This blog describes the process and inspirations for the creation of Kanika Marshall's mixed media sculptures.
| 11 March, 2015 05:41
MY FRIEND LEE
Written by Kanika Marshall, March 2015
The Truth: Every person we encounter has the potential to change the quality of our lives. Leland Stanford Roberts Jr. is one of those people for me. In fact, he is one of the most interesting people I have had the privilege to know. I met Lee in about 2000 at an Elk Grove Artists meeting. He was often the only man in a room of about 40 women artists. He certainly stood out, not only because he was always dressed in the art he made, or that he often brought in unusual artwork he created, but also because he always had a joke to tell, or something smart or salacious to say to the ladies. Lee Roberts is a character! I always looked forward to seeing him at those periodic meetings, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I allowed myself to spend more time with him. Now I feel compelled to share a few of my observations about Lee on the following pages (click More).
The Age is Only a Number: On November 6, 2014, Lee turned 95 years of age. Remove any stereotypical ideas you might have about 95-year olds. Lee still spews forth one-liners like he's on stage at the comedy club. And as shown here, he is always careful about how he presents himself to the world. Quick of wit, full of imagination and artistic creativity, with a little bit of lechery thrown in for spice, my friend Lee always makes me smile.
The Artist: Lee has never believed deep down that he is an artist. However, he is one of the most prolific artisans using a wide variety of media that I know. His fingers are rarely still, always wanting to try a new technique or media type. His artwork has been featured in several one-man shows at The Meadows and The Carlton, and in several group shows. Here are a few examples of his artistic interests:
1) The Jeweler: Intricate patterns and colors are front and center in Lee’s Native American-style, beadwork necklaces and earrings. He claims to have started beading after he retired from his State service job to care for his ailing wife. To pass the time, he taught himself how to do the beading, using “You Bead It” books of patterns. He would give the jewelry to his sister to sell or to friends as gifts. For many years, he also donated jewelry to the Elk Grove Artist monthly raffles. Even at the age of 95, he can whip a pair of earrings out in a day!
2) The Encaustic Painter: In around 2003, Lee started asking me about how to do encaustic painting. “What’s that?” everybody asked. Ten years later encaustic artwork had become all the rage, but Lee was ahead of the curve in finding out about how to use colored waxes (and sometimes metal and other objects) to make interesting art pieces.
3) The Metalsmith: "Just dig a hole and do what?" When it was Lee’s turn to do a show and tell of his artwork at monthly Elk Grove Artist meetings, he would often point to his pewter belt buckle that he had made himself. "All you have to do," he said, "is dig a hole in the ground and pour some melted metal in it." Each month, Lee would show us unique and fabulous belt buckles, bolos, or pendants he made from pewter that he had melted down and inset with various stones. I marveled at the various ways he would make a mold by carving a shape in a wooden board with a Dremel tool, and pouring molten metal in, with the result of making some really cool statues and jewelry.
4) The (Faux) Stained Glass Artist: Doing true stained glass costs a lot of money and requires some specialized tools. Instead, Lee plays with a product called Gallery Glass which is a kind of viscous transparent or opaque liquid in a bottle that you can squeeze onto glass to look like stained glass.
5) The Painter: Acrylic, watercolor, felt pen, and/or pastel, Lee utilizes whatever he has close at hand to achieve the designs in his work. You will often see geometric patterns, abstract forms, and Native American symbolism in his work. And many of his paintings are accompanied by a story or two.
6) The Sculptor: Using wood, decorated with beads and abalone shells, Lee carves mask forms - which originally lined the walkway of his Elk Grove house and now serve as sentinels above his kitchen cabinets. In fact, I was able to purchase one of his totems that was intricately carved from an old fence post.
7) The Woodcarver: When Lee pruned a tree in years past, he often would carve some of the remnants into sculptures. For example, branches removed from a tree could become a peace pipe, after the addition of leather and/or beads. Lee would sometimes carve wood with Chinese or Native American symbols, accompanied with a story he had written about how he found the amazing artifact in a hollow tree. Also, he made most of his picture frames from recycled wood from an old fence.
The Benefactor: Lee is an art patron who has been instrumental in supporting the growth and expansion the Elk Grove Fine Arts Center, located in Old Town Elk Grove. He is esteemed as the lovable, but sometimes naughty, grand daddy of Elk Grove arts. Even though he has never thought of himself as an artist, he has always been a good sport with my prodding him to enter his artwork into various Elk Grove art shows over the years.
The Ladies Man. Lee likes the ladies. Any female who is been around Lee knows this is true. White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, it does not matter. Lee is a forward, exceedingly complimentary, silver-tongued devil, who is sometimes a bit lecherous. He verbally enters a woman's space a bit more than is sometimes comfortable, but it is usually in a joking fashion. Lee likes the ladies. He is happily able to use his current difficulty walking as a convenient reason to seek a lady's arm, and if there are too few chairs in a room, he is always willing to let a lady sit in his lap. He is very giving that way. My mother always warned me to stay away from that man, but the last few years I just decided that he's more interesting than potentially harmful (besides I can always run fast if I have to! Smile).
The Storyteller: What stories Lee will tell! Any conversation is ripe for his quick wit. He always has a story to tell about seemingly any occasion. When his wife was ill in the 1980s and 1990s, he retired from state service in 1980, after 31 years of service, to take care of her. In his free time he wrote compelling stories. All kinds of stories. Reams and reams of stories. No matter the topic, his stories were always imaginative, compelling, persuasive and interesting. But were they real? It was really hard to tell what was real and what was made up. My personal favorite was a short story he wrote about a little girl in Timboctu named Kanika. Oddly enough, when put on the spot and asked to recount a funny story, he generally cannot think of anything to say!
Here is a story which he wrote as a teenager, in the 1930s. Those of you who know Lee now understand that he has always been a real ladies man:
Here is one of Lee's shortest stories:
The Native American: Is he or isn't he? Many of Lee's adult writings and artwork have a Native American bent to them, including: ancient spirituality, animals, and Native American names and words and traditions, which are often part of a goodly number of his written works. So even though he didn't know much about his father's family beyond his grandfather, Lee just knew, deep down, that he had Native American blood from his mother's family. Looking at his artwork, jewelry, and writings, one could surmise that he is absolutely channeling an old Native American soul. Here are examples of hand-painted images that Lee colored from black and white pictures of Native Americans shown in a shop catalog.
The Genealogist: So does Lee have Native American blood? We sought to prove it by getting him a DNA test in 2014. When the test results came back to my house, I privately took a quick peek and gasped with horror. I suspected Lee would be devastated with the news that, according to DNA research, he has zero percent Native American DNA, 53% from west Europe, 22% from Ireland, 18% from Great Britain, and 7% from south and east Europe. To help lessen the blow, I took it upon myself to immediately start an Ancestry.com account for Lee and quickly started researching his father's genealogy. I wanted to have several generations of information available for him when I revealed his potentially disappointing DNA results. Glory be! His genealogical record goes well beyond what he ever imagined! We found SO MANY generations beyond his father’s father! In fact, one of his ancestors was the very first Governor of New Hampshire, another was a Lord in England, and his 28th great-grandfather was Richard de Normandie, who lived from 933-996. Lee and I spent many, many days researching his genealogy and reading about his famous ancestors. On his bedroom door, he shows a lengthy family tree:
Lee even made paintings of his family crests found from our genealogical research. It was all so exciting!
Deep down, I think Lee knows the DNA test is wrong and the old ancestors course through his veins. Just look at his beautiful grandmother who appears to look a bit Native American:
The Master Speaker: A member of Toastmasters of America for many years, Lee used word smithing skills honed his whole life in his speeches. His audiences are always swept away by his verbalizations. My favorite speech was about computers. His first experience at public speaking was at the age of 17 in 1937, at the rotunda of the San Francisco City Hall. Crowds were gathered there for the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Lee was interviewed about his opinions on this momentous event.
My favorite of Lee’s Toastmasters speeches was on the marvels of computer technology. He toted in a brown paper bag filled with a list of computer-oriented jargon and some special props and then went into his speech:
1. I showed a TV tray for the "laptop".
2. A "tablet" is from the dimestore and (holding up a pencil) is a "stylus".
3. A "cell phone" was a phone used by the sheriff that he took and plugged in from cell to cell.
4. The only "web site" I know is from a duck's foot.
5. I asked the post office for “email stamps”.
6. I called the weather bureau to find out how to buy a “cloud.”
7. I bought a bag of "cookies" from the bakery (holding up cookies).
8. I was told I needed some goggles. The man who told me must have been a foreigner because he pronounced it "Googles."
9. I got a supply of "Apps" from the employment agency.
10. I refuse to climb the telephone pole to get "on line".
11. "Eye Pod"? I couldn't find any, so I bought pea pods.
12. I held up a package of blueberries, because I couldn't find any "blackberries".
13. I went to the junkyard, but they only had six windows. I had to go back the next week for two more so I could have “8 Windows”.
14. "Streaming music"? I was sitting on the side of a stream listening to music.
15. I refused to dye one of my teeth blue ("bluetooth")
The Mason / American Legionaire / Shriner: For most of his adult life, Lee has been a longtime member of several philanthropic (and mystical/secret) organizations. But he doesn't talk about many details (Darn it!) I found it interesting that Lee has two Mason brothers in common with me; both of them worked for the California Highway Patrol, directly with me. Small world!
The Boyfriend: Lee tries to be somewhat mindful that I have a boyfriend. He often invites me to wine tasting on Saturdays, or quips that I shouldn’t write the time I leave his room on the Visitor Register (perhaps to infer that I didn’t leave his room), or invites me to dinner. He voices that “Oh, ‘The Boyfriend’ probably wouldn’t like that.” Sometimes I bring “The Boyfriend” to events that Lee attends and it’s so funny to see each eye the other. One time, “The Boyfriend” confessed that he had a disturbing dream in which Lee was getting altogether too close to me…Lee enjoyed that revelation!
The President of the Resident Council: In December 2012, Lee moved into the Carlton Plaza and soon thereafter was voted President over the Resident Council for two years. Instead of being a micro-managing overseer, he chose to nominate several residents to head up various committees, such as: diningroom/food issues, personal care and welcoming new residents; they would report their findings directly to Lee and he would discuss issues and recommendations with Carlton management. Mr. Roberts certainly carried a lot of clout - whether he wanted to or not!
The Techie: Once most people achieve their elder years, they shy away from new technologies. Not Lee! He heard that 68% of today’s jobs will be defunct in the future, so he feels learning new things is the only way to go. He has not been too afraid to try to learn how to use a cell phone, a desktop computer and now a tablet device. I wrote step-by-step instructions on how to use these technologies. Lee and I have spent many interesting sessions in front of a desktop or his new AARP "RealPad" Tablet (below), working on his genealogy, reading his email, or doing research on the Internet.
The Card Shark: Even though Lee tries to maintain his privacy and independence, he rarely shies away from a good Texas Hold’em poker game. His friend, Big John, indicates that Mr. Roberts is quite the card shark. Lee acknowledges that he will chew you up if you show any weakness in card playing!
The Californian: Lee was born in Los Angeles in 1919. He spent many of his formative years near Napa, San Francisco Bay area and Mendocino County, before moving to Elk Grove with his wife in 1962.
Lee Father Mother
Lee's parents and siblings, circa 1940. Lee is 4th from the left.
The Historian: Particularly interested in anything Native American, Lee has become well-versed with using the internet and other reference sources to research the history of Native Americans, particularly in California, but also in the United States. His latest treatise is entitled “Who Discovered America?” It is clear that Christopher Columbus did NOT “discover” America. Lee is putting together speeches for Toastmasters that will suggest that it was the Minoans, or perhaps
The Investigator: Lee started working for the Board of Equalization in 1949, promoting up through the ranks to Principal Compliance Supervisor II. For many years he was responsible for ensuring that businesses in the State of California followed the rules and regulations of the Board. This career required him to travel several times a week with field investigators to collect taxes from businesses, as well as training underling investigators in doing the job ethnically (i.e., no kickbacks from businesses) and properly (within the law).
The Clothes Make the Man: Lee does not leave his room without ensuring that he looks his best. His shirts are pressed, attractive colors, always tucked into his pants, face shaved, hair cut, etc. But what makes Lee really stand out is his art that he wears. Bolo ties, belt buckles, and special hats, Lee is always the fashion plate. So it is inconceivable to understand that he maintains that he used to have to wear his older sister Betty's hand-me-downs. See Lee on the left in his white "kilt" from Betty on the right (or maybe they were just cross-dressers?):
Now we know why clothes are so important to him!
The Caretaker: Lee married his wife, Rylma, in 1953. He was working for the Board of Equalization and she was a schoolteacher, last working in the Elk Grove School District. When she became ill, he retired in 1980, after 31 years of State service, to take care of her full-time. During the many years of her illness, he took one of their three bedrooms as his office, bought a word processor, and began writing numerous short stories. He would print out his stories at night when he had hoped his wife was sleeping (the rat-a-tat-tat of the printer was quite loud, though, and sometimes unnerved his wife). It was during this care-taking period when he taught himself how to create jewelry and paint.
The Ticker: When your ticker doesn't tick right, it really messes up a good thing! If Lee's heart and lungs would allow, he would be just as active as ever at the age of 95. It has been very hard for me and his friends to see his body forcing him to slow way down. But his mind is still sharp as a whip and he rarely complains about his significant difficulties in breathing and walking. Because there is not much the doctors can do to alleviate these many problems - without making any one of them worse - he muscles through each day with as much grace and humor as possible.
NOTE: new nurses need to be “schooled” about Lee’s penchant for teasing the ladies!
The Conclusion: I would love to do a complete biography on this interesting man and publish his literary works, but this short writeup may whet your appetite for the next edition.
Written by: Kanika Marshall, March 2015