Life one bite at a time…….

Chasing Art II!

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.

Enter art.

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?

Chasing Art!

Even though I was no longer producing art, I always knew I wanted the real thing in my home. Once we had achieved a level of economic stability, sometime in the mid nineties, we made our first purchases. Three paintings found at an art show in Fairborn, Ohio, all local artists. One of which was and is the first thing I see every morning. The hook was set.

A few years later, as a gift from my husband, I received a coffee table book about Native Americans. I read it from cover to cover. Part of the illustrations included were several paintings by a Chickasaw artist, Mike Larsen. One of them was a gorgeous triptych centerfold like in the book. Prior to his paintings, I did not want people in my art. But there was something in how he portrayed people as if he had arrested them in mid movement. I couldn’t get enough.

Suddenly, I was like Pepe Le Pew pulled along in mid air after a scent I couldn’t deny. I had to have some of his art work. I knew without doubt if he was in that book I couldn’t afford him, but I could probably find a print.

The internet was pretty new then for this kind of search, so I could find nothing about him that way. So, I turned to the book’s bibliography. I figured if I could find out who represented him, I could find out how to get a print of one of his pieces. The bibliography was silent. Not to be deterred, I located the book’s publisher. New York of course. Thank goodness for business pages. I called the publisher.

To the publisher, I explained my quest. I wanted to find an outlet where I could purchase one of Mr. Larsen’s prints. Did they have any information about his representation? The lady was kind, but the publisher had no information other than Mr. Larsen resided in Oklahoma City. All righty then.

I sat with this information for a few days, but the hook kept tugging. It was a “what the hell” moment. So I dialed 411 for Oklahoma City and asked for the phone number of Mike Larsen. There were five. Now, some folks may remember when information was called, it was a live operator who literally was standing by to fulfill your next request. Mentally, I flipped the coin, what was the worst thing that could happen? I would pick one and it would be wrong. None of them would be the guy I was looking for. If I connected to the right one, he wouldn’t speak with me, or not return my call, or get a restraining order. What did I know about it?

I picked the first one on the list. I could hear the number going through and the phone rang. I had not rehearsed anything to say. I literally just held my breath. The call was answered. A very soft spoken male voice. My business sense kicked in a little, and I told him who I was and that I was attempting to find the artist named Mike Larsen. Speaking. SPEAKING! Dammit I was talking to MIKE LARSEN. My entire system went fan girl. I gushed, I bumbled, I stammered. And he was kind and gracious and unassuming the whole time.

When I finally came to, I asked about his prints. At that point, he wasn’t producing any, but he offered to send me a portfolio. Now, I had never dealt with an artist “face to face” like this. I didn’t know what he was saying. I didn’t know what a portfolio meant, but I had been raised to to be polite so I agreed. On his part, he was happy to hear someone enjoyed his art so much. Gracious to the bone. We rang off.

I was a happy camper and went to bed blissfully. The next day was a work day, and had no more on my mind than getting through it and coming home to be with my husband. Unusually, I was the first one home that night. On the door step was a thick overnight package from Fedex. I had never received an overnight package at home. It had to be bad news.

Opening it, revealed a white business envelope with Mike Larsen’s return address. I could hardly breathe. Inside the envelope was a stack of polaroids of his available work. Polaroids. He had taken the time to send me Polaroids! I just kept shuffling through them. Nothing in my past experience had prepared me for this. On the back of each print, was the price for the piece. I was right, way out of my league. But oh Lord how I wanted to.

In my cloud of euphoria, I didn’t know what the next move should be. What was appropriate in this type of exchange? A thank you note? Return the prints? A phone call? I literally couldn’t think, couldn’t come to a decision on how to respond. So I didn’t.

I still feel that inadequacy today. Those photographs are some of my prized possessions. I still don’t own a Mike Larsen, his asking prices have gone up, as they should have. I still don’t have a print, though he does produce some from time to time. Mr. Larsen has a gallery in OKC now, he’s a highly regarded and much awarded artist. His gallery is on my bucket list. Someday I will return his photographs in person. Until then, I dream.