Martz Memories, by Stanley Lee                                                                   Tale #23


Welcome     Eboigbe     Ebony


     As part of his lifestyle, Karl Martz kept ready to offer a warm welcome to visitors who came to his studios on the Indiana University, Bloomington campus, and visitors from all walks of life have received that welcome.  Some were politicians, some were recruiters for the armed services, and many were would-be students who were choosing a university.  All received Karl’s welcome.  But one visitor had a purpose that differed from all those he ever met. 


     A young prince from a West African territory arrived and introduced himself.  He explained he was an experienced wood carver, and was not seeking to enroll in classes, but was trying to decide where he would like to spend a year or two as an un-paid artist-in-residence.  Already, he had been invited to choose campuses in California, and he wished to consider some in the Mid-west.  Karl showed the man his ceramics studios, and presented him to Alma Eicherman, the silver-smith professor who had studios adjoining.  A general tour of the campus was also arranged. 


     To our delight Felix Eboigbe accepted a position as Artist-in-Residence, Indiana University, Bloomington, and, as ceramics students, it was a pleasure to know him. 

We enjoyed talking with him about customs, food, and life in his homeland, and his people’s relationships with neighboring tribes in Nigeria.  He also showed us how to select ebony that would be most suitable for carving.  It was easy to be friendly toward the young man. 


     Part of his time was spent in the silversmith studio with Alma and her students and part time with Karl and ceramics students.  A familiar sight would be to see him settled comfortably, with a fourteen-inch block of ebony cradled in one arm, and a carving tool held in the hand of the opposite arm.  As the weeks went by we saw how small pieces of the block were cut away to reveal his sculpture of the head of a beautiful African girl.  Deep grooves were cut to represent hair lines, and give the impression that much care had been given to the coiffure.  The top-knot was immaculately carved, and we knew we were seeing the artistry of an excellent craftsman. 


     Between semesters, I went home to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  There my friend, Carl Jensen had welcomed me to use the basement of a large six-story building he had purchased, although the structure was far too large for his immediate needs.  Carl was a master cabinet maker, and for a hobby he sculptured in aluminum.  His main work was to fashion counters and airport furniture for major airlines.  Since business was good, and the premises were available at a bargain price, he bought them. 


     As part of Carl Jensen’s welcome to me, he told of his idea to bring several artists together and form an artist community center, and one where members could work with us in the building.  He asked if I knew of any artists he should consider inviting, and   I thought of Felix.  The prince now felt quite comfortable with the American way of life, and he seemed ready to spend more years in this country.  Carl invited him, and Felix came with an impressive collection of his carved ebony sculptures. 


     As Carl gave our guest the grand tour of the building, Felix listened politely, and the cabinet maker enlarged on the idea of the artists’ colony.  By this time we reached the third floor which was one huge room of about five thousand square feet, plus two elevators.  The walls were bare, but sooty, and the room had little else in it except for a giant crane that traversed on rails at the ceiling.  Felix stopped short, looked all around the room, and then explained his interest. 


     “I have always wanted to make large wooden sculptures, and I considered using tree-trunks, but saw no convenient way to move the trunks while they were being carved.  With the crane, I could move them easily.  The room is large enough, but the dirty walls give little light to work by. 


     That’s no problem,” said Carl, “we’ll have them cleaned and repainted, but what color should the walls be?” 


     “Light green would give a natural atmosphere.  Yes, light green would be nice.”  The head custodian had been following us, and Carl called instructions back to him. 


     “Gil, clean all these walls and spray them a light green.”  Felix was impressed, but we could see he still needed time to think, and we parted until dinner-time.  For dinner, Carl Jensen had chosen an exotic and colorful establishment and we enjoyed a fine meal.  We both felt all had been done to make our artist-friend feel welcome. 

However, there were some personal concerns we did not know about, and they came into play to influence his decision. 


     We did not know that during his stay as Artist-in-Residence, Felix had fallen in love with an African-American girl who was completing her doctoral studies.  The couple was engaged to be married, and although he would have enjoyed working on tree-trunk sculptures in Carl’s building, the desire to be with his betrothed was the stronger, and it remained so.  They married and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio.  After a stay there, they moved to Miami, Florida, where Felix made large wood carvings.


     The artists’ colony never developed.  Carl Jensen retired to live in Phoenix, and his business continued under the management of his son.  I stopped making pottery, and my kiln was dismantled.  The insulating bricks and supplies were distributed between needy potters. 


     My own existence has been blessed with generous companions, and their examples of unselfish giving.  Carl Jensen gave me thousands of square feet of studio space, and my own keys to the building.  Felix Eboigbe sold the ebony portrait of “Head of a Beautiful Young African Girl” for half-price, although his sculptures were his financial “bank”.  Karl Martz gave the warm welcome that helped the young prince to decide that Bloomington, Indiana would be his place of residence.  Life’s pages have turned, but pleasant memories remain. 


     Thank you, Life.