As some of you know my grandfather, Merrill Coffin, was a local artist in Chautauqua County. At my grandparents home, a small studio sat off the living room and to me that was status quo. I still remember going to college and not understanding why one of my professors and I got into an argument about being an artist. It was an English class actually, she asked what my major was and I said Fine Art. Her reply well that’s a tough road. Being naive, I got into an argument with her during class as to how being an artist doesn’t mean you have to struggle. In my life experiences, I had seen my grandfather do what he loved throughout his life and support himself. I realize now that doing art as a business is difficult, but I never lost the principle that it’s a business. I think I got that from my grandfather. He wasn’t like the professors in my colleges. There was no hippy hair or rag tag outfits. One professor new my relation to Merrill Coffin and he being an “impressionistic” artist said oh yes he does that decorative art. I just smiled to myself, knowing that his artwork was swirls and whirls and my grandfather would have said “thats what you do when you can’t draw”, which probably was true in this case.
When going to an art show my grandparents would be there in their beige director studio chairs and blue blazer with the Coffin emblem on their chest. They were there for business. He always remembered a name and was always there to listen. And if you were really special you may have gotten a cocktail out of his cooler. I remember stuffed birds he would take on loan from the library and the studying of books on the Titanic and battlefield scenes. And even though he came prepared when he sat down to paint, I always in my mind thought it was effortless on his part. A strange thing is I never saw him actually paint? Weekends my parents and I would go over and visit. He would have already finished painting by 11:00 am. The first thing we would do was go check out what was going on in the studio. We would see the progress of the painting and what new adventure he was painting. Never did I see a mistake or something he had to touch up.
Now my grandfather was a fine artist, painting beautiful landscapes of sea life and local scenes from Chautauqua County. I’m sure his skill level will outlive me forever. My paintings are far more expressionistic than what he would ever appreciate but he still went to my showings. He still would give me paint brushes and canvases keeping my fervor going. In 2006, on Christmas Eve my grandfather passed away. In his honor, I established www.thecoffinhouse.com. One regret I will always have is not setting that site up when he was still alive but somehow things always have different meanings later on. I know I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today without him and for that I like to keep a light on for Grandpa Pete. I look back at his paintings today and I see my childhood in this field, or barn, or in a woods. Living in Chautauqua County and in the country it was my childhood.
This Holiday Season I went through his work and made a book for hopefully a scholarship fund in his name. The book is We Wish You Holiday Cheer- Merrill Coffin Christmas Cards 1961-1979. I always loved Christmas at the coffin house.