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In Memory of my Friend, Mel McCuddin

The first time I saw a Mel McCuddin painting was in Spokane, Washington on a trip to visit my husband’s family. Smokey and I discovered an eccentric gift shop, Boo Radley’s, named for the character from the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”. From the window, I saw Haitian metal sculpture. Upon entering, we simply fell in love with the place. Made in USA wooden toys were part of the line up, hand puppets of boxing rabbi’s, boxing nurses, boxing nuns, and many more unexpected personas were sold alongside die-cast toy cars.

While paying for our selections in the store’s alcove, above the cashier, I saw a 24 by 24 inch figurative painting of an old man in a swing or perhaps it was a child, with an old soul. We asked for the artist’s name and learned that it was by Mel McCuddin, a former milk truck driver. Oddly, the cashier spoke more about the milk trucks being 18-wheelers than McCuddin as an artist.

The next year, we went to the Spokane City Hall to see a solo Mel McCuddin exhibition. Six months, later I woke my husband up in the middle of the night and told him Mel’s images filled my dreams. He asked, “Like in nightmares, or sweet dreams?” I answered “Neither, just vivid!”

We wrestled with the fact that his art was not Caribbean. Eventually, we decided that his work so powerfully communicated the human condition, that our clients should be introduced to him. His first two shows were group shows. His paintings sold to locals and visitors, the week we opened them, before the shows even started. After that, for 16 years he earned a highly anticipated annual solo show.

When he passed away in October 2022, I was overcome with grief. I still get weepy when I think of losing my good friend Mel, but then, I focus on how my life was enriched by knowing him. He had the most amazing hunting and fishing stories.  He had a great sense of humor. And in the gallery, Mel McCuddin continues to talk to us all through his art.

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