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#678: “First He’ll Frame You” 
Basswood, 10.4”h x 7.25”w x 2.25”deep. 2012
Billy T 3

portrait of Billy Thompson, Jr.,
small town historian and framing artist. 

Billy T 2

Believe it was likely in the summer of 2011, possibly 2012, that  i took a number of studies of the diminutive (in physical stature only), Billy Thompson, Jr.   Suspect he has been a life-long resident of the western Mn town of Milan, where his grandfather was a sort of electronics/radio pioneer and patented and sold many a signal booster device.  Billy eventually inherited his grandpa’s store on the once bustling mainstreet, now reduced to a shadow of its former self.

He’s a heckuva community booster, and has turned the double front building into a unique small town museum with an adjoining gift shop run by his daughter, Anne, who returned with her Aussie husband from the land of his mirth to help Billy and his wife, whose decline has recently placed her in a nursing home.

In 2011 i had rec’d an invitation to come to LA and put on a show of relief portraiture in wood, at an exclusive affair in suburban LA.  The clincher was that the host’s good friend was in thick with the Getty Museum, and the promise was that she could introduce me to a whole new, and wealthy, clientele.  The host wanted a minimum of six new works, which, with numerous exhibition commitments, was going to be a stretch.  For that reason, plus the advantages of having some more affordable pieces, i was looking to do a couple of simpler and quicker pieces.

Billy had been a friend for perhaps two decades by then, and i took some studies to see if i might do him justice.  The piece actually turned out more involved than planned, simply because of the difficulties in accessing some areas behind the hand and the chair’s spindles.  Mezzo-relief is in any case a slow process if one is obliged to sneak foreground elements into the mid-ground without the viewer’s eye objecting.

(The LA “’What Don’t Kill Ya...’ Roadshow” turned out to be “Much-of-the-West-Other-than-California Roadshow” when that crucial catalytic Getty agent was contacted personally, sorta last minute, and was unable to call my work “art” without audibly gagging.  ...she eventually accommodated her principles bin terming it “craft-art”.)

Back to Billy, it wasn’t until i was well into the piece that i noted the absence of furrows to his brow.  A later inquiry revealed that he had had much of his nose replaced, owing to skin cancer.  An inch-wide vertical strip was taken from the center of his forehead and placed down the length of his proboscis, and a good hunk just above his eyebrow was taken to form a new left nostril.
Beyond the cancer, Billy has had three heart attacks, at least two of them occurring in the presence of another long-time mainstreet crony.  Billy loves to tell and re-tell the story of each, and how the pair of them exchanged jokes and barbs as to things to come and how the expenses would cut into the quality and quantity of the ham sandwiches to be offered following the upcoming funeral.  He related that the post-coronary meds made him feel like crap, so he dumped the lot of them and now feels fine.  He remains a kid at heart, delighting in imitations of the sounds of flatulence and expressing the joys of indulging the genuine phenomenon.

His museum has been featured on a public TV program, Postcards, i believe.  Can likely be found by googling Billy Thompson, Jr., Milan Minnesota mainstreet history museum.  Best times to witness the event are on the Syttende Mai celebration (on the Saturday closest to May 17) and the Saturday they observe “Christmas in Milan.”  His establisment is called the Arv Hus Museum, and the gift shop is called Billy Maple Tree’s; Anne Thompson, proprietor, 320-734-4868.   Anne quotes him as saying, “My motto is never let the truth get in the way of a good story!”  

Google Milan, MN for more info.  If you are ever of a mind to explore western MN, it should be a stop.  There are actually a number of beautiful places out there, one just needs know where to find them. 

Updated June 15, 2016