It was a sad moment this morning when I learned that framebuilder and painter Brian Baylis had died the previous evening. I felt I definitely needed to write some sort of tribute, as Brian was one of the first people I met and worked along-side when I came to San Marcos, California in the early 1980s.
But what to say in writing such a piece, that is the problem. Brian Baylis was such a complex character, even when you knew him, you didn’t really understand exactly where he was coming from, so how does a person begin to explain that personality to others who never knew him. I’ll just have to start at the beginning and do the best I can.
October 1980 I arrived in San Marcos, San Diego County. Having come over from England just the previous year and landed in New Jersey. And if I found that strange, I may as well have landed on a different planet when I arrived in California. I had come to work for Ted Kirkbride, who was sub-contracted to build the Masi frames.
Ted had a frameshop and paint facility, and to defray some of the operating cost he rented space out as a co-op type of situation, to different framebuilders and painters who then shared the space and equipment. Brian was one of the builders who also painted his own frames.
Brian and I were worlds apart when it came to our approach to framebuilding. I set myself a certain high standard, and did my best to maintain that same standard over the years. I didn’t want my customers feeling I had built a better frame for someone else than I had for them. I tried to be consistent.
This is where explaining Brian Baylis is difficult, because I am not suggesting for one moment that he had inconsistent standards or ever turned out shoddy work. It was the exact opposite. He seemed to set some standard beyond even his own capabilities and strove towards that, until he thought he had reached it. Never caring for how long it was taking him to achieve this level of workmanship.
On hearing of his passing, for some reason I thought of a story I once heard of an old wood carver, working on a huge pair of double oak doors. The design was an intricate one with oak leaves and acorns, scrolls and winged cherubs in each corner. Someone asked him, “How do you know when it is finished?” He replied, “It is never finished, they just come and take it away from me.”
For some reason I feel that Brian was like that except there was no one to take it away from him. But he probably kept filing until the desire to paint it took over. Brian’s intricate lug work and filing, was only surpassed by his painting.
I owe a lot of my success to Brian Baylis and indeed the other painters, Jim Allen and Jim Cunningham who were there at that time. I had painted my own frames in the UK, but after arriving at the San Marcos shop, I realized the American market demanded paintwork that was at a whole different level.
Talking to a mutual friend, David Ball, this morning, I mentioned about the little painting tricks I had learned (or stolen.) from Brian. David said, “Brian learned a few tricks from you, in particular frame alignment tricks.”
Looking back, Brian Baylis was the only person who never gave me any grief, at that crazy San Marcs co-op. There was always conflict over the schedule for using the paint booth and other equipment. Brian took two weeks to build one frame so he was never tying up the paint booth or the frame jig.
When I left San Marcos I saw very little of Brian, but always heard how he was doing from our mutual friend. I would see him occasionally at cycling events and shows. It was from David Ball I heard of Brian’s passing this morning.
It is an understement to say Brian Baylis was a colorful character. If my writing here has not done him justice, I have no worries, because I know the body of work he leaves behind always will. I will miss you, Brian, rest in peace my friend.