We just got back from a week in Chicago, visiting good friends and eating good food. As always, we camp out at the Westin in Wheeling, a suburb very close to our former Lincolnshire home and near several of the people we visit most.
This is Nate’s heaven: the suburban developments, the strip malls, the fast food restaurants. He has a yearly checklist of streets he wants to travel in order to check on any renovations that may have occurred since our last trip. Nate and I used to bike through the Lincolnshire roads, usually for 90 minutes or so, me on my Trek, him on his Schwinn Orange Crate reproduction. He never grew tired of pedaling past the same homes, so similar, yet so different. To him they were unique specimens, each worthy of his focused attention.
That, of course, holds even more true for the strip malls of the Chicago burbs, which Nate has turned into a singular artistic vision. This past year, when Nate’s strip mall art garnered its first gallery show, its own Etsy shop and multiple sales (in fact, we delivered two works on our trip), I became immersed in his work. Through listing over 160 pieces, and scouring the hundreds more he has done but is presently unwilling to part with, I have seen the beauty that he sees, the minutiae that means so much.
Nate’s artistic world has become so much part of mine that driving past shopping centers has taken on a completely new meaning. I see these real structures as living colored pencils drawings sprung from Nate’s mind. It was impossible for me to separate the reality from the drawings. For the first time I noticed each store, some I’d never heard of until I saw them in a picture Nate gave me to sell. Many I thought he’d made up. And I found myself really looking at the facades and lines of the rooftops, the signboards and the fonts, the layouts and the logos. It was dizzying entering, not an alternate reality, but reality seen differently.
When we delivered his drawings, one of the purchaser’s daughters, around Nate’s age but so different in her skills and education and goals, sat with him on the couch and asked about his designs. The scene warmed me. I think often we as Nate’s parents see him for his plusses and his minuses, but his peers see his strengths and shrug at his offness.
Nate talked with her. I’m not sure what he said. It didn’t matter though. He was involved, he was interested and, more importantly, he was interesting.