Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TOP STORY > >Artist’s community was his palette

Leader editor

The young people wearing red talked and laughed as they waited outside Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Little Rock on Saturday morning, giving an impression that they were entering a wedding.

But tears streamed down the faces of those who sat inside and the dozens more who lined the walls of the hall, leaving little room for guests who were still trying to enter when the service started.

They were there for the funeral of Luke Hunsicker, 29, who died on Aug. 22 from brain cancer. Hunsicker grew up in Sherwood with two brothers, Lee and Lyle; their mother, Elizabeth, and father, Spurgeon, an Air Force veteran.

The 500 people who attended his funeral were touched by Luke’s affability and generous spirit, which made him popular among even the unfriendly.

“In my opinion, he’s not gone,” Luke’s wife Sydney said as she was encircled by friends on the patio at the Rev Room, a Little Rock music venue where Luke’s wake was held.

He was present in the attendees at the funeral, whose lives he affected, she said, and waved her hand toward the people who surrounded her.

Luke had strength and courage that he used for good, she said.

He was an optimist who loved life and communicating with others, which he did through art, music and conversation. Luke was bassist for the popular band American Princes, with whom he toured the country several times until he suffered his first seizure in 2008.

Many traveled to the funeral from out of state to give their condolences, such as Nate Powell of Bloomington, Ind., and Michael Motley of Athens, Ga.

Luke pursued his dream and inspired creativity in his friends. At the wake, Matt Anders, who met Luke while they were attending Parkview High School in Little Rock, described the band he was in with Luke and Mark Lierly of Little Rock a few years ago as “the best time of his life.”

“Music was his passion,” his mother Elizabeth said during a short break she took from hanging photographs of her son to display at the wake while Lee and Spurgeon carried in dozens of pieces of artwork for exhibit.

“He never thought he was good enough,” Liz said of Luke’s opinion of his art, which led him to pursue music more seriously.

The self-portraits in the Rev Room defied his opinion of his art. They revealed a deeply introspective man, who was curious about his own existence and who engraved that curiosity into his work.

One drawing, sketched with yellow and brown pencil, depicted his head ballooned and contorted above a too-thin neck. His eyes bulge with forcefulness, inviting the viewer into the inner world of the artist.

Luke’s eyes in the drawing express a serious wonder that was as much a part of his personality as his sense of humor.

He was happy, as if he knew he didn’t have time to waste, perhaps sensing the short length his life would be. He suffered debilitating headaches in high school that became worse as he got older. A UAMS surgeon removed in December 2008 what he said was a benign tumor. After another seizure in 2009, a second tumor was removed. More tumors appeared.

Photos used in a film at the wake showed a bald Luke smiling and making faces as he lay in bed, a result of chemotherapy treatments he started early this year. Sydney’s aunt Betty Lou Hamlin spoke at the funeral of Luke’s unburdened personality. She challenged attendees to focus on what they learned from the lessons Luke taught by the way he lived. We can choose to be generous with our own ability to love, as Luke was, or isolate ourselves from others, she said.

“One of the things that was most impactful to me was the experience of Luke radiating love to anyone who came into the room,” she said.

“At the same time, he was a man who was able to receive love, to take it in without discounting or pushing it away and quite frankly, I don’t know a lot of people who have enough natural confidence to both give and receive love.”

Even after life, Luke’s body will serve other people. With Sydney’s encouragement, he decided to donate his body to Genesis Medical Education and Research Institute in Memphis to further science.

After Hamlin’s eulogy, Luke’s closest friends left their seats and walked onstage to perform. Many of these friends were members of bands, including American Princes. Those who weren’t musicians paid homage to Luke by joining in on tambourine and contributing backup vocals for a performance of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”

They danced to the acoustic guitars, put their arms around each other, smiled and cried as they sang, “I want to celebrate, see the shining in your eyes, because I’m still in love with you, I want to see you dance again.”

Sydney brought the family dog, whom she rescued with Luke, onstage during the group’s rendition of “All You Need Is Love.”

“All you need is Rugs, Rugs, all you need is Rugs,” she sang while holding her dog, demonstrating the sense of humor that bonded the couple in the life they shared until his death.

She had rehearsed the songs with her friends every night since Luke’s death. Many of them told her they had never had so much fun. “It’s not so bad that I got to spend every day of the last two years with the love of my life,” she said at the wake.