In the fall of 1986, after making great progress in recovering from a five-day diabetic coma, Jerry Garcia gloriously returned to the stage. In 1987, more quietly, he also returned to the page.
A budding young art student in the 1960s, Garcia had set aside visual arts for the faster-paced, collaborative spirit of The Grateful Dead. But now things were different.
On that first tour following his return, Garcia could be seen at any odd moment tucked away with a sketchbook, penciling meditative abstract designs. His wife admired his work, not wanting to interrupt.
Decamping from their last hotel, she asked after one of his sketches. Offhandedly, he mentioned that he left it behind. She called the hotel and tried to get it back but to no avail.
It would hardly matter. From that moment on, Jerry Garcia would never be far from his sketchbooks. He committed at least 2,000 experiences, moments, and impressions to pictorial paper memory in the nine years remaining of his life.
Like his music, Garcia found himself more enmeshed with the process, the feeling of creation, than with arriving at some perfected final ideation. An admirer of Paul Klee and Van Gogh, Garcia was drawn to rough, round, and improvised lines and colors to record his memories, thoughts, and impressions.
Garcia used his sketchbook as a journal, a travelogue, and a place to explore creatively — both by himself and with his wife and daughter. He set aside space in his Bay Area home for a studio to paint and draw, but he could just as often be found doing the same on the couch with his daughter, at the kitchen table, or in any of his various vacation and tour destinations.
Whether it was feeding fish frozen peas in Hawaii, watching his daughter ride a carousel in Paris, seeing Sarah Vaughan sing in Berkeley, or merely sketching the housepets, the sketchbook served as Garcia’s haven for reflection, and a diary of a life lived in images and emotion.