Jack Swenson’s “The World According to Bob” is a snapshot of life, beautifully captured.

 

The artist chuckles as he tells me about the skinny man stepping into his boxer shorts. The whimsical figure, crafted in clay, then cast in bronze, is a masterpiece. It makes me laugh, I say, and Mr. H. is pleased.

The sculptor is my friend’s father. He is a gentle, unpretentious man. His rich sense of humor is as frail and unassuming as this little comic figure, universal man, caught of a morning in an awkward pose, undignified, insignificant, almost sad.

My praise pleases and embarrasses the handsome, white-haired old man. He is clearly uncomfortable, struggling for words to explain his work, knowing what to say only because he has said it before. “Nothing heroic, nothing cute,” he says. He laughs nervously, sharing his secret. It’s what he keeps in mind when he’s working. It’s what he tries to do.

Later, my friend and I stand on the porch outside in the thin sunshine and numbing cold of a February afternoon in Minnesota, having a smoke, and we hear the old man at the piano. I ask my friend when his dad took up painting and sculpture, and he says after he retired. He was a bookkeeper. When he retired, he learned to play the piano–not very well. Then painting. Then modeling figures in clay. Now every winter he and his wife spend several months in Mexico, where he casts his figures in bronze.

I tell my friend his dad is very talented. He laughs. “He won’t sell the stuff,” he says. He could, but he won’t. He doesn’t want to part with it.

I have known my friend for fifty years. We went to elementary school together. “I didn’t know he had this talent for art,” I tell him. “Neither did I,” he says. “Neither did my mother. He’s a late bloomer.”

Maybe there was hope for the rest of us, I tell my friend. He looks at me and shrugs.

 


Jack Swenson teaches creative writing and has enjoyed reading and writing both short fiction and creative nonfiction for many years. He and his wife live in Northern California.

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