- Linda Mary Montano is Reborn
Linda Montano did not wait to die to be reborn. The story of her entry into grace coincided with her father’s physical decline, illness, infirmity, and death.
In 2004, I visited Linda, who had returned to the Hudson Valley, where I live, six years earlier. At the time, neither she nor I considered this a professional visit related to our respective art careers. We two Lindas were simply getting together as friends. But, in the subsequent years, our get-together was recategorized as a “studio visit,” our conversation was reclassified as an “interview,” and the interactions I observed on that day endure as a culminating artwork of her distinguished career.
Six years before, Linda yielded to internal voices beckoning her to return home to Saugerties to care for her aging father, Henry Montano. The time had arrived for them both to prepare for the inevitability of his death. All I knew about her Dad can be summarized as follows: Italian ancestry, Americanized, musician, businessman, devout Catholic.
I entered the house at midday. Outside it was hot, sunny, and noisy, but the curtained space inside was dark and unnaturally quiet. Mementos and stacks of papers were piled on every surface. The carpets were imprinted with the footsteps of former occupants, pillows were shaped by their bodies, and furniture was marked by their repeated gestures. I remember thinking that this must be how the past tense looks and feels.
By the time I walked back out into the summer glare, my impression had not only been revised, it was reversed. Linda and her father had not renounced themselves to the past. Indeed, they were not merely anticipating a future event: they were training for it. For six years and six months they had been making preparations [End Page 21] to sanctify Dad’s passage from life to death, which occurred six months after this visit.
The first four years of this seven-year work of art might be described as a tender prelude. Linda drove her Dad to visit doctors, wrote his checks, played music with him, took photographs of him, and made videos with him, which is how an extensive and enchanting record of the mutuality of their daily activities came into being. They reveal an intimacy between daughter and Dad that transformed the common place into an inspired space. This prelude ended in 2001 when Dad suffered a stroke and Linda became his full-time caregiver. That is when her ministrations became eligible for inclusion in all future accountings of Linda Montano’s art career.
During my visit, Dad awoke from a nap. Linda fetched him. He appeared in a wheelchair, neatly dressed, combed, and shaved. Linda maneuvered him into kitchen. I followed. She tied a bib around his neck, took a container of yogurt from the refrigerator, and spoon-fed him his midday snack. I imagined her performing such tedious tasks, day by day, month by month, year after year. But Linda was not dispirited, and Dad was not pitiable. The intimacy of their exchange transformed drudgery into delight. Each was a benefactor and each a beneficiary.
Linda explained that the piles of papers heaped everywhere were charts, statements, and records documenting Dad’s diet, baths, sleeping patterns, and the condition of his teeth, bowels, and skin. Comments from nurses were notated alongside Linda’s observations of his miniscule actions. But it would be wrong to assume that this was a sorrowful record of unremitting degeneration at the waning of a life. These documents also offered evidence of unleashing of Dad’s creativity. The papers included the watercolors he had made, one each day, before and after he suffered a stroke. Although Dad had never before painted, he achieved the spare spontaneity of a Zen master’s calligraphy. The marks left by each journey of his brush across the page transcended representation and expression. They are tiny, eloquent epiphanies.
After Dad finished his snack and his bib was removed, Linda wheeled him to a side table that was arrayed with brushes, paper, and paints. She dipped a brush in the paint, placed it in his trembling hand, and guided it...