During his ongoing recovery from a traumatic brain injury, Duff Lindsay received one bit of advice from a doctor that has proved invaluable.
“He said never to guess anyone’s name, because you will always be wrong,” Lindsay said in early May from his Short North gallery, which will host its first exhibit in more than eight months when Ohio artist Ricky Barnes takes over the space for – an extended closure that stemmed from a harrowing September fall that left Lindsay hospitalized for a month. “He said that I need to lead off the conversation with, ‘Look, you probably don’t know this, but I had this head injury, and my memory has holes in it. I know exactly who you are. I know you bought work by this artist. I know you’ve got three kids, and I know your wife’s name. And I know this is going to sound bad, but I can’t remember your name.’ And the doctor told me if I did this, then I would have that person on my side.”
Prior to the fall – Lindsay broke his right hand, shattered bones in his face and suffered a catastrophic head injury when he tumbled down the gallery’s rear stairs while moving shelving – the gallery owner said he might have been guarded about sharing these kinds of intimate health details. But in the process of recovery, he has gradually learned to open up and to accept help, both of which he was more hesitant to do in the years the gallery functioned largely as a one-person operation.
“I give those therapists credit, because they were like, ‘We’ve gotten to know you. … And you’re a person who runs your own business, and you’re not someone who’s used to asking for help,’” Lindsay said. “‘And you have got to ask for help from now on.’”
Lindsay said the fall occurred early in the morning, around 9 or 10 a.m., and he can't remember anything from that day or the ones that immediately followed, awakening in the hospital a couple of weeks later unsure of how he ended up there. Had he been alone in the space – a girl who works part-time at the gallery was there helping to patch holes and she called the ambulance after hearing the crash and discovering Lindsay unconscious at the bottom of the stairs – the gallery owner said it’s likely he would have died.
In those early weeks and months after he regained consciousness, Lindsay struggled with memory loss. He said the left lobe of his brain had been “virtually wiped clean,” and he couldn’t remember things like how old his two sons were, or how long he and his wife had been married. Working with doctors and therapists – Lindsay was effusive in his praise of the professionals who treated him at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center – these details gradually returned. Some memories, however, are likely gone forever, including the names of people Lindsay has dealt with but never personally met.
“Recovering from this is really strange, but also the doctors predicted a lot of things," Lindsay said. “They said, ‘Chances are you’re going to go through this. But don’t panic, because things will return bit by bit until it reaches a point where you have most of it back. And those things you don’t get back, you’ll learn to work around.’”
Lindsay said he was further aided in his recovery by having something to which he wanted to get back: the gallery and the art trade to which he has dedicated his adult life. In March, Lindsay even convinced doctors to let him travel to New York for the Outsider Art Fair – a yearly event that has become essential to the gallery’s business and overall financial health.
“After they had given me all of this communications testing, the doctor said, ‘You’re ready to do it. Now, you’re going to need help. I’m not going to let you lift anything heavy, and if you get tired you need to have someone step in for you. But you can do it, and as a matter of fact I want you to do it. It will be the best thing for the stimulation of your brain,’” Lindsay said.
The decision to reopen Lindsay Gallery was more fluid. Prior to the fall, Lindsay had been in contact with Barnes about exhibiting in the space, and he let the artist help dictate the timeline for opening the show. The approach reflects one Lindsay intends to adopt moving forward, with the gallery hosting fewer exhibitions and allowing artists to display for longer stretches of time.
“I’m not going to be as concerned about cash flow, I guess you could call it,” he said. “I’ve gotten to be bigger picture. Why did I get into this in the first place? Because I loved it. And I needed to remind myself that was the motivation. I don’t need another opening to work toward every four, five, six weeks; that’s a real treadmill to be on. And, let’s face it, my brain doesn’t work that fast anymore.”
It’s a more measured pace Lindsay intends to adopt in his personal life, as well. His youngest son is now 16, and he wants to enjoy the time with him while he still lives at home. And there are artists across the country who he’s worked with for years, and who he’s never taken time to visit in their home studios, which is something he’d like to prioritize moving forward.
“I really like my life. I’ve got a good family, and I’m so lucky to have a wife who’s so supportive and two sons who are such great people,” Lindsay said. “But I let myself get too busy. And it’s like, 'Take time to appreciate these people. Take time to appreciate all of this.'”