February 19, 2011 7:21:00 PM
Birney Imes - [email protected]
Larry Feeney is downsizing. The semi-retired MUW art professor, like an increasing number of widowed and single people in their 60s and 70s, is shedding the accumulated detritus of a lifetime and moving into a smaller, more manageable place.
The professor is leaving a rambling 11-room house perched at the edge of a wooded gully on the west side of Seventh Street North and moving into a two-bedroom apartment on Southside.
"I remember being there during the Ford-Carter debates," he answers when asked how long he lived in the Seventh Street house. "That was 1976. Maybe we moved in the year before."
The we Feeney refers to is he and his former wife, Louise. Before the Feeneys, another W professor and his wife lived in the house.
"Louise and I would go over there and talk. We would sit on a green sofa and they would bring in a TV and we would watch ''Washington Week in Review,''" he said.
"I didn''t like the house and I didn''t like the sofa," Feeney said.
When the professor had an opportunity to move back to his home state of Illinois, he sold the house along with the green sofa to the Feeneys.
"I sat on that same blessed sofa since ''75 ... until last year," Feeney laughs. "What a strange world."
Larry and Louise had two girls, Elizabeth and Katherine. After he and Louise divorced, Feeney took in a succession of borders. Among them was George Barnes, a tall, studious bachelor with a gentle manner.
"George was more than a border," Feeney says. "He taught Katherine when she was a little girl to play chess."
Barnes still shows up for birthday parties and holiday gatherings.
Another renter, an art student, helped his landlord extract a possum from under a bathtub.
"That''s the biggest rat I''ve ever seen," the border shouted when he saw the possum''s nose.
Both of the Feeney girls are married, and Elizabeth and her husband, Will Richardson, will soon be moving into the house with their two children, Asa and Leah.
Friday evening Feeney sat sideways in a dark red overstuffed chair with one leg draped over the armrest. He was wearing white tennis shoes; wash pants, as he calls them; suspenders and a checked shirt. Katherine''s husband Ryan sells furniture, and the chairs in the apartment are new and comfortable.
"It had gotten to a point where it was stifling," Feeney said. "The house was layered with worry; I would wonder, who''s going to cut the grass. It had become ossified -- that''s a good word."
Layered is a good word to use to describe the interior of Feeney''s home. Tables were piled with drawings, exhibition posters and art supplies; shelves were stuffed with books and video tapes; the walls were covered with art Feeney either collected or created over the years. All of it interesting, all of it essential.
Enter the daughters.
"Elizabeth and Katherine helped me break it up. We''ve divided it three ways, and it''s still full of stuff," he said.
Though still moving in, Feeney is at home in his new digs. He has a new flat-screen TV mounted to the wall of his living room -- "Will fixed me up with that" -- and another on a chest of drawers in his bedroom. Friday night both were tuned to political talk shows. Scattered around the rooms were boxes of art books.
One of Feeney''s exquisite pencil drawings -- of Annie Clayborn, a student and wife of a MUW custodian -- hangs on the wall of his new living room.
The professor is delighted with his new location on Third Avenue South behind the church he has attended since moving to Columbus in the late 60s. Among his neighbors are three W professors: Mildred Witt (ret., home economics), Beth Feland (ret., nutrition) and Shaochen Yang (math).
"I can go to mass Monday, Wednesday and Friday, after ''Morning Joe,''" he says.
Mr. Feeney, as his students call him, is still teaching calligraphy and beginning drawing in The W''s continuing education program and maintains an office at the school''s art department. At home, he''s working on two series of colored pencil drawings, a set of what look to be illustrations for a children''s book and another with a Santa Claus theme -- not surprising for a grandfather and someone who in December puts on a red suit and assumes the persona of St. Nick.
Even though he says he''ll miss living on top of the hill and being able to see the woods, he says the move has been rejuvenating.
"Besides," he says, "I can go over to my old house and watch my grandchildren grow."
Birney Imes is the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected]
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.