My dear friend Art Quester is gone. I can’t believe that he’s gone. He was so full of life. Brilliant artist, utterly magical being, and so much fun to be with.
I first met Art in 1987 during my first year at the University of Lancaster when I worked at the Three Mariners pub (I think it is the Carpenters’ Arms again now). I was involved with the Sealed Knot battle reenactment society and he founded a Dark Ages reenactment group on campus. The guy I was going out with at the time volunteered to drive Art’s group up to a Dark Age meetup in Glasgow. He tried (and failed) to get me into Dungeons and Dragons once but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I bet he was brilliant at it though, being a person with a vivid imagination.
Art and I were friends for ages and briefly dated for a while (about six weeks) when I came back from my year out of uni, and we both joined the recently founded Society of Occultists at the University of Lancaster (SOUL). We were living together in a damp basement flat (I think it made him ill with bronchitis or something — it was barely habitable but it was a really cool dwelling, with stone walls and an open fireplace). He had written to me during my year out to offer me a room in it. It was at this time that he got interested in Wicca and introduced me to my first ever Wiccans. We used to travel down to Fleetwood to learn about Wicca. It was a three-leg journey, by train, bus, and then tram. I might have found my way to Wicca anyway, but he gets the credit for opening up this path for me.
At Samhain 1989, Art and I took part in my first ever Pagan ritual, written by the Wiccan high priestess from Fleetwood. A group of us from SOUL went to Jack Scout Cove and did the ritual. It was the first time that I ever saw the Fair Folk, too. The group sat around the campfire developing a fantasy that beyond the circle of light from the flames, there was nothing, only a void.
Art changed his name by deed poll some years before I met him. As far as I am concerned Art Quester is his real name because it suited him so well; he was both artistic and a seeker of the mysteries. He told me once that one of the reasons he changed it was that, when he was a child, his father had performed a dental extraction on him by tying a piece of string around his tooth, attaching a brick to the other end, and then chucking the brick out of the window.
Art was one of the gentlest people I’ve ever known. A lifelong vegetarian with a wicked sense of humour. Another friend who knew him once described him affectionately as a child of the universe (which Art liked).
He was also a brilliant artist. I’ve included one of his beautiful drawings in the gallery below; he sent it to me as a Yule card one year. You can see some more of his art at his Instagram profile — he painted his spare room to look like a tropical beach. Great way to avoid Covid.
He had a wicked sense of humour. I remember once he told me that he had rolled a “spliff” that was all paper and contained no marijuana at all, not even any tobacco, and passed it around at a party and watched the party people going “ooh wow man” anyway.
The degree he did at Lancaster was an interesting mixture of things including study of religions. He did a project on Wicca and the university made him include names and addresses as they accused him of making it all up! This was super-awkward at the time, as it was right in the middle of the Satanic Panic and people were understandably terrified of having their kids taken away by social workers.
When we left university, I was skint for ages, so it was five years till I saw him and we went to a Beltane camp in Wales with his daughter, in 1996. It was a lovely camp, despite the raucousness of some of the revellers.
In 1997, I visited during my summer holidays and we had a lovely time together. The photos of the two of us sitting on a rock date from that visit. We walked along the Lancaster Canal.
We would always have brilliant conversations about the occult and history and art and life in general. He was one of those people you could just carry on the conversation where you left off the last time you saw each other, even if there was a huge gap of time between. He also had the knack of focusing his attention on the person he was with. Being with him always felt like being on a magical adventure.
One time when I was working in Bath (around 2002/3), I walked around the corner and there he was — he was visiting a guy called Karl. I think we went for a beer or a coffee at least.
He started an antique shop sometime in the early 2000s, which I feel was entirely appropriate, as he was a person who transcended time, and congruent with his artistic interests.
In 2006, I was passing through Lancaster on the way to Scotland and dropped in for a visit, which was lovely. That turns out to have been the last time we saw each other; though we did exchange actual proper handwritten letters in 2015/6. He had some of the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen. I must dig out his letters from my box of keepsakes.
Farewell Art, child of the universe. Hail the goer!