Words on Paper; Clyfford Still Museum

Words on Paper; Clyfford Still Museum, September 2019

From the Archives; Clyfford Still Museum

Jessie de la Cruz

From the Archives

Deborah Buck Oral History

“ I just tried to open my ears as wide as I could and my mind as wide as I could.”

As part of the museum’s ongoing  research, we have been obtaining oral histories of individuals who figured into Clyfford still’s life and career, though fewer and fewer who had direct contact with Still are alive today. In spring 2019, Jessie de la Cruz captured a lively and informative oral history with artist Deborah Buck, who was raised in Carroll County, Maryland, where Still lived after 1961. Buck, then a teenager, met Still in the 1970s at a local diner. Buck recounted this and other stories, for the Clyfford Still Archives, portions of which are excerpted here:

Clyfford Still and my father had developed a friendship in a farmer’s restaurant, a side of the road place called Baugher’s that was near the farm where I grew up. My father and Mr. Still had both been catchers, so they had baseball in common. No one knew who Clyfford Still was at this restaurant. 

My mother was a culture vulture and a docent at The Baltimore Museum of Art. One day my father said, “ I have a daughter and she’s kind of been an artist her entire life ,” and that began the conversation about me. Mr. Still agreed to meet with me. My mom contacted Mrs. Still, because she took care of all of Still’s appointments and his social calendar. My mother had dropped me off at Baugher’s where we were to meet, and I was sitting in a booth by myself. This big silver Lincoln pulls up. And Im thinking ,” I bet that’s him”.  He stood very straight. From the minuet I met him, I was aware I was in the presence of a wizard, you know, this white hair and this beard, stirring his coffee and kind of pensive. Then he put down his spoon and began to talk. And he spoke for at least an hour. I just tried to open my ears as wide as I could and open my mind as wide as I could. One of the things that he said to me was, “ To really be an artist, to really be an artist, you have to learn everything you possibly can. You have to learn about the world around you, because you’re going to be painting about the world. And if you want people to take your statements seriously, then you have to make sure that you are very, very informed.”

But then he stopped talking and said, “ Okay, let’s see what’s in that portfolio.” He looked at my work and I explained what the work was, and he said to me and it’s extremely humbling to this day,  “ You’ll make it. You have stars in your eyes. “ And Ive never forgotten it and it buoys me through everything that Ive ever been through.