.  I don't have a picture of her or her work handy, but I do have a link.   Down on the second page is one portrait of this collector-artist, a giant of the hobby.

The Kirkpatricks, Vivian and Gaylene, of MN, were good customers of mine.  In 2008 I heard that Gaylene had suddenly fallen.  She was in her thirties.

In September 2007 came the news we had lost Judy Renee Pope.  Digging through my 4 shoeboxes of [actual film] photographs, I came across this:
It's Joujouka the Moroccan Barb, wearing TSII #117.5!!  Judy had bought this saddle from me back in 1984, discovered much later I'd never numbered it (the only saddle unearthed so far that I'd missed), and sent me a picture.  The back of this still carries their handwritten Missouri address.  Paula, of course, is responsible for this heartwarming (and very long) tribute page for Judy:

In October of 2003, Shirley Ketchuck made the difficult decision to leave us.  While I could not find a picture of her (and I remember her very well, her hair in silver beads crowned), I did pull out some photos I had taken in 1994, at BreyerFest.  You collectors of 'Sailor' out there:  She had the idea long ago, and the skill to make it happen.
These are all repaints by her.
It so happened that the silver dapple Running Stallion passed through my hands.
Shirley's skill was awe-inspiring.  A couple of years later I commissioned a Copper Dapple Running Foal from her.  I received amoung others this photo:
Those were her own Decorator Foals, but I still have the Copper foal shown on the left.  Shirley has a fitting tribute in the Perpetual Memorial Collector Class; I am jealous.

Going back further, to the late 90s, memories getting a little misty now!, I recall Dick Eighmey the vehicle maker (not technically 'taken too soon' as he was an old man) whom I knew and had done business with; and an episode in the Holiday Inn, probably in the 2000s, featuring "Lynn's older sister," with Candy Evans and Eleanor telling me about it.  That was my first time experiencing someone's death during BreyerFest.

 Somewhere in the late 2000s (definitely misty memory) Dave Blenkey passed on.  He was also an elderly man with whom I had done business.  Again I found pictures in my shoeboxes.  Who or what was Dave Blenkey of Nordwain in England?  This:
To my uttermost astonishment, I actually found a picture of Dave.
The Draft Show Cart in front of us was the one I had just purchased from him.  This was taken at the Hobby Information Booth at BreyerFest.  (That's me.)
Thank you, Robin.

Now I have reached the middle to early 1990s.  Somewhere deep in time was the loss of Sue Rowe's infant son, definitely "taken too soon."  A faint memory was the loss of sculptress Linda Lima's husband in the early 90s.  Further back, in the early 80s, in AZ, Patty Brannan lost her mother -- on the day Patty was hosting a show I was attending.  This was my first acquaintance with death in any form in the hobby.  My grandmother, with whom I was staying that week, steadied me in a rare display of deeper emotional support. 

But the pioneering name, leader here for me as in so many other things, is Marney Walerius.  I had gone to her shows, spoken with her, exchanged written letters with her and sold tack to her.  First to invent much of our hobby, she was the first denizen of it I knew personally to die:  again, "too soon," in 1992, in her 40s.  Here is a link to a thumbnail history of Marney:   Many early issues of Just About Horses have pictures of her, and articles written by her.  I have a complete collection of this magazine; and yes, those letters from Marney.

In Retrospect, for me, Jim West was unique, even amoung a hobby filled with one-of-a-kind people.  Some of these are artists of staggering talent (Judy, Shirley, Dave); others were collectors (Karen) or showers (Keith).  But Jim, like Marney, appears to me to have been a rarer talent: he was a large-scale enabler.  I hesitate to call him an administrator (a dirty word in my house, as we suffer from bad ones) and yet I think that's one term for someone who heleps with the legwork, working behind the scenes arranging and organizing events, so that others may enjoy them.
He stepped up and seemed to cheerfully and quickly take on an enormous job, fitting right in with amazing speed.  Words can't really describe a personality.  My sense of his ability, instant comfort, reliability and understanding and connecting with the hobby is what I will miss most --- I who was just another casual acquaintance to him.  Rest easy, Jim, wherever you are soaring.


  1. Yes, that is indeed a picture of Keith. Thank you so much for sharing your pictures and memories. I think Jim would be absolutely delighted with the title of "enabler." I can just picture him grinning wickedly at the thought. He will be so missed.

  2. I'm not a collector. I was looking for information on David Blenkey because I just found (thrown away!!) a beautifully crafted wooden cart with the name D R Blenkey stamped on the main underside crossbeam. I thought it might be of interest. The cart was hitched to a china horse but the horse was badly damaged after the whole assembly was thrown into a rubbish bin.

  3. Hi Mr Paul, Your report is of interest! both cart and horse. Email me, with pictures if you've got them, at (see my profile on this page). Most pieces by Dave Blenkey would be worth repairing.