Chance Encounters

Header image – Washer Women by Barrington Watson 1966 via Wikiart

Today’s post comes from Plain Jane

When I think of the people who have had a lasting impact on my life, most of them are folks who were, or are, a steady presence in my everyday existence.

On several occasions, however, my life was impacted in a major way by a chance meeting, a short interlude. I have written about two of them, briefly, before on this blog: Bob Dean and Barry Watson. Both Bob and Barry had a far greater influence on my life than the short time we spent together would seem to justify, and for very different reasons.

I met Barry at a small cafe in Basel my roommate, Annette, and I often visited.   I don’t recall the details of why or how Barry and I started talking, but we did. By the time Annette and I left that evening, I had learned that he was a painter who had been studying a couple of years in London and Amsterdam, and that he was on his way to Madrid for a few months before returning to his native Kingston, Jamaica. As Annette and I were getting ready to leave, Barry asked if I’d be interested in meeting him the following afternoon; he wanted to visit the Basel Art Museum and show me some of his favorite works.  I said why not, and agreed to meet him on a bridge close to where I lived and worked, and not far from the museum.

I had never before had a conversation with a black person, so I was both fascinated and a little aloof; I think Barry sensed it. Our first afternoon at the museum was spent looking at the remarkable Klee collection for which that museum is renowned.  Barry had a high regard for Klee’s work and enthused about its merits to this complete novice.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had never before set foot in an art museum, and had not had prior exposure to modern art; I was mesmerized.

Afterward we had a bite to eat and talked for hours.  When Barry walked me home that evening he asked me if I would like to see some of his paintings. Promptly on high alert, I responded “not tonight, maybe some other time.”  “OK,” he said,” how about tomorrow afternoon?”  And so our next rendezvous was set.

When I met Barry the following day, he greeted me with a bear hug and a huge grin.  “You thought you were really clever last night when I asked if you wanted to see some of my paintings, didn’t you?” he asked.  Without waiting for a response, he continued, “I was really the clever one; I had the slides of my paintings in my pocket the whole time, and could have shown them to you anywhere. But I wanted to see you again, so I didn’t tell you. You thought I was trying to lure you to my room, didn’t you?” He was right, I admitted it, and we both had a good laugh.  After that I relaxed. I realized that we were kindred spirits who enjoyed each others company, and that I could learn a great deal from him in the few days he had left in Basel.

Barry and I met two more times, and on both occasions spent hours at the art museum. He introduced me to Picasso, Miro, Chagall, and the museums impressive collection of works of the Holbein family.

Barry Watson's portrait of PJ
Barry Watson’s portrait of PJ

As a parting gift, Barry sketched a portrait of me in pen and ink.  He signed it: Barry.  He didn’t sign his last name because he planned on becoming famous, he said.  He didn’t want me to sell this keepsake, but to keep it as a reminder of the time we had spent together.

When we parted, we made no attempt to stay in touch.

Seven years later, as a freshman at SIU, I came to know several students from Kingston, Jamaica.  I asked them if they had heard of a painter named Barry Watson. To my surprise, they said they had.  He had become a quite prominent figure in the Jamaican art world.  They told me he had become the director of the Kingston Art Museum.  This was in 1968, before the internet made access to all kinds of information possible, so I had no way of verifying whether or not this information was accurate.

Fast forward to sometime last year when a blog on the Trail Baboon jogged my memory, I decided to see if I could find out what had become of Barry.  I was astonished to discover that he had, indeed, become quite the celebrity in Jamaican art circles, although he had not been director of the Kingston Art Museum. I sent him a message asking whether he remembered our encounter so many years ago.  He did, and must have shared our story with his family.  I was saddened when on Wednesday morning I received the message that Barry had passed away the previous evening at 10 PM. He had just turned 85. The volume of his work is impressive, and the quality of his work is remarkable; check it out.

Thanks, Barry, for introducing me to art, and R.I.P. old friend.

Here’s a link to an obituary for Barrington Watson:

And one that shows some of his work:

When or how has a chance encounter impacted your life?

40 thoughts on “Chance Encounters”

  1. what a wonderful, sweet story…and fabulous art! I’ll have to think about the question…but nothing so fine has happened to me…that I can recall.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I can’t think of any chance encounter that has had a big impact on me like that very remarkable encounter of yours, JP. I’ve had some chance meeting have had at least a little impact. The one that reminds me the most the of what you reported is the time I accidentally met up wth Lynn Rosetto Kasper at the Seed Saver’s Exchange annual meeting.

    Lynn was examining some of the seed collections of SSE members that were display for seed swaping, including some of my seeds. She was an invited speaker at that meeting. I recognized her from some picture of her that I had seen and spent several minutes visiting with her.

    I always thought that the energetic way she presents herself over the radio was an act done to empress her radio audience. I was surprised to learn that her way of speaking privately is the same as the way she talks on the radio. Also, from talking to her privately and then hearing her talk at the meeting I learn that she has an extensive knowledge of food and cooking which led me to buy her cookbooks.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Not a biggie, but I met my best golf buddy, Paul, by chance when we were paired together (two singles) one day on our local course. We got along fine, but usually, those golf pairings are so random that they’re a one-and-done.

    As fate would have it, we both showed up as singles at the same time a week or so later and played again. After that, we compared notes and found we both had flexible schedules (he was an insurance agent, me a stock trader {in my pre-author days. ;-)})

    So we started playing once a week or so and have been great friends for almost 20 years. He’s one of the two best friends I’ve ever had.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 4 people

    1. He’s been one of two best friends for almost twenty years and you don’t think that’s a biggie? I’d call that huge.

      I love the quip about being a stock trader in your pre-author days. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 🙂 Still trade stocks, just not as much as 5 years ago.

        Didn’t intend to downplay great friendship. It is huge because we’ve shared so much together, mostly fun and personally rewarding.
        I was only comparing “biggie” in the sense of meeting a work or business idol and landing that dream job which leads to great things. But I stand correct, PJ. A chance meeting that turns into a lifelong friendship is definitely a biggie.
        C in O-town

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Morning all. Wonderful story PJ.

    I used to work at Cayol’s Natural Food Store downtown in what was then the Pillsbury Center – a fair job, but not great and certainly no future unless I wanted to make smoothies the rest of my life. There was B. Dalton on the first level of the building and I knew the manager from the times I had stopped in. One day I ran into her (Mary) in the building’s employee-only bathroom. She did the traditional “How are you doing?” and instead of just saying “Fine”, I blurted out that I really needed a new job. She responded that she was hiring for a new store that B. Dalton was opening in the City Center. I filled out an application that afternoon and she hired me the next week. That job led to my meeting my best friend Sara, led to management jobs in the bookstore which led to my jump to Software Etc’s corporate office. And that job absolutely led to my current job, which I adore and have been busy with for 26 years.

    I can’t even imagine where my life would be if I hadn’t run into Mary in the bathroom all those years ago.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. The first chance encounter that comes to mind is The Trail. After Jim Ed retired and Dale had started up Radio Heartland, I had no intention of joining a blog, but I thought I would just take a peek. After a few days I thought I might just enter a reply to something… and then I got hooked. This has given me a place to put down my thoughts, a way of being connected to something a little bigger than myself, and a bunch of new friends. Will keep thinking…

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Same here. I was a little late to the game, but one day I wondered “Whatever happened to Dale and Jim Ed?” (I had lost track of the Morning Show after years of having difficulty listening to it due to dealing with kids and stuff in the morning, then when it moved to the Current, I gave up trying.) After a google search, I found the blog…just read it for a few months, then one day jumped in with a comment. Amazed at the welcome, I received I kept coming back. And if I hadn’t followed up my wondering with a Google search…or if I had never made a comment…my life would be poorer because I’ve met some very cool and fun people and I feel lucky to be one of the baboons.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. What a nice story, PJ. Your contact with Watson was truly personal. I have nothing like it. My life has brushed up against several famous people, although insignificantly. I’ve mentioned before that I infuriated Harry Truman when we met. My one social excursion with Nick Nolte turned into a fiasco that humiliated us both.

    I met some memorable people when I edited the magazine. Just before the 1976 presidential election I invited Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter to write stories for the magazine. Ford’s press people sent in something generic. I enjoyed talking to Jody Powell, Carter’s press secretary, who promised a story by his candidate. I pressed him a bit, asking if I could count on a story, since you always need to know how sure people will perform when they promise to contribute. Jody Powell laughed and said, “If we can’t deliver a story, we don’t deserve to win this damned thing.”

    In terms of significant contacts, I was a friend to two men who were giant figures in American conservation. Art Hawkins was gentle and wise, a man I’ve been proud to call a friend. Dave Mech, who still lives, is a fascinating man who did more than anyone else to restore wolves in this country. We’re still friends. I treasure memories of conversations with Dave.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. i saw the panting as the header and was intrigued by who the artist was. then i saw the name the pj guest blog and it all came together. it is very interesting technique he has mastered. it is almost watercolor technique with oils. what a great idea. what great work. his painting in the header is traditional island art ala gaugan cezanne and the many painters you see selling stuff to the tourists but upon inspection it is doen not in a production mentality as i see so often form the tourist painters who find a style and are able to whip it out in 30 minutes for 100 dollars or something like that. he hs taken the medium and made it the best it can be and made beautiful art which is all you can ask an artist to do but instead of squatting htere he has moved to wonderful interesting styles that offer wonderful use of space motion interaction and emotion to bring you to the places he takes you to. neat guy.

    my people of the influenced pth are not so much by happenstance as intentional folks i found and hung with. my bass player back in high school turned out to be an art influence and a guy who shoed me an idea can become a tangable thing with some follow through. who woulda thunk it. he is a rock star in the art world today. joe havel out of houston if you want to check him out.
    when i was in business i had a couple people who i listened to who turned on the lights for me. galen slifer was the one who taught me to pay attention to the interaction and how to read the reception as it is happening. ken harbaugh is the guy i asked if i could be a mouse in his pocket and learn the business for big time operations and i ma grateful he took me in and opened his company and his door 100% to make it possible for me to learn all there was.

    today i am involved in the start up community and it is an exciting time. i meet kids and whiz kids who are really fun to interact with. im not done i am probuably doing more of it today than i was 10 or 20 years ago. i meet people who talk ideas all the time and love it. i am working with an artist friend to get his stuff rolling in china parks reece is his name and an artist turned poet who is blazing trails in the very interesting world of poetry mara adimitz scrupe is her name. winning awards for the stuff she is writing.

    the person i am looking foward to getting itnto a discussion with is not always the last one i spoke with but it often enough the next one to keep me on my toes.

    there is a lot of good stuff out there and im gonna get me some

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I caught a glimpse of Kate Millet, one of the nation’s leading feminists, at a party and wanted to go over and say hello because I had read some of her writing. I couldn’t get up the courage to speak to her. Later, in an article, she wrote that the people at a campus she visited, where I saw her, were not very friendly.

    Another time I had a chance to visit with Elliot Coleman, who has written some excellent books on gardening that I own. I was able to talk to him briefly. However, I became somewhat “tongue tied” and broke off my conversation with him rather quickly.

    Like

  9. One of our Winnipeg friends, who is Jewish, was walking on a deserted side street in downtown Winnipeg when who should buzz around the corner but Pope John Paul II in the Popemobile. The pope
    was visiting Winnipeg at the time and was travelling on a sort of parade route when the driver turned onto the side street where our friend was walking.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I met Wasband at a party hosted by a former boyfriend. If I hadn’t gone to that party, I would not have met Eddie, moved to New York City, maybe not moved to Minneapolis… I might still be in Bay Area California doing who knows what?

    PJ, I love the drawing he did of you – what a treasure. It looks like he was very influential in the Jamaican art scene: his “work represents a turning point in the development of Jamaica’s cultural and artistic aesthetic and professionalised the local artistic practice” (from the obit.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, Bir, that drawing is a treasure. What I love about it is that it captures how shy and unsure of myself I was at the time, a certain vulnerability that I don’t think a photo would have captured.

      Liked by 4 people

  11. I met a woman from New Zealand who told a charming story of a chance encounter with fame. Her mother was driving in Auckland when she noticed a tall, thin old man struggling up a very steep hill. She stopped her car, rolled down the window and offered to give the old guy a lift.

    “Thank you, madam,” he replied with dignity. “But I am Sir Hillary, and I mean to scale this hill on my own power.” (Sir Edmund Hillary, that would be.)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Somehow I can’t conceive of Edmund Hillary thinking of himself as “Sir Hillary.” I know he was a beekeeper, and think of beekeeper as more humble than that.

      Like

      1. I don’t, of course, know what was in his mind. I’m only repeating the story as it was told to me. But you and I hear it differently. I assume Hillary was not boasting by calling himself by that title. He was just using the phrase that people generally used when referring to him, and I’m inclined to believe he did so ironically. The joke was on him. “Sir Hillary” was struggling to walk up a hill.

        Like

        1. Well (sigh), you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road, Steve, but that story has all the characteristics of an urban myth to me. Sir Edmund was one of my early heroes, and I’m not buying just any story about him.
          🙂

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  12. I clearly remember meeting the s&h’s dad by chance at the UW Theatre Department’s holiday gathering on the stage of the main theatre for the department. I had heard some wacky stories about the guy, but had no idea who he was up until that minute when someone introduced me to him.

    No idea why he made an impression.

    That was 30 years ago.

    I should not have done that math.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I’ve already told about the Duke of Argyll and how, on our second day in Scotland he asked us to leave.

    Last summer, when out taking our morning walk, we crossed a street as a woman even older than us crossed in the other direction. We greeted each other and commented on the weather. Somehow, I can’t remember exactly how, the conversation continued. She told us that she had come from Michigan, somewhere near Detroit, to live with her son, who lived here. Together they had taken a once commercial space and rehabbed it into a very nice living space and studio.

    She had grown up in Michigan. Her father had worked for Henry Ford. When she was a child, Ford had patted her on the head and told her she was a good girl.

    Her husband had been a photographer. He had trained as an architect under Mies van der Rohe and done an internship with Corbusier. In this country, Frank Lloyd Wright had wanted to hire him. But her husband had become an architectural photographer, a world class one, and he had turned Wright down.

    They had lived on an old farm in Michigan, she told us, and his studio had been in a stone barn. After he died, representatives from the Library of Congress had come to purchase samples of his work. She was currently in negotiation with the Getty Archives for a similar purchase.

    She and her husband and her children had been living in Florence, Italy when the Arno River flooded in 1966. Her husband had joined to help and also document the hundreds of students and townspeople who gathered to collect art and artifacts in the flood’s path and move them to higher ground.

    When they returned to America, they traveled by ship. Those families traveling with children breakfasted together. One of those parents with a child was John Lennon and his son Julian. So, for the duration of the passage, she had breakfasted with John Lennon.

    It was at this point I remarked that her life was taking on the aspect of Woody Allen’s movie, “Zelig”. That’s when she told me about when she was in Paris with her husband. It was a rainy day and they had decided to spend some time in the Louvre. They were wandering around and at some point she had stepped away from her husband and was going down a set of stairs. In front of her were a group of men with their backs to her. They turned around and she froze. In the middle of the group was Che Guevara. He was obviously in Paris for some consultation or negotiation, but she has never been able to learn what that was.

    You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned her name or her husband’s name. I feel I have to at least make that degree of effort to protect her privacy.

    Our new friend invited us back to see what she and her son had done to the formerly commercial space and also to see some of her husband’s photography, much of it in published books. She introduced us to her son, who is also a photographer.

    The impact of meeting this person has been that we have a greater expectation of and appreciation for the depth and diversity of our neighborhood. it puts a new gloss on the prospect of taking walks and striking up conversations. You just never know.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. What a great story,Bill. You’re right, you just never know.

      I have to chuckle when I think of your encounter with the Duke of Argyll.

      Like

  14. Two weeks before Wellstone was killed (I still don’t believe it was an accident), I was at a large fundraising event for him. Lost in the crowd, I noticed him signaling me to come to him. He kept it up until I finally had wound my way through the crowd and bear-hugged me, saying, “Thank God, a normal size woman!!!” I think he was all of 5’3″ and I’m 5′. I still have the picture of my one encounter with a truly great man.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. As you all know, I have had the privilege of meeting any number of “famous” people, but none of them have been life changing for me. Fun memories, sure, but not life changing. I wish that some of the “greatness” I’ve brushed up against had rubbed off on me, but it didn’t. In some cases I was too awestruck to really be present, and that’s a huge regret. If I had known then what I know now, I could have picked some very interesting brains.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I cannot think of any encounters other than with several famous athletes. I worked the locker room cage at the University of Chicago field house, where many great athletes worked out. Gyms and spas etc. were not widely available in the mid-sixties. Most of the 30 or so great athletes I met were down-to-earth decent interesting people. I can guess that the pompous ones would not come to such an obscure place to work out. John O’Hara, who many consider the greatest miler in history, worked out with us a few days a week. U of Chi had excellent indoor and outdoor tracks. For all the times he was there, I never got to know him. He was exceedingly shy.
    My best moment, and this is a story that makes my sports-minded friends jealous: Lou Brock in the winter after his rookie year as a Cub, came most week days. He was a kind, almost sweet man. He made sure he knew my name and talked to me almost every day. This is the key moment: He walked in one day in late winter and said to me, “I just had a call. I’m now a Cardinal.” Lou Brock is in the baseball hall of fame, for one thing as a great base stealer, which he was developing under the coaching of the U of Chi head track coach. Many sports writes rate the trade he told me about as one of the worst trades in history. The other half of the trade was not long a Cub or even in baseball.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Seeing the private side of someone can be quite different than the public personae.

      While I was working at the law firm in downtown Minneapolis, I usually ate a quick lunch by myself. I had a couple of favorite places where I could get in an out in a hurry. One day I went to one of those places, and there was Pat Miles – at the time one of Channel 4’s anchors – sitting at the bar where I usually had my quick lunch. There was only one vacant seat and it was next to her. When I attempted to seat myself there she informed me that she was saving the seat for someone, so I went back in line to wait to be seated at a table. The staff, of course, knew me by then, and promptly found me a small table and apologized. I ate my lunch, and left, and no one ever joined Ms. Miles at the bar. Guess she was afraid that I was going to speak to her, which I had no intention of doing.

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  17. Perhaps not exactly a chance encounter (a friend had the close encounter which led to dinners together), but certainly a life changing friendship when Robert and Ruth Bly moved to Moose Lake and we became friends. I spent many hours with them, sharing many family events, dinners, holidays and meeting their interesting and accomplished friends. I treasure those times and was (and still am) sad when they moved to Minneapolis for good. So friendship with them brought me in close encounters with the likes of Bill Holm, Louis Jenkins, Gioia Timpanelli (storyteller), Seamus Heaney, Galway Kinnell and John Densmore (drummer for The Doors and other poets, writers and musicians that I am in awe of.

    But Robert and Ruth did buy two or three of my water colors. Though I doubt they are hanging anywhere near the Chagall Robert chanced upon when on the West Bank in Paris….

    So…a little claim to fame, perhaps. Okay, that’s enough name dropping!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I haven’t painted for many years…did animals only. I don’t know if I have any photos of the water colors in my computer….I could do that though. Hmmmm….then how to share them…via Picasa perhaps?

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  19. This wasn’t a chance encounter, either, really – I responded to an ad for a Bookkeeping Asst. at Birchbark Books (owned by writer Louise Erdrich) in 2002, and had an interview at the shop with Louise and several staff members. I was hired because I told them I love to (try to) make order out of chaos. I enjoy Louise E. tremendously, and met several other people by just being there – her sister Heid Erdrich, also an author in her own right, for one. I remember Walter Mondale coming into the store (he lived in the neighborhood). Winona LaDuke. Numerous other authors… Prudence Johnson is on staff there now.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Cynthia, I didn’t know about the watercolors either. Would love to see some of them. Do a blog and send some photos of them to Dale. He knows how to get them onto the blog. 🙂

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