It’s the laugh that I miss.
Joe had a marvelous baritone laugh. It wasn’t belly-splitting or loud or protracted. It was warm and inviting . . . the kind of laugh that interrupted your thoughts and made you look at his face, with the gentle eyes and amiable smile.
Joe’s laugh and humor were never at the expense of or directed at another. It was genuine, good-natured fun. Joe rooted for the little guy, the underdog, the one who needed a second chance. Laughing at someone was not Joe’s style.
As I write, Joe Ruelle – the Museum’s longtime facilities manager and beloved co-worker and friend – is close in thought (as he is most days) for several reasons: it’s a gorgeous sunshiny day, the current exhibition is Nature, Tradition & Innovation: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics, and the complementary interactive family gallery – Art Park – invites all ages to engage and be at ease. On Saturday, Joe’s family and friends gathered for a memorial tribute at the Woodson Art Museum.
Traditional Japanese ceramic design and process are influenced by the natural world and embrace the four elements – earth, air, water, and fire. Japanese ceramics emulate cultivated rusticity and simplicity – wabi. In all seasons, Joe spent his downtime outdoors. Getting metaphorically “lost” in the woods or on the water was Joe’s great pursuit.
Sabi – the beauty in aging – distinguishes Japanese ceramics from other Asian wares. Utilitarian pieces (tea cups, flower vases, and sake vessels) fill the gallery. All have been used. Wear is cherished. Joe valued a good tool and fashioned many for specific uses at the Museum. Likewise, he was thrilled to participate in many different workshops, including steel-smelting.
I have the privilege of working with the talented Art Park creative staff – of which Joe was a significant member. Joe often remarked that some of his most motivating, inspiring, and gratifying Museum projects were in Art Park. Ironically, this is the first Art Park installation that does not reflect Joe’s influence. Yet Joe is present; the tranquil space is filled with nature-inspired tactiles, landscape images, and simulated potters’ wheels.
Visit the Woodson Art Museum. Stroll the gardens – meticulously cared for by Joe. View the current exhibitions installed with tools Joe fashioned. Celebrate the “Joe” in your life.
May Art Park, the Museum, sculpture gardens, and grounds continuously hum with the good-hearted laughter Joe inspired and nurtured.