May16th - Geo. has just THREE to go!
I almost forgot my note-taking responsibilities, since I was listening quite
carefully to what else was going on…But I got my trusty tape recorder going
almost at the start, and it's always reliable. First up was MIKE YOUSEM, who
led the Pledge. Next came a choice between PP BOB WESSLING and the song combo -
and the voices from the crowd could not be ignored, so PP JIM DOWNIE and PP
STEVE DAY took us through The Battle Hymn - it went well.
PP BOB then stepped in with his Invocation. It was exempt, and well done!
Alas, there were no visiting Rotarians, according to would-be-announcer and PP
CHRIS GAYNOR. Pres. GEORGE made the mistake of announcening that he only had
three meeting left - which of course was greeted with thunderous applause. He
also made the very risky decision to allow PP DAVE WHITEHEAD to run the meeting
on the 20th of June (PP RON WANGLIN is the speaker), and this combo could be
explosive! PP DOUG DESCH will be in charge on our final meeting on the 27th.
Incidentally, that will be Spouses Day - so please pass the word to those who
need to know.
I did have one guest - Dr. Harold Goldman, and he is turn brought along Aaron
Peck. PP HOWIE HENKES next introduced our newest member, TONY MARRONE. TONY,
who is in Insurance, was sponsored by PP JIM SUMNER. This bringing in TWO new
members by PP JIM earned him an Eagle Pin - Congratulations, and well-deserved,
JIM. It should also be noted that HOWIE did have a good golf story, and JIM was
the recipient. A health announcement if I may - Pat Anderson is recovering from
knee surgery, and cards sent to the house would be much appreciated.
Since Dr. Goldman and I met while dog walking, I thought it might be appropriate
to tell a dog-walking story. I then spoke about Ernie III - I guess because I
knew him better than anyone else, right? EW III is local - born in Santa
Monica, went to UES, then to Harvard School, and Williams College. Pres. GEORGE
had given us a few minutes extra, and I announced in advance that Ernie would
have time afterward for any questions.
Ernie began by thanking Rotary for the life he has led. He recalled going to
Truman's, when Rotary met there, and then told of my meeting with Tajh Ahmed.
This was at one of our regular meetings - here at the Bel Air Hotel - and we
began talking about the tented camps that Tajh ran in East Africa. Tajh invited
me to visit his operation, and this invitation was transferred to Ernie. So he
went to Kenya, and this really began his fascination with that part of the
He was seeking adventure - and certainly, Africa offered that. Because I was in
the travel business, Ernie was able to go back several times, and this in turn
led to some of the artifacts and other items that he found there. He showed a
neck rest - and noted its zoomorphic shape, which - with a little imagination -
you could tell that it resembled a cow. This piece was also the only item, plus
his spear, that a roving tribesman took along when he was tending his cattle,
and Ernie introduced it to the primitive art world.
When he began running a scuba camp on the Kenyan coast, he got an opportunity to
drive over the country, in a four-wheel drive vehicle. The chiefs that
accompanied him spoke no English, so he began to learn Swahili - which is the
basic language of that part of Africa. As he toured, he found items that
intrigued him - but his British hosts weren't interested. He found the Kigango
- an ancestor worship figure that was abandoned when the Africans moved on to
other, more fertile land. This was the first large-scale sculpture to come out
of East Africa, since before that, West Africa had provided the only sculptures
that were known to exist. Ernie published a book about Vigango (plural) which
was published by Williams College Press in 1984. (Editorial note - National
Geographic Magazine named Vigango the ethnic art find of the 80's.)
Ernie showed a painting by Joseph Bertiers, whom he had represented since 1984.
He discovered Bertiers as he was 'touring' some of the local bars, and
described this particular painting as 'the End of Osama Bin Laden'. Fifteen
years ago Ernie began exploring for art in West Africa, where he found some
wonderful ladders. He also met the man who originated wooden coffins, carved in
whatever shape was ordered by the intended recipient - a fish, or a boat, or a
Mercedes (kind of a classy way to be buried, you would have to agree).
In addition to ladders and coffins, he stumbled on to movie posters, which has
been his focus for the last seven years. PP JIM DOWNIE helped display these
posters - thanks, JIM. They were hand-painted on flour sacks, and were in vogue
from 1986 to 1999. They were used to advertise movies, which were shown in the
bush - the projectionist had his own gasoline-powered generator, and with a
cassette, could entertain the locals. As Ernie pointed out, it was more
entertaining than seeing the same sunset a few thousand times!
PP JOHN SINGLETON asked about the NY Times article in which Ernie was featured
(and YOE held up a copy, of course). He reminded us of the Rotary Auxiliary
party at Ernie's gallery, and asked if he still had Barber signs. When a
flattop hairstyle came in a few years ago, it literally changed the way Africans
fixed their hair, and Ernie has chronicled this styling revolution.
PP HOWIE HENKES asked if there was a
problem in importing any of these articles. Ernie is careful about what he
ships - packs the 40-foot container himself, to be entirely sure of what is
being sent. He couldn't resist pointing out that "during lunch, all that nudity
would be hard on your guys" so we were spared some of his collection! My guest,
Dr. Goldman, arose to tell the story of the dog who not only talked, but found
new opportunities once he had money.
PP JIM COLLINS asked what these posters
cost. The range is from $1500 to $8500. He was asked if he ever felt he was in
danger during his adventures. He answered that he probably was more at risk
from the things he ate and drank than from the people he was visiting.
I enjoyed having him tell his story, and hope you did, too.
YOE, Ernie Wolfe.