Rescued Art

Powerline 1917The house was small. The rooms inside seemed even smaller. Maybe it was the aged cedar tongue and groove on the walls, but it wasn’t just the feel; the house was indeed small.

The lady at the table in the living room (no bigger than the bed in a modern Holiday Inn) who was taking money was the painter’s wife, for sure, and the mother of the boy for whom “Powerline-1917” was painted. She fit nicely in the room. She didn’t extend much and knew each item that the pickers and antiquers and art rescuers inquired about. She took the death of her husband easily. . . no practically. If someone offered her $7 for a toaster marked $10, she took it without bristling. Her life with the painter had been good enough.

When I walk into a house small like this, my immediate sense is that there won’t be much to save. But I have also learned not to listen to myself as I walk through the door because you can never know from the room size or fanciness of a house just who lived there and what beauty they created.

The main floor was absolutely barren of art of any kind; I shouldn’t say that because there were a few not attractive, musty prints of Mother Mary. Catholic families don’t see pictures of Mary as art. She is more a taken-for-granted presence until someone is ill or nearing the end.

I began to get a whiff of something beautiful in the house after my second time through and just before I gave up and went on to another possible rescue at another house. There was an English professor leaning over boxes to get at a time darkened bookshelf. She was smiling at the publisher’s page of a many-times-read leatherbound. Just above the book was a hand-printed sign: “First Editions.”

I started to pay attention to hand-printed signs. There was another one on the door casing in the kitchen: “Art in the Basement.” This is very unusual. Art is normally hung in the living room where the family is proud of it and want to dress up the place. The basement is normally the area where male pickers gather to find old tools. Art down there to rescue?

Mr. Janiske must have treated his art studio, down in the basement, just like most husbands treat their fix-it workshop. Quiet after supper, down there getting a little peace doing the practical work of creating oil paintings. There was a small easel, a few brushes and hardened paint tubes. It seems he had been at his painting since at least 1960 when he did “Powerline-1917.”

Now, Mr. Janiske was not a trained artist. Well, maybe he had learned a few things in intermediate school art class, but this work was indeed homemade. It was practical, like the repairs most men do on a broken towel rack for the upstairs bathroom. And it was beautiful. Naïve, in the most positive sort of way. It has no guile and is at a distance from any aspiration to a gallery show in lower Manhattan. It was such a pleasure to rescue this original painting from the forgetfulness of the new young couple who bought the small house for nothing. It is my favorite original in Rescued Art’s whole inventory.