Monday, February 9, 2015

chicago art institute

I can't speak about Valparaiso, Indiana or Leland, Michigan. Two places where my father had been. But I have been to the gallery at the Chicago Art Institute.

During the summer of 1977 I took a train from Galena, Illinois to downtown Chicago. The round trip cost me nineteen dollars back then. It was three hours on the switchity-snickety tracks, as the booth jostled side-to-side on the Amtrak line.

From the Union station it was five or six city blocks to walk to the Chicago Art Institute. The crouched stone lion greeted me on the steps.

     Once inside I remember looking up at the Jean Dubuffet sculpture, its skyscraper plateau high above my head near the ceiling. Its form, like a modern mushroom, outlined with wide black lines, sort of like an empty stained-glass pattern. I felt small yet immensely enjoyed being underneath its canopy.
     I saw the Jackson Pollack canvas. It was wide and outsized the image I saw in my UNL Art History class. The way my imagination snaked its way back between the surface markings and into its oceanic depths. So much to take in. What a delight. And Marc Chagall had a stained-glass work around the corner.

     I mention the School of the Art Institute of Chicago because my father was admitted there in March of 1950. Double click on images to enlarge. The admission slip reached him when he was at Stiles Hall at Valparaiso.

 When I turned over this letter I found two ink sketches that the 28 year old Reinhold had drawn. 

Right, his school transcript gave the address where Reinhold rested when he wasn't digging graves for money, and where he painted his assignments for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

I have checked the address out on the Internet. Today that location is a paved parking lot. But across the street stands a multi-story apartment building. In 1950 that fellow was 28 years old, single, and on his own.

Left, among my father's effects (which my brother gave to me in a box last Christmas) was something he treasured. It had started with a photo I had taken at a photo booth. Dad fixed it to a yellow section of calendar. He wound the slip into his typewriter, and added a title, a character, a location, and a date. Words of his choosing to remember. "Number One Son, Karl Monroe, GALENA, ILL, 9-27."  Dad had this pinned to the cork-paneled wall of his office in the basement of the Seward house on Columbia Avenue. A epigram of me. Because it meant something to him, it means something to me now!!

      In the summer of 1977, I had completed my third year at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. I was 22 years old, single, and agreed to work for a printmaker, an artist, a friend of my parents, Arthur Geisert.

     Mornings were spent in the art studio Geisert had built on a steep hillside. With a long staircase that climbed up to the top or down to the walk. Arthur showed me how he wanted things. The inking his Noah Ark plates, running proofs through his heavy metal press, pulling the wheel handle round and round, felt blankets fed through the press rollers.

Photo of the four-proof Geisert Ark etching that hung in our living room in Seward, Nebraska.

The four by six inch etching I did at Geisert's studio. Caption read: "Arthur amuses himself, building steps in the backyard." Geisert did whimsical pieces. His style of drawing was what I imitated.

    In historic downtown Galena, I resided at the Desoto Hotel. (Years before it got renovated and upgraded into the Desoto House Hotel.) An old place with tall ceilings, vintage wallpaper, indoor plumbing, and cheap rates. That was where I began writing about MONROE, the snow fall, the laundromat next door, and my solitary life. It was where I read books from the Dubuque library. It was where I rested up for the work that awaited me each day.


I washed dishes at Raleigh's restaurant, and de-boned cold cooked chicken to make chicken salad in the kitchen. (Right, Betty the stove cook)

At Raleigh's the staff parades into the dining room in the evening to sing to the guests.

One night they asked me to play the piano.

That was where I wrote the short story "THE CUSTOMER."
Betty was the stove cook. Raleigh and Chuck were the owners. Sally was a waitress I worked with. And the dishwasher was me. A snow day mystery with surprises. When I prepared it for this post it took my mind right back to my days in Galena.

Instead of returning to college for the fall semseter, I stayed in Galena, working. A couple hired me to belt sand wooden toys for them. One time I remember swinging down from the outdoor eaves of their three story house. After the fear of heights is allayed, there is a joy that comes, reaching from pole to pole, dancing through the air, like a jungle gym for grownups. I remember chaperoning a fellow toy-sander to a KISS concert in Des Moines, Iowa. We went by bus. So many memories.

      That was the summer Dad was all into his Flurry toy. I had a couple boxes of Flurry shipped to Galena and sold them. Check out 

It is great to be on your own when you are 22 years old. Walking on foot, full of life, time to read, relaxed, with times of loneliness, busy with work. I found places to hang out. A local church to attend. Geisert stories and Geisert meals on a wood stove.  A life entirely your own. Until Christmas rolled around and a phone call asked when I planned to come "home" and "finish" college at the university. Then the freedom I thought was my own vanished. I returned to college and my home state of Nebraska.

From the photo on the wall my father thinks of his boy in Illinois. His adult son recalls the smell of linseed-infused etcher's ink and Geisert's delicious tamale pie. And Monroe wonders what his buddy Karl is going to bring home from the Dubuque Library on Tuesday with his library card. (It could be Houdini, a Western, perhaps the work of Richard Brautigan or The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemmingway.)

(Dubuffet sculpture photo courtesy of Toritextil,, Flurry link,, Arthur Geisert link,, accessed 02.10.2015)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

words in the sky

When I was little Mom held me on her lap. I remember she read books to me. My favorite book was Sam and the Firefly by P. D. Eastman. It was Gus the firefly that wrote words in the night sky -- that glowed!! His words helped save the day. I loved looking at the pictures and the glowing words.

At our house Mom and Dad read the newspaper and magazines.

I learned to read for myself, and enjoyed reading jokes, adventures, textbooks, and movie reviews. I am glad I can read.

wanted to

   As I review folder after folder, it has become clear to me, Dad was interested in his babies, his boys. His was a time before digital photos and cellphone selfies. Despite all the time it must have taken, he developed the film himself in his basement darkroom and made 8 by 10 inch prints using light-sensitive chemicals. He did lots and lots and lots of them, because he WANTED TO.
Whether next to a water barrel with Mom and me at the pool, 
or in the kitchen with me in the high chair wearing my shoe brace.
Out doors on the front step with Mom and my brother Paul and me, 
or asking Mom to get Dad and me me fit blocks into the play skool roof. 
Mom pushing me on the Concordia campus with Jesse Hall in the background...
as well as me chomping on a strap...
and his two sons by the door. 
Past our drive way at the Con cor dia apart ments on Sixth Street
or Dad holding me on his lap
or the happy faces in the mirror.
So it was no surprise that he caught me holding a pocket mag nify ing glass up to my eye, me stand ing in the mid dle of his art room at home, or the cray on in my hand on paper he set out for me to scrawl on.
How I held the big hand le and  watch ed the dab bles of water color ap pear on the paper pad he set out for me to use. Me in the mid dle of his art room, under his sup ervi sion. 
looking at art,

the two of us on the living room floor.
In the garage, me on the tricycle and Paul on the wagon.




writing and drawing.
Dad took lots and lots of pictures.

I see it now. He did all that work and all the time it took him, because he wanted to.