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Farewell to one of the best. Michael Craven

Michael Craven was one of my best friends. A phone call from Michael meant you would be "involved" for a while. His perception of this business was always interesting and often controversial. Our last phone conversation was just after Larry Berman published his interview with him. He had just finished jurying the Longs Park show. Michael had stated that a booth slide should be limited to a sanitized gathering of images with maybe a bin below; no canopy visible. I always thought a booth slide should be taken at a show, as your booth appears, open for business. At the end of our conversation neither of us had changed our minds, but we had a wonderful dialogue. We disagreed about many things but were never disagreeable. The first time I met him was at the Gulf Breeze show sometime in the '90s. I won second place in photography and went looking for first place.... The blue ribbon was on Michael's booth. A few years later, I couldn't find him at a show we had planned to do together. A phone call found him broken down in his RV somewhere on the east coast of Florida. He thought the RV was dead and he was in a jam because all his inventory was in the trailer hitched behind. He needed to get it back home to Charleston, SC. Sunday night, I packed up my booth and drove to meet him. I pulled his trailer home for him and we stayed up all night drinking Jack Daniels and talking "shop". That night, we disagreed on whether an artist should display his whole body of work or just his newest work. I love producing new work, but feel I slight my patrons if I don't show "my greatest hits" as well. Michael thought an artist should be producing great works all the time and should retire older images. He never wanted to be falling back on the tried and true.... And, he could do it! My wife always referred to Michael, affectionately, as a curmudgeon. And he was, in the sense that he didn't suffer fools lightly. I remember being in The Plaza with him one year and during a sale my customer said he had tried to buy a photo from a photographer down the way, but the artist had treated him with such disdain that he had to walk away. Kim chimed in, "Oh, that's just Michael. He's a bit of a curmudgeon!" When Larry asked Michael and me to join his Yahoo group "Artshow_photo" Michael made many enemies and had to quit the group in disgust. Here is an excerpt from one of his postings: "What would be beneficial to those beginning a career in the arts, more than an encouragement to find a place at the trough, is an exaltation to realize themselves as artist. That is find a voice that is uniquely yours, depart from the well worn trails and often trendy subject and/or technique such as the "wall and window" photographers or as I call them the "portals to mediocrity lot" and most importantly be about valid expression and communication which is supposed to be what it is all about to begin with. Communicative art first, decorative art second. As I walk the rows of plastic booths at a show I play a game when passing all the 2-D artist...upon looking in does the art DEMAND that I interact visually and mentally or is it just posing as art (and often for arts sake) very few booths grab these jaded eyes and beckon that I enter." To read more go to the very beginning of the group's postings (January '03). In the Autumn of 2000, while loading out of a show in Gulf Shores, AL. I suffered chest pains and Michael insisted I sit down while he and some fellow artists finished my load-out for me. Within a few months I had to undergo bypass surgery. He may have saved my life. Michael had bad knees and he couldn't get around as well he would've liked; hence the motorized scooters and cycles. He always tried to get to a show early enough to get a parking spot close to his booth. He told me the story of going all the way from Charleston to Memphis to do a show and when he got there they had put his booth where it would've been difficult to set up. When they wouldn't move him he gave them a piece of his mind and drove home. Michael burned a lot of bridges! I'm proud to have displayed his work in my Saugatuck gallery (Nels & Ron too). My personal favorite piece of his was one that showed a bowl of Cheerios; the bowl is cracked; the milk spilled... the title? "Cereal Killer" We have lost a great artist and advocate of excellence. I will miss him.

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Comment by Sonny Craven on July 29, 2010 at 12:34am
Thanks again, and best of luck to you. (And, we too live in Florida)
Comment by R. C. Fulwiler on July 28, 2010 at 2:55pm
Sara & Sonny; Thanks for responding to my "memorial". He and I went through the digital revolution together and often collaborated, sharing our discoveries with each other. I sold his work in my gallery here in Saugatuck for many years. I'm glad to say I still have many of his pieces on my walls both here and in Florida. I still get a tear in my eye when I think of his early departure....

Thank you for posting that wonderful picture.
Comment by Sonny Craven on July 24, 2010 at 5:19pm
R.C. My wife came across your blog post on Michael recently and forwarded it to me. You see , I'm Michael's older brother, Sonny, the one responsible for Michael launching his photographic career after his Army stint in about 1972. You captured the essence of Michael's character and temprament quite well, and I'm glad you counted him among your friends. You are right in saying Michael was a character and at times, intolerant of people who weren't serious about their art or those who passed off art he felt didn't make a statement or call attention to itself or were just trying to sell anything to make a buck. This was borne of years toiling at his own craft after photo school, and finding what he felt it took to contribute to true art. He respected those who were selected by jury to display their art, and felt they were a the top of their craft. Prior to a show, he would hermit himself in his home studio "bunker" making product he felt would please his customers, but also himself. Those close to him knew he didn't want to be bothered by calls, visits and other distractions during this creative period prior to shows. Perhaps little known was that he was a near Luddite when it came to transformative technologies. He honed his skills in wet labs operations early in his career and I kidded him mercilessly when he got too gruff about accepting/embracing new methods and formats to accomplish his art faster and often with similar results. I gave him his first computer, and he cursed incessantly as he labored to master the skills needed to transform his analog photo file inventory to digital formats. Although he told me I had done a terrible thing by exposing him to the the computer world and the time he spent online browsing the intoxicating Internet, he became expert in printer profiles, color matching, and the latest in articles on perfecting his craft. He finally bought digital cameras (which ince he swore he would never do) and found they were more flexible for his needs than the film cameras & lenses in which he had invested a small fortune. But, anyone who has seen his food art will attest to his genius, as it was clever, witty, and often irreverent. His customers loved it, and today, I still try to fulfill some requests for art show patrons who want more pieces from his collection. When he died last May of cancer less than 9 months after it was diagnosed, he had been working on new product, fully hoping to make another show. He had a large inventory and I have held on to it, although I haven't decided how to make it available to the art world. As I handled his estate, and surveyed the tools he used to make his art, I was floored by his ingenuity and advanced level of accomplishment, and I have a 35 year visual information background, from film making, broadcasting and photography, and am not easily impressed. We were 8 years apart in age, and thus, we weren't particularly close during childhood. He had different politics, mine shaped by 30 years of Army service, his by hard knocks and a 13-year hippy-lifestyle in the Keys. Like you said, when the phone rang and he was calling, I knew it wouldn't be a short call. He loved to explore life, the movies, art, photography, music, and of course, politics. (Later in life, we agreed to disagree and avoid the issues of politics) I miss him greatly and so do many of those who bought his work, judging from the feedback I get. He was a curmudgeon, but as a friend, he was loyal and grateful to the handful he respected and cherished, who were real artists, dedicated to their work and art in general. Thanks for helping him when he needed you and for remembering him on this blog site. (I was very wistful when parting with his old RV and the Cargo Wagon it pulled with all of his creative works) -Sonny Craven

Michael Craven, June 19, 1951 - May 26, 2009 Brainfood Art
Comment by Sara Craven on July 24, 2010 at 5:14pm
R.C. - You don't know me, but I had to comment on your observations of Michael. I just stumbled onto your blog this afternoon. I, too, loved/love him even with all his distinct personality traits. I met him when he was barely three years old, moving into the house next door and eventually marrying his older brother about 18 years later. He and my brother were the same age, so it was as if I had two younger, aggravating siblings! You summed him up very well, even with his faults. And, having grown up with him, I understood most of them better than I otherwise would have. I'm sure he'd approve of your analysis. I have a best friend since high school who Michael has known most of his life. She was at one of his shows many years ago and recognized his art. She walked around to the back of the booth to see ifit was him, and he said "yeah, I saw you out there earlier!" She still wonders why he didn't speak to her first... I just said "that's Michael." Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to honor him in this way. He had a special circle of people he let into his life, obviously you were one of them.
Comment by R. C. Fulwiler on September 17, 2009 at 5:35pm
I remember when you did that. I thought it showed courage.... Especially for a promoter!

Then I remembered you were the wife of a creative photographer and it made perfect sense. There are just too many copy-cat photographers with nothing new to show.
Comment by Connie Mettler on September 17, 2009 at 4:00pm
Thanks for this wonderful obit, R.C. It is evident you loved this man. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Additionally, thanks for quoting him about what art should be. I posted something on Larry's forum last year signing off with, NO MORE RED ROCK CANYONS. I almost got stoned to death :)
Comment by R. C. Fulwiler on September 17, 2009 at 2:24pm

Nels in Heaven. So, you still want to do art shows in Heaven! Here is your line-up: Cherry Creek; Coconut Grove; Winter Park; Clayton; Bellville; Madison; Old Town; Bayou City; Main Street Fort Worth; The Plaza; Sausalito and Funky Ferndale!
Comment by Nels Johnson on September 17, 2009 at 1:48pm
Bravo RC. You gave him a wonderous sendoff. I hope we both get sendoffs like this. For me, I envision a great Viking ceremony where my Newton Booth is loaded on the ship and I am sent out to sea flaming with bottles of Patron floating in the breeze. And then, ironically, a telegram comes the next day telling me I am in the Grove and Winter Park (personal note: after getting into both of these shows in the early 80's, I have been juried out every year since. The Grove 24 years in a row and Winter Park, 23 years in a row)

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