Japanese Zen Gardens for Peace – in Memory of Martin McKellar

Sudden News of a Friend’s Death is Never Easy

Martin and I out front of the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, Florida.
Martin and I out front of the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, Florida in June 2021.

My heart was shattered late January when I received a message from my friend Martin McKellar that he was saying goodbye— in December he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and was in hospice. He passed on Feb. 19, 2022. It’s been hard because it was so sudden. He was such a great guy. Such a nice, intelligent guy who loved Japan. February 19 was also my late sister’s birthday. It’s been a bit tough lately. Writing is always a great way to grieve.

Martin and I at the Harn Museum of Art in August 2019.

My husband and I met Martin McKellar in Kyoto at a Kyoto Journal book party in 2019. We talked about art and his passion for kimonos, and an article he wrote for Kyoto Journal about a program he created for seriously ill patients to design a unique Zen garden raking pattern. It so happened he also lived in Gainesville, Florida.

Zen Rock Garden at The Harn Museum of Art

Martin in his Zen rock garden at the Harn Museum of Art in August 2019. A friend of his mentioned it would be nice to have his ashes interred at the garden.

Gainesville is two hours north of Orlando, and my son attends the University of Florida there. I’m overjoyed, by the way, to announce that he was awarded an assistantship in addition to acceptance into its Masters in Classics program. I’d visit my son ever so often and visited Martin a few times at the Asian Art wing of the Harn Museum of Art to see where he started, raked and maintained the Zen rock garden there.

Harn Museum of Art Zen Rock Garden
Hanging with the kids at the Rock Garden at the Harn Museum of Art. Family fun! June 2021.

I took my husband’s daughter and grand daughter, who also live in Gainesville, to the museum and garden for a cultural, educational and relaxing way to pass the time and spend time together as a family! The Harn has excellent children’s art activities.

Martin’s enthusiasm for Japanese culture and art was contagious, and I am sad I won’t get to attend his in-home art show he was planning on having. I had hoped to see his Japanese photography collection he gushed about, especially those of one artist who photographs vending machines in odd places.

Gardens for Peace

Gardens for Peace

On The International Day of Peace September 21 2021, The Harn held Martin’s Gardens for Peace project in association with The North American Japanese Garden Association. Gardens for Peace featured 14 participating Japanese gardens to promote dialogue and involvement around peace. Martin collaborated with Hiroshima survivor Toshiko Tanaka, who created designs for 5 Zen-style gardens. She designed samon, a pattern or design in sand, in the image of peace. Tanaka named her design “Peace Ring.” It is imbued with her wish for peace on earth to unite in a ring and spread. 

Sydney Solis Kamishibai for Peace Harn Museum of Art Gardens for Peace
Gardens for Peace Community Day participants watch a video of Sydney Solis tell the Storytime Yoga for Kids Japanese kamishibai story of
The Grateful Crane.

The Harn held for the public a community day to experience the exhibition, and Martin had invited me to do a kamishibai storytelling. Because of Covid-the community event was limited, and I was unable to attend because of another commitment. I made a video performance instead which ran during the event. The last time I saw him was when I brought my family in June, 2021. His sudden passing makes you realize how important it is to live in the present moment and remember to love and value your friends and family! Life is short. Carpe Diem. Rest in Peace, Martin. My deepest sympathies to your wife and sons.

Storytime Yoga Kamishibai for Peace

Zen Rock Garden Harn Museum of Art Gainesville, Florida
Vending machine in Japan at Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine.
A few photographs of mine I took of a vending machine at Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. I remember how he loved this Japanese photographer who’s specialty was photographing vending machines in strange places. I wish I remembered his name. This is for you, Martin. Rest in Peace, Martin!
Vending machine in Japan at Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine.

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