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I met Jack Whitehead about 50 years ago at the Birmingham home of the publisher of “Impresario Magazine,” a popular monthly of the seven arts I was freelancing for.
Jack was early 20s, strikingly handsome, soft spoken, vibrationally gay. (Our respective gaydar locked for milliseconds of mutual size up. No centimeters of follow up occurred).
Jack was recently out of the Army, seeking to channel his energies creatively. His presence was calming. Thoughtful. Reflective. His conversation, determined. He smiled a lot.
“I’ve been told by a Native American service buddy that I’m gifted with two-spirited vision, an eye for seeing the beauty in linear and fluid shapes; that I’ll be involved throughout my life in capturing images. Of sharing my vision call in a lasting way. Wish me luck.”
That initial meeting – memorable because I envied Jack and his so-called “sanctioning,” his “special” calling. (And his stunning looks.) God knows he’ll go places, I mentally noted, shook hands a little too eagerly perhaps, left my now-long-forgotten story copy with “Impresario” publisher, Granville Ryan, and went my merry way.
I never saw Jack again. But, over the years, I heard a lot about him. Jack made it. Big time. His good friend and long-distance buddy, artist Jon Strand, talked often – and enthusiastically – to me about Jack. “Our mutual careers took off about the same time,” Jon recalls, with perhaps a bit of justified self-promotion.
“Jack almost made it in movies. He had Wild, Wild West, bronco-busting, cowpoke attitude. Unfortunately, in spite of wonderful camera-loving close-ups, Jack’s voice was, shall I put it kindly – and I love you, Jack, wherever you are – hardly John-Wayne macho.
“It just wasn’t a big deal for Jack. He had an easy-going attitude about life and things. (Movie fans are fickle.) But, perhaps in keeping with the predicted charm that guided him, where one camera failed to shape destiny, another gave him fame and fortune.
“Jack’s mental ‘soul mate,’ friend and grocer heir, former-Detroiter Bobby Larose, suggested that perhaps Jack’s vision quest could find outlet in taking pictures behind a camera. Jack took to Bobby’s suggestion with flair and, if I may pun a bit, sharp focus.
“The service buddy’s prediction proved perceptive. Within five years, Jack’s skill, aesthetic sense, intuitive timing, camera mastery paid off. Soon he was getting in the neighborhood of $1,500 a shoot. His automotive and fashion design photography were successes, followed by astute real estate investments. He retired reasonably young in Florida,” says Jon.
LaRose, who also Florida-early-retired near Jack, adds a postscript: “For the past nine years, Jack, who was diagnosed with severe kidney problems, was relegated to weekly dialysis. What’s adversity for many became a get-on-with-it challenge for him. He put his vision quest on canvas. Three-hundred canvases. Each 5 feet by 6. Three-hundred!
“Jack painted tranquil nature. Exuberant animal life. He painted inner moods. He painted visual and artful melodies of color, composition, haunting textures. I’m not an artist. But Jack’s legacy is truly amazing; and, so important, a clear demonstration that one’s gay gifts can, in the long run of life’s final years of challenge and adjustment, be a saving grace. A benediction for others.”
Jack Whitehead died on New Year’s Day 2009. LaRose is estate executor. Fifty Whitehead paintings have been donated as an all-proceeds-to Affirmations LGBT community center fundraiser. Gala Invitational Opening is Friday, Oct. 8, from 7-10 p.m. (Several paintings are also on exhibit in Ferndale stores.) As art openings go, this is a major event of the new fall season!
(Quiet aside: Jack – it was my pleasure to meet you long ago; my pleasure now to ‘see’ you again. We haven’t changed much, have we? Be honest.)