9 06, 2024

The Biggest Monument in the Graveyard


The loons are calling out with their soothing cry as they float by on the calm, glass-like waters that reflect the brilliant pink sunrise and the tall pines surrounding the lake. Baby hummingbirds the size of quarters flit about, frolicking in the air and diving from the nest as they try to pass their flying test. 

I’m once again perched on my dock on a hidden lake, deep in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. My home here, built in 1848, is only accessible by boat, and hasn’t changed much since it was built. This is my happy place. Each day here is a gift, and I know summer will fly by fast, just like this year has. 

Road Trip

The drive from Texas was long, lots of sitting, and as the passenger, my three days of travel were filled with impromptu naps from high-carb fast food along the way. It’s cathartic. I didn’t work much other than an occasional e-mail. I never “just sit.” But I didn’t even try to be efficient with my time, like every other moment in my insanely busy life. But on this trip, I don’t even listen to audiobooks, I simply stare and think as America goes by from the passenger side of the car.

The Lure of Private Jets

Driving past some airport somewhere, I gazed longingly at some parked private jets, thinking for a moment what a joy it would be to skip airports and airlines and four-day drives to transport old dogs, and be able to just walk onto our own airplane with the dogs and arrive in a couple of hours. But that’s for busy billionaires, who, like it or not, are missing out on the random encounters with kind people in the breakfast rooms of roadside hotels and at gas stations across America. Driving is my chance to see and experience this great country between Texas and New York, seeing decrepit, falling barns off back roads,  crumbling industrial brick buildings in old cities, and thousands of beautiful working farms along the way. I would not trade it for anything. It’s good for my soul and renews my faith in America.

A Highway Island

As we got on a highway near the end of our trip, I noticed something strange. Off in the distance stood an old Civil War-era cemetery. Though I could barely see it, a few hundred feet away, it was overgrown, appeared to have no access road or entry, and had a highway built all around it. Most of the grave markers were short headstones barely keeping their heads above the weeds, but there were a dozen or so taller headstones, and a few towering monuments reaching for the sky. Yet nestled between a highway and farmland, the cemetery can’t be reached even to be mowed or maintained. 

“What’s the purpose?” I remember thinking. 

Even the tallest, most impressive monument in this lost cemetery is drawing no attention. The names are not visible, which I’m sure was not the intention of the families who funded these monuments. A couple of generations saw those names before the graveyard was eventually abandoned and a highway built around it. Though I could see the towering monuments as I passed by at 75 mph, I could not read the names. Someone worked hard and spent substantial money for their loved ones to stand out and be remembered. Of course they couldn’t have anticipated an interstate highway. Yet even if the monuments were accessible, would anyone read them or know who is buried there?  

A Monument to Himself?

I watched an old friend go through this. He came from a prominent, mega-wealthy billionaire family. When his parents died, he was obsessed with building a memorial that would stand out in a cemetery of other prominent people. I remember him spending over two years working with one of the best-known and hard-to-get architects of the time. I’m guessing he spent millions on this marble monument to his family (which he now occupies as well). He attacked the project like he attacked his business, doing everything right.

But who will see it? Will it matter once a couple of generations pass? Does it matter now?

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

I recently read that most of us will never be remembered beyond two generations. Imagine all that effort to become a Kardashian, working so hard at being famous, and realizing it won’t matter 75 years from now. Two generations from now won’t even be able to read their lifetime’s worth of Instagram posts. 

I remember my great-grandparents, but barely. I have fond memories of my parents and grandparents; I know many of their stories and family legends. But I know little about my great-grandparents, and I know nothing other than the names of a few generations before them.

From Fame to Unknown

Very few of us will ever be known beyond two generations — and that’s true even for most of the great movie stars, sports figures, authors, artists, and business celebrities. The other day I mentioned someone famous from my youth and my kids had to look on Wikipedia to know who it was, yet that person was a household name when I was a kid.

Here’s to the Outliers, the Rebels

The only people whose names survive longer than two or three generations are the outliers. Steve Jobs is likely to be remembered fondly, like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, or Issac Newton, but I doubt if Apple’s Tim Cook will be remembered the same way, in spite of his genius as the new head of Apple. Hemingway is an outlier. Van Gogh and Vermeer … outliers.

I’ve stood at the graves of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo in France. Neither was famous during his lifetime; both died as unknowns. They became famous due to the lifelong efforts of Theo Van Gogh’s widow, Vincent’s sister-in-law, who made Vincent famous 40 years after his death. He never even got to know how important his work would become.  

So if being remembered is unlikely, what should our legacy be?

I suspect that Van Gogh did not set out to be famous. Instead he set out to paint what was in his heart, in a style that moved him, in spite of the criticism he experienced. He painted for himself. He lived the way he wanted to live, as tragic as the story seems. 

If getting famous is your thing, I think you should go for it. Being famous opens a lot of doors and gets you invited to the best parties and gets you into the best restaurants. But if you want to be remembered forever, you need to be an outlier. That means you have to do something different, be innovative, and do something no one else has tried. 

But for the rest of us, our life purpose is different — different for each one of us. It’s less about long-term fame, and more about making a difference somehow. 

I used to wonder about my purpose. I always wanted to serve my God, and my family, but when I chased money, I discovered that it was an empty chase. It was not until I realized my purpose was helping others find their purpose that everything changed for me. I’ve never been more happy, knowing that I’ve potentially helped someone discover something in their life that made them happy. And I guarantee that two generations from now, no one will care.

But one way we can all live on is by the generations we influence. If I can help pull someone out of their bad circumstances and help them live a better, happier, more fulfilling life, then I’ve served my purpose. If they then go on and help others find what they found, they will impact future generations, who will impact future generations. Maybe your name won’t live on, but your ideas could touch families for generations to come. 

I’ve come to understand that legacy isn’t about being remembered, it’s about touching others, who then carry the torch forward to others, who eventually will do the same. Whith is why it’s important to teach, and train future generations, and to help people find a better life.

What is your plan?

Eric Rhoads

PS: A giant part of my mission is to put people together, to help them make lifelong friends, and to help them discover the joys of painting outdoors. Last night about 90 of us gathered for our opening dinner and orientation at my 13th annual Publisher’s Invitational Adirondack retreat. All of us are staying at Paul Smiths College of the Adirondacks, and we’ll paint together all day every day in some of the most stunning scenery in America. We sit up at night and play music, sing, and paint portraits, and we make deep, lasting friendships. We wish you were here. But since that’s not possible this year, there are still a handful of seats available for my fall retreat, called Fall Color Week, which is in Carmel-Monterey this fall. 

PS 2: Back at the turn of the century, when people would graduate from college, wealthy families sent their young men (mostly men at that time) on the Grand Tour before they started their careers. The idea was to help them become educated in life abroad, to broaden their horizons, and to expose them to the great artists and museums so they became more interesting people. 

The one place that was considered a “must” first stop on the Grand Tour was Venice, Italy, not only because of its rich culture and beautiful architecture, but because of its incredible art experiences. It was the one place every artist wanted to visit and paint, attracting virtually every important artist throughout history. And it was not only an attraction for artists, but also those who love and appreciate art.

Each year for 12 years now, I’ve hosted a fall Fine Art Trip along with Fine Art Connoisseur Editor Peter Trippi. These trips are legendary because of the impossible access we provide our guests, with private entry to museums, private homes, and artists’ studios. Our storied past runs deep with unheard-of private visits, alone inside the Hermitage or in the Sistine Chapel. Even the wealthiest people with the biggest Rolodexes could not arrange the kind of experiences we’ve been able to provide. 

This year we decided to focus on two important aspects of the Grand Tour: the hidden treasures and secrets of Venice, as well as those of Verona, which is rich with art experiences but barely known as an art treasure city. Once again, we’ll be opening doors, trading on deep relationships, and providing an unheard of experience in this region. It promises to be life-changing.

In the past we’ve opened up these trips to a sizable group. One trip required two buses to visit some of our treasures. But we’ve since realized that large crowds are a bar to intimate experiences. Therefore we’re limiting this group to 30 people, or 15 couples (though singles are welcome and encouraged).

We’re going this fall, and it will be a great opportunity to escape all the election drama that occurs every cycle, and yet we’ll be home in time to vote. You’ll experience treasures you did not know existed, and you’ll become the most interesting person at Christmas parties this year with stories of art others will not have experienced. At this stage we’re just opening things up, and we’re already 25% sold, and there are many “regulars” who tend to come but who have not yet signed up. If you’re at all interested, this would be a good time to visit www.finearttrip.com to explore. This is a very elegant trip where everything is of the finest quality, because it’s your Grand Tour.

The Biggest Monument in the Graveyard2024-06-08T13:07:46-04:00
2 06, 2024

An Encounter Like No Other


The Texas heat is melting everything in sight, including me. Who needs a microwave for hot coffee — all I need to do is set my cup on the porch for a moment. It’s already that hot. This morning I’m taking one last moment on the old wicker couch on the long tin roof-covered porch.

A little over 11 years ago, my assistant, Jenny, decided it was time to move on. The job was too stressful, so she gave notice and began interviewing for her replacement. So I asked her to pick the top three she would hire, and then I would interview them. 

Not Adding Up

I started with her top candidate, but in the in-person interview, I was concerned because there was something on the resume that did not add up.

No More Stress

Her answer was that she and her husband were both in big, high-stress jobs, and they had decided to move to America, had decided they liked Texas, and they wanted to live for quality of life, not money. Oh, and she picked Texas because it’s always sunny, the opposite of London, where it’s always gray and raining. Though I still wondered why anyone would do that, she persuaded me to hire her. And little did she know she was about to go from the frying pan into the fire.

Mind Like a Bouncy House

Those who have worked for me will tell you things about me that are not always evident to our readers or customers. I’m completely ADHD, and the only reason I’ve survived is because my brain shoots out ideas at the speed of a machine gun, and I tend to implement most of them. As a result we went from a single magazine 30-plus years ago to a media company with multiple magazines, newsletters, conferences, retreats, training courses, and more. And just about the time we get a moment of stability or rest, out comes another idea that tends to put everyone in a tizzy. When I first hired this person, I said, “I throw a lot of baseballs. Your job is to catch them all, put them in a basket, then ask what their priority is. And check in with me frequently, because a hot idea today might not be hot a week from now. So let’s not start working on something till we know it’s going to get launched.”

The Perfect Combination

What ended up happening was beyond remarkable. I did not end up with just an assistant, I ended up with a confidant with whom I could share ideas and thoughts and ask for opinions, knowing I’d get very well thought-out answers. I also ended up with a handler, who protected me from the arrows I did not need to see, and, when problems arose, instead of asking me how I wanted to handle them, just handled them with grace and class. On occasion she felt the need to get my opinion on a particular situation, and usually her suggested way was the best way.

When she phoned people, she spoke with authority, with her South African/British accent, and people who encountered her loved her because she always treated them with respect (which I never had to ask her to do) — everyone who ever dealt with her grew to love her.

Always Trustworthy

And she did something else I found to be truly remarkable. Though she was extremely loyal to me, she never ever violated a confidence if told something by someone else. She might say to me, “You might want to consider having a talk with this person,” but she would never tell me why. Co-workers could tell her anything I needed to know, and she would share it with me at their request, keeping their name out of it if that was important to them. There were times when I felt I should know, yet over 11 years, she never once violated anyone else’s confidence. I knew, as a result, she would never violate mine, especially since she knew as much about me as my family, and sometimes more. And if it was extremely delicate, she would nudge me in the right direction without ever revealing what she knew. Usually with some nudging or pressure, people will give in, because they really want to tell you. She never did.

In a line of work where she’s often in the public eye, where she receives thousands of e-mails some weeks, hundreds of calls at times, her role can be demanding, because part of her responsibility is to allow me to live a normal life — and yet I want to make sure everyone is treated with respect and given the proper amount of time. It’s not easy for either of us, but it’s the right thing to do. She walks this tightrope beautifully. 

I’ve had some amazing assistants over my career, but this one is the most special and will be missed the most.

Before today, I’ve never devoted a Sunday Coffee to anyone other than family, but this feels like family for both my wife and myself. And though I was disappointed when Ali Cruickshank let me know that after 11 years, it was time to go and reduce the stress in her life once again, I remember one thing my dad taught me: “When you own a company, everyone eventually leaves. You’re the only one who never does … until you do.”

Ali not only handled my life and my business matters, and often produced my podcasts or shows, she handled all the faculty for all of our events like the Plein Air Convention and our virtual events. And she organized my retreats and trips, plus all my travel. And it is going to take three amazing people to replace her. 

One of the things that happens when you work at Streamline is you become part of a family. We all become very close. You also get drawn into the art world. Ali got addicted early on with her first painting purchase, and now has a wall of paintings she has purchased at our events. I’ll be making sure she has something to take up a little more wall space. 

Sunday Coffee is often about lessons I’ve learned, and I cannot begin to articulate what I’ve learned from this wonderful woman. She is gracious, discreet, encouraging, open to change and any challenge, and great with people. Life will never be the same without her. Everything will be fine, of course, but it will change, and she will be missed.

Last week I announced to the crowd at PACE that Ali would be leaving. Tears welled up in both of our eyes, and there was sadness among the crowd. Of course Ali has lifetime access to the event she has helped build through her diligence and special magic. We hope she will return to see the family (and we promise we won’t put her to work).

Please join me in a fond farewell to one of the greatest friends and family members I’ve worked with.

Eric Rhoads

PS: I’d like to welcome Skye Fallon to the Streamline team; she is our new event coordinator. And Amandine Tollitte and Christie Cole are taking on the roles of assisting and producing me. Please welcome them.

By the way….

Last week I was so exhausted from PACE (the Plein Air Convention & Expo) … it’s not every day I get to do acrobatics on stage, hanging from the ceiling 🙂 … I completely forgot to write Sunday Coffee. So sorry.

A special word to everyone who was at the Plein Air Convention…

I’ve never felt so grateful for the hundreds of you who approached me and told me what joy you are experiencing since you’ve discovered painting or attended the convention. I’m honored to serve you. I hope to see you again.

Next stop…

This week I’ll load the car, a couple of old dogs who can’t fly, part of my family, and a load of summer stuff and head off to the Adirondacks. My next event starts this Saturday (PaintAdirondacks.com). Then summer begins. Woohoo! Lots of paintings to create!

An Encounter Like No Other2024-06-02T16:22:36-04:00