Scrapbook Two Hundred Five…

scrapbook

September, 2019

 

Nineteen-hundred and seventy was an interesting year for me. I retired from the Air Force after 20 years on active duty, and I met Greg Perino. 

greg perino

Greg Perino

I was an avid arrowhead collector and Mr. Perino was the American expert on lithics and associated artifacts. He wrote the best books on North American stone projectile typology.

When he said I could come to Tulsa and get his opinion on several of my Cody Complex points, I was thrilled. Greg had been Special Assistant to Thomas Gilcrease of the Gilcrease Museum, and when he died, in 1962, Greg stayed on as a curator. 

My parking spot behind the museum was tight and as I backed, the car bumper tipped over a large tin garbage can. It made a moderate racket, and its contents spilled all around the local periphery. My embarrassment was hiding behind sunglasses when Greg and I got out to clean up the mess. 

In addition to the usual paper cups, coffee grounds, and candy wrappers, were a few interesting items that had belonged to William R. Leigh (1866 – 1955), the great Western artist. There were pencils with his name stamped on the side, some of his calling cards, letterheads, and other items.

But best of all was a 3” white goat made of rubber. Greg recognized it immediately as being from the hand of Mr. Leigh. He was positive. 

He just stood there staring at the little goat. Then Greg spat a few maledictions, the definitions of which were not familiar to me. “What %$#@& tossed this model in the garbage?” His words contained a serious bite as the sound slowly tapered off and was dissipated in the wind.  

To belay his irritation I quickly muttered, “Greg, let me take this goat home and cast it in bronze. I’ll make a copy for each of your board members, one for you, and one for myself. What do you think?”

He nodded okay, and his annoyance was suddenly gone.

Back in Lubbock I quickly made a mould and prepared 10 wax copies of the goat to be cast in bronze. 

Then I ran a hose from our fireplace in the living room, through the kitchen and pantry to the garage where my melting furnace was waiting. I’d made it from a vacuum cleaner motor. That gave me ¼ psi of natural gas, which was enough pressure to melt the metal. It was so much fun that I also cast the nameplate in bronze.

The little Billy Goat needed a base so I blow-torched a piece of wood and then wire-brushed the black ashes away to get the antique finish I wanted. 

In a weak moment we sold my copy of the goat, but over time the memory of it periodically floated back into my mind.

Then this morning a lady named Lou, called me from Albuquerque. She said that her husband had died and she wanted me to help her sell his art collection. 

A couple of hours later we were unloading bronze sculptures in my driveway, about 20 in all. 

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Suddenly, there was my little Billy Goat. “Wow,” and my eyes thought about tearing up. Lou remembered when I sold it to her husband and how happy he was to get it. That was 49 years ago.

In the trunk of her car were 6 other bronzes I had cast and sold to her husband, including some George Dabich buffalos. After about 10 minutes of discussion we agreed on a price and I wrote her a check for the lot, including the goat. It was a lucky morning, and afterward, I thought maybe I should go play the lotto. 

Another thing Lou brought me was a pony express belt buckle. I wasn’t the artist but I remember centrifugally casting it in sterling silver.0T1A3017My logo is on the back and the date ’73. It is fun seeing some of my old memories come back home again. f

 

 

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Four…

scrapbook

August, 2019

 

West Yellowstone, as I remember…

berriesSometimes our family would go out into the country-side north of town to pick wild berries. We usually had to drive off the road and around the trees and underbrush for a few minutes to find a ripe huckleberry bush. Dad knew where they were, and we could usually fill a pail. Berries were great for breakfast with Wheaties. We ate a lot of Wheaties, and mom made really great jam that was good on top of hot biscuits. Yes, I still remember.

The kids competed with each other to see who could gather the most berries. I always lost because I munched too much as I picked.

There were strawberry bushes too, but they were isolated, the fruit was small, and it hung close to the ground. We didn’t mess with those guys.

It was not unusual for black bears to be eating berries on bushes within short walking distance from us. When that happened, mom would start singing. Dad said to leave them alone and if they moved toward us, just give them space. There were plenty of berries to go around. That was in the 1930s, and early 40s. I never heard of anyone being hurt by a black bear up there. Meeting a grizzly was different, but it was not something we worried about. If one ever wandered in to command the berry bushes, we surely would have retreated at a nervous pace. We never had to. Those were fun family times. f

 

 

 

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Three…

scrapbook

August, 2019

Eli’s book was published in 2007 and I wrote my review soon after. It was printed in the local paper. The last time I saw Eli he had a small house up in the mountains, maybe Penasco, or some other small town in Northern New Mexico. I don’t remember which one for sure. He told me that he still had his home in Santa Fe, and that he moved from one place to the other every two weeks. Yeah, it’s just like Eli to do something like that. f 

 

Santa Fe Bohemia
The Art Colony 1964 – 1980
By Eli Levin

A book review by Forrest Fenn

The book signing took place near the top of Lower Canyon Road at Argos Etchings and Paintings, there on the left, next to Ed Larson’s gallery, whose large sign reads “Jesus Says Buy Folk Art.” All of this fits Eli exactly, I thought as I splashed up the steps and into a small but pleasant gallery space. It was crowded with people I didn’t know.

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Argos Etchings and Paintings in Santa Fe

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Ed Larson’s Gallery in Santa Fe

Well, there was Eli, standing beside the exit signing books. His brown, Humphrey Bogart hat fit like it was sewn on, and the heavy sweater he wore in the warm room suggested he was ready for a quick exit down the steep steps, through the mud and away, should one of the characters in his book arrive in person to disagree with his take on him or her. And there are many of both genders that felt the swath of his laser sharp pen.

Most chapters contain interesting geographical descriptions of the person whose name appears in the chapter head. Some of what he calls “little jibes” about his friends are:

“…a puffy old alcoholic,”

“It was hard, looking at her, to imagine her with a man.”

“…her worst feature was her brown teeth.”

“…was tall, with a sunken face, dark crooked teeth, bugging eyes and a balding pate fringed with scraggly grey hair.”

For him to say that the wonderfully petite and sensitive Carol Mothner was “quick at repartee,” and high strung and aggressive and had a sharp voice, shows me that he spent too much time holding down bar stools at Claude’s – which he readily admits to on nearly every page.

His books were selling well when I arrived at his signing, as buyers and well-wishers, three or four at a time, slowly moved up the line to get his signature. When my time came, I said, “Eli, I hear you gave me hell in the book.” So we both laughed as he wrote, “I gave you hell,” and signed his name. Anything less would have disappointed me.

Book cover – “Santa Fe Bohemia” by Eli Levin

Now, I’ve always had a warm place in my heart for Eli, though the reasons are not at all clear. Perhaps it’s because he seems to personify the underdog. The sincere smile that always curls his face seems perfectly at home, his down-beat eyes and gentle manner, the intensity with which he engages his craft, his “lookout” for fellow artists, are all traits we’re quick to admire in anyone. We didn’t socialize over the years because we never happened to be in the same place at the same time. He’s a New York Jewish Bohemian and I’m a recovering Texas Baptist. There was little reason for us to mix even though art made our paths cross on several occasions.  Chapters in his book describe several such events.

In 1968, when I was fighting the unfortunate war in Vietnam, Eli was in Santa Fe expounding on how tough life was for him. His feelings were honest; he was having a hard time. That’s the definition of an underdog. In 1972, when I moved to Santa Fe and built a gallery, Eli was well established in the barrios and Canyon Road art places. He had become the Chief Cultist, the professional underdog, or the head of the art world underground as “Pasatiempo” recently insinuated. He had a large following of admirers, most of whom were painters and drinkers, as he describes them. And nearly all are barb recipients in this book.

Somehow I envy what he had, and has. While I was working forever in my gallery office he was holding court in smoke-filled kitchens and bedrooms that were clouded with jabbering, coffee and wine drinking soulmates – all artists, whose studios housed easels and sincere canvases hoping for a magical brush-stroke that would make their masters famous. It didn’t happen, and the mourning continues. I’m not talking out of school, saying those things, because that’s what Eli’s book is about over and over. Santa Fe Bohemia – The Art Colony 1964-1980.

Along with renderings by other artists, Eli’s paintings and etchings decorated the walls of Argos gallery. I told myself that all of the artists showing their art there must be friends because there seemed to be a cohesive warmth in their combined display, maybe a “togetherness” of sorts. That seemed to fit. Many works by the artists, all unknown to me, were pleasant and soothing.

Although I had seen pictures of Eli’s work before, this was the first occasion I remember taking a close-up look and having an opportunity to examine them with my magnifying eye. His folk art, mostly bar room scenes, is graphic and funny and it’s easy to see that he doesn’t sketch anything on the canvas before his brushes arrive. And what he lacks in technique he makes up for with warm visual dialogue. His work makes me wonder whether he paints because he likes it or likes it because he does it. In any event, his rewards must mostly be the satisfaction he gets from the participation and its associated camaraderie. The shameful thought came to me that perhaps he should be showing next door where Jesus might buy one.

It had been a long time since I had seen Eli but I swear he has not changed a hair since we first met thirty-seven years ago. And as he remembers and reminisces in this book about the old days in Santa Fe I must also admit to remembering a few things about the people he describes – about Don Fabricant quitting his job as critic for the New Mexican because of me, and about his newspaper review of Susan Rowland’s show at St. John’s College, saying that her work “isn’t too bad if you get back far enough, like clear across the street,” and knowing that she cried for days because of it. And I remember consigning a Macaione painting to Margaret Jamison that was so cluttered with thick paint clusters that, for three years, we didn’t know it had seven bullet holes through the canvas, and might not have known even today if we had not taken it outside so the sun could shine through the holes. Everyone, it seems, was a critic.  Someone said the bullet holes made the painting more valuable so we went up on the price. Those were the good old days.

The Santa Fe art history about which Eli writes was so vibrant with energy you could feel it tingling in your bones. Today we have more galleries and more artists, but the energy is gone. Hopefully this review will start it anew. Your turn Eli. f

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Back cover – “Santa Fe Bohemia” by Eli Levin