Remembering Oberlin Artist Harley, Founder of Terra Candella
“I am, above all else, a passionate and lifelong student of Art.” – Harley
October 15, 1940 – January 10, 2017
If they happened to be taking a late-night walk during the late ’70s, Oberlin residents might glimpse a bearded figure with a cigar jutting from his mouth, moving about in the brightly lit, second floor art studio above the stores flanking one side of the town square. On a hot summer’s night one might, drawing closer, hear the faint strains of Italian opera. The studio, filled with ceramics, drawings, paintings, collage, jungle-like plants and a neatly assembled jumble of old yet functional odds and ends, was a temple of sorts, perfumed with the incense of cigar smoke, and inhabited by that oddity of human society, an artist with no vocation other than art, no trust fund and no day job.
Father and then grandfather, a husband and partner, a lover and friend, Harley lived a large and complex life driven by large and complex appetites. “Simply speaking,” he would say in his nasal, and sometimes acerbic manner, “My needs are greater than my fears.” He simultaneously embraced the artistic fantasy of royalty while being unabashedly true to his family’s Indiana farming roots, and he would often regale visitors to his studio with tales of his grandmother, who would fly out of the farmhouse and use a rake to club a snake out of a tree, then finish cooking a gargantuan breakfast concluded with several homemade pies.
Harley loved life and wanted to live longer than he did. Even as his health declined, he continued making art. If he didn’t have money to buy paint and canvas, he would glue labels, tickets, cancelled stamps, bits of foil and cigar bands to paper. When he could no longer stand upright to make large paintings, he sat and created smaller works. One of his chief survival tools was a wicked and sardonic wit, and his family members report that he made them laugh in the last few days of his life, even joking with the nurses as he returned to consciousness, in pain, after his final surgery in a hospital in Northern California, where he made his home for the last thirty years.
Harley’s art was never sold widely in famous galleries, though his extensive participation in the mail art movement made him known internationally; he survived through skillfully cultivating and maintaining a far-flung community of friends and acquaintances who would be invited to the house for dinner or a birthday party and who might leave with a painting or set of drawings that had begun to speak to them, perhaps forcefully or, as Harley loved to say, sotto voce.
The painter of unicorns, the postmaster and resident ruler of the website Terra Candella, the Land of Light, has set down his brush.
Harley was born in New Albany, IN, and lived in Graton, CA, at the time of his death. He is survived by his partner Hamlet Mateo, his children Tristan Francis and Gabrielle Francis-Zenger and his sister, Joyce Blair. Plans are being made for a retrospective show of his work to serve as background for a memorial gathering, details TBA. Gifts and remembrances should be sent to Tristan Francis at 7985 SW 67th, Portland, OR 97223.