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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Gray Matter: Art and humor

Monday, June 4, 2007

Here are a couple of humorous stories I thought you might enjoy.

It so happens that I share my birthday with a second cousin, whose name is Roland Ginzel. We always considered that mutual birthday as something of a special bond. Recently we lost contact, but after some diligent searching, are back in touch. All of this triggered these amusing memories.

Roland and his wife, Ellen Lanyon, are both artists. He is best known for print making and abstract painting. Art amateur that I am, I preferred his earlier more realistic works. After training at Chicago's Art Institute, where they met, they both earned BFA degrees at the University of Iowa. The next year they studied in London on fellowships.

That following summer, instead of cameras, they carried sketchbooks while hostelling across Europe. Roland produced some great drawings of famous cathedrals from which he intended to execute a series of paintings. His first, and perhaps the only one he actually completed, was of the Cathedral at Autun, France. He gave it to his mother who always proudly displayed it over her mantle. I loved and admired it there and once asked who would be its owner when she was no longer with us. She assured me it would probably go back to Roland who, she thought, would sell it to me if I asked.

Years later when she passed away, I waited a discreet time and then inquired as to the possibility of buying the cathedral painting. He immediately assured me it was ours. Delighted at the idea of someone having it who really appreciated it, he even refused our offers of payment..

Rather than risk shipping it, he delivered the painting in person the following summer when he was driving from Chicago to his annual trout-fishing rendezvous with several fellow painters in Wyoming. Thus my bearded artist cousin arrived in his van one summer evening in the early 70's, long before vans were common, or beards generally accepted, in rural Iowa.

Our son and his wife joined us for a delightful visit that evening. When the kids told him of the recently completed renovation of their Victorian house, Roland was eager to see it.

Next morning, after an early breakfast, he was ready to get on his way but not before seeing the house. A vigorous morning walk was routine for me back then, so I offered to ride along to show him the way and then walk back home. As we drove from where he'd parked behind our house, he turned to me, laughing, and asked if we had any nosy neighbors. To my negative answer, he replied, "What a shame. Just think how fast the juicy word could spread of Margaret Dorr, early this morning, sneaking down the alley with a bearded stranger in a van with out-of-state license plates."

That's one of those bits of family lore that still gets re-cycled occasionally for a good laugh.

During that same visit, Roland told of the difficulties his group had with one of their companions. Inept at casting for trout, the guy seemed to keep snagging his line on tree branches overhead or roots underwater, regularly overturning the boat or causing some other disaster. My son offered a quick solution, "Just don't invite him the next time." Roland's answer, "It's not that simple. He owns the boat."

I hope you have enjoyed these examples of my somewhat famous relative's sense of humor along with mention of his artistic skills. The humor may run in our family, but regretfully, I've missed all of the "artsy" DNA. Those genes had to have come from his architect father's side.