In 2021 I wrote an article about my friend and mentor, Bruce Wolfe who passed away Dec. 27 2022.
I spoke at the memorial service and what follows is the text of my eulogy.
I met Bruce in 1980 – I was recently accepted into a new MFA program and was sent over to meet him with the hope that he would agree to be my graduate advisor. I was 28, and he was 41…
He had an amazing studio behind a beautiful house. There were brushes, Books stacked on the floor and layers of drawings pinned up everywhere.. There was a wall covered with notes and phone numbers. … he was very tall, and I was really nervous. He looked through my portfolio, then looked up and shook his head. He pointed to a table and said: “This is a ruler. This is a table. At some point, it stops being a ruler and starts being a table. You need to make decisions about where the ruler stops and the table starts.”… but added that I could come back with a better painting “later” …
I went home and tried to decode this cryptic comment.
I threw everything at a new painting and came back two months later. He looked at the new painting, and wrote my name and number on a scrap of paper and pinned it to the wall. It was that simple. The wall in his studio is still covered with phone numbers, some came and went sometimes I would see newer numbers pinned on the tip of the older ones, friends , contacts at the foundry, sometimes famous people like Tony Bennet, Margret Thatcher or Clint Eastwood who were moddleing for sculptural portraits. And forty years later the little scrap of paper with my name is still up on that wall.
Over the next year, I ran errands for him and spent a few afternoons with him, not painting but talking.
By giving his time he gave me a gift I could never repay, because through his generosity I learned how to be a professional artist.
He told me it would be important to protect my time – but he never protected his time from me.
Bruce had an amazing, and dry, sense of humor. The delivery was everything:
He came visit my class once and showed his work. The students were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of his productivity- during his presentation, one asked
“Did you have any kids?” “No- (long pause) …but my wife had two.”
Bruce had the total respect of every creative person who knew him, not just for his skills and his success and longevity, but for his artistic integrity. And though he was on a level far beyond most, he never made anyone feel any less of an artist that he was.
Over the years I know I projected the role of a sort of surrogate father onto Bruce. I think Bruce’s super power was that he cast a sort of spell onto everyone around him. I imagine there were many others like me but I always felt like I had a special connection to him.
In recent years we met occasionally for breakfast on Piedmont avenue..
Everybody knew him- the people at Peete’s, the people at the breakfast place, the regulars, people on the street. They were all excited to see him. It seemed like he was known and loved by everybody- people who probably had no idea what he did professionally. He was modest, not in a performative way. He wasn’t comfortable with self- promotion, which made him a sort of outlier in todays art scene, but he didn’t need to be. He was as busy as he wanted to be, up until his last day on earth.
At breakfast told me that he thought we- he and I – were the lucky ones, because we had everything we needed. He meant not success but our families. In this context he always asked about my wife- he would ask “how is your Linda?”.
We had our own book club. I introduced him to the Count of Monte Christo– and Bruce loved that book. He quoted me the last line of the book- when the Edmond Dantes- the count , says farewell to his loved ones:.
“…Until the day God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, ‘Wait and Hope.”
Perhaps we can see it as a cryptic message from Bruce to us today – all of us who knew him, worked with him, and loved him- to wait and hope until the day when we will be together again.
You can read Bruce’s obituary in the SF Chronicle here
Ah Bruce Wolfe, what an incredible artist! I have some awesome posters with his artwork that I have had since the seventies. A Pink Floyd piece with Egyptian pigs worshiping a Sphinx with a pig head. Also an Alice in Wonderland Fender Guitar promotional rendered in a golden age of illustration style. It must have been great to mentor under such an inspiring painter. I had no idea he was such a phenomenal sculptor as well. Thanks for posting, it’s nice to be reminded about Wolfe’s work.
By chance he is/was friends with my sister out in California. I met Bruce many many years ago when he was illustrating and art director for Foote, Cone and Belding. I was a recent Pratt grad…My brother in law was creative director. The Levi Strauss adss are wonderful too. Also the Celestial Seasonings boxes he did.
His advice was look to the Brandywine school for inspiration and guidance. Study Howard Pyle. Obviously he did.
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I had the honor some years ago of judging a show with him and two other artists. He was a great artist and a very nice person. Robert you were so fortunate to have had him as your mentor and friend.
It’s a pity that life is so short.
You, Robert, made a terrific portrait of Bruce Wolfe and poured out a phenomenal eulogy.
Thank you very much for that.