Scrapbook Ninety One…

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AUGUST 2014

Shelling Corn Painting

Keri sent me a full-page color magazine ad that our gallery ran in 1978. It advertised “Shelling Corn,” a large oil painting by Joseph Henry Sharp. It depicts Elkfoot Jerry Maribal and Crucita, two Taos Indians sitting on a banco by the fireplace in the artist’s studio.

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The ad conjured up old memories from my seventeen-years as a gallery owner in Santa Fe. I can recall the entire history of that shelling corn painting. Well, maybe not the entire history, but I’ll tell you what I know.

It was painted about 1925-35, I’d guess, but it could be a little earlier. I gave a local family $55,000 for it. They obtained it from the artist in trade for Navajo weavings. I sold the painting for $65,000 to an old friend. When he wanted to buy a yacht his wife made him sell the painting back to me for $75,000. Later, we sold it to a good client in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania for $150,000. When he passed away the director of the Los Angeles Athletic Club acquired it for $250,000 and sold it for $750,000. It sold again for 1.5 million and then again for I don’t know what. Not bad appreciation for just 20 years or so.

I interviewed Jerry Maribal in 1980 while researching my Sharp biography. Jerry was 110-years old, and totally blind.

When I entered the room Jerry was reclining on his bed. He smiled and said, “I’m happy to see you Mr. Fenn.”

Meeting Elkfoot Jerry Maribal was a wonderful life experience for me. He said interesting things about his early life at Taos pueblo and about his relationship with Mr. Sharp. In his quiet way he spoke through the haze of far-away memories while I mostly listened, not wanting to interrupt him with the weakness of my own thoughts. As I left his room a granddaughter said, “The leaves will soon fall from the apricot tree.” I thought that was such a beautiful Indian-thing to say. Mr. Maribal died the next morning, and out of respect, the pueblo was closed to all outsiders for three days.

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Photo from Teepee Smoke by Forrest Fenn

I can’t say that Elkfoot Jerry was a friend because we met only that one time. It was remiss of me for not meeting him earlier. And why didn’t I also meet Hunting Son, Soaring Eagle, Crucita, Standing Deer, Leaf Down, Agapito, George Eats Alone, Lady Pretty Blanket, Adalina, Wolf Ear, Strikes His Enemy Pretty, Mary Tailfeather, Shows A Fish, Medicine Crow, White Swan, Takes A Wrinkle, Julia Sun Goes Slow, Shorty White Grass, Naked Alberto, Hairy Moccasin, Albidia, Bawling Deer, and a host of other Indians who also posed for Mr. Sharp? I think I deserve another chance.

 

The Experienced Skinner…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

boarOnce, when we were in La Havre, Peggy and I went into a grubby antique shop on the waterfront. Although I was financially underprivileged, just being in that old place made me want to buy something. Maybe it was the ambience of it all.

So I looked around and saw three cannon balls “From Napoleon’s personal collection,” and many souvenirs that were left over from the French Revolution. A few gave me pause: a used guillotine blade, a hangman’s noose with the requisite 13 coils, several experienced peg-legs, and other fiendish French inventions of dim distinction.

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Le Havre France

But in a far back room, in a dungony-dark corner I saw an old trunk that just smelled with character. It was as if some terrible Viking had used it for storing things I didn’t even want to know about.

When I raised the squeaky lid the trunk appeared to be empty – and then I noticed a rusty old skinning knife with a character-weathered antler handle. It was covered with dust and must’ve been concealed in that dark place for years and no one knew it was there but me.

An old, yellowed price label said $100.

“Wow,” I thought, this thing probably was used to skin a thousand wolves, wild boar, and chamois.  My desire for it preceded critical acumen so I grabbed the knife and ran up front to the shopkeeper, “I want this knife,” I said. “Sacre’ bleu,” he replied, “Veer deed you geet zee extraordinary antique veapon?” Ha, I was in luck, he didn’t even know what it was.

A small sign on the wall said, “les ventes sont finales”.

I quickly handed the clerk a couple of twenties, some tens, a five or two and a bunch of ones – nearly all the money I had. My wife’s expression said that I should be saving up to buy a padded cell.

As we drove away I developed buyer’s remorse. If that knife had been in a display case in the front of the store with a price of $20, I wouldn’t have wanted it. Then it hit me. That well-seasoned Frenchman got to me with a trick that was the oldest ploy in the history of trading: It didn’t matter how special the knife was, it only mattered how special he could make me think it was.

I wanted to return it and get my money back but I knew that wasn’t going to happen, and besides, I’d have to admit to the sales jerk that he’d outwitted me, and that wasn’t going to happen either.

So I gulped and kept driving, not feeling very cerebral, and not looking at my wife.

But there was some profit in the deal because it provided me with a rule I would remember, “When testing the depth of the water, don’t do it with both feet.” I think that was the rule, but maybe not, I had so many.

In later years I decided that the hundred bucks I paid in 1957 were well spent because bad experiences build character. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with all of this character.

 

Scrapbook Ninety…

scrapbook

AUGUST 2014

Forgotten Memories

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They don’t build guys like George Dabich anymore. If you saw him walking down the street wearing a brown cowboy hat you probably wouldn’t be impressed. He wasn’t tall, athletic, flashy, famous or rich. But you’d run out of things he wasn’t pretty fast because he had assets we all should wish to emulate.

As a 22-year old sailor in WW-2 George was cruising the South Pacific on a destroyer, the USS Brooks, when it was hit by a kamikaze. George was blasted end-over-end out into the ocean where he flailed around in burning oil and gasoline for hours until he was rescued and put aboard the USS Hovey, another destroyer.

In less than 24-hours that ship was torpedoed and sank while George watched again from the vantage point of an ocean burning all around him. He didn’t much care for the turn his life had suddenly taken.

After the Navy, George settled in Cody where he became a professional outbacker and hunting guide. And he was painting some pretty good Indian pictures. When we met, about 1967, I was teaching pilot training in the Air Force but had orders to Vietnam. His parting words to me were, “If you come back whole I’ll take you out where we can pick up some buffalo caps and maybe a skull or two.” We both were collecting western history things. That invitation may have motivated me to fly faster and keep my head down deeper.

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“Salute to a Warrior”, by George Dabich, cast at Fenn Bronze in Lubbock, Texas.

Upon my return I gave George a hunk wax and asked him to create some figures for me to cast in bronze. I’d set up a foundry in my garage. He did that and so did I. Our relationship flourished into close personal and professional bonds.

 

And of course he took me out into the Skylight country north of Cody where we found several dozen buffalo horn caps and a few skulls. This is my best one. It was a young bull. I found in some shades of a giant lodge pole pine. It was covered with reddish-yellow lichen, the faded remnants of which can still be seen between the horns and down. I removed the pine needles that populated the eye sockets and nose cavity. Wish now I hadn’t.

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And a basalt arrowhead was imbedded in the bone just inside his left eye. It penetrated only half an inch and broke where it was affixed to the arrow shaft. It didn’t kill the animal and the bone grew back around, holding it tight. I wish it had been me with the Crow Indian hunting party who released the arrow to fly on its last mission.

“In my solitude, it haunts me with memories of days gone by. In my solitude, it taunts me, with reveries that never die.” (Thank you Tony Bennett).

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The brown hat I wear so proudly was George’s. He wore it while his hunters killed 28 grizzlies out there just east of Yellowstone. He placed it on my head beside a campfire one night, and said, “Fits you like a glass fits water, so I want you to have it.”

 

George died last year at age 91, and his passage went largely unnoticed, save for a scant few guys like me and some relatives. But the coyotes and sage brush know he’s gone, and so do the tall pines, under which he sat and drank coffee from a tin cup. The red embers of his camp fires will miss him badly, but not as much as me.

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Preparing Sweat Lodge – George Dabich

 

Scrapbook Eighty Nine…

scrapbook

AUGUST 2014

The Long Jump…

bridge04It was a huge monster of an iron looking thing. The bridge I mean, and I hated it with a passion. It crossed the Leon River on state road 53 about 6 miles west of Temple where I was born and raised.

Well, it wasn’t really the bridge itself that bothered me, it was the 40-foot drop to the water, and I’ll tell you why.

The cadre of friends I ran around with in high school was a pseudo-macho bunch. There was Edard, Kacir, Scotty, Paul Emery, Laurens, and several others who sat on the close periphery of our small group. They were all good guys and we were close, which made it even harder for me because I didn’t jump off of the bridge. I was going to until I looked down and heard someone say that submerged logs sometimes lurked just under the surface and if you landed on one it would break both of your legs.

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from google maps

“Let’s go,” they yelled, and all of them jumped, leaving me standing all alone on the asphalt. I couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden they were just gone and I wasn’t. How do you think that made a 16 year-old, 138 pound kid feel?

I knew what they were thinking “It was a test for toughness and Fenn’s tail fell out.” I could just see them telling every good looking girl in the whole junior class. It was a catastrophic moment for me and I felt terrible. My value shouldn’t be diminished just because those guys couldn’t see my real worth, should it?

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from google maps

It prayed on me, but for only a week or so. I felt my courage was only an inch too short to be long enough so I developed a plan that was indelible on my mind. I’d show those guys.

On a cold, moonless night about 3:00, I stole out of my bedroom window, jumped in the Bullet, and drove out highway 53. My mind was made up and nothing could stop me. No one was around so I stopped on the bridge and looked down. I couldn’t see the water but I knew it was down there somewhere. My pulse was tingling but without a seconds hesitation I climbed over the rail with all of my clothes on and jumped. I just did it and that was that. After what seemed like an hour I hit the water with a hard, cold splash.

When I surfaced my whole world had changed. I started laughing with an insane sense of empowerment. I really showed those guys, and ha, I did it at night. “Just wait’ll the news gets out,” I thought.

I was wet and frozen when I climbed in my bedroom window. Another idea came to me. Why should I even tell anyone? They probably wouldn’t believe me anyway. Besides, the power of what I did would be subjugated a little if they knew.

Looking back now, I think maybe I grew up a little on that dark night at the great Leon River Bridge, 68 years ago.

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© 2011 Larry D. Moore

Overview
Through truss bridge over Leon River on FM 817 in Belton

Location
Belton, Bell County, Texas

Status
Open to traffic

History
Built 1939

Design
Parker through truss

Dimensions
Length of largest span: 200.1 ft.
Total length: 412.1 ft.
Deck width: 24.0 ft.
Vertical clearance above deck: 15.7 ft.

Recognition
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on October 10, 1996

Also called
Waco Road Bridge

Approximate latitude, longitude
+31.06639, -97.44222   (decimal degrees)
31°03’59” N, 97°26’32” W   (degrees°minutes’seconds”)

Quadrangle map:
Belton

Inventory numbers
TXNBI 090140001505060 (Texas bridge number on the National Bridge Inventory)
NRHP 96001119 (National Register of Historic Places reference number)

Inspection (as of 04/2013)
Deck condition rating: Satisfactory (6 out of 9)
Superstructure condition rating: Satisfactory (6 out of 9)
Substructure condition rating: Satisfactory (6 out of 9)
Appraisal: Functionally obsolete
Sufficiency rating: 63.6 (out of 100)

Average daily traffic (as of 2011) 3,000

 

Olmec Jadeite Mask…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

olmecfaceFor a thousand years, beginning about 1500 BCE, the Olmec people flourished in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico. They were the ancestors of all subsequent Mesoamerican civilizations.

Their artists were famous for carving well-fed looking human faces in stone. Some as large as 20 tons still stand where they were made. You can see them if you go down there.

The Olmecs especially liked Jadeite. They sawed it by drawing a taut string back and forth and using abrasive powders to cut, a process that could take years. Jadeite was the stone of the heavens, they thought, and when they carved it their hands were guided by the gods.

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Nephrite and jadeite are the two types of Jade. A rocksmith once told me they were so alike that a layman couldn’t tell the difference. But he could, he said, because one is colder than the other. He just couldn’t remember which was the coldest.

This 9-inch jadeite mosaic mask has a commanding appearance, and his splaying ears balance the temperament of his face. The rounded chin emphasizes his gaping mouth, and the wide-set eyes add depth to the overall expression. Its features make obvious the charismatic power of the wearer, who probably was a ruler or a shaman.

Such masks were considered images of transformation. The color green was associated with growth, longevity, renewal, and rejuvenation after death.

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I acquired this mask from a woman who sold antiques. She had 8 white St. Bernards and about 200 white pigeons. That was okay, but she poured beer in zip lock bags to save space in her purse. I thought she was a little weird. Her personality grated me and my dread of visiting her always seemed appropriate. Sometimes I forgot when I arrived why I went there in the first place. Maybe it was because leaving her was so much fun. Some folks think I’m weird too. What do you think?