Waiting and Being
Sketches By Mary Bruce Cobb
with essays by her friends
Here in her perceptive sketches, Kentucky treasure and acclaimed portrait artist Mary Cobb takes us on a journey through the spaces where people wait; patients in doctor’s offices and cancer wards, travelers in terminals and stations, the homeless in shelters. She leads us from where we wait to where our waiting becomes pure presence or being. She shows us that we should not succumb to waiting for outcomes, but should instead use these opportunities to transform that time into being in the joyful present where we truly dwell.
Joining Mary are some of her friends, many of whom have also faced great trials in health and in life.
Their additions in words complement what Mary has drawn, and further invite us to consider how intimately joined are Waiting and Being.
"That each of us is unique is probably why I find drawing and painting the human form a constant challenge. Searching for that spirit within is what it’s all about for me—whether best expressed through the tilt of the head, the curve of a wrist or through an expression in the eyes.
For many years I have kept a sketch pad and pen, or charcoal, in a separate purse, just in case something or someone of interest might appeal to me, to draw as I pass the time, in doctors’ offices, airports and bus stations, places where I seem to be spending more of my time, waiting for my number to be called.
It occurred to me these were ideal opportunities to people watch—opportunities for a moment in time to be captured, to be revealed—before he, she or they became conscious of being watched. If I feel that anyone is puzzled by my staring, or made uncomfortable by my intrusion, I wave a hand, turn the sketch toward them, and share what I am doing.
Once, at the airport, I saw a toddler who had fallen sound asleep in his chair. I asked the father if I could sketch his son. He acquiesced, with one caveat: “Don’t wake him up.” After 15 minutes, simultaneously, I finished, the child woke up, and the announcement came over the PA system. Time to get in line.
Trying to convey what seems to be special about a person—it takes awhile to see what I want to record. But in these sketches I look for what speaks to me, when I am not making an effort to get a likeness, and am led by JOY. It’s so satisfying for me, and takes me into a another kind of world." - Mary Cobb
The drawings and thoughts of Mary Cobb, surrounded by the contributions of friends—are meant to be an offering of our transmissions—of some of what we have to pass on.
Each of us has endured trials of loss and great illness—that of our own and those near to us. It is our hope that our observations and reflections will be of some help.
"Mary Cobb's book of sketches and writings concerning "Waiting and Being" is a spiritual treasure - it is truly profound and I am deeply touched that you would share its wisdom with me. My heartfelt thanks for your friend's meaningful book!" - Mary Garner
Review by Dianne Aprile
Certain topics, even their mention, evoke our curiosity and set us to meditating on larger issues. “Waiting,” like death or love, is certainly one of those topics. It is also the subject of an affecting new book from Louisville’s Fons Vitae press: Waiting and Being: Sketches by Mary Cobb With Writings of Friends. No doubt, this slender volume of words and images will strike the heart (or nerve) of any who page through it, particularly those of us with a bent for people watching.
No question, people-watching is the modus operandi of Waiting and Being, a compendium of portraits of people sitting in wait, each sketched with quiet dignity and compassion by Cobb, a well-known and beloved Louisville portraitist. Empathy is the hallmark of the charcoal and pen-and-ink sketches that fill this book.
True to its title, Waiting and Being haunts the reader with images of the often melancholy, sometimes mysterious denizens of waiting rooms of one sort or another – men, women and children captured in this and many other nations about the globe. Attached loosely to these moving portraits are a series of short essays, by friends and colleagues of the artist, each of which is linked to Cobb’s artwork and to the varieties of waiting.
Cobb’s sketches range from rounded-out portraits of cancer patients and homeless men biding their time in private reverie to impressionistic depictions of those who wait in public for buses, trains, subways – even for horses to burst onto the track at Churchill Downs.
Clearly, Cobb has been for some time obsessed with the notion of waiting and its counterpart, of being; she has observed the art of patience and gone a step further to try to chart its physical implications – the boredom of a juror waiting for his name to be called, the slope of a back in an uncomfortable chair, a chin resting idly in the palm of a hand, the gentle collapse of a child’s body sprawled on his mother’s lap. In her brief but revealing preface, Cobb speaks of her longtime habit of carrying with her charcoals, pen and paper to sketch anyone “of interest” who might show up and “be” for her. Maintaining a light, casual touch in her sketches, she abides by her belief that the “spirit within” the waiting individual is best expressed by “the tilt of a head, the curve of a wrist or through an expression in the eyes.”
One wonders what was her response when one of her “secret” subjects noticed her drawing and indicated an uneasiness with being sketched? She says she let them glimpse their image on the page, and in most cases this defused their self-consciousness. Her process was, it seems, a give and take.
The book’s rich array of portraits is drawn from the Mary Bruce Cobb Collection of the Filson Historical Society. The essays on waiting and being are mostly by women, and they include the candid ruminations of a cancer patient (Anne Ogden, formerly of the Speed Museum), the spiritual meditations of an Episcopal priest (Helen Jones, a founder of Hospice) and the thoughts and memories of a longtime activist for the homeless (peace and justice worker, Sue Speed).
The book ends with a final portrait that highlights Cobb’s gentle sense of humor: a sketch of the artist’s husband -- waiting for her. This compassionate and poignant book is a delightful tribute to one of Louisville’s favorite artists.
Dianne Aprile is an author and teacher of nonfiction on the faculty of the Spalding University brief residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing program. A Louisville native, she now lives in Seattle, WA.
Table of Contents
By Mary Bruce Cobb
Waiting at the Hospital 9
Waiting in the Darkness for the Light 15 By Anne Ogden
Waiting Rooms 23
On Waiting 39
By Helen Hammon Jones
Waiting in Line 49
Waiting Traveling 55
The Meaning of the Wait 70
By Al Shands
Waiting to Arrive 73
Waiting At the Destination and in lobbies for Meetings 79
Waiting for “Whatever” 87
Waiting…at the track…for a fish…during jury duty…at a parade…for a friend
to join…to see how the book comes out…to finish the row, knitting 95
The Way of Women and Waiting 102
By Georgine Buckwalter
Waiting and Being Homeless 105
‘Waiting’ at St. John’s is a ‘being’ 111
By Sue Speed
Renewal It was worth the Wait 119
Here is my Wait 122
By Sarah McNeal Few
Being Present 127
In Attendance 137
By Gray Henry