My beloved friend Gwen Gibson passed away yesterday. She was at home, surrounded by people who loved her, peaceful, accepting. As these things go, it was ideal.
Gwen, in the kitchen of La Cascade, Durfort, France
I met Gwen when I went for the first time to the South of France and stayed in her lovely old house in the town of Durfort. The house is named La Cascade, and this is the street. The water down the center of the road is the old quench stream for the metalsmiths who created the copperwork that Durfort was famous for.
To quote Gwen, about how it came to be that she should own a house in the South of France,
“An appetite for fresh experience and the need to keep moving take me places I would never have imagined beforehand. Because I find the unknown tempting, I’m often drawn to projects that have no predictable outcome, like buying a 300 year old house in France to convert into a retreat for creative workshops.
I’m amazed by how it all seems to come together in the end, much like a collage.”
Gwen was more alive than most people; we reminded each other of ourselves in that way. She was gentle and funny and she drew like an angel, and she loved bold colours and good people and delicious food and everything French.
She wore wrestler’s boots, when she felt like it.
This was the back porch at La Cascade, and I can easily tell which trip it was for me, because I can see the absurd and delightful oil can that Doriot found in a market, and carried home; that trip was the first time that Doriot and I met, and my second trip to La Cascade.
I remember sitting with Gwen in her little apartment, up on the third floor, looking out over the little river coursing down from the Black Mountains. There were Roman bridges, and just across the water from the house there was a beautiful (and also Roman-era, I believe) sculpture of the Virgin, which poured from a stone pitcher a continuous stream of mountain water that was widely believed to be sacred, and to have healing powers.
We talked about life, about drawing, about love, and it seemed like we’d known each other forever, which of course I’m sure we have.
To quote Gwen again, from her web site,
“…I have ridden the years as they circle around a hidden axis, counting, remembering, and holding on for dear life…”
Vero’s river is always a favorite…
From the moment that Gwen found out that her run was up, she was strong, and accepting, and sensible. After all, as she said, about a painting that she made, “the yearning to transcend is so strong that one is prepared to take off in the shakiest of contraptions.”
If I can bring even a measure of the laughter and grace she brought to the end of her life to my own end, when it comes, I’ll be happy.
I miss you already, my vibrant, clever, beautiful friend.
Until we meet again.