By the end of the 90s, we had finally started to have some “expendable” income, whatever that really means. For us it meant almost no debt and we could begin to save some money. It also meant we could entertain moving up from our small starter home to something more adequately fulfilling our hobby needs.
So in 1999, we moved to a larger house built in 1960. Lots and lots of bare walls. I stretched what art we had to make do, but we needed some much larger pieces for things to look “right”. However, everything we bumped into seemed far more expensive than we were willing to extend ourselves for and it was also doing this period that I started noticing my husband was becoming more risk averse. Balance would need to be achieved.
At this time we lived in the south Dayton suburbs. Our folks lived in Kentucky, but not in reasonable proximity. Many, many weekends, we would head south to visit one household or the other, via the much more soothing backroads between our places.
One of these scenic byways took us through a little burg call Washington Courthouse. South of Columbus, it was a picturesque town like we liked them. Lots of historic buildings, a little shabby, but real. Those are the places we loved to stop and poke around. But since we were always mid flight when we went through the town, we really didn’t take the time to stop and poke.
On the bypass through town were these billboards. They were the most lovely things we had ever seen. There was one on each boundary of the bypass, depicting gorgeous rural scenes one with amazing pumpkins. There was no advertising, no attribution. Just these jumbo-tron sized works of art. It made the trip a little magical to see them.
At some time during this period, as is wont to happen, someone had the bright idea to build a McDonald’s on the bypass. I hate McDonald’s. To me the only thing redeeming this as a business is their bathrooms, and on one trip, we had to avail ourselves of their facilities.
Entering the establishment, it was much like any other McDonald’s. Except for the art. There were small 8 x 10 paintings of pumpkins and rural scenes. I knew immediately it was the same artist as the billboards. Cue the hook. In line to make our obligatory “paying for the bathroom usage” purchase, I asked to see the manager.
No, this was not a Karen moment. No one knew about Karen then. I asked him about the art. Was it for sale, who was the artist, what gives? He didn’t know, but the owner might. Here we go.
The next business day, I find out who the franchise owner is of the McDonald’s in Washington Courhouse. Locating that information, I called and left a message. The return call was speedy but brief. The owner didn’t know much, but thought if I called the Chamber of Commerce, they would be able to help me. Ring, ring!
The Chamber of Commerce person was very helpful. In fact, he knew the artist. Harry Ahysen. Why Harry and his wife lived there in town. He was sure they would be delighted for him to share their phone number with me. Ring, ring!
Calling the number, I spoke with Mrs. Ahysen. A little more mature this time, I didn’t go completely fan girl but was able to articulate my quest just a tad more gracefully than I had in the past. Just as graciously, she invited us to see what pieces were available for sale, and we made arrangements to meet on a Saturday.
We pulled up in our little Honda Accord, to a beautiful four square Craftsman two story near downtown Washington Courthouse. We were already in love with the house. The door was answered by the Ahysen’s daughter, who was an artist in her own right. And then we met Mr. and Mrs. Ahysen. They were lovely.
The paintings were in the cellar. And oh, there were so many lovely pieces. As we peeled through canvases we talked. Harry Ahysen was the state artist of Texas. He was also the official artist of the United States Coast Guard. He was a teacher. And he had played trumpet with Harry James, his wife was the bassist. My husband had played with Tommy Dorsey. Mutual friends were found.
What started out to be a simple afternoon of picking out a few canvases, became hours of talking about art and music and lives lived. We didn’t want to leave. And yet, their daughter told us Harry had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and we could tell his energy was flagging. Leave we must. It was painful.
Harry Ahysen passed in 2006. But his beautiful legacy and the memory of a beautiful afternoon spent cradled in the warmth of art and music will never fade.
Perhaps art is chasing me?