I first met Richard Svare in the early 1990’s at a dinner party in the home of my friends, Merch and Alice Pease. Having been seated next to him, I had the opportunity to learn about his life as an actor in Athens, Greece and about his relationship with Morris Graves. Richard spoke quietly, almost in a whisper and this had the unusual affect of my having to lean in close as if he were imparting a prized secret, but in truth, as I soon discovered, it was Richard’s reticence and quiet manner, spooling out enchanting lines, stories of his life, while reeling in the captivated. He was good at that. Toward the end of the evening, he invited me to visit him should I ever find my way to Athens. It was an irresistible offer. One year later I did.
In addition to his native English, Richard spoke fluent Greek, Norwegian and several other languages. He was somewhat of a local celebrity in Athens, having appeared in numerous Greek and European film and television productions, as well as various commercials. When I visited, he was living in a modest apartment not too far from the Pláka, along with his two Lhasa Apso dogs, both of which had easily extracted Richard’s absolute devotion; he adored them. In fact, when he planned to return to the United States, he couldn’t bear the idea the dogs would have to fly in cargo. He had heard somewhere that the captain of an air flight could decide if a small pet could ride topside, beneath the legs of a doting owner. He spent weeks chasing this possibility, which, of course, did not pan out at all. I’m quite sure the dogs arrived with considerably less stress than did Richard.
When he moved back to Seattle, he moved in to his old family home, in the basement where he had spent a part of his boyhood. His older Sister, Betty, was living upstairs. On most of my visits into Seattle from the Olympic Peninsula, I would visit Richard and occasionally he would venture out to visit me in my home in Port Townsend. It was during one of these visits that we discussed the possibility of driving down to visit Morris. By this time, one dog had died, but he insisted we take the other along. This Tibetan breed of dog is fairly small, often excitably neurotic, and is particularly noted for it’s long, silky hair. Very long.
After a first day’s long drive, we stopped at a motel in a small town and inquired about accommodations. Richard indicated he had a small dog. The man looked at Richard and said, “We only allow dogs with short hair. Is your dog short-haired?” Without missing a beat, Richard smiled and replied, “Oh yes, very short, very quiet.” It’s quite possible the man noticed, as I did, those long varicolored hairs on Richard’s dark blue cardigan, or perhaps he had learned a few things from past experience, but he came from behind the desk, went out and peered inside the car. After another three stops we finally found a motel that would accept all three of us.
We arrived the following day at The Lake and spent a lovely sunny afternoon in the side garden with Morris. Soon after this meeting Richard and Morris began discussions in earnest about the book.
When he began Morris Graves: His Houses, His Gardens, surely one of the more difficult tasks before him was to severely edit out the significant extent of his deep, personal relationship with Graves. In our conversations, Richard was adamant about his role in this regard. He had no intention of thickening the book with personal anecdotes or explicating those historical events that amplified Graves as an eccentric recluse. (Truthfully, Morris was neither eccentric nor reclusive; he was merely selective.) While the book doesn’t approach the paintings of Morris Graves, it does go into detail about those things that were absolutely necessary for Morris to make the paintings. Richard set about not only describing the physical habitations of Morris Graves, two of which he shared with Morris, but also the nearly insurmountable difficulties in realizing all four—The Rock, Careläden, Woodtown Manor, and The Lake. Also he detailed the reasons Morris became disenchanted with one place then left it for another.
Had Morris not given permission nor encouraged Richard to write the book, the first page would never have been written — not by Richard. And frankly, I doubt anyone but Richard could have written the book with such insightful presence and acute observation. Even though they parted their physical ‘union’ in the 1960’s, they communicated frequently by phone until Morris Graves died in 2001. Clearly a well of mutual respect and trust had deepened between them.
It was Richard’s cousin, Dale Keller, who introduced the two men during the completion of Careläden in the early 1950’s. Richard, a voice major at University of Washington, fell deeply and swiftly under the charismatic spell of Morris Graves. Though twenty years younger, he became intricately involved with the day-to-day minutia in the life of an internationally celebrated artist, acting as companion, organizer, secretary, and confidant. He made the exodus to Ireland with Morris and helped him with the restoration of Woodtown Manor. By the mid-1960’s, Morris had become disenchanted. He needed change, more solitude. He returned to the United States in search of what became known as The Lake, his last habitation in Northern California.
Richard did not accompany Morris but moved to Stockholm where he founded and directed the Scandinavian Theater Company. After eight years he migrated to Athens, Greece and spent two decades as an actor, interrupted briefly as Administrative Director for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in New York City.
Pat Keller, Richard Svare, and Jan Thompson, Seattle, ca. 2002
MORRIS GRAVES: His Houses, His Gardens has entered its final fund-raising stages and we anticipate a publication date for Fall 2013.
Please visit the project and the project team at www.morris-graves-book.com to learn how you can help.
Thank you for your continued support,
We very much enjoy your comments and please feel free to direct any questions about the book, Morris Graves or Richard Svare to us at either the Graves Project Blog, or at FACEBOOK
Below is a work by Northwest artist, Nick Fennel. He wrote:
“Dear Morris. I hope you are flattered that I chose to copy one of your minnow paintings as best I could for a 1995 Charlie Krafft show honoring you. Seems to me you dedicated yourself to the delicate, fragile, and elusive.”