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Art & Soul: Annie's Blog   

Wherein are found periodic musings on all things bright & beautiful, sacred & secular, inspiring & frustrating...
which in some clear or convoluted way relate to the studio and its creations or clientele,
with only the occasional non sequitur thrown in just to see if anyone is paying attention...
Read, reflect, even reply to info@dixonstudio.com if you like.




All in the Family
February 9, 2015

Here's a sweet story, spanning two dioceses, two generations, and two vocations.

Fr. Joe Goldsmith is a recently ordained priest of our Richmond Diocese, serving as parochial vicar at the parish just north of us.

His father, Raphael Goldsmith was just ordained last month to the diaconate in the neighboring Arlington Diocese.

This has led to much banter in the family about how each should be addressed; they have settled on the rather poetic "Father Son, Deacon Dad."

I think Fr. Joe especially likes being able to refer to his father as a late bloomer.

As for me, I was especially pleased to see that their first Mass together was at All Saints Church in Manassas, and to see that this photo in the Arlington Catholic Herald article featured Fr. Joe, Deacon Raphael, Pastor Lee Roos --and the recently installed mosaic of the Visitation by Dixon Studio.





The Pope & Patti Redux *
January 20, 2015
* See previous Pope & Patti blog post below, dated spring 2014.

Usually I stick with the intersection of art & religion here and leave the religion & politics commentary to others.
However, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it seems that art, religion, and politics have converged in Paris and in the news, prompting everyone to comment.

Artists and writers are declaring solidarity with the victims via the slogan, "Je suis Charlie," while the Pope has declared that "One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people's faith, one cannot make fun of faith... There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity ... in freedom of expression there are limits."

Indeed, there are limits.
In a civilized society, these limits are called 'manners.'
We shun people who lack them; we don't shoot them.

I am not Charlie and I would not bother reading that rude, crude (if clever) magazine --even if I could read French.
But, as France's own Voltaire declared, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

I could not embrace a humorless religion or a society that condones the death penalty by vigilante for religious insults.
I am hoping the Pope was again misquoted or taken severely out of context.
I mean, really: would he have said the same thing if rogue members of the Swiss Guard had taken it upon themselves to slaughter the whole Monty Python troupe following the release of Life of Brian?

Meanwhile, I found this gorgeous video of Patti Smith's performance of O, Holy Night at the 2013 Vatican Christmas Concert.
The aging punk princess inspires while the pop culture pope confuses...
This is going to be a strange year.



New Year, Old Habits
Epiphany: January 6, 2015

Seeing as how it's the 6th of January
and I'm just getting around to posting a New Year's blog entry,
maybe I should work on my procrastination issues...

On the flip side, I have shed more than 10 pounds since Thanksgiving
so, no pressure on the weight loss stuff.. Ha!
I suppose I could work on the gloating thing though...

But actually (mea culpa, Fr. V, my favorite blogger),
this year, I'd like to resolve to read more and share more of my reading.
So, welcome to my itty bitty periodic book club.

Let's start here: All Shall Be Well,
a fine collection of quotations by Catholic saints, sinners, and eveyone in between.
It is nicely organized into ten chapters, addressing all the basics:
Good Works, Perseverance, Love, Suffering, Faith,
Hope, Life, Death, Prayer, Joy,
with words of wisdom from everyone from Augustine to Bede to three Catherines
and more than a hundred others,
with various biblical, historical, and contemporary perspectives.

I use it as a quick shot of inspiration or motivation to get my day moving or a bit of comfort to close it,
or a sort of bibliography when I'm looking for a new author to peruse.
I recommend it on all counts and expect it would come in handy in any library for any number of uses.

This book: reverence; next book: irreverence. Stay tuned.
And send me notes on your favorite reads...   




The Unintended Consequences
of Christmas Cards

December 29, 2014

We printed and sent a sweet Christmas card this year, featuring a photo by Bruce Mathews from his recently published book, Windows of Kansas City.
It was so charming, that I even created a miniature prayer card version of it in the size of a business card, folded over with credits and info on the back and the loveliest quotation from St. Francis de Sales on the inside; we enclosed one of these with each Christmas card.

I was thinking it was a lovely photo, wonderfully ecumenical, and a subtle PR bump for the studio and the author/photographer.

So, I was surprised to receive the following email from a longtime colleague of Ron's:

Annie, we read the back of this card when it came in the mail. Is Ron doing okay?

Huh? I took a hard look at the little card, which contained the following information on the back:

Lion & Lamb Stained Glass Window Detail
at Central United Methodist Church; Kansas City, Mo.
Designed & painted by Ronald Neill Dixon, NDD, 1964.
Photographed by Bruce Mathews
for his book, Windows of Kansas City
published by Kansas City Star Books, 2014.

Nothing to worry about there, right? So, I took a hard look at the quotation inside:

Be at Peace

Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life;
rather look to them with full hope as they arise.
God, whose very own you are,
will deliver you from out of them.
He has kept you hitherto
and He will lead you safely through all things
and when you cannot stand it
God will bury you in his arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and everyday.
He will either shield you from suffering
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.

-- St. Francis de Sales, 1567-1622

Then... it began to dawn on me... and I sent a quick and reassuring and grateful email in reply:

What do you mean 'doing okay?'
Just because he's obviously so old, having done that project in 1964?
Or, did you think there was some hidden meaning in the prayer of St. Francis de Sales? 

Truth is, we are getting old --but not losing any enthusiasm or health.
We are losing weight though, in an effort to stay young and enthusiastic.
But, all preventative stuff; no worries. 

As for the prayer, I've printed a few of these for various projects, and people really like them --and keep them
which they don't tend to do with Christmas cards.
So, I was just looking for a nice Catholic prayer that would go along with the lion & lamb and Peace on Earth thing.
Found this one and thought it had good meaning for the state of the world at the moment,
as well as a nice reminder to us individually to trust that all will be well.
I suppose, actually, I was thinking of a few of our card recipients who have had health issues or lost someone close this year... 

So, thanks for worrying. But he's fine. Why don't you call him sometime?

He wrote back to say it's a wonderful prayer and that he guesses he and his wife were reading more into it than was there... says he got into the business in 1971...not that far from Ron's 1964 window... and that 'all us old guys need to stick together now,' and that he will give my hubby a call.

So, why don't we all call someone whom we haven't called in a long time? Or, if that blast-from-the-past thing might be awkward, maybe a quiet little prayer of thanksgiving for what-was and whatever-will-be would suffice.

And, if you'd like to see what I was actually trying to get at with that subtle PR bump, click here or the image above to check out the photo gallery of this early project. Or, click here to go directly to a photo of the whole big Gothic window in which this little panel is included.



IMO: Meaning & Memory
Veterans Day, 2014

In tweets and emails and other current forms of so-called communication, the initials IMO are shorthand for  'In My Opinion.'
Not so in the studio. Here, they stand for 'In Memory Of.'
We use this abbreviation when we catalogue metalware brought in for repair/replating/refurbishing.
Each item is photographed, measured, catalogued, and noted for all its marks, finishes, and flaws.

The hallmarks are interesting. We've seen Benzigers and Gorhams and even a Tiffany.
The metals vary from brass to sterling and gold plate.
But it is the inscriptions that really tell the story --and give a very different sort of value.

This past summer, we received a few boxes of metalware from a campus ministry.
There, among various candlestands and ciboria, was a simple chalice with an intriguing inscription.

IMO Robert Dotson Huie, Jr.

There were dates and military references that let us find out more:
Capt. Robert Dotson Huie, Jr. was born in Arkadelphia, Arkansas on July 30, 1942.
He was a graduate of the US Naval Academy and a US Marine.
He lost his life in Quang Nam, South Vietnam on April 19, 1969.
He was married, a Christian of no denominational preference.

So, how did a chalice come to be dedicated to his memory in a Catholic campus chapel in Virginia?
I don't know.
But I like the fact that it was, that someone wanted to keep his memory alive.
So, I looked up his information on the Virtual Wall from the Vietnam Memorial
and checked to see if he was buried at Arlington Cemetery, where you can find a full report of the incident.

And I printed it all out and sent copies along with the bright and shiny replated pieces.
And we got the nicest note back from the chaplain:
Thank you for the beautiful work you did on our our metal ware. The pieces look brand new and are gleaming.
The care and expertise you put ino your work are very apparent and are truly appreciated.
A special thank you for sending the memorial infomation on Robert Dotson Huie, Jr., Captain, USMC, who was killed in action in South Vietnam. I will offer a Mass for him.

So, there you go: the inscription worked.
A memory and a chalice preserved.
In My Opinion, that chalice and the gift of it is worth an awful lot.

Please say a prayer for Captain Huie and his family and friends this Veterans Day.

And check the metalware in your church, and all the online resources available to remember them, including:

Virtual Wall for Vietnam Heroes

Arlington National Cemetery





The Merry Wives of Deacons
Fall 2014
Our little village of Staunton hosted our diocese’s Deacons Convocation last week, bringing these good men and their sweet wives to town for three days of faith, fellowship, and the requisite lectures and workshops. It’s the same sort of structure but definitely a different dynamic than the Priests Convocation...
On the first day the only other vendor there told me a story of one of our dearly departed priests with little business experience and fewer social graces who had curtly returned a special order. The shafted (and only recently married) salesman noted, "If his mother knew what he did and said, she would be appalled!"
"Ah," I said, "that’s where wives come in. They pick up where moms leave off and keep their men civilized and socialized. I bet none of these deacons ever treated you like that."
"No," he mused, they haven’t."
Nor have any of these scenarios happened to me at a Priests Convocation:
Friday morning, I was heading out of the hotel while class was in session to pick up some requested samples at the studio, Mrs. M (who was cutting class) asked if she could hitch a ride and visit the studio just to have a peek at what we were working on. Well, sure! So, after coming up with half the change required to ransom us out of the parking garage, she was quite content with a self-guided tour around the studio while I gathered up some albs; she even spotted a gorgeous advent calendar and started her Christmas shopping.
Mrs. S had been to the studio’s exhibit table in the hotel lobby a few times with her deacon hubby, and had noticed my hubby nearby a few times as well. By Friday evening, she was getting curious -and protective- and asked him, "Are you a deacon?"
No, said my beloved.
"So are you two related somehow?’
"Well, yes," I replied, "and I have the rings to prove it."
"Oh, okay," she laughed, "I just thought maybe he was hanging about here a bit too much."
At which point, my hubby laughed even louder and said, "You thought I was trying to pick her up, didn’t you?!"
Yep. And she wasn’t having any of it.
Saturday morning I saw Deacon D walking around with two lovely flowers, looking a bit lost. Hmm, I thought, what does he have to apologize for and why can’t he find his wife? Luckily, my snark remained unspoken because next thing I knew, Mrs. D appeared at the studio table with one lovely flower and a big smile. "Thank you for being here!" she said, handing me a huge crimson zinnia sort of bloom. Seems they had been to the farmer’s market around the corner and got one for me and one for another lucky lady who spruced up her walker with it.
I do love the patriarchal church and its serious and solitary men but I am glad it is nurturing a diaconate and its attendant sorority of friendly, feisty, and feeling women. Deacon wives are an impressive vocation too.

Photo: girl power, flower power: it's a beautiful thing.



Walking the Walk
Fall 2014

We go to church and listen to our pastors talk the talk. Most of them are pretty good at it. But sometimes, as we leave the cloister of the weekend and head back into our work week, trying to take some bits of the homily with us, we wonder if our spiritual leaders could walk the walk.

Two priests of our diocese are doing just that: the Camino de Santiago.

They are trudging through Spain, starting in the wee hours with headlamps, covering up to 20 miles each day. They have endured blisters and enjoyed vistas, prayed and plodded, lost stuff and made friends. And each day they post a travelogue with photos on their blogs. I'm following them as they head to Galicia, in the scrappy north of Spain that my grandfather left a century ago.

I am intrigued and impressed. (Nevermind the hiking, the hostel-style accommodations would be purgatory to me!)

Check out Fr. M’s blog here and/or check out Fr. K’s blog here. They do collaborate and post much of the same notes and photos.

Photo: Shadows of our pilgrims early in their journey.



Two Out of Three Ain't Bad
Summer 2014

No, you can't have it all.
You have to prioritize and compromise with most things in life.

So it is with commissioning artwork and furnishings.

Our clients want it all: gorgeous, quick and cheap.
Sorry. Pick two:
High quality with rush delivery is going to cost you.
A quick turnaround on a budget means quality will suffer.
Inexpensive and excellent will take time.

As with meatloaf, the food: it's cheap & quick; haute cuisine, not so much.
Meatloaf, the singer, immortalized the concept in lyrics; it was clever & catchy, but is it art?

Different situations call for different priorities:
A mission church may want the best on a budget and will wait for a fine castoff from a wealthy parish.
A transitional space may require something at a reasonable cost now, without worrying about lasting quality.
And if you forgot to order a tabernacle until 6 weeks before the dedication of your new church, you will be relieved to be able to order a lovely one in time --with rush charges.


Haitian Stations
Summer 2014

Pleased with the beautification of his suburban parish church, a committee member called the studio to ask for assistance in finding an appropriate set of stations for the Haitian parish they partner with. He was looking for something substantial but lightweight, elegant but affordable, and most importantly something that could make the trip via plane and then donkey to the little parish church on the island.

So, mosaics or bronze would be too expensive and too heavy, wood or fiberglass too bulky, plaster too fragile... Leaving what? Tapestries!

These colorful fabric hangings are reproductions of mosaic panels, accented with gold threads. Available in a variety of sizes, with hanging cords or loops, these tapestries are an ideal solution for shipping to mission churches, or for use in temporary or shared worship spaces.

Photo: Fr Rene Blot standing near the side of the raised altar area in Sacre Coeur Church in Cabestor Haiti.
After receiving the tapestries, he had them placed onto masonite (hardboard) and held in place by a handmade frame, which also has a protective durable, clear plastic sheet over it because Haiti, especially in this very rural church, is very dusty.

Check out the good work of these twinned parishes at http://haiti.olphsalem.org/



  The Passion, Hour by Hour  
Spring 2014

It was only a drawing in the Old Roman Missal but the pastor of St. Benedict's parish in Chesapeake, Virginia was sure it would have been --or could be-- made as a functioning clock.
He checked ebay and antique clock shops to no avail, then brought the drawing to the Priests' Convocation in Staunton in 2012, hoping maybe the folks at the funky little clock shop in town could help him.
Sadly, they only repair, buy, and sell, and had never seen anything like it.

But as fate (or the Holy Spirit) would have it, said pastor ended up at the same dinner table with us the day he had visited the clock shop.
"Hey," he asked, "you guys make things, right?"
Indeed we do. And we like a challenge.

Thus, Dixon Studio was commissioned to create our first Timepiece of the Passion.
The case was designed to suit the colonial architecture of the recently built church interior and the face was replicated from the old drawing, supported by the wings of solemn angels.
The mechanics came from a military clockworks, taking a full 24 hours to complete the journey around the clockface, from the Last Supper to Jesus being laid in the sepulchre, and giving worshipers a new way to meditate on the Passion, hour by hour.

Click Here to see the original image from the Old Roman Missal, and more images.
Print it out for your Holy Thursday / Good Friday mediations.

And, did you know? St. Benedict's is the only Roman Catholic Church built in America since Vatican II which is designed specifically for the Tridentine Rite. There's an unexpected little jewel In our little diocese in the Bible Belt.



International Copyright Infringement
Spring 2014

We’ve had our problems over the years with competitors copying our original designs but now, we’ve hit the big time: international copyright infringement!

I was alerted by a deacon, to whom we had given written authorization for one-time use to have a Dixon design embroidered on a stole, that the company he had found online to fabricate it for him was now offering the design on a whole line of vestments. As the firm was located overseas, we surmised the usual ‘cease & desist’ letter would have little impact. Unless, perhaps, if it were written in the native language of the firm...

So, I crafted a short letter notifying the scoundrels that they had been outed, ran it through the Google Translator, and sent the draft to a couple of priests we know who are from the same country. They were horrified at their unethical compatriots and graciously corrected some bits of grammar and tense (and maybe added a dose of guilt or a mention of lawyers in the family back home?). I cut and pasted the foreign words into the form on the firm’s Contact Us page and the next morning the links to the Dixon counterfeits all displayed ‘Page Not Found.’

Sometimes: it's not What you say, it's How You Say It...
Always: Hooray for our international priests!



He Had Me at Patti Smith
Spring 2014

Today marks the first year of the papacy of Francis. In that time, he has got a lot of attention from the press corps and made the most of his photo ops, while they make the most of quoting him out of context. Quite a few folks --all of them nonCatholic or fallen away Catholics-- have asked me, "What do you think of the new pope?" This always strikes me as odd, as if my opinion on the matter would, in fact, matter.

I like Pope Francis. I liked Benedict. And John Paul. These are kind, intelligent, hard working, accomplished, moral men. What's not to like? This is not a popularity contest and they're not rock stars. (Although I did enjoy seeing the former club bouncer share a laugh with Patti Smith!) The papacy is an office which, in my lifetime, has been consistently filled by capable spritual leaders who, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, seem well suited to the challenges of their times. We have been fortunate as we enter the Third Millenium of Christianity, to have such leadership; engaging personalities and photo ops are a PR bonus --but if I were the Pope's agent, I'd advise him to keep the red shoes.

Here is a lovely--and official Vatican-- collection of photos and quotations from the first year of Pope Francis, and here is a great analysis of the media coverage of the Pope.

H/T to Adam's Ale for the links, as well as thanks for giving us one in his blog!


Winter 2014


Poignant details in this recent news story...

Three decades ago, the traditional altar at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Brooklyn was replaced by a modern backdrop resembling --in the parishioners' opinion-- hockey sticks.

A current project is underway to install a vintage altar in its place. Initially, a daunting and questionable undertaking for a new pastor, the project has received overwhelming support.

“I wrestled over whether this was the best way to spend money,” Fr. Cunningham says. “But when I heard how many people had strayed from Holy Name because of the modern altar, I got on board."

So, here's my take-away:

Following the imposition of an artsy if well-intentioned post-Vatican-II renovation, some parishioners left and the remaining ones were left to refer to their sacred space in snarky terms.
Thirty years later, a new pastor worried about whether he should try to raise the funds try to rectify the situation; parishioners responded with double the $1.2 Million target.

Demolition & Removal of Traditional Altar: Emotionally & Spiritually Expensive
Design, Fabrication & Installation of Hockey Sticks Altar: Financially Expensive
Restoration of Traditional Altar & Welcoming Previous Parishioners Home: Priceless

More details and photos here.




New Year Perspective
January 2014

Here's a pithy little thought to put things in perspective as we start a new year:

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.
We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
--Pierre Teilhard de Chardon, SJ, priest, mystic, scientist, 1881-1955

image: St. Thomas Aquinas' spiritual experience;
stained glass window design by Ronald Neill Dixon





Finished in the Nick of Time
December 25, 2013

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the studio
the workers were hurrying to finish their duties. Oh!
The statue was set in the churchyard with care
and chalices were shipped via UPS Air.
With vestments delivered and windows installed
by our hardworking crews, homeward they hauled. 

As this old year comes to an end
we'd like to thank those on whom we depend:
on Todd, on Tim, on Dennis and Donald
who work in the studio with Annie and Ronald;
on Jane and Tim Two, on Deborah and Tom
who toil away with great skill and aplomb.
We thank our suppliers in Italy, in Poland, and Spain,
from the Northeast to the South and Great Plains.
We thank all our clients: past, present and yet to be
for giving us meaningful work for our creativity.
Now, Ron by the fire and Annie with a book in her lap
are settling down for a short winter's nap.
We wish you good fortune, great health, and good cheer
and look forward to seeing you in yet another new year.
'Til then, say a prayer to thank God for His son
and ask Him to bless us, each and every one,
and for now we shall simply say:
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good day!
image: Blessed Virgin & Child statue, installed the week before Christmas


Daily Mass Dog  
December 20, 2013

This is for all the priests with pups --and we've known quite a few of them over the years, accompanied by every breed from Shih Tzu to Great Dane.

Click here or on the photo for a short and bittersweet tale of a German Shepherd in Italy that has been attending daily Mass in the church where his mistress' funeral was held a couple of months before.

Seems he heads for the church when the village bells toll and sits (or snoozes) contentedly through the service, much to the delight of the priest and parishioners who have adopted him.





Christmas Shopping
December 6, 2013 - St. Nicholas Day!

All I (ever) want for Christmas (or anytime) is books. Here are three of my favorite Christmas books, sure to suit someone on your list --or yourself!
I could set up links to that HUGE site everyone goes to anyway and pretend I am making money by blogging when I skim a few cents off your order but really, you should be able to find them at your local bookstore, which would appreciate your patronage. But, if you can't, I suggest you click on Alibris.com which lets you patronize little local bookstores all over the place and is a great resource for older and out-of-print books. (And that little resource is my gift to all my book-loving blog readers.)
BTW: Did I ever tell you about the Green Valley Bookfair? Visit there when you visit the studio; it's a beautiful drive from one to the other... Just check their schedule and ours before you head for these hills...
And now, back to my faves, wherever you find them:

Favorite FUNNY book:
Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb
Set in eighth grade, parochial school, 1964, this is probably funniest to cradle Catholics of a certain age, but whether it strikes you as nostalgic or exotic, it combines a warm humor with some laugh-out-loud situations full of spot-on characters.

Favorite MEANINGFUL book:
A Secret Gift by Ted Gup
If you think times are tough now, this true story of a Depression era Christmas will provide perspective.
It also offers a multi-generational tale of generosity and gratitude and mystery which is sad and uplifting all at once, restoring faith in the meaning of Christmas and your fellow man --whatever his religion. Bring Kleenex.

Favorite CHILDREN'S book:
This is the Star by Joyce Dunbar & Gary Blythe
Beautifully illustrated and well written (and children's books are so rarely both!), this is a great read-aloud/learn-to-read book for a young family to share. When it came out, I got it in hardcover for my first niece and have been giving the paperback version to subsequent toddlers for almost twenty years since.



Thinking Outside the Lot
November 24, 2013

We visited a church last week where I spotted this sign which, in over two decades of pulling into hundreds of church parking lots, I had never seen before.

This is just smart and funny and fun. The church raffles off something everyone takes for granted and no one would miss. So, all in good fun, a bunch of folks voluntarily throw in a few bucks for the privilege of parking by the front door for the next year or season. Arrive late, park close, enjoy your winnings and know that you are contributing to the boring old parish operating fund. Pretty clever.

Clever too were my other thoughts for a headline for this blog entry: 

Does this Asset Make Our Budget Look Big? 

They Prayed for Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot

Ha! The titles are as easy as the fundraising.
What extra perk can your church raffle off to raise a few extra bucks?
But seriously: Keep it outside the sanctuary and worship space, please.



It's a Girl Thing
October 17, 2013

Black is a staple of most women's wardrobes (so slimming) and the older we get, the more we shy away from body conscious clothes and begin to favor more flowing, floaty sorts of things in rich fabrics with a touch of embroidery or applique.

Sartorially speaking, it would seem that we women of a certain age could be well suited for the priesthood.

Problem is, we would be too tempted to paint our nails
in the liturgical color of the season.



God Is In the Details
October 11, 2013

Measure twice, cut once.
It's the rule in the studio.

Don't proof your own writing.
It's the rule in the office.

It seems the Vatican could use a good proofreader...

Just as we are writing and proofing the next issue of Art & Soul, the studio journal, we spotted this headline online: "Vatican recalls Pope Francis medal that misspells Jesus as 'Lesus'."

I mean, the Vatican shouldn't even have to look that one up...

I offered my proofreader a glowing recommendation, should she want to apply, and we both had a good laff laugh.


True Crime
October 1, 2013

We have restored quite a few statues in the studio, including some lovely old Daprato and Meyer pieces made some eighty to a hundred years ago.

So, I was saddened to see the headlines regarding vandalism at a church in New Jersey that resulted in the decapitation and smashing of a number of outdoor statues.

I clicked on the link and read of the 'inexplicable' and 'senseless' act and wondered who would do such a thing and why.

And then I saw the pictures.

The true crime here was committed by whomever had painted the Sacred Heart statue in dayglo color robes and a Grecian Formula beard. If I were a criminal profiler, I'd say the perp is a person of artistic sensibility and this was a crime of passion.

Just saying...


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