I’ve finished my February floral paintings and I’ve moved on to some other projects but I have a really big project to tell you about! I’m painting this fish for my town. There’s a long story behind this fish.
We currently have three large painted trout statues in Bryson City and the tourism board decided to add a few more. My friend Dennis called me one day last October and asked me to put my name into the hat to paint one. Of course my first reaction was no. Public art can be scary and I live a lot of my life now just trying to happily float through the middle of things. I told him, “Dennis, there are a lot of artists that have been around here much longer than I have.”
Dennis kept shutting all my negative, self deprecating talk down and finally said something I’ll never forget, “Listen, I am your number one fan…heck, I could be the president of your fan club. I want you to paint one of those fish.” So, I told him I’d think about it and a few days later I called him back and told him that I would “reluctantly” apply… only because he wanted me to do it. Two days later Dennis was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, the same cancer I was diagnosed with in 2012.
I spent a lot of time with Dennis the last few months. I would read him old newspapers I had found and fill him in on town gossip. He would tell me stories and I would record them. Dennis died on January 5th. The below photo is one I took of him last October with his dog Rufus.
At the end of February I found out I was selected for one of the fish. This trout statue is for Dennis. He loved this little mountain town more than anyone I know. He was even named Citizen of the Year in 2019 by the town of Bryson City. I miss him a lot.
I last saw Dennis three days before he died. I stayed with him for a while so his wife Debi could run some errands. I was late though because I accidentally sat on my paint palette right before I was supposed to leave. We had a good laugh about that, and I then I ate all his peanut M&Ms. That was his last good day and I’m glad that’s how I remember him. I’m both excited and scared about this fish. It will be displayed somewhere in town. I’m grateful for the chance and that so many people have faith in me to do a good job. Dennis was the first though. I’m making progress on it…it takes up half my store right now. I’ll be posting updates on Instagram soon.
Wow Ashley! That is so not what I was expecting as I scrolled down reading. It is Soooo much better than I could ever envision. Your post reminded me of a verse Esther 4:14b “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Karen Murray says
What a lovely story and a beautiful way to remember your friend Dennis. Thanks for sharing.
The quilt motif is wonderful! I can’t wait to see it the next time I visit The Hemlock Inn and Bryson City.
Eloise Luyk says
Love what you are doing with the fish and what a loving tribute to Dennis..still your #1 Fan for sure. He is looking down and watching over you.
Katheryn Bailey says
Can’t wait to see it finished! You are an excellent artist Ashley!
Jane Clelland says
So hard to lose a friend. But you will see him every time you pick up your pallet, eat a M&M, or see the paint on the seat of your pants. What an honor for you and Dennis to be chosen to represent your beautiful city, the fish is wonderful! I, too, am a big fan. Could you also include a picture of the other fish? Sure wish I could see it in person!
Love the fish!!!!!!! How awesome to be there for someone in the end which is such a hard time in life. It is sooooo Great you got to bless his life. Thanks for sharing your talent!!!!
That’s a very heart pinging story with a side of onions. I’m glad you are painting a fish and that special memory of Dennis. Thanks for sharing your journey.
Carolyn H. says
Thank You, for sharing such a beautiful story. That is so wonderful you got to spend some time with him. I bet you made his day. Don’t worry about your fish.
I am sure he is right there beside you, helping you through it.
Oh my goodness. I love what you are doing. What a beautiful tribute.
Karyl Howard says
Oh, my heart! I am so glad that you heard his words and this fish is wonderful! May his memory be a blessing!
Good for you Ashley! Sometimes we all need cheerleaders because we forget how special we all are.
What a great story! Sorry for your loss of your friend Dennis. Would be fun to hide his name or a painted M&M hidden somewhere on your trout.
I am in a puddle of tears right now. What a beautiful friendship and I cannot wait to see the progress on the Fish!
Michelle in Montreal, Canada says
Such a heartwarming story. Please receive my condolences. Dennis sounded like an awesome friend.
Have fun with the fish; it’ll be fabulous!!