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Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin’s Suede Beret

| Karen Yochim |

It’s widely known that the Gulf Coast of Florida has been home for a great many well- known artists,  actors, writers, and musicians for decades. Some not just widely known in the U.S. but worldwide, such as E.B. White, John D. McDonald, and Stephen King.  Various rock stars from all over the world (so beloved they’d be rushed by fans and their clothes snatched at if they ventured out in public) have lived on the Gulf coast in past years and many still do.

Paul Gaugin
Photo credit- Twinkle Yochim

However, few people know that the son of one of the most famous artists in history lived in Englewood back when Englewood was sparsely populated. At that time, Paul’s son, Emile, and his wife, and only a few other residents, lived in scattered bungalows on the beach. (Englewood has always been cautious and protective of its unincorporated Gulf coast town regarding development.)

Emile Gauguin was one of the five children left behind in Europe when Paul Gauguin abandoned his family and moved to the South Seas. This move has been criticized and yet, had Gauguin never done this, he may never have been inspired enough by his surroundings to paint some of the world’s most treasured canvases. 

Paul Gaugin
Photo credit- Twinkle Yochim

My father and Emile Gauguin became friends soon after our family moved to the area in the early 1950s. Emile knew my father loved Paul Gauguin’s paintings and gave him one of  only two possessions he had of Paul’s, because he sensed he was nearing the end of his life.  He had a small oil painting hanging on the wall and also Paul’s handmade, foot-wide, black suede beret. (I don’t know if the beret was fashioned in Denmark, Paris, Rouen, or Arles, all places Paul lived prior to Panama and later, the South Seas.) 

Photo credit- Twinkle Yochim

Emile was a lovely, mild-mannered gentleman, both soft-spoken and welcoming. He was a retired construction engineer (not to be confused with another son of Paul’s, Emile, who was born in the South Seas). I was in ninth grade when I met Emile and his wife, Priscilla, at their beach house. He seemed without even a hint of bitterness as to his father’s leaving the family in Europe, when Paul took off for far-flung places. And, as all art lovers know, the South Seas is where he adopted a primitive existence and established a new family. That new life so familiar to the world via his lush, vivid paintings of the people who lived there and their natural, unexploited environment.

Emile gave the beret to my father, Charles Peterson, and years later, my father gave it to me when he too became aged. Living in the oppressive humidity of Florida and Louisiana without air-conditioning as I have done for decades is not a proper environment for such a treasure. I keep it in a hard plastic, air-tight container, and hope for the best, knowing this is not efficient preservation. 

From time to time, I take the beret out and put it on my head, hoping some of Gauguin’s creative genius will somehow spill over and leave a trace or two, but I’ll have to get back to you on that. 

Paul Gaugin
Photo credit- Twinkle Yochim

NOTE: For those interested in reading more about Paul Gauguin, yet aren’t up for a full biography, Wikipedia has a detailed account of his many travels and talents (certainly not just painting). And it also gives timelines for all the many countries where he lived. Gauguin did a lot of moving from place to place. We have a mental image of him working in his hut near Papeete, but Tahiti was just one more location in a long line of traveling for that restless man. 

Art experts talk of post-Impressionism, Syncretism, and Primitivism, but for most of us, when we think of Paul Gauguin, we see those colorful images of French Polynesian people and landscapes, so familiar, yet so exotic, even to this day, well over a century since his passing in 1903.

Editors Note – Karen Yochim is the mom to world-renowned entertainer, Twinkle Yochim.

Photo from Wikipedia

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