When A Work of Art Calls Out to You

by Steve Charles

January 29, 2012

“Sometimes a work of art calls to you to pay attention,” President Pat White said Friday at a gathering to thank Joanne and Gary Reamey ’77 for their gift to the College of eight prints from renowned artist Mauricio Lasansky’s “Kaddish Series.”

Gary Reamey knows that call well.

He was moved by "The Kaddish Series" the first time he saw the prints during a visit to the Sherwin Miller Museum of Art adjacent to the Tulsa Jewish Retirement and Health Care Center where his mother spent her last days. A follow-up to Lasansky’s famous “Nazi Drawings,” which expressed outrage at Nazi atrocities, "The Kaddish Series” was a response of peace marking the survival of the Jewish people despite the horrors of the Holocaust. Like the Kaddish mourner’s prayer from which it draws its name, the Series is a statement of faith, hope, and healing in the face of personal loss.

Given in memory and honor of his mother, Norma Lou Sherrow Reamey, Gary Reamey’s donation of the series to the College is its own statement of hope and healing in the face of loss. The story of how the work found its way to the College is a testament to the power of art and the unexpected connections that bind us.

“My mother spent the last three weeks of her life in this health care center, and my brothers, our families, the kids were there,” Reamey told the gathering on Friday. One of the two best facilities of its type in Tulsa, the Jewish Center was the only one with available space. Reamey was surprised to find it connected to a well-known and celebrated art museum.

“I had time to visit the museum often, and the first time I recognized the name of Bilsky, and I read about the Bilsky Brothers.”

The brothers had saved more than 1,000 Jews in Poland by leading them to a forest and hiding and protecting them there. Edward Zwick’s 2009 film Defiance was based on the brothers’ efforts

“I recognized the name because I had bought my house from one of the Bilsky brothers,” Reamey explained. He had not known their history.

But it was "The Kaddish Series" in the museum’s exhibit area that riveted Reamey’s attention.

“I just kept coming back to these,” he said. “Finally I asked my brothers, ‘What if we bought these prints and gave them to the college?’ They said, ‘That’s a great idea.’”

Reamey called the Lasansky studio. The artist is 97 and retired, so he talked with Lasansky’s son.

“He explained that they had four of the series left, but that they only sold these to museums,” Reamey recalled. “Like any good Wabash man I kept the conversation going, and I told him about my mother, and about my desire to give them to Wabash College.

“At end of the conversation he said, ‘You know, I think my father would like these to be at Wabash.’”

But the unexpected came soon after his mother died. Reamey decided to have his mother’s DNA tested. As he spoke at Friday's event, Reamey took a moment to compose himself before telling the rest of this story

“One month after she passed away, I found out that my mother was Jewish,” Reamey said. “So as it turns out, in a way, Lasansky and I are brothers…”

Thanking the Reameys for the gift, Professor and Chair of the Art Department Doug Calisch also paid tribute to “professors like David Greene, Fred Enenbach, and Greg Huebner H’77.”

“Back when Gary was a student here, they taught students about the power and significance of the arts. My guess is that that’s where the groundwork for a gift like this started.”

“We talk about how a Wabash education is 24/7, inside the classroom, outside the classroom, and that the experience of our learning about complicated human experience happens when we might be walking down a hallway, a gallery, looking at a work of art, seeing something we haven’t seen before,” said President White. “Sometimes a work of art calls out to you—obviously, these reached out to Gary and Joanne—as something we need to pay attention to, and that call to attention that all great art beckons us with is met with a response from a liberally educated person. These works will become a part of the lived experience and education of Wabash men.”

“Of course, I will think of my mom whenever I come back to Wabash and see this art,” Reamey said after the ceremony. “But I’m told that students are already stopping to look at them, pausing to think about them.”

Sometimes a work of art calls out to you.


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