THIS IS ANOTHER time I look to the sky to see the string disappearing into the clouds.

Jim McLaughlin has left us.

A touchstone.

As curator of the Phillips Collection, Jim McLaughlin received artists with unusual openness in order to see their portfolios.

If you called, he said yes, he would see you. And when you arrived at his office, there was time for you.

This man, who died a week ago at 73, treated life as an art, treated artists as creative beings. A painter himself, Jim McLaughlin was able to relate to the aspiring individual who stood before him. It is in this capacity that he served his most important purpose. Another curator might choose to remove himself from the access of the hundreds of artists. Jim McLaughlin remained dutiful and sincere.

It was late summer 1980. He welcomed me into his office. A room curiously dark and rich. Paintings, books and figures all about. He was quite beautiful, as I remember him. A gentle, well-balanced thin pink face surrounded by the glow of white, wispy hair. He sported a curious item at his neck which prompted the notice of most folks who met him. It was the black string tie in a silver Indian clasp, western style. He was comfortable. I was a wreck.

As I spread the drawings before him, he commented as to the degree of pleasure or perfection. He enjoyed the colors and the subjects. I felt relieved. He preferred the realistic pastels and wanted to see more of them. He said to be certain to return, to call when I was ready. If Jim McLaughlin said to call back when you were ready, it meant something. You went back to work. To working more. To working better.

I was just getting ready to call.

The art that lives and is "Washington Art" was brought out of the woods by the pioneer spirits of Jim McLaughlin, Duncan Phillips, Marjorie Phillips, C. Law Watkins, Karl Knaths and their associates. Since 1933, McLaughlin poured a spirit into the Phillips Collection. He and his colleagues gave our modern art its soul.