My Ohio: Lasting Impressions

A missing Monet highlights the things that provide form to the places we call home.

Friends know I’m a museum guy — meaning, I’m at my happiest in an art museum, wandering the galleries. I read every label on every painting and may even go back to one I saw 15 minutes ago for one more glance. If you want to get through the place quickly, don’t go with me.

So, people like me adopt and learn the museum closest to their front door and tend to find reasons to drop by more often than others might. That means regular stops at the Dayton Art Institute, an elegant Romanesque structure that overlooks downtown and conveniently happens to be near lots of other places I need to be, which makes those regular stops even easier to pull off.

Often, I’ll pop in for a quick stroll through the galleries looking for something new — a painting brought out of storage that I haven’t seen in a while, or a sculpture that’s gotten a new home. New acquisitions are always fun, and of course there are old favorites I need to visit. It’s like checking in on a buddy.

Lately, that’s been a problem. The one painting I always make sure I see has been on, well, an extended holiday.

It’s Claude Monet’s “Waterlilies,” from 1903 — one of the famous French Impressionist’s many takes on that subject, though the Dayton Art Institute’s is a particularly sublime example. It’s not over-large, but it is incandescently beautiful, a delight of soft blue water, floating green leaves and shimmering dabs of floral color. It’s so wonderful, in fact, that other museums frequently ask to borrow it, which is why in the space where it usually hangs, currently hangs this small sign:

“Special Note: ‘Waterlilies’ will be taking a ‘European vacation’ during the coming months. It will travel to Italy, where it will be featured in the exhibition ‘Around Monet: The Landscape from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century.’ The exhibition aims at showing the development and evolution of the description of nature within its time frame. The last room of the exhibition will feature one Monet waterlily landscape for every year that he painted them. ‘Waterlilies’ will be on loan from October 2013 through May 2014.”

Sigh. I know museum loans have to happen, and that I’ve enjoyed the fruits of many, many such loans from other institutions to the Dayton Art Institute over the years. But darn it, do they have to come after my Monet?

Yes, in a funny way, I do consider it mine. It has been at the museum as long as I’ve lived here. When I moved here nearly 30 years ago, a new friend told me I had to go see it, and they were right. I’ve sat and gazed at it for long, quiet stretches. I’ve studied it up-close. I’ve written about it. I’ve shown it to visiting friends. Over time, it has become something more than just a fine work of art — it has become an important background piece of the mental image I have of my community as I experience and think about it.

I’ve always thought of my community as a basket, full of all the many places, people and things that give sense and form and shape to the place I call home. Take a look inside your basket. What’s inside?

Maybe there’s a regular tavern, or the best table in your favorite restaurant. Could be that there’s a party or festival that’s an annual tradition. Maybe it’s the pew in church you consider your usual spot or a favored park trail you enjoy.

Maybe it’s an old friend at your local art museum.

My basket, while still quite satisfactorily full, has been a little lighter since October. I look forward to May, when it will grow a little heavier again, thank goodness. It gives me something to look forward to.

Ron Rollins is a journalist who lives in Kettering.