It is rare that I do a dedication. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done one. But these are strange times. One of our own has been lost, and I would like to pause for a moment and pay tribute.
Back in my New York days, or rather Brooklyn days, there were but a few things I could count on from day to day, week to week, month to month. One thing I could always count on though was my little tribe of friends. Most of us were Ohio transplants, coming to New York via the University of Cincinnati’s Industrial Design program. We had many adventures in the city and shared lots of good times together (a few bad ones too).
One of these individuals of whom I am speaking was Nicholas Holland Womeldorff. I vaguely knew of him at U.C., but didn’t properly know him until we were both in New York. We were both working as design interns when I first remember hanging out together. He was many things: bright, funny, talented, and so on… …but what stands out the most to me was his curious mind. It was evident in almost any conversation I’d have with Nick; his brain was always working, trying to figure things out. We also had a special connection within our group of friends because we were both aspiring artists. Later on, when we both held real design jobs, we spent a good deal of our free time after business hours working on our different painting projects. Some of the best times back then were when I’d go over to Nick’s apartment and check out his newest paintings. He would check out mine too – if I could impress him, I knew I was on to something. With our competitive natures, I would say that we kind of egged each other on a bit, as well. I can’t speak for Nick, but I know I definitely painted a little harder because of him.
For as much as we had in common, we were also two totally different cats. Nick was always much more comfortable speaking about his art, and was light years ahead of me in terms of selling his work. Donning the name “Holland”, he would take piles of his artwork to the streets of Brooklyn, set up shop, and sell it. He would spend most of the day out there, sometimes in nasty weather, and present his work to the public. He had a gift for talking to people that I just admired the hell out of. And his work sold pretty much like hotcakes.
After weeks of encouraging me to come out to the street and sell my work beside his, I finally decided to give it a go one Sunday. We drug our paintings and sketches down to Bedford Street in Williamsburg, along the sidewalk in front of an empty lot that was under construction. We used the chain-link fence in front of the lot as a makeshift wall in which to wedge our smaller paintings, setting the larger ones on the ground. As I recall, for about the first half hour of this Nick was talking to potential buyers and discussing his work while I fidgeted around and nervously rearranged my work over and over. Within another half hour Nick had sold a couple of paintings, and I had just begun to settle in. And then …the police show up. Next thing I know, Nick is talking to a few NYPD officers and as I see them writing something up, he comes over to me. “I’m about to get a ticket,” he tells me. “Pretend like this is all my stuff. That way you don’t get one too.”
Fast-forward some years to a couple of weeks ago, as I was working on my latest project (see previous blog post). I was about halfway through the implementation of this mural when I heard the news of Nick’s passing. And it shivered me. I was upset, sorrowful, angry, confused… all sorts of intense feelings that linger and I still don’t quite understand. Perhaps I never will. At the time, I did my best to swallow my feelings and soldier on. I grabbed the nearest sharpie and wrote “Holland” on my left forearm. I was thinking of situations in sports where a team wears a special ribbon in honor of a fallen teammate, or wears their initials. But as the week wore on and the marker began to fade on my arm, I decided I needed to do something more permanent. It is all good and well to scrawl your compadre’s name across your skin. It is another thing to paint it on a wall in a public space.
Memories of Nick weighed heavy on my mind as I continued painting. The work did not come easily, and I struggled to finish it. Eventually, I decided that if Nick were around, he would want me to keep going. So as I drove on towards completion, I figured there was only one thing to do. I would hide the name “Holland” somewhere in the mural, as a sort of wink towards Nick. The plan was to do just that: sign his name on the painting, but in a subtle way that the casual viewer might not notice. As it turned out though, it was much more visible than I realized. On opening night at The Commissary (where the mural is), the first friend that I ran into had a pressing question for me: “What does ‘Holland’ mean?”
“Holland” means many things to me, more than words can express. No string of admirable adjectives, no relay of treasured memories is enough. Still I write this tribute to Nick, in order to answer those who see my mural and wonder, “What does Holland mean?” It may be only the tip of an iceberg, but my hope is that this gives some small insight into who this remarkable man was. I am proud to say that he was my friend. While he may be lost to us now, he is not forgotten.