Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The First Door

     Let me be direct, just as she was.  Sue Raine shoved me through the “art road” door.  It wasn’t sweet and tender like your mother on that first day of school.  But neither was she the drill sergeant barking me over the wall.  She was a smart, discerning lady who recognized the scared reluctance of a “gifted” artist who was trying to decide which road to take.
     Here’s our story:  It was 1995, and I had gathered my new art tools, built an art booth (Big mistake!  See previous post), and jumped into the first show that would have me.  It was a travelling, class B western mess whose first stop was Arlington, Texas.  “Best of the West” has a nice ring to it, but nothing about it could claim the title of “Best”.
     I had painted 17 new originals and priced them based on my perception of how they’d turned out.  The second day of the show started like the first day ended…. Dismal.  No traffic and no interest in my work.  But all that was about to change!
     Late in the afternoon, a larger than life redhead and her sidekick, Charline Haynes, strolled into my booth and screamed at the top of their lungs, “Oh, my God, it’s ‘Cowboy Prayer’!”   You should know that my marketing plan for this show consisted of a 1/16th page ad in Southwest Art magazine of a painting titled “Cowboy Prayer”.  Do you think it was coincidence that this small ad, buried in the back of Southwest Art, was the impetus for our meeting?  I don't!  God sent her to me that day, and she was just what I needed.
Late Day, Long Shadows
      In the meantime, all my synapses were firing.  These two must be looking for a different artist.  Then the strangest thing happened.  The Redhead moves to the center of my booth and strikes a pose.   She leans back on her heels, folds her arms across her chest and proceeds to evaluate each painting.  She narrows it down to two.  It’s between “Cowboy Prayer” and “Late Day, Long Shadows”. 
     You ask how I remember?  I remember because this is the day that I was launched by my first customer, who would become my good friend.   She bought “Late Day, Long Shadows”, but those words … “Oh my God, it’s Cowboy Prayer!” …  are still as fresh in my mind today.  We would laugh about it over a hundred dinners in the coming years.
     My next artistic endeavor soon followed; a private showing at her home, with additional support from Charline.  The two of them came together as a set, much like dueling pistols.  When they decided on a course of action, you better get out of their way!  The result was a night I’ll never forget.  We had a most successful show and I sold nine original paintings that night.   I’m not sure even they thought it was possible.
     Looking back, I see that Sue Raine did for me what no one else had. She gave me the art baton and said, “GO!” I could never repay her for such an unselfish, generous gift.  She became much more than my First Collector.  She became a friend.  We spent nights on her deck, or huddled around the fire pit at her daughter’s home, laughing until we cried about her antics and excesses. 
My friend, Sue Raine
     There was the time she and Charline battled the wilderness with a 2-foot long Summer Sausage and a snub-nosed .38.  There was also the time she fell off a ladder setting up the world’s largest collection of Christmas villages, and broke her nose and received two black eyes.  The best story is about the time she thought she was putting eye drops in her eyes, but ended up gluing them shut with nail glue. Pam and I got talked into making hundreds of sandwiches at the Round Rock Blue Grass Festival … (“C’mon!  It will be fun!”).  We joined her in celebrating her 2-year-old grandson Jake doing championship swan dives off her queen-sized headboard in her HUGE bedroom.  Life was a party!
     Unfortunately, we only had a small window to meet and spend time with Miss “Larger Than Life”.  She said she wanted to cross life’s finish line sliding across at full speed, laughing and out of money, because she would have lived the life she wanted.  You know what?  She did just that.  She had survived an earlier bout with breast cancer, but this time it would attack her brain.  She left this world on May 1, 2002 and it hasn’t been the same since.
     One of the blessings she left us is the friendship we have forged with Sue’s daughter and son-in-law.  Our relationship with Deanne and Shawn is the legacy of that first loud connection in Arlington, Texas, seven years prior.
     I often think about what she would think of my career, and what advice she would give me.  But there isn’t a time that I don’t sit at a fire pit and think of the good times we had, and that I don’t secretly thank her for kicking me through that door.  And something tells me she hears me.

Tomorrow I will post the story of "Cowboy Prayer" and you can meet the instrument of our fateful meeting and ensuing friendship.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.


  1. Mark, Wow you make the story come alive and boy was Sue alive. I wrote my first story about her funeral and what an amazing day that was. I have written (still in progress) the story of our adventure, lost in the Pecos Wilderness. I have told and retold the story of the "Art Party," and she was so generous to do that. I remember her call, "I am having a party for Mark to launch his career, what day can y'all be here to do it?" She had a million jobs lined out for Jim but Sue and I got to have the fun of decorating and doing the food and best of all becoming good friends with you and Pam. It is one of the blessings of our lives and we love you both very much. You and Pam and your character are above reproach and it was our honor to be involved in a tiny way with your lives. Charline

  2. Mark, One little thing (unless you were Sue) when she fell off the ladder she didn't do it in a small way, i.e. broken nose. It was a broken pelvis and had her laid up for months. There are many bizarre happenings with that too, only Sue!

  3. First of all, it has NOT been a tiny way, in which you have influenced our lives. You are forever a part of the Beginning, and we are grateful for all the memories and the times we get to be with you and Jimmy. It's just never enough! So we are looking forward to the next time you're in Texas. Just give us the word, and we'll be there! Love you, too!

  4. I didn't know you had a blog! I am putting you in my blogroll right now!

    Great post. The thing Deanne and I will always remember about that first art show at Sue's, is the minute we walked in, she and Charline proceeded to add turquoise jewelry, cowboy hats, ect. to our outfits. It was a great night!

    Love to you and Pam from Teri and Scott!

  5. What a gift this story is to me! Thank you for honoring that crazy lady, Sue! You did so very eloquently and with love and humor! She gave me my first push in life, too. She gave me 48 hours of pushes; literally! She gave birth to me after 48 hours of labor.

    Oh, and one more thing about the 'broken nose, broken pelvis, falling off the ladder' incident. She decided to quit running for County Commissioner since she was going to be out of commission due to her injuries. However, even without campaigning, she still received 30% of the vote on election day!

    Shawn and I are blessed beyond imagination to have you and Pam as friends. You are the Godparents to Jake, the mentors to Ben and the encouragers to Ally! You inspire Shawn and me and you build life into our kids. You will never know how much we love you!

    I'm thankful for that Redhead that brought us together.

  6. What a wonderful story - enhanced by the comments of the other characters in it! Sue certainly came to life and I regret having never known her. She sounds like just my kind of woman! Y'all were lucky indeed to have her in your lives.

  7. Linda, you would very much have liked Sue! She loved to laugh and was always looking for an "adventure". Much like yourself!