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Twelve of Thirty

This story picks up where last week’s post left off.

Though I hadn’t seen Bernard Perlin since 1995—when he visited Spokane to give a presentation in conjunction with our MAC exhibit Behind the Red, White & Blue: Posters, Propaganda & Pride—I thought of him often. In 2012, my wife Linda and I were planning a visit with our two daughters to Connecticut, and I realized we wouldn’t be far from where Bernard lived. Not knowing whether he would remember me (or even if he was still alive), I called. Turns out he remembered his trip out west fondly, and encouraged us to visit. So we drove through the picturesque New England landscape to his country home in Ridgefield, where he had lived since 1959.

At 93, Bernard was still painting. We talked, toured his home and studio, and reminisced about his life’s work. The day before, we had toured Philip Johnson’s Glass House in nearby New Canaan. Bernard mentioned that he had not only known the architect, but also stayed at his home—one of the most famous houses on the planet.

Over lunch, we expressed an interest in purchasing one of Bernard’s paintings. So he took us back to his studio, where, one by one, he placed some of his works on an easel, sharing a bit of history about each. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

There was one in particular that Bernard hesitated to show us. We asked to see it—and it quickly became our favorite. When I asked how much he wanted for it, he said, “Take it home, think it over, and send me a check.”

It was the last thing I wanted to hear. For the rest of our trip, I wondered what a fair price would be. Linda and I discussed it over and over. On the one hand, it was a painting produced in 1966 but never sold; on the other, Bernard’s work is held in private collections (including the Rockefellers’) and by the likes of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and London’s Tate Modern. I eventually sent him a check and held my breath. The plan was that if he felt we were undervaluing his work, we’d just call it a first-half installment. A few days later, he called, delighted by our generosity. I’ve never felt so relieved.

That was the last time I spoke to Bernard Perlin. Less than two years later, on January 14, 2014, he passed away.



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