Monday, February 05, 2007

Andy Virgil - Epilogue

Photos I took of Andy in Kinnelon in the early 1960s.

Jenny took this last photograph of Andy in September 1980, two months before his death.

Studying it now, after all I have just written, I realize how much it fits into the story I have told. Wearing one of the many sweaters I knitted for him, in addition to his typical serious, intent look -- there are those beautiful hands. The one, poised over the chessboard, looks no different than when he lightly held a paintbrush poised over his artwork.

When he died in late November, neither Jen nor I could bear to think of him inside a coffin! We told no one, but the plain pine coffin in the funeral home was empty. On top we placed this photo. Neither did Jen nor I wish to bury Andy in Montclair where we had been so unhappy for so long. Instead, we decided we would fly his ashes to Provincetown, Massachusetts where we three had always been joyful.

On a bitter cold and sunny day, we hired a dune buggy, waited with the driver in a coffee shop on Commercial Street until the tide went out so we could drive the reach to the tip end of Provincetown where the lighthouse stood.

With my own hands, I scooped away the sand and buried his ashes beside Long Point Lighthouse. Whenever you are at the bay where we always stayed, you can see that ‘monument’ we felt was the right one for such a man. And we fancied Andy would have agreed. From there, by day, he could always ‘look’ across the curve of bay and watch the incredible play of light of that place in all seasons. And by night he would have the twinkling cheery lights of the town so long a haven for American artists.

Until 1990, I could not distill this experience into the poem I wanted to write. And then suddenly I did.


more ill . . .
fall winds
rattle the window

thru the hospital gown
your shoulder
small as our child’s

the call comes . . .
w/o you

making it thru night
selecting the music
of your life


talking to a priest:
“We are not believers
but the family . . . “

no one
in the coffin

at the end
the church empties to Bach’s
Tocatta & Fugue


in the back office
of the funeral parlor
the small box

the weight
of your ashes

each step
along the cold street


at the airport
Jenny & I
& the box wait

in fog
the bay the sky she & I
rise & soar with you


the reach . . .
flocks of gulls rise in sunlight
by the lighthouse

heavier than the sand
each pale handful
from the little box

in the shadow of the lighthouse
rising    sand & ashes
blow from me

the winter sun
dune grasses
bay & ocean glisten on


Here I would like to thank Leif Peng first for loving Andy’s work before he knew anything about him, and then for asking me all the incredible questions that stirred loose these memories and brought them back to the surface to be shared with others who struggle to follow their dreams. Leif has given me the greatest thing any artist thrives upon and that is complete artistic freedom. And he has provided Andy with the full recognition he always deserved.

Andy’s niece, Andrea Luciano Fehrman (who was named after Andy) found Today’s Inspiration by chance, and wrote Leif about me and wrote me about him. Without that, this story would never have been told. I shall always be grateful.

My thanks to Andrea’s mother, my sister-in-law, Ethel Luciano with whom I have also kept in touch all these years. She provided me with details of Andy’s childhood and his teenage years so I could build his story on a solid foundation of truth.

Mario Calafatello, my brother-in-law I thank for the fine photo capturing Andy playing his beloved trumpet to Jenny.

Last, my eternal thanks to my daughter, Jennifer Leigh Virgil Gurchinoff, about whom no parent could say more: she is exactly what Andy and I wanted -- but never thought we’d get. And of course it is she who photographed all of her father’s art for this and continues the line of talent with her photography, and passed the genes on to one little son who, at ten, has never stopped drawing.

Anita Virgil is an internationally anthologized haiku poet. She lives in Forest, Virginia.

Entire contents of these posts on Andy Virgil (both text and pictures) © 2007 Anita Virgil. Nothing may be reproduced without permission of the author.

* The selection of Andy Virgil's original art available from Graphic Collectibles has been expanded.

NOTE: For anyone interested in reading this story in its entirety, click on this new Andy Virgil blog. It will remain available.


  1. Posted here at Anita's request with permission of commentor Al Pizzarelli:


    Congratulations on the wonderful job you've done with the blog on Andy's illustrations, which in my opinion are pure ART. Having had the privilege and honor to know Andy, I know he would be very pleased, amazed and proud of what you have accomplished here with his work.

    Whenever I see the all the no talent garbage passed off a "art" today, it makes me snarl & growl.

    Real artists are blessed with "the gift" and as these illustrations clearly show, Andy was truly gifted.

    I'm happy you have done this Toots. Andy is happy too.
    Great artists never die!

    Love ya,

  2. many thanks for this terrific series of posts, such beautiful work!

  3. I have REALLY enjoyed this series on Andy Virgil... Amazing, thank you Anita and Leif.

    Julia Breckenreid

  4. Anonymous10:04 AM

    Passion never dies.
    Leif,Anita....and of course Andy.....
    simply wonderful.


  5. Posted at Anita's request:

    From: Jennifer Gurchinoff
    To: Mom
    Sent: Monday, February 05, 2007 9:42 AM

    thank you for doing such a wonderful and intensely beautiful job of sharing daddy with the art world. it is almost like peeking in peoples' windows for others to read this and get a glimpse of a life.

  6. What a wonderful and moving series. Thank you.

  7. Anonymous11:28 AM

    What a great week devoted to a wonderful artist. His work is so "of the time", and a joy for fans of that era of illustration.

  8. Posted at the request of Andy and Anita's daughter, Jennifer:

    I am so proud of my father for who he was and all he did. That these articles were written by mother who knew him best and loved him always makes this project magical. For those of you who knew my dad, this will enlighten you and help you to see and understand the man that we knew and loved for so short a time. To those who never met him, I hope you are able to get a glimpse of the man i adored and admired and who answered to daddy whenever I called. He is thought of every day by me and to read these articles brings him back to my side if only for a little while. I see bits of him daily through my children and through them I remember...


  9. Anita has asked me to post this response to everyone who has commented so kindly on her late husband, Andy's work:

    When Leif and I first got in touch, I trolled my memory for these long-ago occurrences and began to relive them in a rush. As Andy’s story gradually unfolded, I realized I could not tell it true without exposing a good deal of the personal bases which underlay the events. And any writer knows, there is a time when you must learn to let the work carry you where it wants to go. It is then you are approaching the pure element.

    But I had one reservation: I feared Leif’s readers might be impatient with the private background material which is integrated throughout.

    Just show us his art! Nevermind the talk. rang in my ears. And then I thought again: I always want to know as much as possible about people I admire. I wonder how they ever arrive at the point of their noteworthy achievements. By what circuitous --or direct -- route do they get there? Where finally does life take them? Usually, you never find out enough of that.

    I believe the true grandeur of any human being’s life is displayed in how they pursue their goals. “Against all odds,” dedicated to something worthwhile, maintaining one’s integrity and decent behavior all the while -- regardless of what life dishes up. That is the measure of anyone, to me. I have tried to show this part of Andy as much as I have gladly displayed his tremendous talent.

    From all the incredibly kind responses Leif and I are getting, so full of admiration for Andy’s work as well as a genuine appreciation for hearing of our life, I am satisfied I did not hold back the details.

    I will set up an email address and hope to respond one by one to all of you.

    Anita Virgil