The Right Triangle 

I don’t think celebrate is the right word for what I’m thinking today — perhaps deeply acknowledge is better? Regardless, I am aware of the anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon along with my departure for the CIA a month or so later. In the middle of all this, in 1969 I had my first solo exhibition in Snohomish Washington, where I grew up.

The exhibition came through a series of the wild attractions which have always seemed to be part of my life. I’ve always benefitted from meeting people along the track — people who have aided my inquiries, projects and practices in some manner. Many seem, on the surface, to offer only tiny contributions, a sentence here and there or a recommendation. Yet some of these tiny contributions have led to far more change for me than I would have ever expected. This period in 1969 has many intertwined threads. 

Reminded by a fan last week that I have not posted anything in a couple months [busy with summer workshop preparations ] I felt it time to acknowledge the spin of that particular year. Einstein did not mention, was not aware of, the truth that that memory and mind are faster than light.

I met Architect Bob Haggard when I was 18 in my first year of college. My first visit to his space and seeing drawings connected something for me. The drawings were elegant, colorful architectural renderings, conceptual and deliberate. Bob was investing and, following a trend at the time, purchased a small number of old buildings which were underutilized (run down was the descriptive term). He would use these buildings as stages for his experiments in architecture — ways of dealing with condensed urban living. I lived in one space for a while and loved it. I also had a studio in one of the buildings while in grad school and another one was the site of my first solo show.

For the show I was able to use the third floor of what we then called the Butcher Building. When I was little, it held a butcher shop owned by Bill Schott, who might have been a 9th cousin to my mother. Anyway, Bill was a fine fellow and provided us with a variety of meaty products for many years. After he retired, the building fell out of my field of awareness until I met the new owner, Mr. Haggard.

By the end of my first two years of college, I had amassed a lot of paintings and Bob suggested that I show them. The top floor of the Butcher Building had a dance hall with stage and kitchen. It was vast! Three long flights of stairs led there. The space was full of crumbling lath and plaster which was decayed enough that I decided to remove it all. My dear sister and I would pull it off the walls, load it into empty feed bags and haul it down to the pickup for a dump run. It was very hot dusty work on the top floor of a building at the end of July. We dared not count the number of trips and down those flights of stairs, but we completed the job. I would not have had the show without her help. We printed silk screened invites, she addressed them and also acted as hostess [a hated term] for the show.

Once the space was clean, she and I hauled the paintings up and set them out to where they would be hung. There was still a lot of space and I had some canvas that was vast. Haggard’s associate, David Heath, and my pal Richard Simonson, both of an engineering background, watched one evening as I began to build a set of stretchers and work up the canvas. They observed that I was struggling with building a large rectangle. The thing was huge — maybe 7 feet high and longer still. It remains the largest painting I have ever made. My rectangle was wonky — rustic if you want to be kind. 

The guys took over. It was beautiful to watch as they engineered the whole thing into reality. Diagonals were measured and side lengths made consistent and their bracing, to keep it true, was gorgeous. The conversation was even better, as they were inadvertently teaching me something about precision. 

At that time in my young life, I was okay with a bit of play in the work but one of them said that ‘’if the canvas was true to the right angle, people would see the painting and not the fact that the whole thing was crooked.’’


I had not considered the right angle; this triangulation. This concept gleaned from my dreadful geometry class became fully formed and meaningful through a physical exercise — I got it. They were correct of course which gave up to me the idea that the format of work can be both profoundly present and invisible.

The painting was made [I was very fast in those days] and enough work sold that I paid for a quarter at the CIA [Colorado Institute of Art]. As I was returning the last of the exhibited work to my home, I met Mildred Close — the mom of Chuck — which is a story I’ll tell another time.

A few weeks later a friend and I headed off to Denver with the echo of Apollo 11 in my mind. As we drove toward Colorado, taking our time, I saw the night sky in Wyoming — deep space. Woodstock and the Manson murders were occurring in another part of the space-time continuum. It was, in recall, a really full and freaky time….the summer of ’69.

I tend to think of myself as a solo operator and, as a friend said once, a rogue operative in the bookbinding world. It is, however, vivid to me that I have accomplished some things and, as I travel through the chemistry of memory, that those accomplishments sit on historic shoulders or come from the interactions of very supportive people every step of the way. 

No one works alone really. At a distance, people labor to provide me with materials and others write books that also serve as guides.The material armory is now abundantly full and the library is more than satisfactory. Yet still there are the people that are just there, providing calm wisdom and essentially keeping me honest.

The awareness of this, the conditions and circumstances, place me in a space of gratitude. Many of the people in this interior-minded list encouraged me to slow down and do my best work. Getting it done was good — getting it done in a manner that was exemplary was better. This would be seen to pay off.

My thanks as always in all this to Doug Garnett and Randall Hankins, Esq. This would not happen without you.

©2019 Timothy C. Ely — All Rights Reserved


  1. I’ve been thinking I’d like to turn one of your works into stitch. Of course I would need your permission.

    The photo above made me think either black, or red, on white background.

    If you agreed, you might help me decide which piece to choose,?

    Too complicated might not work well.


  2. Larry Ellingson

    It was reading this. I remember the story of the third floor, the sweaty work and the help from your sister on our road trip last year. I didn’t remember the story of your engineer friends but it’s a good one. Precision and attention to detail is one your most powerful tools.



    Sent from my warped perspective



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