Profile: Richard Crammer

November 14, 2008


Right: Green Heron, ©Richard Crammer, graphite and watercolor on paper.

My friend, artist Richard Crammer died Thursday morning. (He turned 56 on Monday.) On February 5, 2007 he was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma. His left leg was amputated and he underwent a series of chemo treatments which were unsuccessful. 

I want to take a moment to share a couple thoughts about Richard and the gratitude I have towards him. His life and talent need to be celebrated and remembered.

First I'm grateful that I met Richard through GAIN (Gathering of Artists and Illustrators for Nature; a now defunct organization started for an obvious purpose). At meetings Richard was tall, quiet, often conspicuously the only male in the room, always funny (if in a quiet and self-dismissive way), and very talented. I always would sit next to him because I abhor meetings and he made the time just fly by. He was a bit of calm in a jangly atmosphere.

While he worked in many media during his life, by the time I met Richard he was working mostly with 7H and 9H leads creating the most intricate nature drawings. His drawings were delightful because of the observed detail and because of the unerring sense of complexity and simplicity he captured at the same time in his composition. His ability to render a range of values from dark to light with only a 9H pencil was amazing. I used to watch him work and simply shake my head. It takes a type of patience and dedication that cannot be learned. It's an inner discipline, that ultimately bends to the artistic sensitivity.

Later, in 2001 I ended up in Project Art for Nature with Richard. (See Richard's photo and another sample of his artwork at Richard's Project Art for Nature page.) For the first 3 years or so I worked on my own, though the other artists were in small groups or "pods." In 2003 or so when we reorganized with new members I was fortunate to be in a pod with Richard and two other talented artists, Diane Wesman and Gloria Williams. Upon ocassion we would get together to sketch. The four of us were rarely together, but we managed to go out sketching in pairs or threes.

I learned a lot from Richard about patience in nature (in the field), about detail in art, and about meeting life with a core of grace I doubt I'll ever see again.

Richard loved to talk about the camera lucida "controversy." And talk about it we would, each equally convinced that even if Ingres used one it still took phenomenal talent to make those drawings. We would mull over how other people "didn't get it."

Richard was a graduate of art school and had a depth of understanding about theory, history, and practice. I remember when he was first getting chemo, I went to visit him in the hospital and as soon as I entered the room he whispered conspiratorially, "did you see it?" He was thrilled that just outside his door there was a five foot George Morrison. Other folks just walked by. Richard always noticed things, small or large. Other folks would have been pissed off and bitter about the chemo, he had eyes for the Morrison.

I know a lot more about amputation, prosthetics, chemo, hospitals, pumping fluid out of lungs, you name it, because Richard shared what was going on with him. He told me it fascinated him. How could it not? It was real, it was what was happening. So we'd talk about it and he'd show off the wounds and tubes and attachments. He was childlike in his wonder and amazement at all that was happening, even though what was happening was the destruction of his body. People talk about keeping wonder alive, few people do it in normal circumstances, let alone manage to do it in extraordinary circumstances.

During our friendship Richard taught me a lot of things. I will always be grateful for his instruction in new ways to look at the world. And for his encouragement.

On fashion, when I bemoaned that fact that I didn't really get it anyway, "That's one of the things I really like about you."

On my frustration over how to describe my anthropomorphized bird portraits, "Expressionistic realism," his kind way of pointing out that the detail wasn't photographically accurate and after all "that wasn't the point was it Roz?"

And on so many other things. Even heavily medicated he did not lose his sense of humor, he did not lose his kindness and concern for other people.

Last week I was in the allergist's office waiting the mandatory 30 minutes after my shots. I picked up a Time Magazine and in the letter section there was a note about Paul Newman. A woman wrote in that she hadn't liked Robert Redford's remembrance of Newman because Redford had talked about himself too much in it. I searched the magazine stack for the earlier issue and read the piece, which I thought quite an honest tribute.

When someone enters our life we are the context in which we see that person. Our interactions frame our knowing of that person. I frankly think that woman was wrong. When we lose a friend we need to look at what that friend meant to us, through the lens of our relationship. It's all we have. It's what's real. And I think we should talk about it because we are all multifaceted. If we each share the impact one person has on us then the understanding of everyone increases on what it means to be human, kind, witty, and truly talented. Ultimately it's the only way to share that wonder about life. To keep it alive.

Richard always dragged his feet about self-promotion. For shows we were in together I had to bug him to get his artist statements written. He wrote a beautiful one for PAN which explains the wonder he understood in his life and expressed in his art:

When I was a child I always loved lying down in the woods and imagining
that I was as small as a mouse, walking through a forest of flowers
and plants. I am trying to reflect this dreaming in my drawings and
promote a reverential regard for even the smallest natural areas.

Everyone fortunate enough to see one of Richard's nature artworks in person will see how expertly he did exactly that. His friendship and art are just two gifts he gave to the world. 

    • karen
    • November 14, 2008

    Thanks for this, Roz. It’s a beautiful tribute to Richard.

    • Roz
    • November 14, 2008

    Apologies for an error in my profile of Richard. I only caught it after I had posted it. I’ll be correcting the main entry. I should have written “expressionistic realism,” as Richard’s tag for my anthropomorphized paintings. Naturalism is a whole other beasty which we have discussed many a time.


    • vera
    • November 16, 2008

    Thanks for this beautiful remembrance of Richard and you, Roz. You are so right – each person is a unique conglomeration of the relationships one has with other people, animals, environment; and how one faces and responds to each. But we can only see a person through our own lens. I remember the GAIN session in which you taught the folded book cover. I thought that was the first time you met Richard, but I wondered, because you seemed to be old friends. You and he kept igniting laughter with your on-going, back-and-forth, under-the-breath and aside commentaries, questions and hilarious intentional or mistaken re-interpretations. It was a delightful session, enhanced by your sparkling connection with Richard. See you tomorrow?

    • Roz
    • November 16, 2008

    Vera, thank you for remembering such a wonderful session with Richard. I actually met him for the first time earlier, and had already been sketching with him by the time this meeting happened. But it is very fun to recall the bookmaking session you mention.

    It also reminded me that I pushed him very hard to keep a journal. Something he joked about with me a lot, including Tuesday, when I sat and sketched while he nodded off, waking every so often to continue the conversation. Journals aren’t for everyone and we knew that.

    I’ll see you on Monday.

    Thanks again.


  1. Reply

    I’m sorry to hear about your friend Roz. I lost my mother when she was 56 after a prolonged illness. Sometimes the most alive people seem to burn out young. I don’t know why we can’t have them longer but then it’s never long enough anyhow. I am glad you had such fond memories and were able to make him seem so real to those who read your words.

    • Roz
    • November 17, 2008

    Timaree, thanks for your kind note. I’m very grateful that I have had people in my life like Richard.

    • Ricë
    • November 17, 2008

    beautiful, roz.

    • Roz
    • November 17, 2008

    Thank you, Ricë,I’m very fortunate to have known Richard.

  2. Reply

    You are truly Richard’s friend and that is so sweet of you to give tribute to your friend.

  3. Reply

    Thank you for your kind words Kathleen. I miss Richard a lot, have a lot I would like to talk over with him, and really would have liked to have seen more art from him.

    He made the world a lot more interesting.

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