Artists are upstream. For good and not, for flourishing and not, they feel things first. It is a truth that echoes across the centuries, and I have followed its insight for most of my life.
Jerry Eisely, one of the first friends I found in our coming to Washington many years ago, in his own remarkable way has embodied this vision for the whole of his life. An artiste himself, he has loved artists and their art, seeing their gifts as a gift to the world.
For 35 years he and his wife Twila, both California natives, have owned the Foxhall Gallery in the Georgetown neighborhood of the city. Those years were a refiner’s fire, bringing about a deeply-wrought wisdom about the intersection of art and life, beauty and the marketplace. That experience gave Jerry a much-respected platform for his years of leadership to the Washington Arts Group, nourishing the city and the world with visionary initiatives that engaged people wherever his energies could take him.
For example. Over twenty years ago, when the Russian people wanted to celebrate Christmas for the first time following generations of state-mandated secularization under communism, they asked Jerry to come and help. With incredible ability he brought gifted artists from throughout the world to St. Petersburg, and with integrity and depth he helped a nation remember its history, shining a light on what still might be.
About fifteen years ago he invited artists from all over to join him in Israel for a week where the nation was graced with songs and stories, sculpture and paintings—each in its own way a signpost of what might be for a holy land torn between the histories and hopes of the Israeli and Palestinian people. I went along with him that time, day by day musing aloud for our group of pilgrims about truth and beauty, justice and mercy, as we made our way across that strange land.
Then ten years ago he was asked by the city of Washington to celebrate its own history, especially the culture of the least celebrated, the neighborhood of Anacostia. For most of a month, Union Station’s Main Hall, grand in its scope, became a gallery for the city—full of the work of Washington’s best artists who in their own distinct ways sang their songs, sometimes in sculpture, sometimes on canvas, and sometimes very literally.
And those are only windows, looking onto the mountain peaks of good work well done. There are almost countless conversations and conferences over the years that Jerry has begun and sustained, each in their own way going further up and further in, seeking the well-being of Washington. In the words of the Russian Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann, his has been “a life for the world.”
Today was the annual holiday open house at the Foxhall Gallery, but also an ending of a good gift for all who have had eyes to see. The Eisleys are selling the business, and entering into another season of life where Jerry will still curate artists and their art, but differently. As I walked through, seeing the work on the walls, I saw many long friends, one who said, “It is like a reunion—but bittersweet.” Yes, in a thousand ways.
So, I honor my friend Jerry and his visionary artfulness, whose vocation has been a gift to Washington and to the world.