crichton for joe ascrizzi essay mutt and jeff copy

Mutt and Jeff Cover

For several years, I’ve been thinking, “I can write—I have to write something about Joe!” I put it off and put it off because it seemed such a final thing to do in honor of a guy who was always and ever so vital. Maybe I’d never even have to try, because surely Joe will live forever.

Joe was on the Founding Board of Waterfall Arts when it started as the Arts Center at Kingdom Falls out in Montville in 2000. He has taught gilding and carving, and always, in general, and in specific, ART. Because that’s who Joe is.

Last month, two days before he passed away, I thought, “Surely, I can think of something to say now.” So, I penned the following in my sketchbook.

Then, a day after he left us, my niece Gigi sent a photo she’d taken of Joe and me on her visit to Maine a couple years back. The old Mutt and Jeff cartoon came immediately to mind.

Here’s the picture and my appreciation of Joe.

crichton Jeff Mutt alan and joejpeg photo by Gigi Beneke Crichton copy

Alan and Joe (photo by Gigi Beneke).

Written 5.2.21

Joe is the best cook because cooking is not just about food, and a kitchen can be anywhere you mix ingredients and season and add heat and cooling, oils and sticky things, dust from leaves and minerals, and seeds. In cooking, you know your kitchen self—how you mix, taste, adjust, and build a momentum of flavors, textures, spices, and sizzles. And then when you serve . . . Buonissimo! Molto delizioso!! Let’s do it again!

Jeff was the short cartoon guy; Mutt his tall pal, and though Joe and I often joked that we looked like Mutt and Jeff as we walked down New York streets, I always looked up to Joe.

Joe Ascrizzi is just the best teacher. From the moment I met him, he calmly but certainly let me know that I was me. What better lesson is there?

It’s not easily learned or accepted, but you came to love Joe because that is his message: “you are you.” He said, “that fact is inherently valuable, and I see you.”

Joe is that rare spirit who does not compare you to others, who welcomes your voice, no matter how faint at first, and gives you the time and space to enter yourself and discover where and who you are.

I’ve always looked up to Joe, and I always will. He is a master who makes masters, who allows mastery, and encourages mastery. Whoever you are, when you meet Joe, you can be much more than you thought you had to keep yourself from being.

“You want to be a cabinetmaker? Poof!! You’re a cabinetmaker!” Joe said to Phil, and then Phil was.

You feel a freedom with Joe. Freedom Works! Not only his business name but his motto!

Joe doesn’t open doors; Joe is an open door. You enter and find yourself permitted to be and to occupy your own house. To make whatever you imagine; to go wherever you will go.

Always the adventure! In conversations that ranged the universe, slapstick and serious, and laughter that released the best and cut the weighty down to size, curiosity always made the impossible become fun.

The freedom that such a person allows is exceptional. Be YOU, he says, quietly, insistently, and steadily, always with his big, open smile. You are at your best when you are you.

“I see you,” he said when I met him with my tiny soapstone carving of a foot. “This is great!” he said.


Image at top: Joe Ascrizzi.