My Keith Keller story, the art spirit
By Hannah Jarmain
When I met Keith Keller in 2009 he was one of the hippy artists who had come here in the ‘80s, made San Miguel de Allende his home, and made the town a special place. His art, his studio, his humor and most of all his love for telling stories were well known and endeared him to many devoted friends. Thirty of his wonderful stories were published in 2010 and were quickly sold out.
Today Keith is still living in San Miguel but needs care, so he is staying at Alma for the aged. Bill Pearlman, writer, poet, Keith’s devoted longtime friend and companion, invited me to come to Alma and visit with Keith. At Alma, Keith has a comfortable bedroom and the use of a shared large sitting room, outdoor garden space and a spacious dining room. Three cheers for Alma.
Keith’s own art adorns the three walls in his room, the characters that he created from a lifetime of experience in travel, work and teaching self-defense and art, which gives him a certain comfort between the two tangled worlds of today’s reality and memories of the past.
Bill had forewarned me that Keith at times may regress to being a seven- or eight-year-old child; so I brought him a paint set, sketchbook, drawing pens and cookies.
When I came in, Bill introduced me and said, “Hannah Jarmain came to see you. Do you remember Hannah?” Keith said yes! (He still recognizes me!) But he looked so haunted and was very quiet. It is difficult to tell if he really knew me. I talked to him but the response was slow and only with general politeness. I began to show him how to write numbers and draw simple things in the sketchbook. He was interested, but then, pen in hand, stared at the page without a word. When he began write, wiggles and circles came out instead of letters.
After a bathroom break he returned to the chair next to me then suddenly he looked straight in my eye, his reddish eyelids almost angry, waving his hands about, and said solemnly: (Wait for this) “Why do you talk to me like to a little child?” His comment took me by surprise and absolutely floored me! I just didn’t know how he felt behind the quiet demeanor. Yes, Keith, it must be very painful for you, day after day, to be talked to and treated like some nincompoop, which you are not. Your mind may be slow but still sharp.
So let’s try a more meaningful conversation. I asked, “Keith, you said you remember me, what do you remember me as?” Keith’s answer came slowly, word-by-word, stumbling out tiredly but clear and concise. (Only a brief moment before I didn’t think he would be capable of recollecting his thought.)
Looking at me again deep in the eye, the reddish eyelids trembling and wet, Keith said in a soft whisper, “Yes, I remember you, Hannah. You are most instructive and helpful. You do a lot of work to help the children. And you are truly a …beautiful person.” Wow! Keith! It is Keith talking.
How could we forget all the fun memories we had with you, a bunch of mad artists, the roaring laughter we used to have in your studio. Lili, Bonnie, Christian and me, and hundreds of other artists who had been through your studio to paint with you on the Ancha, and of course the talented young Isabel. One afternoon we had a great time laughing so hard watching you glaze rose madder on the most impossible private part of a nude.
When I took leave from Keith this afternoon, Bill commented that Keith hasn’t talked like that for a long time. Good for him. I promised Keith that I will come back again to paint with him and to get Keith back to do the thing he loves. Who knows what good a bit of imagination might do to his well-being and may even bring a smile to his face.
I commented on his book published in 2010: The Keith Keller Stories (1961-2005) and told him what great pleasure the stories had brought me. He nodded “Yes! That is good!”
Keith still has several books left, 200 pesos each. There are 30 short stories well told, full of wit, humor, irony and natural affection. They will make you smile, stand proud and filled with grace for having a glimpse of Keith’s life. If you wish to purchase the book, contact us. The sale will help Keith and enable an occasional outing that he still enjoys. Please contact Bill Pearlman (415 103 8832) or Hannah (415 114 0346).