What They Left Behind: Legacies of the Recently Departed


A mind-altering poem. A transcendent song that stays with you forever. Movies that shook your belly or blew your mind. Recipes that rearranged your taste buds.

Obituaries in The New York Times give account of the creations left behind by their subjects, and reading these life stories can be an exercise in the discovery of marvelous things, or at least a reminder of them.

Here is a sampling from recent weeks:

John Shearer was something of a prodigy as a photographer. At 16, he captured a highly recognizable picture of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting at his father’s funeral. Other Shearer coups included photographs of the Attica prison uprising and the funeral of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This shot of Muhammad Ali is an example of his ability as a portraitist to excavate a subject’s inner life.

The sculptor Robert Therrien’s signature idea was to take ordinary objects, including his own dining set, and render them gigantic. One critic called it a “surprisingly powerful bit of sculptural memory theater,” invoking a time when as children we might have hidden under the table.

Charles Ginnever was also drawn to the oversized, but his works were more abstract and were often placed outdoors.

Charles A. Reich, who early in his professional life was a noted legal scholar, went on to write “The Greening of America” (1970), which had little to do with urban gardens and more to do with the progression of American consciousness. His idea was that it was perfectly fine for a younger generation of flower children to focus on spiritual fulfillment.

“The extraordinary thing about this new consciousness,” he wrote, “is that it has emerged from the machine-made environment of the corporate state, like flowers pushing up through a concrete pavement.” He added, “For those who thought the world was irretrievably encased in metal and plastic and sterile stone, it seems a veritable greening of America.”

Suzan Pitt was an animator like few others. She infused her dreams and surrealistic sensibility into a small body of intensely elaborate short and hypnotic experimental films, including “Asparagus,” “Joy Street” and “El Doctor.”

Dave Bartholomew, a producer and songwriter, was a major shaper of early rock ’n’ roll. One of his collaborators was Fats Domino, who alone had 65 singles on the Billboard pop chart from 1955 to 1964. And music he arranged, produced or wrote has served as a muse for many musicians, including Elton John, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Cheap Trick.

Krumhorns. Sackbuts. Lutes. These were some of the instruments, along with pure-intoning voices, that the Waverly Consort played in resurrecting art music from its earliest days — the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The group played an important role in establishing early music’s popularity from the 1960s onward. Michael Jaffee founded the group with his wife, Kay.

The World of Interiors was a visual chronicle of shabby chic, a magazine where “a certain sort of mellow and knocked-about English country house predominated, interspersed with Moroccan riads, Scandinavian palaces and Austrian schlosses,” Nicholas Coleridge, chairman of Condé Nast Britain, said after the death of the editor who founded it, Min Hogg.

David Esterly became fascinated with the 17th-century master woodcarver Grinling Gibbons after a chance encounter with his work. He started researching him, but realized that to truly understand Gibbons, he had to learn to carve. And he became a modern master.

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