Death Draws No Line: Edgar Holloway (1914-2008) Remembered

It was an honor to write the farewell that, at last, appeared in The Guardian today. It was agony, too, this assignment to capture, in the scant space allotted, the likeness of an artist who told of himself in etched lines more lasting than those far from final words of mine. Indeed, what I had intended to be the last line was clipped by that dispassionate, faceless Atropos of the publishing world, the editor. It read: “Holloway was that rarest of prodigies: he lived up to his promise.” Edgar Holloway, who passed away at the age of 94 on 9 November 2008, was just that: a promising young artist who continued to share his gifts into old age, no matter how fickle the fortunes, how mutable the market.

It is this picture of success in adversity that I wanted to paint: a teenager without means and formal education who got to etch the portrait of T. S. Eliot and other illustrious sitters; a self-conscious young man who, afflicted with a skin disease, examined and displayed a face he often felt compelled to hide; a boy wonder born too late and raised in an age that seemed past miracles; a skilled chronicler of life denied the chance to serve his country at war by recording its devastation; a distraught teacher who went into the countryside to restore his health only to find his fortunes fall in the city that could keep his career alive; an artist who found a lover in the model of another; a young father who taught himself to be practical to provide for his growing family; a printmaker who sold his tools for scrap metal when the once lively trade appeared to have died; a mature man who returned to art after machines had put an end to the demand for his craft; a painter active in old age, whose gifts were unimpaired yet whose newfound acclaim was based chiefly on a likeness he had etched in adolescence—a likeness so unlikely to represent all that he had to share.

Being a relative newcomer to the British Isles, I was ignorant of Edgar Holloway’s accomplishments, as familiar as I soon became with the face that looks out at me from that handsome self-portrait on our kitchen wall. My partner, who has written extensively on him and who was privileged to befriend him, could tell me much about Edgar; but it was not until I greeted the man in our home that I learned more fully to appreciated the stories a portrait can tell and withhold: “Here I am,” it whispers, and “find me.”

Last April, when we visited Edgar and his wife Jennifer in their home in Sussex, England, I glanced over the artist’s shoulders as he browsed the catalogue of his oeuvre and recalled scenes and events of a long, rich life. His memory was fading; but many of his impressions remained strongly etched in his mind and could be reproduced for inspection. “My memory is not nearly as good as yours,” I told him when the task of recalling became more frustrating than rewarding; “but unlike you,” I added, “I have done so little that seems worth remembering.”

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