i met pickering in the summer of '80 when i arrived at U of O. i was hoping to be admitted despite my failure to do any work in high school that would qualify me for admission to a university.
we became friends almost instantly and he offered me the newly vacant job of "art department janitor" which was mostly about looking after 190 lawrence hall and keeping the tools in some sort of working order. i took his basic design class that first summer and he offered a share of his office in 190 and handed me a key.
we spent alot of the next 5 years hanging out there and i became something of a teaching assistant to dick, helping with his very popular basic design class and assisting other students with the tools and various technical challenges they encountered in fulfilling the class assignments. we kept a bottle of ezra brooks whiskey in the office and a big coffee pot in the main room and sometimes spent the entire day there messing around and experimenting.
he used to start off the design class apologizing that while he was "the teacher", the students collectively had many times his experience and that he was there to learn as much as he was there to teach. this would cause much consternation and nervousness. he would then spend the rest of the term relieving that anxiety, encouraging everyone to take risks, find their creative voice and to keep their eyes open but also draw from the lessons they had already learned.
he'd say some things seemed impossible and that some might laugh if he planned on walking to south america but that if he put one foot in front of the other he would surely arrive there. (he didn't yet know about the darien gap!)
he was consistent and gentle in encouraging his students to trust their instincts and experience and to experiment and take risks. the class reviews were always interesting and a little scary. 1 part art/ 2 parts psychology and people definitely went out on the limb sometimes. he could find something to say about even the most impossibly convoluted and impenetrable work.
one thing he didn't appreciate much was an obvious lack of effort but i never heard him be cruel or condescending in pointing it out.
he took me under his wing and became something of a surrogate father to me. we developed a deep bond but never once spoke of it or our feelings for one another. i loved him but never told him so and when i reflect on that now i think he must have preferred it that way because i would have gladly said this to him.
i became part of the fantastic flock of odd birds that had gathered around the department and i feel so immensely grateful to dick for welcoming me in and giving me a place to be when i knew no one and was so far away from home.
the shop i built out back is my not so unconscious attempt to recreate the feel of 190 lawrence.
i still use the custom pickering backscratcher he sent me and i keep one of the pencils he had made up after his surgeries....
"have a good one!".
it's sitting on top of the chalkboard waiting to be sharpened someday.
i missed saying good bye to him but i take him with me wherever i go.
sending lots of love to his family, especially rebecca and the kids
and to everyone else lucky enough to have known him.