Sunday, March 15, 2009

No, Sacha. We thank YOU!

Every once in a while, you have the opportunity to meet someone whose creative work leaves a lasting impression. Far less frequently, you’re even more fortunate when that same person leaves an even stronger imprint themselves.

The event I expected
I had the blessing to meet just such an individual the week of the Abraham Lincoln bicentennial. I attended a poetry reading at the Vachel Lindsay Home. Though I’d heard the poet, Dan Guillory, read some of his poems just a short time before, it was important to me that I attend the event at the Lindsay home.

Before I began my studies of Lincoln in earnest, I spent a great deal of time studying and writing about Illinois literature. My special area of concentration was the work of Carl Sandburg, but you can’t study Sandburg without studying the other Prairie Poets, Lindsay and Edgar Lee Masters. I wanted to see the home where he lived, wrote and died. And, I knew I’d enjoy the event.

As I expected, I really enjoyed hearing Guillory read his Lincoln poems again. I also enjoyed hearing a retired school teacher, Marge Deffenbaugh, read Lindsay’s poems. Unexpected surprises were a monologue by Kathey Reed, who portrayed Mary Todd Lincoln’s younger sister, Ann Todd Smith, who lived in the home before the Lindsay family, and period music by the Prairie Chickens.

The surprise ending
After the event, which spilled from the front to the back parlor of the large 19th century home, we moved to the dining room for refreshments. I lingered longer than most when I found people to visit with. As the crowd dwindled, I saw a man sitting in a corner of the back parlor, with dashing good looks and curly dark hair. The man, who appeared to be in his 30s or so (they all look young the older I get), was surrounded by women several years older than I am.

I walked over to Deffenbaugh and said, “I bet this is someone I need to meet. Do you know who it is?” She didn’t, but like any good school teacher, she knew who to ask to get the answer.

The answer? The man whom this bevy of sixty-something, former sixties girls had cornered was none other than the artist Sacha Newley, son of actress Joan Collins and the late actor Anthony Newley. My assumption was that they were excited by his fame. After all, this gent has been the subject of paparazzi since he left the hospital as a baby. For me, the excitement of meeting the son of famous movie stars – any movie stars - was also a high.

I found something to have Newley autograph, acted as giddy as my older counterparts for a while, then learned more about Newley himself. He was in Springfield because of his own work – his Lincoln work. Newley is an artist, and his portrait of Lincoln graced some of the bicentennial commemorative envelopes. The original of the portrait resides at Lincoln College in Lincoln, Ill.

Most incredible
What was most incredible was not how famous Newley is or how gifted he is - and believe me, this guy has talent. I’ve never seen an artist whose work can make me feel so much like he’s taking me into the soul of his subject.

No. Though, he’s famous and he’s gifted, and, yes, he’s incredibly good looking, I think the artist’s greatest attributes are his graciousness and his appreciation of the simple kindnesses and prairie hospitality of his newfound friends. Sacha Newley has fallen as deeply for Lincoln as many of the rest of us, and just as much in love with the place Lincoln called home for more than half of his life.

I had the opportunity to wish Newley farewell after the Abraham Lincoln Association banquet and to tell him again how nice it was to meet him. His response: “I’ve had a blast. Please, invite me back.” If it were within my power, he’d be back tomorrow, and he’d have his family in tow.

Sacha says thanks
I’m sure I wasn’t the only Central Illinoisan Newley thanked in person (and I didn’t do anything but talk to him), yet it didn’t surprise me that he wanted to make sure he didn’t miss anyone. He sent a thank you to the Good Deeds column in the State Journal-Register.

But, Sacha, you brightened our week and your beautiful tribute to Lincoln will brighten his prairies for years to come. It is we who thank you! Godspeed.

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