Stalking en Plein Air

A chocolate-fueled ninja expedition leads to an unlikely encounter... A lot of you knew Poole as a serious man with passionate beliefs and a driving vision. He was that, for sure, but he was also keen to play, with a wicked sense of humor and an enormous, infectious laugh. He rarely let his playful side out except for his closest friends, but when he did, you knew you were in the presence of genius. Nutso, perhaps, but genius nonetheless. I'm glad to say that I was his life-long Huckleberry.

On one of Dad's visits to New York, I suggested we go to SoHo and knock around some of the galleries.  He got sick of seeing large white canvases and uniform lumps of sculpture, so I took him to one of my favorite chocolate joints, Jacques Torres.  This place is, for NYC, the Palace of Chocolate. Handmade, devilishly good.

Dad being a lifelong foodie (he would actually grunt like a water buffalo when he ate something that pleased him), we had to sample just about everything; the dark, spicy hot chocolate as thick as pudding, gold-leafed truffles, chocolate ice cream sandwiches made of chocolate chocolate chip cookies - you get the idea.  We GORGED on chocolate.

Taken shortly after the encounter. Apple Store selfies.
Taken shortly after the encounter. Apple Store selfies.

An hour later, we were both on a sugar rush that would've killed a diabetic. We got into one of our giggly, collusive moods, which we did often, but this one was fueled by sugar, so it was hysterical.   Skipping down the street, past stilletoed women and well-groomed men, without words, we decided we were spies.

We started hiding behind cars and trying to spook each other. We were playing, and it was glorious. If you've never seen a short round man shaking with laughter as he's trying to hide behind a light pole, I encourage you to imagine the scene.

After just a few minutes of confusing the people of SoHo, we spot a painter with his field box on Prince Street, and Dad's army instincts took over. He starts giving me hand signs that mean "KEEP EYES ON HIM! GO! OVER THERE! HIDE AND WAIT!" He does the same. So we start stalking this painter, both of us with wide eyes and insane smiles on our faces. Imagine cats stalking a paper sack.

In the meantime, the painter is calmly watching the sky while adding precise strokes of paint to his canvas. He was actually very good, which excited us all the more.

Guy had no idea what was coming.
Guy had no idea what was coming.

Dad ran his short legs quickly behind another light pole as I did the same.

Hearing a snort and heavy breathing, the painter turns around, and looks directly at Dad. Dad froze, wide-eyed, the remainder of an idiotic smile on his face.

The painter says "Poole?"

It was Gregg Kreutz, one of Dad's oldest painting friends, an immensely talented guy. He was painting a cityscape, and I will never forget the encounter. (Maybe someday I can afford to buy the piece he was working on!)

We both nearly peed our pants at the coincidence. Worlds collided, Dad's cover was blown, and we laughed about that story for years. He was around 67 at the time, and could still play like the best of 'em.

I think that's my lesson for this week. Playing is good for the soul, and can open you up to chance encounters. That, and chocolate can make the world a brighter place.

Hope you've enjoyed. More later.


Behind the Mask

"It must have been hard for you, to be this swirly, sensitive, Dionysic creative thing...stuffed into a John Wayne suit."

I said this to Dad at the end of March as he rested in his favorite old recliner; he was beginning to "head for the barn," and was sleeping constantly, but preferred to be in the living room rather than in his bed so that he could feel like part of the action.  I often rubbed his temples to soothe him, and our discussions during these periods will always stay with me.

In response to my musing, Dad grunted and grinned, mustering his strength to say, slowly, "honey, you have no idea."

This came to me today, fitting, as it marks the 4 month anniversary of Dad's one-way trip to Happy Mountain.  Masks were a recurring theme in Dad's work, and I've been doing a lot of thinking as to why.

Joseph Campbell wrote: “To become—in Jung’s terms—individuated, to live as a released individual, one has to know how and when to put on and to put off the masks of one’s various life roles."


Dad was born in Marlow, Oklahoma and raised in Bradley, Oklahoma, both small farming communities. With his own father out of the picture, Dad's views of what a man should be were fomented by the people around him. They worked hard, went to church, knew how to tell a good joke, protected their families and served their country. Life was hard, but simple by today's modern standards.  The community supported each other, and your roots were known by nearly everybody. Honesty, humility and a willingness to help others defined "a good man," the highest compliment. Only a few went on to college, and most stayed in the area all of their lives.

This is still a way of life in Oklahoma, and can produce some of the finest people you'll ever know.


During the late 1940's, Dad stumbled on an art "contest" on the back of a matchbook, advertised by the Art Instruction Schools. He sent in his submission and was accepted.

My Grandmother, a schoolteacher in a one-room school house, somehow scraped together around $300 to enroll him in the course, and he dedicated all of his free time to mastering the techniques sent to him.

A few years later, Dad went to the University of Oklahoma for a degree in art, because, in his words, he had "bailed enough hay." He graduated in 1957, entering the wide and fast world of advertising and suits and society. He moved to Virginia, briefly, to work in advertising, but homesickness got the better of him.

In Oklahoma, Dad was a powerhouse, creating one the state's leading advertising agency at the time, Poole-Hobbes, Inc.  He also created the Oklahoma Art Directors' Guild, and  some of the finest artists in the nation came to his home.  Dad hosted workshops with Fritz Scholder, and we have personal work given to him by Mark English and Bernie Fuchs. More importantly, Dad began to see artists living their lives through their art, and the allure was too great for him to ignore.

When I was around 4 years old, Dad got rid of the suit and crewcut, grew a beard, and bought OJ, his beloved orange Volkswagen camper. He began to study with R.V. "Dick" Goetz, a great painter, instructor and one of Dad's lifelong friends, and he began to live the life of an artist.

This departure was so far from his origins - where his closest friends were still on the farm, struggling with the demands of the land, Dad had an orange VW camper, a turquoise ring and flip flops. He painted naked ladies, went to crazy parties and argued incessantly about reforming politics and religion.


Dad struggled constantly with the man he had been raised to be and the man he was becoming. I think that struggle is what made him truly unique, but it also haunted him.  He couldn't embrace the "uppity" world of fine art, and yet he couldn't be satisfied with small town life. So he painted, and painted...and painted.


The O. Gail Poole Collection is Dad's diary of his most intimate thoughts, joys and struggles.  I hope to be able to find a place to host a retrospective, as it's extremely powerful to view the images that fueled one man's life.  Dad's work goes beyond the personal to represent, in a way, the masks with which we all struggle.

Dad was in the final stages of his cancer on Saturday, April 13.  Thanks to his friends, a Comanche elder came that morning to lead the most moving ceremony I have ever witnessed.

The day before, recognizing the signs, I called people from far and wide to come squeeze his hand, and they came. FedEx packages and letters had come pouring in from artists and admirers from the world over, and visits from some of the best people I'll ever know drowned the house in scotch and laughter. I read all of the letters and e-mails to Dad as I held his hand, and I played one of his personally curated CDs on my laptop next to his bed. (Damndest mix of Abba, Renee Fleming, Jesus Christ Superstar!, the Kings Singers, Dave Brubeck, Waylon & Willie, John Lennon and Charlie Poole, but I swear to you he recognized and responded to each one.)

On that day, each chapter of Dad's life was represented by at least one person, if not several, all knowing a side of him that only they could know. I wonder what it must have been like for him, for all of his masks to collide and mingle in such a real way.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon, "The Bradley Boys," the guys he had gone through grade school with, all came to visit Dad. They told stories and EJ, his high school hero and subject of many paintings and sketches, played guitar and sang to him.


At exactly the hour of evening when the sun painted its own masterpiece of uncapturable light, Dad became, as Campbell so eloquently put it, "a released individual," and all of the masks slid away.

O. Gail Poole Memorial Travel Fund

OGP&VanGogh-1991Travel is so much more than packing a case and going somewhere. The French for “travel” is “voyage,” which I believe describes it much better. Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Dad understood this and his extensive travels informed every aspect of his life and work. Each time he found himself feeling complacent, he planned another trip. My father was born in Oklahoma, and though he traveled the world extensively, he always returned to Norman. That's not nothin'.

OGP near Jackson Hole Wyoming - ca1996It was Dad's love of travel that made it important for me to begin the O. Gail Poole Memorial Travel Fund.  Norman artists should be afforded every opportunity to broaden their horizons. It is my hope that the fund will allow recipient artists to come back to Oklahoma with a new sense of perspective on her beauty and a deeper understanding of the world around them.

I began the fund with what I could afford, and I am encouraged and heartened that contributions continue to come in. As I am determined that this continue as an annual fund, The Norman Arts Council has created a page to donate online.  All donations are tax-deductible.  Too, once the O. Gail Poole Collection is fully documented and catalogued, I will donate portions of sales to ensure Oklahoma artists continue to have the opportunity to widen their perspectives and come back home to share those perspectives with us.

I imagine Dad would be both tickled beyond words and deeply humbled that his legacy could impact the lives of future generations of Oklahoma artists. For this round, 3 Norman artists of merit will be awarded $500 each for travel. If you are interested, you can download an application online; submissions are due August 30.

While I'm on the subject - no one becomes an artist because it will lead to riches. We do it because we are driven to creative expression. On being an artist, Dad was fond of saying “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

In America, it is difficult, if not at times seemingly impossible, to sustain a life in the arts without the patronage of people who believe the arts are necessary.  I personally would not have made it through college without scholarships and awards; in fact, to raise funds for my college trip to London with the OU Theatre Guild, Dad created limited edition, hand cast and painted Shakespeare cameos for me to sell. Only a few years after that, I toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company. You never know how far your help will go.

And why should we support the arts?  I can’t speak for the world-at-large, but for me the arts are important because they represent the human struggle to touch the divine, and they give us hope that, based on the strength of our response to art, that contact is possible. As support for this argument, I ask why some pieces of music move us to tears? Why leaps of dancers make us feel as though we can fly?  Why words on a page help us tap into a deeper understanding of ourselves? Why bits of pigment come together to give us a sense of longing or release? I think especially in modern society these moments are to be cherished, if not downright chased. Artists provide the material for these feelings.  We need to provide materials for the artists.

If that zinged you at all, please consider making a donation to the O. Gail Poole Memorial Travel Fund.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Norman for the support they have shown to me and my family during Dad’s illness and in the wake of his considerable loss. Norman is a special town because of its people, and I am so grateful that the community has institutions such as the Norman Arts Council, the University of Oklahoma and the Norman Transcript to support them by providing exposure to our artists.

Norman Transcript Article: Travel Fund Honors O. Gail Poole

Norman Arts Council