Kerry Ewing was one of my closest friends. He called me “Mister Day,” so I called him Mister Ewing. The rest of the neighborhood knew him as Kerry.
I met Kerry one evening in 1995, when he first spread his drawings out on a tarp in front of Robbin’s Jewelers on First Avenue near Main Street. He later sold under the Pergola, and eventually from a bench in front of the Underground Tour.
In those days his artistic passion was copying cartoon characters from the animated TV shows of his childhood — Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera and a host of lesser-known studios — and he kept a fluctuating collection of source material for customers’ requests. He had an enormous recall for characters’ names and situations and did some great impressions of their voices. He was a charming salesman and had a gift for connecting with passersby, especially children.
In recent years, the art he sold on the street included a mix of the old cartoons with some spray painted astronomical scenes, and eventually abstracts.
When I met him, Ewing lived in a tent beneath the old viaduct, south of King Street, which is now a gaping hole for the Bertha tunnel. He eschewed staying at the missions, because their curfews didn’t allow him to sell on the streets in the evenings, when he had the best sales. Over the past 22 years, I knew him to sustain a rented room at times, or, after winning enough in the Lotto, he bought and lived in a car, then a trailer. For some years, he worked at Studio 7 in SoDo and lived on the premises. At various times, I tested the largesse of a couple of my art studio landlords by letting him stay on my premises.
But for the last three years, he was back in a tent. He was proud of having found a discreet location, away from the noise and clutter of aggregations of other tent dwellers. It was a good long walk from anywhere. He asked me to drive him home once, not because it was too far to walk or ride his bike, but because he wanted me to know where he stayed.
In late February, I realized I hadn’t seen him for a week or two. I wasn’t sure how long it had been since he’d come to walk my dog, or recharge his phone, or to sweep my floor for some cash. Or how long I’d been putting off the feeling that I should go check on him.
On Fat Tuesday, I went and found his body, at rest in his tent.
Kerry Raynard Ewing was born on December 24, 1961 in Gary, Indiana, to Nellie Strange (James Strange) and Eddie Lowe. He lived for several years in Minneapolis, before moving permanently to Seattle. The King County Medical Examiner set the date of his death at Feb. 21.
He is survived by his mother, Nellie Strange; son, Raphael Ewing; brothers, Eric Strange and Warren Strange of Minneapolis, Minnesota; sisters, Arlicia Strange of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kimberly (Winford) Parker of Gary, Indiana, Temeka (Hubert) Norris of Naperville, Illinois; uncle James Coopwood of Memphis, Tennessee; and a host of nieces nephews, cousins and friends.
His family writes: “He was always able to make you smile and was there when you needed him. Although we will miss him every day, he will forever remain in our hearts. He was truly special and will forever be missed.”
A wake has been set for 9 p.m. on Sunday, March 12, at Merchant’s Café.
An appreciation event is set for Noon on Friday, March 24, at Pioneer Square Park by the Iron Pergola.