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December 22, 2005

Art Beat

Legacy of Excellence

by KATHERINE ALMY


When Victor Jacoby died eight years ago, he left a special gift for Humboldt County. Victor set up a trust fund at the Humboldt Area Foundation from which a grant is given every year to an artist who is stretching his wings.

photo of Victor JacobyVictor was a tapestry artist who was well respected in his field -- his work was exhibited throughout the United States and Canada. He, like many artists, struggled financially, but he received a sizable inheritance when his father died. Unfortunately, by that time he was already dying of cancer himself. So Victor decided to leave a substantial sum of money for the purpose of helping other local artists.

Most grants are given to fund a specific thing -- an education program, or a new building. It's not as common for a grant to be given simply to fund the further education and development of an artist. Why would an artist need such a grant? I like to make the analogy to the research and development department of a big company, only those are usually pretty well funded. Artists have the same need to learn new methods or experiment with new techniques, and to do so without having to worry about paying the bills. You have to keep in mind that for every salable artwork, there are numerous others that an artist doesn't necessarily want the public to see, but which are nonetheless part of the growth process. These take just as much time and energy, but there's no monetary compensation for them.

Right: Victor Jacoby

The stated purpose of the Victor Jacoby Fund is "to support visual artists and encourage the exploration of new ideas, materials, techniques, mediums, images, etc. as well as excellence." What that means to the artists of Humboldt County is that they have an opportunity to fund pure learning, without the worries of making the rent. What that means to the rest of us in the community is that we all benefit from the energy of creativity that's encouraged with this fund.

The artist Alan Sanborn wrote a remembrance of Victor shortly after his death. In it, he talks of the richness of Victor's artwork, saying, "We can't help but find joy in so many masterful works. In doing so, we pay tribute to the discipline, to the slow silent maturing of craftsmanship that mastery requires." Victor was a man always striving to improve the quality of his work, and his trust fund supports that striving in other artists.

Artists submit applications along with slides of their work and a statement explaining the new direction they are seeking to develop. A specially selected committee chooses the winning artist whose name is announced around Dec. 14, Victor's birthday. This year the event took place on Dec. 16, probably because it fell on a Friday, a better day for celebrations then a Wednesday. And this year's winner is...

painting by Thao Le KhacThao Le Khac. Thao is a painter working mostly in acrylics and watercolor. As her name suggests, she is of Asian decent -- in fact, she was born in Vietnam and moved with her parents to this country when she was 9.

This award has a way of going to just the right person at the right time. I believe that's the result of the care with which Victor set it up, if not the continuing influence of his spirit. Thao truly seems to be at the threshold of a new and exciting development in her career. In her statement to the committee, she explained that she spent about 10 years focusing on "articulating my bicultural issues." She painted stories of her family and learned more about her ancestors, who came from a rural community in Vietnam. She found connections between them and our own rural community as she worked part time on an organic floral farm. But the learning years involved a lot of struggle for her. My impression is that she was coming to terms with feeling, at times very foreign and at others very American, and trying to reconcile her two very different cultures.

She also struggled, as many artists do, with the notion of success in a society that values money above all things. If you're developing yourself spiritually, practicing your art and becoming more skillful at expressing your perspective of the world, but you don't have a well paying job -- are you successful? Even if you're doing what you think is right for you, it can be difficult to continue when the rest of the world is asking you when you're going to get a "real job."

But Thao is now ready to try to get past all of those worries. She loves the flowing grace of Oriental brush painting and wants to learn more about it so she can employ those techniques in her work. She loves beauty and wants to create beautiful paintings. She loves being an artist and she doesn't want to apologize for it anymore. She's deeply connected to her Asian culture, but she's found love and friendship and meaning to her life in the United States. What I see in her is an artist who has untangled the knots in the threads of her life and is now ready to weave them into something greater then the sum of their parts. Doesn't that tie in nicely with the tapestry artist who started all of this?

Thao has come to a place of peace. Peace with being an artist, peace with being Vietnamese and peace with living for the better part of her life in the United States. She knows what she wants to do and she is ready to do it. It is this peace that will give her the strength to carry on with her life's work. It is the same kind of peace that to this day emanates from Victor Jacoby and the legacy of his work. It is the peace of a spirit in tune with the world and ready to grow.

Got a local exhibit or art event that might make a good story? Send your art news to almy@arcatanet.com or write in care of the North Coast Journal, 145 South G Street, Suite A, Arcata, CA. 95521.


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