Thinking further about my folks relationship with Robert Pirsig...
Reminiscence of a DeWeese
When my father was teaching at MSU, he had a studio downtown. He paid $27.00 month for the entire second story of the VFW Club, a spacious open expanse which was previously the Moose Lodge. The mounted moose head was still hanging in the studio when Bob worked there, rather out of context as he was not your typical Montana hunter type of fellow. Bob and Gennie were a hub for a very lively community of intellectual, modernist “thinkers” and artists of their generation, mostly a cross section of university faculty who at that time were less segregated between the departments as people tend to be now. They loved to stay in touch with what people were thinking about and what was new in their respective fields, so this space was the perfect gathering place for periodic parties among folks, many of whom became lifetime friends. Bob and Gennie brewed their own beer in those days, and the amber flowed together with the conversation through a decade and more of exchange and sharing of ideas. This was the context that they became acquainted with Bob Pirsig. A newcomer in the late 50's, Pirsig was a quiet guy, introspectively not gregarious, but my parents memories were that he was especially interesting to talk with one on one. He was exceptionally bright and the conversation was intense. As many people did through that period, the Pirsigs would occasionally come by the house. I remember Nancy being very warm, but as a kid I had no personal contact with Bob, I remember thinking of him as a sort of mysterious guy, deeply engaged in his own world. I was pretty much that way myself, so I thought of him as particularly interesting. My older sister Cathie use to babysit the two boys on occasion, probably while their folks were at the studio parties.
When Bob Pirsig returned on his now famous route to revisit his old “haunts” at MSU, he reconnected with my parents, as is now so well known from the visit to the DeWeeses in ZMM. I think it is noteworthy that, prior to this visit, the entire Chautauqua takes place exclusively as an internal dialog. He does not have a rapport with John and Sylvia in this way, so all of his thinking is introspective. When he sees Bob and Gennie, the Chautauqua begins to flow out of him and it is from this engagement that my mother suggests he write all this down...
I have a notion that my parents had an effect on many people that way. They were exceptionally receptive to new and interesting ideas and were genuinely interested to learn what might become of these ideas as they evolved. They cared about people and the struggles and discoveries in their process. Partially because my dad was a teacher, and partially because my mother was a gracious and hospitable hostess, as well as both being artists and active culturally and intellectually, many people, students and colleagues, found a home base with my folks and I think Pirsig was no exception. Most of these people became friends over the years, and like the files that my parents kept about Bob Pirsig, they followed the careers of friends, students and colleagues throughout their entire lives. As people moved away, they continued to share letters and publicity clippings, catalogues and other acclaim of their contributions. Bob Pirsig, Peter Voulkos, Rudy and Lela Autio, James Reineking, Mary Overlie, Helen McCauslan, Jessie Wilbur, Frances Senska, Bill Stockton, Margaret Greg, Bob Laugerquist, John and Debbie Buck/Butterfield, Pat Zentz, Jerry Rankin, Chester (Wally) Hansen, Zak Zakovi, M.J.Williams, Nan Parsons, Terry Karson, Ben Tone, Bill Pullman, Michael and Lynda Sexson, Freeman Butts, Norman Strung, Sam Curtis...the list goes on...of the people who counted my parents as close friends and credited them with either initiating them into or supporting them in their process of evolving their life work...and, as a matter of fact, in acknowledging the Quality in their work! And these were only the people who became known by their work. The network of people who constituted my parents' personal circle of friends is vast and weaves through many eras. Beginning in the earliest years as revolutionary minded students at Ohio State, their alliances with colleagues and students continued to thrive through their lifetime and into the present as a part of the greater Bozeman and Montana community of creative minded folks. Bob and Gennie loved and were loved by many.
And of course many of these people have migrated nationally and internationally. The kitchen wall (and studio walls) over the years were testimonial to their social ties and network of support and correspondence. Announcements of shows, postings of acknowledged work and celebrated events would fill the walls to overflowing over the decades and be ritually, of necessity, be disassembled to make room for the coming years, always loveingly preserved in manilla envelopes, and are still stored today amidst bins and shelves of what the family has come to call “the DeWeese Archives” in my mother's old studio. Certainly all of Pirsig's announcements through the press were pinned on the wall as he emerged from obscurity to international acclaim. He, like so many others, felt at home with these people who cared about his work and about the shifting world that it spoke to. These were tumultuous times in our cultural mind and revolutionary in the forms of expression that emerged from those times. Like Pirsig, my father challenged the “status quo” of the esthetic norm, and initiated young minds to a wave of innovative perception emergent from the abstract expressionist movement of the 30's and 40's. Although Bob Pirsig and Bob DeWeese navigated different cultural terrain, there was a simpatico of spirit and a vitality and dynamism of the creative world that embraced the shift about which Pirsig as a writer was so perceptive and so verbally articulate in both of his works. My dad worked visually somewhere along that same cutting edge. (please see link, Thoughts about Dad)
After the auctions that marked the celebration of each of their lives, after the gifting of large bodies of their works to Montana Museums, after the documenting and storing of their personal art left over from the eras of explorations, and the homes of their five kids are filled to the limits... documents, photographs and disassembled collections of art from trades and gifts from students, friends and colleagues acquired over the decades are packed away, the studio walls, like the disassembled kitchen walls...have come down. But we still hold the images.
Although I'm certain the personal papers of Bob Pirsig are extensive, his masterworks are bound into two volumes..where the preserved works of Bob and Gennie remain as multitudes of images. The Robert and Gennie DeWeese Website is an attempt to consolidate and to present the life works of both artists in a way that will celebrate and honor their tradition of sharing with the community of artists and friends, with educational institutions and with global public now, on the world wide web.
***We have negotiated the transference of the “Pirsig papers” to the Special Collections of the MSU archives. The file box that was kept for decades in the studio contained the clippings that came down from the kitchen wall, their personal correspondence through the period of his emergent notoriety and one of two xeroxed copies of the manuscript of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It is available for viewing through the Special Collections at the MSU Library.
This piece was written in retrospect of the 2012 Chautauqua, a celebration to honor the life works of Robert Pirsig. Robert was awarded an Honorary Doctorate at the MSU Winter Commencement Ceremonies following the two day event. Tina and Josh were members of the organizing committee for this event, together with Charlie Pinkava, MSU Faculty (Critical Thinking, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance his text), and Michael Sexson, long time and beloved professor of Literature at MSU. Please see links below.