The Collector # 14

Peggy Ahwesh / Leonard Woodruff

As the days of self quarantine drift by I spend more time with the handsome genre painting that hangs on my bedroom wall in upstate New York – a still life with a shapely yellow pitcher next to a opal green vase that holds a bouquet of hearty purplish flowers. They sit on a table draped with a shadowy orange cloth. Quaint perhaps and a bit generic… I have always loved the shapes and colors of this painting, in addition to the fact that it is reflective of an important history for me about family and place.

The painting hung for decades in the extra bedroom where my partner K and I would sleep when we visited his parents in Wichita, Kansas along with the storage boxes and off season clothes.  I found the painting – its earthy hues, straightforward subject matter and craft – comforting in dealings with the in-laws that could be fraught or uninviting or outright boring and also magical since in it I felt a celebration of the heartland – the traditional austerity of the Midwest in a modest and a gentle embrace of earth’s gifts.  The painting holds much of the ethos that my family there holds and I’m sure they recognize these same qualities.

I would sometimes retreat to our bedroom and spend time looking at the painting. At different times of the day, the light would reflect off its surface making certain areas go white or disappear and from my vantage point on the bed, the painting was skewed and I could see it as an abstraction.  The dry, prickly flowers against the soft rounded curves of the ceramic vases generated a friction that felt dynamic and alive.

The painting is by Leonard Woodruff, an artist of some renown who lived in the attic of K’s grandparents’ place in the 1920’s and into the depression era of the 1930’s – he paid his rent with the work. The painting has proudly survived time and trend with a weightiness of memory and history.  There are 5 or so other paintings by Mr. Woodruff scattered throughout K’s parent’s  house – the special ones with viewing lights built into their gilt frames.  The one I have has always been my favorite.

The paintings were appraised after K’s mother died and the siblings got into horrible fights over who was to get what and who loved whom more…a typical scenario. Turns out they are not worth much. When K’s dad said take whatever you want, we packed up the painting and drove it back with us to New York.  K hung it in the bedroom and I continue to admire it from the skewed angle of my bed.

Peggy Ahwesh
May 2, 2020



“The Collector” is an ongoing series in which I ask people to talk about a painting or a drawing they own. See other installments here.

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