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Speaking of Lizards....

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Speaking of Lizards....
« on: September 17, 2006, 11:58:16 PM »

In Memoriam: Marathon's Monte Schatz
Publish Date: September 1, 2006  |  Permanent Link
Monte Schatz died on August 20, at age 54. After a series of prolonged illnesses, Schatz ended his own life at his home in Marathon. A renowned artist, Schatz was also a great lover of reptiles and amphibians and shared his home with dozens of them. A quixotic individual keen on long conversations, Monte will be deeply missed by his friends in Marathon and beyond.

In 2002, Monte wrote, “A work of art is a living molecular entity with uncertain consequences. It could be said to have life, because atoms are present in all things, binding it to a greater whole, a whole where art can once again find its identity.”

A service will be held for Monte at 10 am on Saturday, September 9 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marathon, with a gathering at Parish Hall afterwards.

To view some of Monte’s work, visit: Eve's Garden. Also, visit a new website created for Monte by friend Tom Lehr.

Here we publish some remembrances of the late artist shared by several friends and acquaintances.

Klemie Bryte (Marathon):

It makes me sick to think Monte will never be making art again, but I feel really bad that my cats will never feel his presence and with it his love for them. The way I knew Monte was mainly through animals, and the biggest thing I learned from him is to be open to a deeper way of communicating with and receiving communication from animals of all sorts – as he said, “even snakes.”

The first couple years I knew him, I was afraid of Monte, not because he kept venomous snakes and reptiles, but because he’d talk my ear off. All that changed after I agreed to take care of his lizards, frogs, and turtles when he went to his art opening at the Tadu Gallery in Santa Fe. This was my introduction to his reptile world, his house, brimming with his “little children,” as he called them. Many were rescues. People would find Monte, bring him their rescues.

His reptiles were not a collection to him. They were his family.

It took me three hours a day to feed and water the lizards, frogs, and turtles. When Monte showed me how to care for them, that included my learning all their names and special needs. I watched him handle each with such tenderness. The experience of walking into his house with all that life in it was profound. And I felt honored because not too many people got a chance to meet his family. This was the point that I started thinking of Monte as my little brother.

The animals that live with me are cats, one of whom Monte fell in love with at first sight, years back. Fleder was shy of people then and hid out when someone came into the house. When Monte stopped by, however, she’d greet him at the door. Monte was not afraid to crawl on the floor with the cats and give them his undivided attention. So this spring, when he was suffering from late-stage Lyme disease, a concussion that had messed up his hearing in one ear, and an adjustment from being taken off steroids suddenly, he still offered to come to our house every day for a month just to give the cats love while Tom and I were traveling.

My sister Leesa and brother-in-law Geoff were completely responsible for feeding the cats, so Monte was under no obligation to come if he was not feeling up to it, but he came every day and started a running daily log with my sister about which cats came out, who played the string game, who played hard to get:

Today all three were out – even Buster! He let me pet his head. Pootie and Fleder and I had a love fest on the end of the bed – with string and all.... Today Mama and Tootie played with me in the carport. Pootie and Fleder knew the moment I arrived. They got into position at the end of the bed and today both stomach’s got rubbed simultaneously! Fleder is a flirt.... I will truly miss my five little friends – even Buster. Fleder remains the Queen, but Pootie is the love whore of the bunch. Buster will always be Buster. Mama and Tootie are always so wonderful, and willing to yield to love.

Monte was so sick at this time that he was not making art. He complained of not being able to listen to music, which always accompanied him in his nighttime art making. So I was amazed that he never missed a day with the cats.

In May, Monte was bitten by one of his rattlesnakes. I saw him when he came back from his airlift to Lubbock. He had lost weight and his eyes had the biggest dark rings around them I had ever seen. He was unable to drive and wasn’t leaving his house. But when Tom and I were to leave town for four days in July, Monte offered to once again walk the two blocks just to give the cats his love and attention. Once again, he kept a daily written chat log about the cats, but with Geoff this time.  

My memories include Monte’s showing up at Fiesta de la Noche Buena with his beaded lizard, Ishmael, on his shoulder and introducing him to whoever was around; his taking one of his reptiles to the school to visit the classrooms; his standing at our front door leaving, chatting for an hour with the door open; his giving to each of his friends little pieces of artwork as Christmas presents (you’ll see them in people’s houses around town); seeing for the one and only time, shown me as a slide show on his computer, his fractal artwork (mind-blowing, otherworldly stuff); listening to him complain so seriously for an hour just to have him interject something brazenly hilarious at the end and laugh heartily; hearing him so many times for the simplest of things speak his gratitude as strong as if I’d saved him from drowning; his voice lovingly saying the names of his critters: Tulum, Argo, Lagoon, Plumbum….

Then one night I received an email from him saying he was going to get rid of his reptiles because he was too sick to care for them properly and so he could receive financial help for his medical expenses. I was shocked because I knew his entire house was full of them and their aquariums. How could he stand the quiet without the songs of the crickets (which he raised as food for the reptiles) and the occasional hiss of a rattle or two in the snake room? I never thought he would voluntarily give them up.

He called me to tell me: “my animals are starting to leave my house.” What he thought would take a week took three. He called me later to say he didn’t think he’d ever be able to get over that loss. He wrote in the June email, “My art is based upon my observations of reptiles, in part. The love I feel for them is the thing that has sustained me for many years.”

After Monte had been bitten by the rattlesnake, we half-expected to hear that the bite had killed him. But he survived it, as he had done an earlier bite from a venomous lizard. He made it through those traumas and through the upheaval of having his yard dug up and his plumbing disconnected for weeks (during the worst period of his sickness), but the thing he couldn’t survive was the loss of his beloved reptiles.

Susan Brown (former Marathon resident now in Hood River, Oregon):

Monte was raised in Milwaukee and he left high school at 16 to attend art school in San Francisco. He was then accepted in New York University’s graduate art program, and after finishing there he  became an assistant to Dorthea Rockburne, one of the major players in  the New York art scene. He implemented her ideas; she designed them and he created them.

He was a brilliant man, versed in many topics – science, music, art.  You would look in an art book about a fresco in Italy, he could tell you every detail about it, who did it and when.

He hadn’t listened to rock and roll since the end of the 60’s because he thought there was no more good rock and roll after that. He loved classical music and he had lots of tapes on Renaissance chants.

He loved nature and he was passionate about the desert, and he incorporated all the elements of nature and reptiles into his art. He loved his reptiles and was a masterful snakehandler.

He had the best sense of humor of anybody I ever met. We were the only two people in Marathon who had the same dark sense of humor. Our favorite movie was  “Silence of the Lambs” and we would throw back quotes to each other – he was Hannibal and I was Clarice.

His parents rejected him after he came out that he was gay. He was estranged from his family; his sister destroyed all the paintings he had given his parents.

Still, he was the only real genius painter in West Texas, and it’s a shame that most people don’t know his work.

He was often difficult to be around, but he had a great deal of charm and I loved him anyway. He loved a good meal and I loved mothering him. He was there at the death of all my pets and buried them for me, even though he kept his in the freezer.

In the last year he lost his sense of humor, which to me should have been a sign that he was in real  trouble.

I loved him very much, I love him very much.

Last year one of his paintings was selected by the prestigious New York Academy of  Arts and Letters for their annual show and it was chosen to be purchased by the academy.

Barbara Novovitch (Marathon):

Monte worked mostly during the night, and was seldom up and about during daylight hours, so perhaps he mistook others’ work hours for free time.

In any case, that’s one reason I give myself for his talking nonstop on the few occasions I would see him. And he’d repeat what he had told me the last time I saw him, perhaps because he didn’t remember since there’d been such a long hiatus in between.

He knew a lot about art, he loved his reptiles, and he was generous with showing both. I recall when my grandchildren were in town some years ago and I asked if we could come by to see his reptiles. He made a special time for us to come by his house and brought chairs for us to sit outside, while Monte trekked from the front porch to the interior to search each favorite snake or lizard, giving the  youngsters a complete rundown on the creature’s eating habits, skin markings and nature in the wild. He also took his pets to Big Bend National Park for special viewing sessions at the Information Center.

Marlys Hersey (Terlingua):

The summer of 2004, I lived in Marathon, and met Monte Schatz through my friends, Kate & Clyde. Right away I was enchanted by Monte’s great vocabulary, his voice, his hand gestures, his intensity.

We were on Kate & Clyde’s porch, and Monte was telling stories. I think he was delighted to have a new and captivated audience. He told about growing up in Milwaukee. About living on the Lower East Side of New York City in the early 70’s, and retaliating against his neighbors’ loud music, and how Dean and DeLuca took over the bottom floor of his building.

Over dinner, he continued: about living in Marfa, and the exchange he had with a former mayor of Marfa when Monte’s pets were found out – especially the poisonous snakes. The mayor ran him out of town, so he moved to Marathon. About all the different varieties of snakes down in Terlingua and where he liked to look for them.

About Monte being pronounced dead at a hospital after being bitten by one of his pet cobras. An intern who happened to know that cobra bites could cause a reaction that mimicked death was the only thing that saved him. Monte’s deformed index finger was the token reminder.

Though I never saw Monte crack up over his own stories, he made me laugh a lot. Monte had this fantastically deadpan, ultra earnest manner, which only made his stories that much funnier.

One summer evening, Monte came by my house to drop off some copies of his favorite newspaper from the town in upstate NY where he lived for 18 years. He had told me about “what a beautiful publication” this was. “Exquisite.” So much so that Monte had saved a bunch of these; even through several moves, the years-old copies were in perfect condition. He pointed out some of the finer details of the publication’s appearance, and then loaned me these treasured items indefinitely, so I could peruse them for new ideas for graphic design for the Gazette. (Which I did. And implemented….)

Then he launched into a long story about his efforts to prepare for an exhibition of his art in Dallas or Fort Worth. It was going to be a lot of work. I was antsy, because I had been in the middle of something else when Monte stopped by, and he was on a roll, as he usually got, talking about something of great interest to him. Oblivious to his listener’s squirming. He didn’t even pause long enough to interject a polite request.

About 45 minutes into his monologue of sorts, Monte noticed my big tuxedo cat, Frieda, the moment she entered the living room. He took a deep breath, exclaimed “What a beautiful cat!” got down on all fours, and crawled over to meet her. All talk of the impending exhibition was halted. I introduced them. Monte petted Frieda, talked to her for a few minutes, and sung her praises to me. “What a glorious coat she has. And listen to that purr… This is obviously a well-loved animal….” Cynical Northeasterner that I am, I might have misconstrued his intense fawning as a ploy to win me over for some other purpose, to get to me through my cat. But this was Monte, probably incapable of insincerity, always genuine. I had a whole new understanding and fondness for him.

We considered doing a story on Monte for the Gazette. Several times Waters & I discussed it – and scrapped the idea. We didn’t want to bring any more public attention – possibly harassment – to this eccentric man for his sharing his home with some 40-50 reptiles and amphibians. And there was no way to do a good story on Monte without mentioning this important facet of his life.

Monte talked a lot about art, including his own – several glorious examples of which I got to see on the walls at Kate & Clyde’s. While his discussions and writings about his own art were often too esoteric for me to follow, his pieces spoke for themselves; they were mysterious, a bit otherworldly, beautiful, multi-layered, fascinating. And like nothing else I had seen.

Like Monte.

Leesa Anne Zeiler (Marathon):

Monte became a friend through my sister Klem. When I first met him, I didn’t know how to take him. Years went by with a hello here and there. Sometimes he would talk and you wanted to kindly back away and go on, but he still talked.

Just recently, my sister Klem and her partner Tom went on vacation. Monte and I took care of their cats and birds. I fed and loved them, but Monte, as sick as he was, came every day to give them special time, love, and his heart.

We jotted notes back and forth each day on how the critters were for us.

I wish I had the chance now to hear him talk forever.

James Evans (Marathon):

Monte was one of those guys I sometimes avoided. You could get into a long, usually one-sided conversation with him that could use an hour or more of your time, breaking or slowing down my own momentum on what ever I might be working on.

On the streets I cut Monte short, but at parties, or dinners, where we could spread ourselves out, he was good company. Monte was very intelligent and compassionate, and a good storyteller. He told us a story of him being bitten by a cobra because he forgot about it, left it sitting in water for hours, to help it shed its skin. There was a flake left on its head and he picked it off and the snake bit him. The snake had been soaking for hours and was miffed.

That bite nearly killed him. He was in the hospital for months. To hear him tell it was so funny, though. The classic Monte line from that was “I thought it was a dry bite” and just saying those words conjured up a giggle between us from that day on.

We made a couple of beautiful photographs together.

The first one was at the Marathon Motel. The sign was being repaired and hopefully turned on so I went over there to see the progress. Susan Brown, Monte, and a few other people were waiting there too for the big excitement.  It started to rain and there was lightning. I set up to photograph the sign with the lightning and Monte had an idea to lay on the ground in front of the sign, arms spread like a dead man, and wait for a bolt. When the lightning bolt came, that was enough for Monte, and he started to get up. When he did, a second bolt, closer and more powerful struck. It was strong enough to stop the action of Monte’s movement, and it looks as if a ghost is leaving his body. It is an eerie image.

The other great photograph we made was a portrait. Monte had a pair of lizards that had given birth to about 25 offspring and he wanted me to photograph them before he gave them away. I asked where do you want to do this?

How about your place?  he said.

Nah, I do not have a formal studio. I suggested his place.

Nah, he was working on a painting and he did not want me to see it.

He suggested shooting inside the Catholic church, and I thought, Oh, yeah…. He put all the lizards around his neck and we shot for about 45 minutes. The lizards rarely moved. I truly believe they had affection for Monte.

The result was a powerful portrait. Monte always liked the one where he looks a little distrusting, but I like the one that shows the gentleness of Monte.  [See this image on page 4]. The image ran in the London Daily Times magazine. Monte said that hopefully the Queen was sitting on the toilet when she saw his image.

I am walking a little slow with the news of Monte’s suicide. It is a foolish and selfish thing to take one’s own life. It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I am left here with unanswered questions, a feeling of guilt, and how I could have or should have done more. As an artist, I would have liked to see how Monte would have interpreted these emotions on canvas, to show me and the world what he was feeling.

I am sorry that Monte took his own life. I feel guilty. I want to ask him what I could have done to help him through his hard time.

I have had suicidal feelings too. I think this is normal. But I never wanted to miss out on the lesson. Sometimes the lesson is hard, physically painful, and I would think, I just don’t want to feel like this another moment. In a few days, a month, or even a year, life will change. Why is it that when I am in pain I can feel every second, and when I am extremely happy, time seems to fly by? Whenever I feel like I can’t take it anymore, I talk it out with my friends, my family, or my counselor. It is not easy. It’s not supposed to be. I am thankful that many people love me.

I feel anger towards Monte right now, and these words come too soon after his death to be objective. I think Monte was learning or could have learned that many people around here cared for and loved him too. I can only guess why he stopped his lesson.

Kate Thayer, friend and fellow voyager (Marathon):

Monte was intense and passionate about a number of things, among them religion, art, food, and all creatures, large or small.

He could argue for hours about good and evil, God and the devil.

He was an encyclopedia of art and its history. Great art, to Monte, was any that changed the course of art. We argued the value of the first urinal hung on a gallery wall, and the substance of a pure white painting.

His kitchen in his house in Marathon was uninspiring, but he buzzed around in my kitchen many times, with a dash of sambuca in the salad or greens, curry on cauliflower, anchovies in pasta, an innovative gourmet cook.

Monte’s was, without question, the most difficult friendship I have ever had. He needed so much from all of us, he wore us down.

I like to think that his heart was revealed it his love for and care of animals. From Monte I learned that snakes are finely tuned to vibrations, including those emanating from humans who fear or hate them, that lizards can learn their names. In the words of Henry Beston, Monte believed that animals were “caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”

I will miss the slice of life that was Monte.



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