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The Jim Arter Freeway

The Backward Step / Nicholas Payton

“Trust is letting your heart have the final say.”


Readers of Midnight Oil know I’ve written about my good friend Jim Arter. I met him when I was making a documentary film on the legendary jazz musician Gene Walker. Maybe 15 years ago. Jim knew Gene very well and it seemed a good idea for me to set up a meeting with Jim who was at that time, head of one of the city’s top arts organizations.

We met in his office downtown. There was a huge quilt in the middle of the office. Jim greeted me and saw my interest in the quilt and said it is being sponsored by a large gay organization in town to honor those who have died from AIDs. We talked and talked about Gene and really art in general. It was like meeting another long lost relative to meet Jim. He has become a favorite of my wife Stephanie also.

Jim and I have become special friends over the years since our first meeting. I often go down to his home, sometimes when my sons are in town, to visit Jim at his home on one of the grand old streets of old Columbus. He has restored an older house with all types of art he has collected over the years. Steph and I and the boys have been down there a few times. As always, Jim is the most gracious host.

Then there are times when just it is just Jim and I sitting out in his large backyard with a thick wooded area in the back and a winding path, passed little figures in the trees, funny statues in the heavy growth in the little forest, cross a little pond with one frog in it, onto the porch and through the panel glass wide open doors on the front of the tea house. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to find Jim as a friend since I’ve moved to Columbus from California.

And to find his wonderful lifestyle and friendship. A true friendship with another artist in life. There were not too many others truly interested in the arts, the more I got to see things back here. It wasn’t much different from other major large cities in the nation in its feeling for the arts.

* * *

There is no need to repeat myself here as I’ve already written so much about Jim and the Teahouse and the inside of his house in past blogs. (Listed at the end of this and a good time to read at this time for background on this story) So, little need to get you up to date except that we met around 2008 and 15 years later are even better friend than at first. And still, after all of these years, Jim is about the closest other true artist that I’ve encountered in life.

This week, Jim called and told me excitedly about the upcoming Columbus Arts Council meeting in a few days and that he was receiving a huge award. In fact, he said, they were naming an award in perpetuity under his name. The Art Education Award. He told me about the quilt he was carried around in when he was a child. He had met a great tailer and designer and he was making the quilt into a jacket. For the awards in a few days, Jim was going to wear the jacket to the awards ceremony. It fit perfect, he told me.

I told Jim that they were going to start naming streets after him in our city. We both laughed. Would art ever really get this recognition in our culture? It seems somewhat doubtful to me. We agreed to get together for lunch next week after Jim’s big event in a few days.

* * *

I thought how wonderful it is to have an award named after you and given to some worth person in life. But not just any award. The Arts in Education Award. What better calling than being an Arts Educator? Not just an Art Teacher. But an “Educator” of art. A very special person was needed to transfer the “art spirit” of one generation to the younger generation. The spirit of art needed a different type of transmission from other things. My friend Jim knew what these “other things” were. Knew them effortlessly, instinctively. If only the world could make more duplicates of Jim in the world.

Then, an image flashed in my mind of a great freeway of the world. Now, somehow, the Jim Arter Freeway. It was an image very close to a diorama I had made six months before on a great freeway. It was a diorama of the 405 around LAX. The freeway is going under a major street in LA. The intersection of another major street in LA. Right at the famous corner of Randy’s Donuts with it 30 foot tall donut on top of the donut shop. The huge donut (really made from a Cheerio in my 1/500th scale version of the diorama of the above I made.) The Cheerio on top of the donut shop seemed to be watching over the 405 below like one big eye. This somehow is the heart of LA. On the right, I have 1/500th scale jet coming into LAX for a landing at the north runway a couple thousand feet away.

It was made from aerial shots off of Google. I put them together and created this part of the 405 San Diego Freeway, the major north / south freeway in Los Angeles. Just as I’ve already written about Jim in past posts, I’ve also posted about making this particular diorama and some thoughts on making them. (See links at the end of this post.)

* * *

I went down to the basement today and pulled my Randy’s Donuts Diorama off the shelf I keep my dioramas on. There are a lot of them. I take it over to my work area and put it on the rubber matt on my work desk and then pound the small straight pin I got from Stephanie into the back of the 405 Freeway on the diorama.

Then, I make a little sign trying to look as much as I can like a California freeway sign. I create “The Jim Arter Freeway” in Page on the Mac and print it out on my color printer. I cut out the little half inch piece of LA freeway sign green printed cardboard with the “John Arter Freeway” in large white letters hovering over all ten lanes of it.

I place it against a black poster board and turn my umbrella studio light on the diorama and shoot with the iPhone 15 Pro.

* * *

The picture is interesting. It transforms my Randy’s Donuts diorama into the Jim Arter Freeway diorama! With just a sewing pin and a piece of cardboard glued to it that I just thought of. Something from the past serving as the image for something seen today.

The process of the transformation of the LA Donut diorama into the Jim Arter Freeway diorama was not a simple matter and (unfortunately) involved psychology. Now it had the sense of a name that had more of a personal meaning to me.

Although, I always thought It a more appropriate name than the current name of the link below. A name better than the previous name of this diorama as Randy’s Donuts in the link below. Better than LA’s Great Donut. There was the vision of the entire 405 freeway named after Jim. It made as much – really more – sense than all the other things out there today. At least for me it did.

And, with this new designation as the Jim Arter Freeway as a sign in the background of the Randy’s Donuts diorama. It wasn’t an intrusive sign because it was the farthest object away from viewers of the diorama. At the same time, it was the only name given to the particular scene in the Randy’s Donuts diorama. The “Jim Arter Freeway.” Announced of course by signage within the scene announcing this.


Link Notes

Link to Jim & Teahouse story on Midnight Oil

Link to Randy’s Donuts diorama on Midnight Oil

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