In My Own Words: An Autobiography
by Joseph Kiselewski
Todd County Country Courier, Friday, July 3, 1987
Born in 1901 on my father’s farm near Browerville, Minnesota, I grew up as all farm boys, with one difference. I wanted to become an artist. Both my parents were born in Poland and had settled in the part of the United States where there existed numerous Polish communities, Polish school and churches with Polish priests. Polish was my first language. At home we spoke only Polish. I was the fourth of nine children.
Still a small child, I began drawing on my own and my father encouraged my crude attempts. During my early school years — first in public country school, then in a Polish one — my enthusiasm for drawing grew with the instruction received in art class and my teacher's praise for being the best of his young students. Some years later I declared that I wanted to make art my profession. My father’s earlier encouragement changed quickly into horrified disapproval. The thought alone was inconceivable and unacceptable to him.
“Artists starve,” he said, and would hear no more of it.
My school principal proved more understanding and suggested a correspondence course. The idea appealed to me and I followed his advice, completing the course with top grades. Nevertheless, I felt frustrated, lacking a stimulus I unconsciously sought.
In the spring of 1918, at the age of seventeen, a decision for my future became more imperative. I approached my mother, who was less opposed to my intended career. I asked her if I could go to art school in Minneapolis in the fall if I worked hard on the farm during the ensuing summer. Though she questioned the wisdom of going to a large city and the very existence of art schools in Minneapolis, she agreed. It seemed a long time ’til fall.
When the time came I reminded my mother of her promise. She did not renege. She suggested that I obtain the necessary information on art schools from our priest. He in turn referred me to the architect who built our church and lived in Minneapolis.
My father, though reluctantly, felt he had to stand by my mother’s word, and shortly thereafter I was on my way to the big city, where a cousin met me at the St. Paul train station.
We called the next day on the architect mentioned by my hometown priest. He recommended the Minneapolis School of Arts. We then proceeded to find living quarters for me. This accomplished we went to the art school, which was located in an extremely beautiful and new building. I registered - and was all set.
Victor Cordella, a Polish immigrant who was partner in the Minneapolis architectural firm Boehme and Cordella was the architect for what is now called Christ the King Catholic Church in Browerville. Joe consulted with him upon arriving in Minneapolis.
ART SCHOOL IN MINNEAPOLIS
Before leaving I had received some money from home, including a cash reserve for a return ticket in case things went wrong. But, as it had turned out, I instead wrote for more money to pay tuition and room and board. Since the farm had done well with good crops, particularly lucrative during these war years, my request was granted.
At the school we had to study different arts, including sculpture. At the end of the first year I was convinced that sculpture was my vocation and I decided to specialize in sculpture. I soon won some prizes with my work in this, my new endeavor, enough to receive a scholarship for my second year. This convinced my parents to let me continue. However, the third year needed more persuasion. Only the fact that, after that period I could receive a diploma made my father agree.
“With a diploma you can go places,” he said.
The three years in art school in Minneapolis were wonderful. I was always the best in my class, without competition, disappointments, or worries. My instructor, Charles Wells, used to encourage and praise me. Since I thought he was a great sculptor - though I found out otherwise later - I considered myself an accomplished sculptor too. He had been a good instructor and I had learned a great deal from him.
But now what next? I wanted to go to New York and I told my father so. His answer was, “Why? Is Minneapolis not big enough for you?” I asked him for a hundred dollars and promised never to ask him for money again. Against his better judgement, but realizing my determination, he finally gave in. For the hundred dollars I bought a trunk and a coach ticket to New York City and soon boarded the train to the “promised land”.
ALONE IN NEW YORK
Shortly before arriving in New York, at the 126th Street Station to be exact, a lady sitting next to me asked me if I knew where to stay. Needless to say, I had not the vaguest idea about New York, did not know anyone there, nor had the slightest notion where to stay. The lady suggested the YMCA, a good and helpful advice I followed upon arrival.
Things changed drastically for me in this big city, different from everything I had experienced so far. My instructor, Mr. Wells, who had been working for some time with various sculptors in New York, had given me the names of twelve sculptors, one of which he thought might employ me. I contacted eleven of them, presenting photos of my school work. One after the other they all said the same thing:
“You need more studying, why did you leave Minneapolis where you could have had three square meals a day? I’ll let you know if and when I need you.”
Only one sculptor was left to contact, the last on my list. I thought, “That’s it. What disappointment.”
I was discouraged and disillusioned. I became very homesick. Never having been homesick before, never having met with difficulties or failure, everything seemed hopeless and I was convinced I was a bad sculptor.
“But,” I thought, “I can never go back to Minnesota defeated. One reads about great men persisting, in seemingly hopeless situations, striving to their goal to find success in the end. Could that happen to me? No, never!” I compared my circumstances now with the happy years I have had in Minneapolis, became lonely and longed for someone to talk to.
Finally, I went to the last sculptor on my list. Lee Lawrie. He took me into his office and asked me how much money I had. This first question, this sign of human interest, was music to my ears. He gave me the names of two other sculptors to contact who might employ me.
“If you do not hear from them, you may work for me temporarily for twelve dollars per week.”
After working three weeks I reminded Mr. Lawrie about my not hearing from the sculptors. Again, three weeks later, I said that no one called.
Lee Lawrie was Joe’s first employer and was a mentor to him. Lawrie was an influential and produtive sculptor. The statue of Atlas in New York City’s Rockefeller Center is one of his most prominent works.
THE LAWRIE YEARS
“Well,” Mr. Lawrie said, “if you don’t hear from them you may work here permanently and I’ll give you a raise.”
That was my first real encouragement since I arrived in New York.
It seemed the sun was shining again. Also, at that time some fellow students from Minneapolis came to New York to attend the Art Students League. We all moved together into a larger place, ending my narrow, confining quarters and beginning again a more pleasant life.
The next four years with Mr. Lawrie were great years for me and the most valuable for my sculpture. I soon grasped Mr. Lawrie’s architectural style and design. Twelve men worked for him at a time. After two years Mr. Lawrie gave me pencil sketches from which to make eight or ten foot clay figures, the armatures having been made by one of the other men for me. This created jealousy and friction with the other, particularly the older, men in the studio. However, these enlargements were a gratifying experience. Mr. Lawrie, of course, finished those statues.
Lee Lawrie was a very pleasant man and delightful to work for. He was somewhat eccentric and had no sense for money. He underestimated the cost of his commissions to the point of running out of funds. Often we had to wait more than six weeks for our salaries until he received payment for his work. And then, soon thereafter, he ran out of money again. Occasionally he asked me for money for cigarettes. Also, the other men borrowed from me. I was single and could save more than the others. Lee Lawrie was a most prolific sculptor and designer. He would create figures faster than any sculptor I ever knew, using large tools or a piece of wood, two by two inches thick and about two feet long.
During the four years I was working for Lawrie I attended art school at night. First two years at the National Academy of Design, one year drawing with Olinsky and the second year sculpture under Robert Aitkin. Then I attended the Beaux Arts Institute for two more years, studying sculpture under various instructors. The teachers changed every three months to avoid students becoming followers of one particular artist. It was difficult to get accustomed to this method. Just after getting used to one teacher another would take over and one would have to adjust to his different ways. Later I realized it was a good method. With it one kept one’s own style and individuality. Prizes were given during the year, including the Beaux Arts Paris Prize, which consisted of a thousand dollars for one year's study in Paris. This does not seem much today, but it went a long way in Paris in 1925.
THE BEAUX ARTS PRIZE
The evening the awards were decided we students gathered in front of the Institute, waiting for the decision, waiting to hear who would go to Paris. At ten o’clock the prizes were announced.
“Paris Prize to David Rubins.”
One after the other, without my name appearing with any. I was heartbroken, my disappointment the greatest ever. Two friends carrying a bottle of wine took me to Central Park to ease my pain. It did not work, I only became deadly sick. The next morning I felt worse, still sick in body and miserable in mind.
“No Paris Prize,” I thought. “Not even an award.”
It could not have been worse. But I also realized that I had to pull myself together and took recourse in the philosophy I had developed early in life.
When I was eleven years old I had an accident while coming home from school. The walk was four miles and it was customary for a group of us boys to hitch a ride on a buggy or a lumber wagon to ease the long walk. This particular day an elderly couple in a buggy passed us. Two of the boys ran for it. I stayed with the group but a moment later decided to join the two boys in hooking a ride. As I was trying to crawl into the back part of the buggy my leg was caught between the spokes of the wheel and was badly mutilated. While recuperating in bed during the next fifty-five days I did a great deal of thinking. I realized that I would be a cripple for the rest of my life, even if I could use my leg to some degree.
This was a horrible thought for a growing boy. If I had not decided to join the two boys for the hitch or if I had stayed home that day because of a cold , this would not have happened.
As I began to think after this early experience, though still young, I started a philosophy which, as it grew, helped me through many difficulties in my life.
I realized that man is part of nature, of this earth, bound to it and subject to its laws, mentally and physically. I became aware that light is only the contrast of dark, and happiness the reverse of sadness; that one will follow the other, so not to despair when things are at their worse.
The next day at work I declared I was through with Beaux Arts and would never return there. Mrs. Baker, Lawrie’s secretary who later became his wife, warned me not to be a quitter and that success might come next year. I skipped almost a year until, under Mrs. Baker’s insistence, I registered again. I learned that I still could be eligible for the competition if I did not miss one day for the following two months. I worked steadily and felt I had a better design than before, this time for the St. Bartholomew’s Church. The whispers about my winning began again. In one way I thought I might have a better chance for winning now, but I also remembered the past.
This time I waited at a friend’s home for the results. The waiting was again painful and time seemed endless, to stand still. Finally, at ten-fifteen, the phone rang. It was for me. Tremblingly, I went to the phone.
“You got it,” he said.
It was the happiest moment of my life. And I was grateful to Mrs. Baker. Connected with the award was considerable publicity in New York and Minnesota.
The term Dômiers was coined to refer to the international group of visual, and literary artists who gathered at the Café du Dôme. Among them were Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Kahlil Gibran, Vladimir Lenin, and Sinclair Lewis. Could the two Central Minnesota artists, Lewis and Kiselewski, have met at Café du Dôme? Kiselewski later created three sculptures of Lewis.
During the time Joe was in Paris, a poor artist could rent a restaurant table by the hour for just a few cents. Several of those restaurants, including La Closerie des Lilas shown here in 1909, remain in business today.
In the fall of 1925 I sailed for France to start my Beaux Arts Fellowship in Paris. I knew it would be a completely new environment just as it was when I left the farm for Minneapolis and later from there to New York City.
In Paris I encountered, of course, another world. People, style, languages, manners - all was foreign to me and frustrating without being able to speak the language. Mr. Wells, my former instructor from Minneapolis, met us at the station. He took me to his place, where he rented a room for me next to his.
I received an ample impression of Paris life the first evening in the Cafe de Dome on the Montparnasse. Prostitutes were walking around soliciting. As I went to the men’s room one followed me right to the urinal, tugged my arm and propositioned me. After we had returned I met one of Mr. Wells’ neighbors. Guessing from my name he guessed my nationality and he spoke to me in Polish.
“Let the old man go to bed and join me. We have a lot to talk about.”
In his room he began to make advances toward me and I escaped quickly.
That first evening was quite a revelation to me, concentrated in new experiences and educational in more than one way.
I was supposed to study at the Beaux Arts School in Paris, but finding it of no interest I switched to the Academie Julienne, to work under Bouchard and Landowski. Neither spoke English and a student had to translate the criticism for me. This was most unsatisfactory, since the student translated a long criticism I heard without understanding.
“Mr. Bouchard he say your legs and your arms are too long.”
I had a commission for the Rosary College (now the Dominican University) in River Forest, Illinois, a Madonna and Child, six feet high, in stone. Not being able to derive any benefit from either school I decided to work on that figure which subsequently occupied most of my time during my stay in Paris.
It was an enjoyable period in spite of the forced economy due to the limited sum of the award. Though the exchange rate was favorable, the allowance did not permit any extravagance. I met many Americans who visited France in great numbers during the prosperous era before the stock market crash of 1929. We went together to the theaters, cabarets, and cafes; the Cafe de Dome, La Rotonde, and the Select.
Sometimes it seemed there were only Americans in those cafes. One day, in the Cafe de la Paix on the Place de l’Opera, someone in our group said, “Hey - a foreigner”. The foreigner was a Frenchman.
In early summer of 1926 I traveled with a friend through France and Italy with Rome as our final destination. I visited some friends at the American Academy of Rome. With them I met a guest fellow who had also entered the Prix de Rome competition. It made me feel very low thinking he would have a better chance of winning than I, he being already at the Academy though only temporarily. Also, with my friends, I had met the Director of Fine Arts together with other members of the staff.
A few days later I returned to the Academy and, walking through the empty garden, I saw the Director coming across the yard toward me. He waved and not expecting to be remembered by him I turned around to see if somebody he knew was behind me. There was no one. I was touched by his friendliness as he came closer laughing.
“Did you get my letter?,” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
He continued laughing and finally said, “Then you don’t know that you won the Prix de Rome.”
I nearly fainted and could barely believe it. Only slowly I realized that I would be staying here for the next three years.
The American Academy
Jo Davidson, the famed sculptor of the famous, asked Joe to make an armature for his bust, or portrait, of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. In sculpture an armature is a framework around which the sculpture is built. This framework provides structure and stability, especially when a plastic material such as wax, newspaper or clay is being used as the medium, according to Wikipedia. This is an armature for a classical pose of a figure holding a lyre.
The Prix de Rome is given annually to five students, one from five different faculties; painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and archaeology. The students live and work in the Academy for three years with all expenses paid and a stipend. The Academy itself is an impressive large building with individual living quarters for the students, studios for each category, a large dining room, a library, and a huge garden. The whole equipped quarters are in the main building and so are the architects' and painters' studios. The sculptors have four large studios, separate from the main building as are the musicians' studios. The whole had to be seen to appreciate its grandeur.
Some of the students were on tour most of the time so that we were usually only ten or twelve to enjoy all this glamour.
Exhilarated, and in high spirits, I returned to Paris to complete my Madonna in stone.
The autumn brought me back to Rome to begin my fellowship at the Academy. I found myself with a studio 30 by 30 and 32 feet high, conducive to very large work, but I considered it wiser to keep my dimensions within certain limits because of the cost and shipment. Execution of assigned works was expected, a life sized statue, equally sized relief, a certain number of portraits, and diverse compositions. Also, traveling was required, but beyond these rules there was freedom of choice to create work on one’s own. There was no instruction, the assumption being that everyone had completed his studies.
From time to time the Director invited all fellows to cocktails or dinner to meet Italian or American dignitaries and prominent citizens.
We lived in a grand manner, were looked after and provided for, had sufficient means to pay only a minimum for our food. We were at liberty to have parties and had many. As novice, one met with cliques snd strained situations which diminished as one adapted to the environment and which grew eventually into a comfortable atmosphere and pleasant camaraderie. Somebody would, at times unexpectedly, suggest a party with generally everyone’s support. Girls would be called up and food and liquor purchased. The party was in one of the studios.
An annual exhibition in which all faculties participated was held at the Academy. The King and Queen of Italy attended the opening, were most gracious, spoke with us in English, and proved very knowledgable in art. This was during my stay. Later, Mussolini replaced the royal couple at these functions.
One day, in the spring of 1926, Jo Davidson called me from Paris asking me to prepare an armature and the necessary clay for a portrait he was going to do of Mussolini in return for which he would take me to the sitting as an assistant. After he arrived in Rome I took everything to his hotel , the Excelsior. With him was Otto H. Kahn who had invited Davidson to a cruise on the Mediterranean, expecting to sail six days hence. This meant that Davidson had just five days to complete Mussolini’s portrait.
At the appointed time we arrived at Mussolini’s palace. We waited two hours before Mussolini emerged from his office to greet us. I had been putting wet clay on the armature just then and when Mussolini extended his hand to me I offered my wrist (the sculptors handshake). But he took my hand anyway and got full of clay which he later wiped off on his trousers. Davidson worked in the office with inadequate light coming from side windows while Mussolini continued his activities. It was fascinating to watch him. I was surprised by his charm being aware of his stern public image. When he received foreign diplomats we had to leave. This greatly upset Davidson who was worried about missing the cruise with Otto H. Kahn which he anticipated with great relish.
At one occasion a banker from Chicago called. As he was talking he noticed Davidson whom he knew. Pleased to see him, he interrupted his conversation with Mussolini to greet Davidson, turning his back on the dictator. Mussolini tapped his finger on the desk, asking, “Do you want this photo signed?” Of course the banker wanted his photo signed, in fact two, one for his wife. As he was about to resume his conversation, Mussolini handed him the photos, shook his hand, and said “Goodbye”.
Davidson apologized for his rude countryman. Mussolini shrugged and said in his broken English, “We meet all kinds”.
After a few sittings Mussolini cancelled the one for the following day. Davidson, thinking of his cruise three days from then, covered his face with his hands and lamentingly repeated that once started he could not possibly interrupt his work. So, Mussolini agreed to see him the next day.
Later, I had a drink with Davidson when he said, “See, this trick works every time.” When he returned to his hotel he found a message from Mussolini not to come. Nevertheless, Davidson completed the portrait on schedule.
As time went on I made many friends among the Americans, Italians, and other nationalities. One friend worked for the American consul in Rome. As one of his duties he often had to meet Americans arriving in Rome, among whom there sometimes were attractive young ladies. Occasionally he brought one or the other to our parties. One day he invited two charming girls for a double date and came with them to my studio. I asked my blind date where she was from. She was from the United States. From where in the United States? From Illinois. From where in Illinois? She was from River Forest. I wondered if she knew the Chapel of Rosary College. Of course she knew it. And did she remember the statue of the Madonna and Child in that Chapel? She not only remembered it, but she had been praying to it regularly for over two years. I showed her a photo of myself working on it. She was speechless and stared at me unbelievingly. She kept looking at me as if I were a saint. This coincidence ruined my evening. She was unable to disassociate me from the Madonna and would not even let me kiss her.
I had used my time at the Academy well. Besides the assigned works, I completed a number of other pieces of sculpture. My term in Rome was nearing its close. Though it had been a happy period, there were moments of sadness and spells of depression. In spite of the fancy living and absence of material worries, there was always in life the eternal chain of contrast of joy and pain, with the negative making one able to appreciate the positive.
This statue of the Virgin was sculpted by Joe while he was in Paris. It was one of his first commissions and is at Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois.
James Earle Fraser was a prominent sculptor known for creating the Indian head nickel and unforgettable End of the Trail sculpture of a Native. He was born in Winona Minnesota and, like Joe, studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.
Joe and Adeline in a photo circa 1930s.
Joe was paid handsomely to create these panels for the General Accounting Office in Washington D.C.
Former Governor of Minnesota, Rudy Perpich.
BACK TO NEW YORK
I had to make plans. My intention was to open a studio in New York and hope for commissions.
I arrived back in the United States in 1929 shortly after the great stock market crash. I had to find a place to live and to work. After a long search I found a studio in the Lincoln Arcade Building on Broadway and 66th Street. It was a fire trap but adequate, 18 by 32 feet in size. I arranged one area for living.
Prospects remained dim for a while, my funds were dwindling and I had to borrow from a friend. Paul Jenneweub employed me for a several weeks at a good salary. In the meantime, I had entered a competition for a monument of General Pulaski in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Prospects began to appear and soon I received commissions and began to be busy. Then I won the Pulaski competition. All together I had six commissions in 1930, all with deadlines. I had to employ help and four men worked for me.
Everything was going well, the work progressing when, one day in 1931, my entire studio was destroyed by fire; indeed the whole building, which occupied a full square block. All the sculpture and sculpture in progress, all sketches, photos, pertinent materials, and all my personal belongings went up in flames. One night I was awakened from my sleep by noise and sensing smoke I dressed quickly, grabbed the suitcase containing all my records and data on my commissions, kept packed for such emergencies, and ran down the five flights through the quickly thickening smoke into the street.
The fire had started in a painter's studio on the opposite side of the building from mine and spread rapidly along the entire structure. Together with other occupants we watched the holocaust from across the street. I had expected to return after the fire was extinguished but then I saw the flames reaching my studio, enveloping and shooting high through my windows. I took a room in a hotel nearby and considered my loss.
I realized I had to begin all over. First with the small items, such as daily toiletry, then clothes and most important - all the commissioned work, some already behind schedule. Falling back on my principles I figured I had two hands and was young and could just go to it again.
This is actual newsreel footage of the Lincoln Square Arcade Building, and Joe’s studio, going up in flames.
The next morning my men came to work only to find the building destroyed, still smoldering.We met in the hotel to map out our next proceedings. The most urgent matter was to find another studio. Each man was assigned a different area to explore, and we agreed to meet at day's end. Having found a new place I hired eight men, some of them carpenters, to furnish it so that I would be able to start as soon as possible and go to work again. I had run up debts with the bank and with what I owed my friend. The bank became quite concerned over my loss, but they had my father’s guaranty. The insurance company paid within two weeks, due to my having rescued all my records with the proofs of actual loss. Strangely, I was the only one to hold a policy because of the high premium rates. Because the insurance company paid promptly, and a payment on my commissions was made a little later, I could pay off all my debts in full and from then on my finances remained stable.
Now I had to make new sketches, obtain other photographs, and create new models. An eight foot statue had been completed, was ready for shipping and was supposed to be picked up the day before the fire. For some unknown reason the mover had changed the day and it too had been lost.
James Earl Fraser, who was in charge of four pediments for the Commerce Building in Washington D.C., had offered to let me do one of them. After the fire he wondered if I still want to accept the work, it being perhaps too much for me, considering the pressure I was under. I thought it over and decided that I would be able to handle it too, though at the time I was not quite sure how.
All works were finished in 1935 including some later commissions, among them two marble groups for the Bronx County Court House. I weighed all of 114 pounds.
We ran very much behind schedule with the Pulaski statue. The date for the unveiling was set and could not be changed because too large a crowd was expected, too many people and officials from all parts of the country, and a parade by the Polish community planned. Governor Lafayette was to give the main address. The statue arrived in Milwaukee one day before the ceremony. A crew with derricks were waiting for it and just one hour before the unveiling the statue was placed upon its base. 35,000 people attended its inauguration. After the winner of the Pulaski competition was announced, two Polish newspapers in Milwaukee reported its progress in great detail. One newspaper was against me, running me down and printing unfair publicity. The other was for me and gave me excellent coverage with complimentary articles. My family in Milwaukee subscribed to the opposing paper, so I had to continually forward the favorable articles to my home. After the monument was erected the opposing paper changed its views and became friendly towards me.
I continued to work on commissions, usually large ones, until the preparations for the World’s Fair began.
JOE AND ADELINE MEET
Shortly after I had come back from abroad I visited my family in Minnesota. One day after church my brother and a mutual friend, John Wrobel, decided to drive to St. Joseph, a small town about forty miles away, to get some liquor (moonshine in those days). We went to a bar and had been drinking quite heavily when John suggested driving to Cold Spring, eleven miles further, to meet a very attractive girl, Adeline Peters, whom he very much admired.
My brother and I did not feel greatly inclined to go but since it was his car we did not have much choice. We each bought a gallon of good liquor that they had there and went our merry way. At our destination we did not dare to leave the liquor in the open car and each one, carrying his gallon on his shoulders, we entered the Peters’ house drunk and silly.
That evening they gave Adeline a going away party since she was leaving the next day for New York where she was employed in a laboratory. Hearing she would be in New York, I asked for her address so I could call and meet with her after my return there. Her parents felt rather uncomfortable about our presence in that condition. Even the Minnesota newspaper with an article and photos about me and my work lying on the table did not help to diffuse the bad impression I created. Her parents also were worried about my meeting her in New York because she was engaged to marry a nice well-to-do young man of whom they highly approved.
When I called Adeline in New York we set a date to meet. As I arrived at the address she had given me, I became bewildered. The number I had was not an apartment building and there was a large cross on the door and wall. I rang the bell anyway and a nun opened the door. I asked if Adeline Peters was living there. The nun answered in the affirmative and asked my name. At this point down the long hall came Adeline giggling knowing full well my surprise finding her living at a convent. We went across the street, had a bottle of soda, and just talked.
Thereafter, we had many dates and fell in love. Adeline would not dare tell her parents about us, convinced they would disown her. In June 1932 we married without her family’s knowledge. Somehow they heard about it and were most distressed. In July Adeline went home to Cold Spring to straighten matters out. I followed a few weeks later and her family was relieved to find a different person than the one they had first met with a gallon of liquor on his back.
Things went well for us, our marriage was a happy one until Adeline passed away in 1954. I visit her family whenever I get to Minnesota. They have taken me to their hearts and to this day we are good friends.
WORLD WAR II AND AFTER
During World War II I worked four years for the Navy training officers in three dimensional terrain models. Sculptured terrain maps were used for briefing pilots, helping them find their targets when bombing enemy territory. The mountains were exaggerated in proportion, spot lights placed where the sun would be at a given time, emphasizing the shadows mountains cast. Also appearing on these maps were villages to avoid bombing civilians and enemy anti-aircraft to avoid casualties.
After the war I resumed my sculptures as before. Over the years my income was good. I was always able to maintain a comfortable living, saving enough during the good periods for the times when commissions were scarce. One has ups and downs in this profession. When things are going well, one is apt to think they will stay the same and the reverse is true when there is no work, one might believe that no other commission will ever come.
One time during such an ebb I became very discouraged and even began to look for commercial work. As I came one day, rather despondent, to my studio the telephone rang. It was Mr. Jaskow from the General Services Administration in Washington D.C. He asked me if I was interested in a large commission. In my mood I thought somebody was playing a bad joke on me. But it was not so and he asked me if I could come the next day to Washington. I said yes and we set the time to meet him. After I had hung up I realized that in my excitement I had forgotten to ask him for his full name, which I had not heard before, or address and telephone number. I was greatly disturbed until I turned to Gilmore Clark for help. He had all the information I needed. The next day I met with Mr. Jaskow and the committee in Washington and when I left him I had a commission to do two large, ten by twelve panels, for the Accounting Building, which paid twenty-six thousand dollars. I was so delighted that I returned the same day to New York to tell my wife.
A minor but recurring problem for the sculptor is with portraits. No matter how good a portrait or how exact the likeness some member of the family will detect an unfamiliar feature in it. One different but rather satisfying incident occurred to me. I had finished the portrait of Mr. Gimbel of Saks - Fifth Avenue. His widow came with a group to my studio to view the finished work. Everyone was looking, waiting for what she would say.First she remained silent, then suddenly she burst out in tears, sobbed uncontrollably, and finally when she was able to speak said, “That is my husband. That is really my husband.”
Father Gudzeck’s bust was one of the last sulptures Joe completed. Gudzeck had a profound impact on Joe’s life in that he referred him to Minneapolis architect Victor Cordella who in turned referred Joe to his Minneapolis art school. Gudzeck and Cordella worked together closely on the architecture for St. Joseph’s churh in Browerville.
RETURN TO PARIS
In 1953 my wife and I took a trip to Europe visiting Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and France, staying for some time in Paris. An interesting restaurant was highly recommended to us, so we went there. It was difficult to find and the entrance looked rather drab. We were escorted upstairs into a strange but elegant setting . It was very crowded and the tables were close together. Next to us sat a nice looking rather heavy man with five nondescript plain looking men. The heavy man was jolly, told stories and jokes and paid compliments to Adeline. The others remained quiet, sometimes politely smiling at the heavy man's jokes.
The food lent itself to jokes, since it was rather unusual, to say the least, in appearance. The rolls, the small noodles floating in the soup, the potatoes, the dessert were all in the shape of male or female sex parts. A goat was squeezing between the tables nibbling at the guests salads. At the exit was a large bell with a hammer in the same phallic shape and the ladies were asked before leaving to ring it - without gloves. During the dinner the restaurant owner had come several times with his guest book to the pleasant man next to us but he refused every time to sign it. After he had left the owner asked us if we knew who he was. We had never seen the man before. It was King Farouk of Egypt and the men with him were his body guards. The next day we read in the newspapers of the King’s arrival in Paris.
In 1980 I stopped doing commissions in sculpture and came to Browerville to retire.
In December of 1983 I established a permanent exhibition of photos of some of my commissions including small sculpture which I brought from New York City. The exhibit is through the generosity of Jim Sandelin in the Lee State Bank (Now American Heritage) in Browerville, Minnesota.
Governor Rudy Perpich of Minnesota proclaimed the Joe Kiselewski Day for the State on March 26, 1987. The Governor and his staff came here to Browerville to perform the ceremony.
During my retirement here I created Fr. Guzdeck, Jim Sandelin, Joe Noble, Sinclair Lewis, and a number of small sculptures.