“Ook-see-kook-see-koo-la-ma-vee!” Dad is yelling at our irreverent laughter, as we bounce along in his old truck, heading north into the pine lands above the prairie of my childhood. On our way to the Hiawatha Festival, the long, even Minnesota plains highway has buckled into sudden hills, the truck jaunting up and down, and my sister and I are throwing our tiny hands up – the family truck has become a roller coaster.
“Ook-see-kook-see-koo-la-ma-vee! The grasshoppers are gone, it’s Saint Urho’s day!” The legend of Saint Urho, as bellowed happily by Dad, involved an embattled plague of locusts pursued by a giant exemplar, armed with a pitchfork and some irresistibly humorous gibberish. Long ago, Urho drove the insect horde out of Finland because they threatened the grape harvest, and the Finns were so rapturously thankful for the salvation of their wine-making crops, they beatified the brute…or so the story is told by Dad. In other, more esoteric versions, Saint Urho was known to drink large quantities of pungent fish stew, which in turn gave him a supernatural vocal quality. Full of piscine broth and thunderous of voice , the great Saint yelled nonsense and rhymes, shattering the ears of the grasshoppers. They were sent swarming away, holding their heads, toward more quiet and hospitable crops. Still, other versions indicate Saint Urho was simply someone’s joke, a figment conjured from imaginations of some area drinking buddies, more out of jealousy for the Irish Saint Patrick than out of pious observance.
Quixotic, retired exterminator Saint Urho stands at the Gateway to the Pines in caryatid relief, gazing down the quiet highway towards those who approach Menahga. The blueberry town at some point adopted Urho as its patron and protector, and the story was passed down by the jealous Finns who may have dreamed him up. I think of him as a benevolent presence between the birch and pine woods surrounding these fading central Minnesota towns. In Menahga the veracity of the Saint’s tale doesn’t matter, only that his legendary protection is important, even though most everybody there is Lutheran.
Man with drapes is called man with drapes because there is not another good name for it. A man stands, picking up some drapes. This was one of the first of my “progressive painting” experiments, in which I worked primarily in charcoal, then liberally applied paint, then alternated back to charcoal, and so forth in a pattern cycle that eventually became “constant revision” and changing of position, color, etc. I searched for a surface full of movement, uncertainty, but also shape and form. Making art this way, it is impossible to know when to stop revising or beginning a new cycle for the piece. At a point, I believe the art tells you when to stop. If the artist feels it is unfinished, then it is up to the viewer to finish it.
Unfortunately for man with drapes, there were very few viewers. This painting featured in a solo show at the now defunct Pi Bar (a MPLS GLBT night club), then hung on my studio’s wall for awhile. When I went to France, the boyfriend of a friend threw it in a dumpster after they had a fight. A loyal girlfriend of mine drove to the suburbs to rescue the piece, which was returned to me upon my return from France, months later. Man with drapes hung happily on my studio apartment wall for a time, and it was the favorite painting of my then long-distance boyfriend. When we broke up, I was maudlin. I piled all things that reminded me of him into a box, including a tiny plastic christmas tree, and this painting. I had ripped it from its stretcher and rolled up the canvas, shoving all into a box. I was going to send everything to him, but instead the box sat in my closet for over a year. Much later, in a purging mood, I decided to throw out the box. I had forgotten man with drapes was there entombed, and didn’t bother to remove the layers of packing tape securing the carton’s edges. Ultimately, man with drapes met his end in a crappy neighborhood dumpster, and is now lying buried under a trash heap, I presume.
Reckless abandonment of art is a shame, I have learned, because instead of anybody finishing it at all, it winds up finished by a dump truck! This is the only surviving image of that painting left. Le sigh… Original size was 4 ft x 5ft, acrylic on hand-built and -stretched canvas.