When Vernon Koski first met his wife-to-be in New York in 1953, she was an aspiring actress and he was an aspiring painter. They had been strangers in the same rooming house until one evening she locked herself out of her room — wearing only a bathrobe — and he rescued her by climbing through the balcony window to unlock the door.
They spent another year estranged afterward because, as an aspiring actress, Mrs. Koski did not wear her glasses and could not recognize her future husband when they passed. Vern assumed she was brushing him off until one night, when she had decided to leave New York because she was fed up with it, she sat on the stoop to wait for “the cute boy on the second floor” to come home. She said, “If I wait and he comes, I’ll stay. If he doesn’t, I’ll go.”
Thirteen years later, after they had married and lived on both coasts, they settled in a small Northern California town and earned wages at various jobs. All the while, he dreamed of the museum and she dreamed of the stage.
On New Year’s Eve, the day before his 47th birthday, Vern suffered a seizure that would forever affect his ability to earn a living or pursue his art. For the next twenty-one years his wife would stop her pursuit of acting to support them both — sometimes working three jobs simultaneously — as his seizures continued and his brain tumor grew, undiagnosed. When it was finally discovered, Vern would not talk about his impending death, nor discuss what he wanted to have happen to him afterward. He would say, “I cannot die, I have too many paintings to make.”
When he eventually passed away, Mrs. Koski did not think it was appropriate for her husband to be scattered at sea or in a cemetery. Instead, she wanted to sneak into a museum and scatter him in a planter box near art.
Because she had resumed acting classes shortly after his death, on June 13, 1999, Mrs. Koski was given an assignment to find an article in a newspaper and create an improvisation from it. Although she did not subscribe to a periodical, she happened to look in a San Francisco paper and spot the following small, classified advertisement: “DONATE YOUR ASHES TO ART. Let your loved one live on. S.F. artist, int’l exhibit. Yates 510-205-1023.”
The advertisement ran for only four days, but Mrs. Koski happened to purchase a paper on one of those four days. Normally a reserved and careful judge, she decided immediately that she must call. Although she spoke to a young artist who had exhibited only two sculptures before, she learned that one of them was in a museum in Napa, California, and the other was at the Frankfurt Ballet in Frankfurt, Germany, and she began to think that perhaps her husband’s dreams of the museum might still come true.
Two weeks later Vernon Koski was placed for sale, literally, in a San Francisco gallery named Refusalon. A “portrait” had been painted of him, composed entirely of his cremated remains on canvas, and Mrs. Koski would receive one-half of the proceeds from his sale.
As a result, several months after the gallery had announced, “What price would you place on your loved one?,” Vern’s death certificate was changed to name the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as his final resting place.
A practicing painter throughout his lifetime, Vernon Koski had become his life’s work.
NOTE: Whenever the painting travels, the State of California amends Vernon Koski's death certificate by adding an additional page stating the location of the new final resting place. One page is added to indicate where the painting is traveling, and one additional page is added to reflect its return. It is an official provenance for the artwork. It is extremely rare that a government agency would officially track the location of a painting.