Kevin Warnock

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Russell Lawall, my grandfather, as painted by Masako Miyata in the 1970s

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Russell Lawall portait painted by Masako. Painted while Masako was an art student in the 1970s.

Russell Lawall portait painted by Masako. Painted while Masako was an art student in the 1970s.

In the 1970s, my grandfather Russell Lawall visited Japan with his wife Edith Lawall. Russel and Edith were my mother’s parents.

Russell and Edith had a strong fondness for Japan. They did not speak Japanese, so they arranged in the early 1970s for a local Japanese tour guide and interpreter to show them Japan. That guide, Masako Miyata, truly befriended my grandparents, and they invited her to move to the United States to live with them and go to college, as Masako was in her early 20s at the time.

Masako studied painting and ceramics at The Art Institute of Chicago. She lived with my grandparents for years — I’m guessing five years. Masako went on to marry an American and became of Professor of Art and Art History at James Madison University. She is now Professor Emeritus of Art and Art History. Her husband, Steve Zapton, also holds the same title at the same institution. Masako’s full name is Masako Miyata Zapton.

Masako created dozens of ceramics pieces while she was a student. When my grandfather Russell passed away in 1994, five years after my grandmother Edith passed away, my mother called Masako to see if she wanted the dozens of items back. My grandfather Russell had saved them all, and they were all on display in the family room.

Masako said she did not want her old student work, but that she also did not want any of it to go to strangers, apparently because the works were signed by her and she was not proud of her early examples.

She said family could keep as many pieces as they wished, but that she wanted the rest to be conclusively destroyed, not sold at an estate sale, donated or otherwise disposed of.

It fell on me to destroy Masako’s student artwork. I wore a full face protective shield to protect me from flying chips of fired clay while I used a hammer to smash dozens of vases, bowls and sculptures, while my brother captured video on my Sony Hi-8 camcorder, which I still have but no longer use.

I kept the best examples of Masako’s work, and I have them at my house and at my parent’s house.

My most precious Masako piece of artwork is a portrait she painted in oils of my grandfather Russell.

This portrait of my grandfather is shown above. Click on the picture twice to see a much larger version of it that is so detailed you can see the brush strokes.

While it may look like an abstract painting, it shows a striking resemblance to my grandfather if you stand far enough away from it.

This painting is framed and in perfect condition. I did not need to retouch the above photograph, which I shot within the last month for this blog.

It is characteristic for me to name people I reference in this blog by their first and last name, and then to make future references in the same post by last name only. I have chosen to reference Masako by her first name throughout because even as an art student, she signed her work with just her first name, and she is known professionally as an artist even now by just her first name, to my knowledge.

Thank you Masako for the artwork. And thank you for helping my grandparents for so many years. You were very kind to them, and I appreciate your kindness.

Written by Kevin Warnock

January 22nd, 2012 at 5:00 am

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