The Pen & the Palette

Letters from Joe Koenick


Last year I wrote about “The Lost Art of Letter Writing.”
Today, this newsletter has a new twist.


As I grow older, I’m finding significant value in mementos—things I’ve had for years—but appreciate them more now than when I first received them. Reasons vary. Yet, as I attempt to follow my own advice to PAUSE MORE and RUSH LESS—I feel the sentimental value of each item.

I’ve written about some of these things before, like my father’s expensive watch from my mother as an engagement gift, the intricate design of his wedding ring, and now two letters from my great uncle Joe.

Why would two old letters have increasing sentimental value to me? Perhaps because of the art IN his letter writing. (See above.) My great uncle Joe wrote my parents these letters when my mother was ill with cancer.

He always used colored pencils to prevent smearing. First, he sketched the principal subject, in these cases, a heron and a nostalgic covered bridge, and then added the environment; ponds, streams, cattails, evergreens, and marshland to capture a natural habitat. He reserved the greeting for the bottom third of the stationery.

Most of his letters always featured an artistic element, and each was scenic, colorful, warm, and customized to the recipient. And something else. In my view, the art, by its very nature, slowed life down and introduced a measure of peace and tranquility. I’m sure my great uncle thought nothing of them—since he figuratively used a “pen & palette” for every letter he wrote.

What impresses me most as I look at them now is not just his unique approach to letter writing in an era gone by—but the effort he invested in every communication. It’s clear he carved out time to craft them and thoughtfully considered the recipient. He was skilled enough, and patient enough, to ensure every letter was a literal work of art. (Pun intended.)

“Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

When my great uncle Joe created what I call his “legacy letters,” I’m sure he assumed the recipient would read them, appreciate them to a degree, then eventually discard them, like any other letter. He likely had no idea they would be passed down to the next generation to preserve his legacy, ultimately landing on my desk—now sixty years after he dropped them in the mailbox.

The beauty of it all is his pen & palette approach to letter writing not only passed through our family, it passed the test of time.



What mementos or family heirlooms deserve more of your attention? Have you considered that an item’s most lasting value—is its sentimental value? Why is it that certain items become more valuable to you—years after you receive them?


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