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  • Writer's pictureAllen Crater

Artists, Authors, and Makers Volume 11: Chuck Parsons

Updated: Mar 7

Like many of the finer things in life, including classic Italian pipes, the venerated writings of Robert Ruark, and old English side by sides, I was first introduced to Chuck Parsons' work through my buddy, Jon Osborn, when I noticed a painting hanging in his cottage. It was a timeless upland scene featuring woodsmen and their dogs gathered before a hunt. I was mesmerized.

When I inquired as to the artist, Ozzy replied, "That's from my buddy, Chuck."

"Wait, you know this guy?" came my stunned response.

"Yeah, I used to work with him, he's a close friend, you'll have to meet him sometime."

Damn right, I need to meet him sometime, I thought.

Well, that opportunity came last week when Ozzy and I joined Chuck, or "The Prez," as he's referred to among his close friends, and his lovely wife Diana in their home for a few cocktails and spirited conversation.

What follows is a condensed version of our time together that evening (the bourbon and storytelling definitely impeded my note taking). I hope you enjoy getting to know The Prez as much as I did.

Q: Chuck, can you give me a little of your background? Where did you grow up?

A. "I was born in 1937 and grew up in Winneconne Wisconsin, near the Wolf River. It was a small town of 950 people (or "The town that almost was," according to Diana). I grew up like Huck Finn, playing in the river with my brother, chasing critters, and catching fish."

Q: When did you first become interested in art?

A: "As a kid, math and English didn't hold big appeal; I enjoyed art and history and geography. I really liked cartoons."

"I remember spending rainy days drawing with a cigar box of broken crayons and brown packing paper at my aunt's house, and sketching at the bar while my parents had cocktails. And I would spend hours looking at the lures behind the glass at the local sporting goods store."

"Somehow it all influenced me."

Q: After high school, did you go right into an art career?

A: "My folks didn't have a lot of money for college so after graduation I enlisted in the army and served for three years as a gunner on a Patton tank in Germany. In the army I had 150 guys in my company from all over the world; pretty eye opening for a kid from the Wisconsin cornfields."

"When I came back home, I took up work in a paper mill where I met my first wife. It was then that I decided to go to art school and moved to Chicago. After school I spent 14 years as a commercial artist for an advertising firm in Chicago. I did a little freelance work on the side, picked up painting and sold a few of them. I remember one winter I took 4-5 frames and went to my Uncle Joe's cabin back in Eagle River, Wisconsin and painted for a week by kerosene lamp."

"Not long after, we decided to trade in city life and moved to a farm in Harbor Springs, Michigan where I could pursue my passion for cross country skiing. I opened a gallery and enjoyed a more bucolic life."

"I spent 14 years in Harbor Springs, then met Diana. After a couple years in Mason Michigan, we moved to Sarasota Florida. We spent 10 years there and then moved back to Holland,Michigan."

"Along the way I worked a number of side jobs in addition to my painting, just to stay busy. I've split wood, worked at a golf course, a local veterinary office and even at the Holland PD, where I met Ozzy and several of my other upland hunting buddies. The camaraderie I found there reminded me of my days in the army."

Q: Wow, you've sure seen a lot and lived in a lot of places.

A: "I'm not shiftless, Allen, I just like the adventure," Chuck replied, as we moved into the Plantation Room to admire some of his work.

Q: Tell me more about your artwork. How would you describe your style?

A: "I try to create a mood, rather than overwork it with details. This allows the imagination to complete the picture. My large abstract pieces are usually composed of mixed media. Using a combination of oils, acrylics, solvents, and paint tools, I try to orchestrate and push the boundaries of visual adventure."

"Color harmony and brushwork are the essential elements of my work. As I get older I have come to think that the brushwork is the most important, perhaps more so than the subject or the composition."

"The composition of my paintings starts with defining obscured space; areas in a painting that bear upon the subject matter, but are left to the viewer to interpret. Telling too much in a painting can actually lock out participation of the viewer."

Q: When I was reading up on your approach it says you paint Alla Prima, which translates literally to 'all at once,' can you tell me about your process?

A: "For 25 years I painted every day. There's nothing more terrifying than staring at a blank canvas. Like that dreaded blank page to a writer. But when I get in the zone, I just go, Diana knows not to disturb me. I'll go for 4 to 5 hours straight and be shaking when I'm done. I might go back later to add a few little things or touch up a couple spots, but typically it all comes in one furious flourish. "

Q: Do your pantings typically start with a photograph or sketch as reference?

A. "Although I sometimes sketch ideas I want to paint in the future or pull references from photos or magazines, I basically paint each scene right from my head to the brush to the canvas."

Q. I particularly enjoy your sporting art, but you paint a variety of subjects and even styles, including abstracts. Do you lean toward a particular subject or genre?

A: I enjoy working with a variety of subjects; most anything and everything could make up my next painting. Everything Interests me, there is no set category.

Q: Do you have a favorite work? I know it's a difficult question.

Chuck hemmed and hawed over this for a few minutes and never quite nailed down a favorite. Eventually he disappeared into another other room and returned with several albums full of photos of various works he painted over the years – and these are just the ones he took pictures of. It was staggering. I spent time going through them while Chuck told me a little about each one and answered questions.

And while Chuck couldn't nail down his favorite work, ever the storyteller, he remembered his favorite joke with ease. I won't give it away, but the punchline went something like this: "Growl you son of a gun. You're not going to bite me." Having heard it before, Ozzy was in tears before the final line was even delivered.

Q: When you aren't painting, what are some other things you enjoy?

A: "I have a number of hobbies. Di and I love to travel and entertain (I'm told their Kentucky Derby parties are the stuff of legend), I love building things. I bought and rebuilt a mountain bike just for fun, and recently built a miniature working Roman catapult (which I was given a demonstration of) and I love designing architecture (Chuck designed several architectural elements in their current home, which is 100 years old, including the complete design of the carriage house). I also raise and fly roller pigeons."

"But I really enjoy the sporting lifestyle with my buddies. More than anything I appreciate the classiness of it all– the tradition and ceremony."

"In the Spring we have 'Bamgluegill' where we spend a few days chasing bluegill with bamboo fly rods. Then we kick off upland season in September with an event called 'The Warming of the Guns' at the local rod and gun club–we all get dressed up. Then we spend a few days each season up at the North Branch Outing Club. For me, the time on the porch or around the tailgate with good food and good drinks sharing stories and laughs is as much of the experience as the hunt itself. We close each season with a holiday supper. It's just a grand experience all around, shared with some really good guys."

Q: Ok, I need to know, how did you get the nickname, "The Prez?"

A: Ozzy fields this one."The Wisconsin outdoor writer Gordon MacQuarrie wrote a series entitled, 'The Stories of the Old Duck Hunters.' They are about duck hunting, bird hunting, and trout fishing, mostly. The central figure in each is the author's father-in-law and hunting companion whom he calls 'Mister President' being the head of the 'The Old Duck Hunters' Association.' Chuck, as our elder statesmen, and by far the most distinguished gentleman in our motliest of crews, fills that role and the name stuck."

Q: You've clearly found the formula, so what is the key to staying young?

A: "Allen, the key to staying young is simple: surround yourself with younger people, keep an active body, and an active mind"

You can find Chuck's work at Art On Centre on Amelia Island, Florida, and in Saugatuck, Michigan at J. Petter Galleries.

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