Jay Etkin, ‘more

conscious,’ moves on

Jay Etkin knows he is his father’s son. The child of immigrants — his mother and

paternal grandfather both arrived at Ellis Island from Europe and settled in The

Bronx — Jay now takes time from his work as painter, business owner and

father to consider a new discovery.

It’s a foggy Ides of March, and Jay has just returned from New York City,

where he buried his father. He died four days earlier, still hearty at 91, while

Jay was in the city checking out colleges for his daughter.

On a table at his South Main Gallery sits an attaché case that he brought from his

father’s apartment in Queens. It’s the one that Jay once carried to school. It contains a number of drawings, paintings and sketches that he sent his father 20 years ago. His father, Barney, was a busy man. He worked as a dental technician crafting tools, and on weekends worked as a caterer. He wasn’t around much.

Jay also keeps busy, working as a painter and gallery owner, supporting efforts of the South Main arts district and hosting wedding receptions and galas on weekends. His wife and daughter work at the gallery intermittently, and sometimes just hang out there. Jay doesn’t want to be missed.

“As we go on, every generation, we try to be more conscious,” he says.

The attaché case was not the only thing Barney Etkin saved. He saved a copy of the New York Times from the day the Titanic sank, in the year he was born. He saved a photo from Navy boot camp in World War II, which included his buddy Bernie Schwartz, who went to acting school on the G.I. bill and became Tony Curtis.

Barney Etkin also saved every article and news clipping about his son he ever got his hands on. It wasn’t always that way.

“Through most of my life as an artist I got no support,” Jay says. “I had to find a surrogate family to support my heart.”

Though Barney Etkin might have wanted a more conventional profession for his son, Jay heard a different story during

that fateful trip home.

“He kept telling people, ‘My son, the artist from Memphis, Tennessee, is coming to visit me,’” Jay says. “He was

showing me off to everybody.”

Among his father’s belongings, Jay found the tools of the old man’s craft. The artist talks about his father’s carving

knife, the blade whittled down to an inch from years of use and the refinement of the craft. Jay Etkin holds out his hand, and

it’s as if he’s holding the knife, or a painter’s brush.

“The Bronx was a place of struggle and hope,” Jay says. “We all grew up in spite of a lot of dysfunction — but who doesn’t? How do I embrace that now, for what I want to make of the second half of my life?”

It starts with art. Jay Etkin has 220 paintings yet to go in a new series of 300, and he has dedicated the rest to his father.

“It feels like the right thing,” he says.

Contact the entrepreneur at jay@jayetkingallery.com

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