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The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts • 313

The Boston Globei
Boston, Massachusetts
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Mlsto sluM iImSh every two weeks in Philadelphia, where he taught at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Fine Art He was in the air the evening of January 31, 1975, flying to Philadelphia to teach, when his home burned to the ground. Polly and the children were all sick with the flu at the time and were visiting the local hospital when the fire started in a faulty generator. No one was hurt, but Welliver lost everything he owned, including his collection of his own work and 135 antique rugs. In response to the fire, Welliver purchased a nearly identical farmhouse six miles away and, over the course of a year's time, had it painstakingly disassembled, moved, and reassembled on the burned-out foundation. While die house was being replaced, the Wellivers lived in a small cottage just down the road.

One evening in the spring of 1976, Welliver walked up the road after supper to check on the progress of the restoration. As he returned to the cottage, Polly came running up the road toward him, cradling a limp child in her arms. One-year-old Ashley had died of sudden infant death syndrome while the Wellivers were eating their evening meal. "That broke Polly's heart and, in some ways, weakened her," says Welliver. "She died six months later." Polly Mudge Welliver, 38, died of a strep infection on October 29, 1976.

Because of an immune-system deficiency she did not know she had, Polly Welliver succumbed to the infection that began as a sore throat and raced through her body, taking just two days to reach her heart and kill her. Left alone on the farm with four sons, Welliver carried on as best he could until he remarried in 1980. "I hired nanny-types," he says. "I didn't get any sleep. I spent all my time cooking and mopping floors and painting wildly in between." Painting wildly led Welliver to an enormously productive period in the late 1970s, when his mature landscapes emerged.

He had grown increasingly uncomfortable with how the presence of a human figure drew attention from other areas of a painting, but after Polly died, in 1976, Welliver stopped painting the female figure altogether. "I became aware one day that the nudes were in many ways a he says. "Josef Albers once said to me, Tah, boy, people look at people, dogs look at dogs, and cats look at cats. All those ba-zooms' that's the way he said it Vill be the death of Welliver was able to endure the loss of daughter Ashley and wife Polly because, he says, "I didn't take it personally." This is not a callous remark on his part but a statement of the belief that misfortune is not a form of divine retribution. Then, too, his wife and daughter died of natural causes.

Son Eli, however, was senselessly murdered, and Welliver has taken his death especially hard. "The loss of Eli was a body blow," he says. "I never dreamed I would have to face such a thing. It was crushing." Eli's death was all the more painful for Welliver because he identified Eli with his late wife. "Eli looked like Polly.

He was tall, blond, blue-eyed," Welliver explains. "He was my connection with her." ELI WELLIVER, 21, WAS A STU-dent at Wheaton College, in Norton, Massachusetts, and a budding photographer when he traveled to Thailand in 1991 under the auspices of the Experiment in International Living. Eli's original destination had been Australia, but at the last minute he decided to go to Thailand. His father, having traveled in Southeast Asia during the 1960s, felt Thailand was too dangerous and tried to change Eli's mind. "I told him, 'Eli, you have to have five eyes.

I've lived there. You can't let one eye close for a But he did it His fifth eye was closed that day." Late on the evening of May 15, 1991, Welliver received a phone call from the American consulate in Thailand, informing him that Eli had died. The day before he was scheduled to return to America, Eli visited a bar near the campus of Payap University, in the northwestern city of Chiang Mai, where someone, in an apparent robbery attempt, spiked his beer with "enough heroin to kill three elephants." "Grief lifts," says Welliver of his son's murder, "but to assuage my anger, I will not live long enough to do that" In search of the truth, Welliver dispatched a private investigator to -Thailand. After spending a year in Thailand and a fortune of Welliver's money, the investigator reported that Eli's death was indeed a homicide and not an accidental overdose. "Eli didn't do drugs," says his father.

"He didn't even drink hard liquor." Welliver's investigator eventually tracked down the suspected murderer and had him taken into custody. He is currently serving a sentence for motorcycle theft, but Welliver doubts that justice will ever be done in his son's case. "Just tell people not to go to Thailand," he says. "It's a carnal sea totally corrupt" Imhida ComtbomtlatbisstuHmntnUHnmeemtibackAfabulomstjUv twt tbmn pilbva tndm lmenfnnf nuttmL Choir avttftbli fir $499. Cacklail toblt tvailable fir 1399.

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