In Memoriam: Michael Skop 1932-2009

My dear father, Michael Skop

Sorry I have not been posting as of late but my dearest father, Michael Roe Skop, passed away on May 31st, 2009. He was 76, almost 77 as his birthday is June 14th.  He was fine artist and taught and touched many students lives at my childhood home in Fort Thomas, KY at a private art school called Studio 70.  He will surely be missed. I miss him a lot and wanted to post a story my sister read after the funeral that many of you will enjoy.  It's called the "Red Balloon and the Silver Nut" by Zesha Skop.

A memorial fund has also been established in memory of my father and mother who supported the arts and art education for many years:

Michael & Kathleen Skop Fund for the Artsc/o The Greater Cincinnati Foundation 200 West Fourth Street Cincinnati, Ohio 45202-2602 (513) 241-2880 Fax (513) 852-6886

Tax Identification number: 310669700

Once you make a donation you will receive a receipt that you can use for tax deduction purposes.  There is no need to put the Tax Id Number on the check as you will get a receipt from them after you make a donation.

The monies from this fund will support student education and art programs in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Area, especially Highlands High School.

To my father.

"The Red Balloon and the Silver Nut"

by Zesha Skop

This story is inspired by a quote I once heard, “no hero is mortal until he dies.” Today, I share with you a moment in my life, where I was first introduced to the red balloon and the silver nut and where I realized my first hero.

Huddled around a black modeling stand, with a pivotal flat surface I took notes. At the time only scratches appeared in my drawing pad. Art history, philosophy, nature, physics, all fundamental truths of life were disclosed around that black modeling stand, likely made by father’s bare hands.

My feet were covered in a thousand days of clay dust. Wearing my favorite tattered corduroys, I scratched my way through my note pad. I drew out my number two pencil and realized that the almost needle sharp point probably needed to be sharpened just a tad more. I grabbed my easel and my art box and headed out to the studio kitchen, where affixed to the wall was my trusty hand cranking pencil sharpener.  It was there that I pretended to sharpen that pencil as if it had lived through the defining moments of my high school geometry existence. Once satisfied it was sharp enough, I hurried back to the studio to hear the end of the lecture, exactly as I’d planned.

Only about 5 or 6 years olds at the time, it was easy to understand how that pencil sharpener was slightly more fascinating than my father’s hour long lecture he was giving in the private art school housed in the basement of our home.

As everyone else began to disperse and get their own easels out to begin their drawing class –my father knelt down, wearing a torn white t-shirt and charcoal colored pants. Standing tall with his stern black boots he said in a similar fashion:

“Take your things and go to nature and draw me a picture of beauty as seen through your eyes. Take enough paper, and allow yourself to find nature’s beauty without judgment. Take this…”

He handed me a foot long piece of string with a rusty hardware silver nut tied to the end of the string and a red balloon.

“Realize while you hold that string, the energy you bestow in the movement of your hand is a part of nature, that you can control. Pause to realize that you are in control of your own life, and you must listen to nature, and your surrounding to accept and understand the beauty it can bring. “

“Also, take the balloon as a reminder too of how precious every breathe of life is, and draw the air from your body to the balloon to capture that moment in time as it’s passed.”

With a vengeance I packed my string with the silver nut and red balloon in my pocket.  I headed into the woods, for what felt like a journey a million miles away but within clear sight of home.

I recall looking back at the studio and my father’s oversized glass of ice tea sitting next to his drawing board, how magically simple things were to me.  My childhood hero didn’t wear or need a cape, or a rocket ship. He came complete with his own set of superhero tools; a welder, some clay, a potter’s wheel, brown drawing paper, a canvas, armature, and some black chalk.

I opened my tethered blue box of superhero tools and with a furrowed brow I stumbled my fingers through black charcoal fragments I had stolen from the base of my father’s easel.  I was sure that my hand would move like his, and my eyes would show exactly what they saw as I peered over his shoulder; the beauty of life and nature, of friends, of his adoration of my mother.

I had a little wooden stool that I carried with my brown easel.  Holding it together was a fine rusty chain linking the three sticks and a piece of ply wood I used as my art board. Out came my magic masking tape and over I rolled my paper. I had found the magic spot, a place where I was going to see how beautiful nature was, how I was going to capture the sound and the smell, and the trickling brook where I managed to stumble my way to.

With the remains of his broken charcoals, those magical shards that crumbled into black dust in my hands, I began to draw. I  set out to steal a moment in time. Every ounce of my heart pounded so hard, what a serious undertaking this was for me. I was given the ability to share with others the beauty of the world as I saw it, as I felt it between my bare feet, and felt it in my hands. What magic, what a gift, how lucky am I!

I began to draw feverishly. I was due back to present my findings to him shortly. I tied my string to the top of my easel and watched as I drew the bolt back to create the pendulum, and it swung back and forth in the wind. I mumbled those superhero words, those that I could recall from my father and quickly took out my magical balloon.  I filled it with THAT very moment. Plump and red, it too bobbled in the wind.

I realized I was in control of time, of nature, of the all the world with my magical tools.  With my fingers pinched around the folded edge of the balloon I held it up in the sky, above my easel and while sitting on my stool I watched as I released it from my fingers. I tracked with my eyes my contribution into the world.

I stopped time.  I held it between my very fingers and gave it back. I was filled with magical feelings and knew I could do anything, I could be anyone, I can share my magic with others.  Inspired, I picked up a shard of charcoal and continued.

Content with conquering the world and a glimpse of my magic I ran back.  Clanking on my back the chain and the wooden stool made me smile. I made that noise and I liked it! I was being extremely careful not to ruin any of my moments as they were expressed in charcoal, and awkwardly back the dirt path, up the short cut, and took large labored steps up the hill.

In itself the journey back was a part of the process. To be able to steal time and carry it to others that saw a different time pass, absolutely filled me with joy.

I tugged on his pants, too covered with magic dust and gestured to my perfectly taped drawing board and masterpiece. He gathered all the students around, and laid my piece on the black modeling stand.

He asked for his magic tools back, the silver nut and the red balloon. I pulled them from my corduroys and nestled them in his thick and well worked hands, and he slide them into his pocket.

“This is SO AMAZING, I can feel your energy in this piece, and I see you were excited…the next one will set you free, allow yourself TO BE YOU and you can borrow the string and balloon as you like.  Use them to allow yourself to realize what in life matters, and you will be able share with others the magic that has made YOU, YOU. “

I recall being so elated and filled with pride to be acknowledged in that space. To borrow his magical silver nut and that red balloon made me believe in me, simply because I believed in him.

I look back on this moment and realized as a parent myself, that I am afforded the opportunity to share a vision with my own children. To bestow the fundamentals of happiness this world has to offer, even if only by example, is heroic enough to those that desire so little. My father enabled me to BELIEVE that I could do anything by simply watching a pendulum swing, and capturing a breathe of air in a balloon. It was a kernel of magic more powerful than any other hero tool I know, and he planted it directly in my heart.

If only to leave one message behind, I’d add that we’re all given the opportunity to be hero’s and we’re only mortals when we die.  So seek to savor what’s given with every chance to hold a red balloon, or choose to slow down time with a silver nut and pass along a gift that can change a life.

I love you dad! Happy Birthday.

By Zesha Skop