Neville Abbott Jacobs


The tide was out, and I had a small paint box on my lap, painting the sea before me. I was twelve and sitting on Bird Rocks in Laguna Beach, California, which was then home. A couple, obviously tourists in this famous art colony, came by and asked if they could take my picture. I told them I wasn't a "real" artist, and they laughed and said I looked like one. In 1949, my parents came to Anchorage, Alaska, and I began painting seriously, with my first one-person show at the Anchorage Hotel in 1952. So I've been painting a long time, and have some reputation as a painter.

Through the years I've accumulated a file of letters from people who have acquired a piece, or some, of my work—now primarily Alaskan landscapes. One letter especially stands out.

I had a piece in a group show at a restaurant, and a waitress told me she had fallen in love with my painting. She couldn't pay me in full, but asked if she could buy it in installments. I was delighted she wanted it and said of course. Time passed, however, and I heard nothing more from her. After about three months a letter came with a check. She apologized and said she had been down with a serious illness for several weeks. She said she lay in bed, worrying about accumulating bills, wondering if she would ever be well, but one thing gave her hope. My painting was hung on the wall at the foot of her bed, and she lost herself in the scene, a cabin by a lake with forest around, and snowy peaks behind. "Your painting kept me alive. There were times I wondered if I would live or should live, but then I looked at your painting, and it gave me hope."

If anything addresses the question of the value of the arts—in this case, a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional world around us—this letter speaks to that.

Music can lift a spirit when it is in the deepest dark hole of despair. Literary and dramatic arts can bring us into worlds we could never imagine ourselves. Statistics show that students in schools where arts are strong have significantly higher grades than schools where the arts are lacking. My personal treasure from this lady who bought my landscape is testimony to the limitless value of visual art, and I know it to be true of all of the arts.