Farewell to Old Friends

There’s a saying that “the only thing that is inevitable is change.” This has been especially true for me recently, as I’ve said goodbye to a couple of cherished old friends.

Last week, John DeSantis, owner of the Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show, died unexpectedly due to cancer. My history with John goes way back to the late winter of 1995.  I was just beginning my series of Kennywood paintings with my new publisher, Denny Oliver. One thing we did a lot of in those days was brainstorming about how to introduce our new series to the public, and we came up with the idea of exhibiting at the annual Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show. I had done a pastels demonstration there once in the early 80s, and in 1994, Tom and I ran into a prominent local art director there, who encouraged us to give the show a try.

Soon I found myself dialing the number of the Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show, and as luck would have it, John DeSantis himself answered the phone. I introduced myself and was thrilled when he responded “I know who you are!” and when “Of course, you can join us!” followed shortly after.

John always had a huge smile and usually a big hug for me. Over the years (25 years as of 2020!), John afforded me many opportunities beyond the Home and Garden Show to showcase my work on TV, radio, and sometimes even decorating other spaces throughout the Convention Center. My career officially took off with that first show 27 years ago, and John would often introduce me to others who would in turn generate additional work for me.

Every January/February, I would attend the orientation/sales training meeting a month before the show opened.  It seemed as if every year we heard the same instructions on how to make a better presentation and the best way to reach our customers. The training always included plenty of newbies, and even though I pretty much had his speech memorized, I would always show up anyway, and every time was as magical to me as the first. And once again this year, I’ll be at that meeting, right in the front row, encouraging others as John encouraged me.

John DeSantis was a force of nature. He made the Home and Garden Show something spectacular, always evolving and growing.  With his passing, this year’s show will be quite emotional.  I am so grateful for all that he did, and I’m sure his family will continue to honor his memory by presenting a fine ten-day event.

Earlier this week, Tom was reading the news when he looked up and said “The Blue Streak roller coaster at Conneaut is on FIRE!”  Oh no, not the Blue Streak, the wonderful vintage roller coaster that was the subject of one of my favorite paintings!

It’s been difficult to follow the sad news about the gradual dismantling of Conneaut Lake Park. I remember when I first walked alongside the Blue Streak, thinking how much it looked like The Dips at West View Park, which I had painted years earlier. Unfortunately, it seems that The Dips and the Blue Streak have something else in common – they both met a fiery end. But I’m glad I had the opportunity to paint this memorable coaster that was part of so many fond memories for generations of visitors.

As we enter into the new year, I pray that you have more joy than sorrow, more love that misunderstanding, and more faith than illusion. Take the time to appreciate the people in your life and the experiences you’re given.