Deborah Weiner describes her late parents as “far left liberals and activists, socially and politically. To them, JFK was a shining light. …”
When she was dismissed early from Case Elementary School on Nov. 22, 1963, and walked to her home a block away from Firestone High School, she found her mother and father crying..
Her mother, Eva, was an English teacher at North High, and her father, Bernard, taught art at the University of Akron and wrote an art column for the Akron Beacon Journal. He fought in the Pacific in the Army in World War II, and Kennedy fought in the Pacific in the Navy.
He was devastated.
“My dad went upstairs to his extra bedroom-painting studio and closed the door and, as I recall, truly did not emerge for several days,” she said.
And when he did come out, he had the first of two family heirlooms reflecting his grief over Kennedy’s assassination — a painting that hangs on the wall of her home in Silver Spring, Md.
She remembers that art room well. On the second floor of their 4-year-old colonial on Winhurst Drive, it had no open windows, was crowded with painting supplies, frames and books.
“So the smell was very compressed,” she said. “I loved it in there. I would go in and sit at his big, flat desk, which was always full of his wonderful lettering, doodling, and do my homework when he was not using it.”
She thinks he stayed there until Tuesday, which would be 50 years ago today.
He came out with a haunting artwork, about 30 by 40 inches.
He internalized the entire sequence of events, she said. Across the bottom march a procession of mourners, led by a riderless horse pulling the flag-draped coffin. Through the middle is another procession, climbing its way to Arlington National Cemetery.
There are images of the Capitol under dark skies, the Dallas Book Depository in a blur, a large D and a blood-stained abstraction.
“The overall grey, green, black tones of the painting describe his and all of our collective sadness in the dark days that followed the assassination,” she said.
The other, a collage, was completed in 1964.
Perhaps even more haunting than the first, the horizontal work tells a story of division, if not hatred, in Dallas that met Kennedy as he arrived.
An up-close examination reveals a Dallas Morning News welcome page as well as anti-Kennedy handbills that were circulated the morning of the 22nd.
“The painting memorializes JFK but my father, just as much, was addressing the toxic environment of hate and anger that surrounded the assassination,” said Deborah’s brother David Weiner, living in Washington, D.C. “This was a horror to him. …
“I remember him weeping.
“I remember him painting it in his studio in our house and, impressionist/expressionist that he was, he talked about how he just wanted to gather all the fragments of the moment,” he said.
“His use of text was a staple of his painting — something like a much more artistic version of a word cloud in today’s terms,” he said.
That work is in the possession of another son of Bernard Weiner, Joshua Hatch, of Virginia.
David and Deborah Weiner went on to graduate from Firestone High School. Their mother died in 1973 and father retired from Kent State in 1982. He died in 2005 at the age of 81 in Hanover, N.H.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.