|4/4/23 Crown Hill neighborhood|
Just as I was about to head out for Crown Hill to check out the cherry blossoms, I heard the devastating news: Artist, urban sketcher and author Chandler O’Leary had died suddenly at the age of 41. I was so shaken that I almost cancelled my plans, but I also knew that nothing consoles or comforts me like sketching does, so I went out anyway.
The block of cherries on Dibble Avenue Northwest, which is on my annual petal-peeping tour, weren’t yet at peak; I’d say they were still at about 60 to 70 percent. It was cold enough that I might have been tempted to sketch from my car. On this day, however, I wanted to feel the chill and the wind – I wanted to feel the whole experience of being among those spectacular, old trees. I walked slowly up and down the block, recognizing ones I had sketched previously like acquaintances. Other trees surprised me because I hadn’t noticed them before.
Although I didn’t know Chandler well, I had been a fan of her work long before I took her urban sketching workshop back in 2015. I hadn’t seen her in person in a long time, but following her Instagram account always delighted me. She observed the world with a keen yet quirky eye, spotting things most of us might miss. Indeed, she went out of her way to have experiences that most of us would miss because we’re more likely to travel the faster, more convenient route. Her artwork reflects those observations with a joyful appreciation for nature, small towns, lighthouses and especially life’s many surprising oddities.
From her Instagram account where a family member had announced her death:
She was just 41 years old, and leaves behind an astonishing body of work as an author and artist. In her short life, she filled countless sketchbooks and created public art and signage, paintings, drawings, textiles, artist books, photographs—you name it, she did it. She did it with passion, dedication, and exquisite beauty. “Artist” barely encompasses all her extraordinary talents, as she was also an engaging teacher, podcaster, blogger, historian, travel expert, musician, feminist, and collaborator.
Although it had sprinkled briefly on my way there, by the time I had arrived on Crown Hill, the sky was a painfully beautiful cyan. Sketching these pink blossoms on that cold, sunny afternoon, I thought about how Japanese poets use the fleeting sakura season as a metaphor for the brevity of life. The blossoms weren’t at peak, but with all the rain and strong winds we’ve been having lately, waiting for a better time might be too late. Extraordinary as I stood there, these trees were good enough for me.