Until the other day, it had never occurred to me to look at my childhood home on Google Street View. When I did I was struck by how little had changed, even the neighboring houses. It was a little like traveling back in time and walking the same streets as my 9-year-old self.
I was reminded of Little Bohemia, a tavern around the corner from my house. It was a place I would walk past with my dad on the way to the park or gas station. Foot steps sounded heavy on the wooden porch. The screen door screeched open and snapped shut as men came and went. It smelled of cigarettes and beer. It's dark windows were mysterious behind the neon signs. Today it’s a small empty lot.
I searched again, this time for a photo of Little Bo. To my surprise one image, a print once sold on eBay, surfaced. What luck!
The undated artist’s proof is signed “W. Mohr.” With a little investigation I learned it was by Wendell Mohr, an Iowa artist who lived in the southeast part of the state. He had an impressive resumé.
Wendell Mohr studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He was a signature member of the American Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society, and was a Master Watercolorist in the Transparent Watercolor Society of America. He was a charter member of the Iowa Watercolor Society. He died in 2008.
Why was Mohr there? As I asked myself this question I thought again about the make up of my neighborhood and found myself exploring all the familiar places in my mind’s eye. There was an auto garage in the corner and the bait shop (that sold live leaches). Of course, the school, park, and the community center.
Of these, The Fisher Community Center was quite unique to the neighborhood. The building, built in 1958, was donated by industrialist and philanthropist Bill Fisher an avid supporter of the arts. The art gallery includes works by artists Henri Matisse and Edgar Degas. In the summer, it hosted the Lynn Creek Art Festival. It certainly could be a place an artist would have visited, I know I did, even as a small child.
This, of course, is a lot of guesswork and perhaps even wishful thinking on my part. I reached out to someone who knew Mohr, an artist, writer, and collector named Curt Swarm. It turns out Wendell visited Marshalltown with some regularity because he had relatives there.
The answer was simpler than I made it out to be. Oh well. I still get such a kick out of his visit to my neighborhood and the interest he found in this crummy little bar a few houses from mine.
I haven't thought about my first neighborhood in very long time. The discovery of Mohr's drawing, life, and work have given me a chance to reminisce and come away with new thoughts about my time on Young Street. Mohr’s drawing did something only great art can. It gave me the precious space to ponder my lived experience and led me to ask myself a few new questions about my time on earth. What a gift.
If you have something to share (or a way to purchase) the print “Little Bo” by Wendell Mohr please reach out. I'd love to know more.