December 10, 2015
Sam Forrest’s Desire To Create Unique, Artful Furniture Endures
By Zachary Reid
Richmond, VA (AP) Sam Forrest stepped around a couple of pieces of furniture so he could reach a window in the front of the old gas station he has turned into his latest studio.
He stopped for a moment to look out at Brookland Park Boulevard. The street is just a few steps away, but the action there, on the other side of the glass and a chain-link fence, is a world away from what happens on Forrest’s side.
Sam Forrest in his workshop
``People walk by all day, but no one ever stops to look in,’’ he said. ``I don’t think anyone really knows what this is.’’
It’s hard to believe until you walk in and see it yourself.
What happens in his studio is a magical blend of craftsmanship and artistry.
Forrest calls himself a furniture maker, but he’s just as much an artist, the creator of one-of-a-kind pieces that look like museum specimens. His most recent collection includes 30 pieces: mostly tables and cabinets, plus a pair of matching floor lamps that combine the grace of Tiffany’s best work with the beauty of reclaimed old Southern pine.
Those pieces will be on display through Dec. 16 in the lobby of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The opening coincides with Richmond’s First Fridays art walk, but the collection is of such size, and stature, that it will remain in place two weeks.
``It’s handcrafted, artful furniture,’’ said John Bryan, the retired president of CultureWorks, a local arts advocacy group, and a self-styled cheerleader for Forrest’s work.
``Sam has a really distinctive style. You can recognize his pieces. I don’t think anyone else in town does what he’s doing.’’
The 79-year-old Forrest has been doing what he’s doing in bits and bursts since the late 1960s, when he walked away from a job as a probation officer in the Fredericksburg area and found his way to Virginia Commonwealth University. At the time, VCU was expanding its crafts program and Forrest was looking to use the rest of the money he had coming from his G.I. Bill.
``I was so lucky,’’ he said. ``There was no protocol at the time.’’
He struck up a friendship with a professor, then started taking classes and making pieces.
``I discovered this talent I never knew I had,’’ he said.
He left school after about a year—``I got from it what I could,’’ he said—and bought a carriage house in Church Hill. He made furniture on the first floor and lived on the second.
Over the course of several years, he made, and sold, about 80 pieces. No two were quite the same and he brushed aside suggestions that he find a way to manufacture his designs.
``This is about a feeling,’’ he said. ``It’s about getting in touch with your genetic being. These pieces are who I am.’’
One of Forrest’s beautiful tables
The approach allowed him to maintain the authenticity of his process, but the process had its limits, and by the mid-1970s, he was done.
``I exhausted the well.’’
He said whatever time it took him to make a piece, he needed that much to recover. ``If I spent 10 days on something, I needed 10 days to walk, hike, do something else.’’
After what would be the last break, he said he knew it was time to move on. He sold his shop, bought a boat and set out ``to do some adventuring’’ in pursuit of something he’d twice failed to accomplish before: circumnavigate the world.
``The first time I tried, I made it to Mississippi,’’ he said. ``The second time, I made it to Mexico City.’’
The third time, he made it to Port Said, Egypt, before turning back.
Success wouldn’t come until his fourth try, years later, but on that third trip, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, he found a clarity that has come to define his life ever since.
``I got caught in a storm, and it was so bad, all I could do was brace myself,’’ said Forrest, who’s a Zen Buddhist. ``For a day and a half, I don’t know if the boat rolled or not. I was huddled in a corner. I welcomed death. That gave me power. Once you realize you have power over fearing death, it allows you to see things more clearly.’’
When he got home, he bought an abandoned rock quarry in Louisa County and set up a shop. His first inclination was to build a Buddhist temple.
``I’m altruistic,’’ he said. ``I thought I could do a service for the community.’’
It turned out to be a service the community didn’t want.
``There was zero interest,’’ he said.
With a shop full of tools and no temple to build, he started making furniture again.
He also started feeling lonely and began looking for a way out of Louisa.
The pair of lamps
``It was beautiful, but I couldn’t fit in,’’ he said. ``I’m a social person. I’m not always the easiest to be around, but I need to be in a city.’’
By the time he got back to Richmond, he’d made another three dozen pieces, which he sold through the store La Difference.
About three years ago, he said, he realized it was time to work again. ``I work by inspiration.’’
He was inspired by the destruction of a warehouse in the Carver neighborhood, behind VCU’s basketball arena. He was told he could have all the lumber he could take if he took it immediately.
From that came the pieces that he turned into the lamps, a rare example of duplication in his career.
``I can’t make two pieces the same,’’ he said. ``But I knew I wanted two lamps, so I made them side by side. I’d cut a piece for one, then a piece for the other. It wasn’t going to work any other way.’’
The lumber also yielded a pie safe, a fish salting chest and a huge, round table.
From other wood—mostly cherry, oak and walnut—he has made other pieces.
``I’m at my peak,’’ he said. ``My eyes and my hands are slower, but my mind is working as fast as ever.’’
His goal now is as firm as ever: ``permanence and elegance.’’
``You look at modern art, and so much of it doesn’t pass the eye test,’’ he said. ``If it doesn’t look good, who cares who made it or why? It’d be like listening to classical music without the sound. Art is visual. It has to look good.’’Art of fine furniture: Carving an elegant form of expression.
Family Traded One Of Two
Paintings To The Nazis For Their Lives -
Where’s The Other One?
By Kelly House
Portland, OR (AP) Edward Engelberg, a Portland resident who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Nazi Germany, has always been fascinated by the painting his family brought with them.
It depicts a woman in a Mona Lisa-like pose, smiling faintly.
But more than the painting itself, Engelberg -- now 86 -- was drawn to its story.
His mother had bartered the painting’s twin, a similar portrait of a smiling woman, in exchange for the Swiss visa that secured his father’s freedom from the Dachau concentration camp.
That painting saved the Engelbergs’ lives, allowing a 9-year-old boy who knew no English to grow up to become a Fulbright Scholar and college professor.
Now, more than 70 years later, the mystery of the missing painting may have been solved by a team of German journalists who spent months searching for clues to its whereabouts.
``That painting saved my entire family,’’ Engelberg says.
The painting’s journey began on Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938 -- the Night of Broken Glass.
The remaining painting, by Otto Theodor W. Stein
Edward Engelberg, living in a Munich apartment with his mother, father and sister, awoke after the Gestapo’s rampage to find his school and the adjoining synagogue on fire. The boy ran home to another horror. His father, Jakob Engelberg, was among some 30,000 Jewish men arrested and sent to concentration camps in the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht.
Jakob went to Dachau. Tens of thousands of Jews died there during the 12 years between the Nazi camp’s opening and the end of World War II.
Like many Jews imprisoned after Kristallnacht, Jakob Engelberg was offered release if he promised to flee the country within days. The Engelberg family lacked the means to fulfill that order.
They had applied years earlier for U.S. visas, and had just learned Paula and the kids were approved for entry. Jakob’s Polish heritage meant he had to keep waiting.
The U.S. government, at the time, tightly restricted immigration. Eastern Europeans, in particular, had difficulty gaining entry.
Jakob was still waiting when the police took him away.
``A lot of people said of the German Jews, why didn’t they leave? It was so awful, so why did they stay?’’ said Stephen Engelberg, Edward’s son and a former editor for The Oregonian. ``There was no place to go. Nobody wanted to let you in.’’
The story contains eerie echoes of current events. In 2015, a refugee crisis has politicians debating their nations’ immigration policies, the conversation often tinged with religious xenophobia. In the U.S., some governors refuse to accept Syrian immigrants, while presidential candidate Donald Trump advocates for federal surveillance of mosques.
``This shakes me up,’’ says Edward Engelberg, ``the terrible anti-immigrant fever in this country by people who were immigrants themselves, or whose ancestors were immigrants.’’
Relatives in Switzerland agreed to host the Engelberg family, but the visa needed the Swiss consul’s approval.
Edward never learned the details. He only remembers watching his mother, Paula, gather up the portrait by German artist Otto Stein before departing for the consulate. She returned with a valid visa, but no artwork.
Two weeks into his imprisonment, Jakob was released.
``We had 48 hours to go,’’ Edward said.
Jakob, Edward, and his sister, Melly, boarded a train to Switzerland. Paula stayed behind to turn the family’s money and valuables over to the Nazis, then met them in Zurich. The remaining painting was among the few belongings that survived the move.
Lives that easily could have ended in Dachau or Buchenwald or Sachsenhausen continued in New Jersey and Brooklyn.
Jakob and Paula died young. Edward, who didn’t begin to learn English until age 10, went on to become a professor of comparative literature at Brandeis University. Melly became an English teacher.
He raised three children to Melly’s four. Their children begat 13 grandchildren.
``Twenty-four lives and counting, that painting saved,’’ Edward Engelberg says.
Through the years, the artwork remained an item of lore in the Engelberg family, its whereabouts unknown.
Stephen, who is editor-in-chief at ProPublica, shared the story in 2010 with Christian Salewski, a German reporter visiting ProPublica on a fellowship. Five years later, Salewski and a team of journalists set out to locate the painting. They called their mission Kunstjagdt, or ``Art Hunt.’’
``There is a point when, as a reporter, you hear a story and you just know this is something you want to investigate,’’ Salewski said. ``We never thought we could get even close to finding it.’’
The Art Hunt reporters crisscrossed Europe on their investigation, using social media to enlist civilians in the search. The world’s leading expert on Otto Stein’s artwork helped them narrow the possibilities down to a handful of paintings.
Salewski flew to Portland with the one he believed Paula Engelberg might have exchanged for her family’s freedom.
``It struck a nerve,’’ Edward Engelberg said. The woman in the image, brown hair pulled back in a loose fashion, closely resembles the one Engelberg remembers from his childhood.
But it’s difficult to be certain.
Engelberg remembers watching his mother roll it up before leaving the family’s apartment. The portrait the Art Hunt reporters found is too stiff to roll.
``I feel very ambivalent about it,’’ Engelberg said.
Still, the painting’s owner insisted Engelberg should have it. Both the family heirloom portrait and the one Paula Engelberg might have traded for the visa are on display at the Jewish Museum Munich.
When the exhibit ends next month, both pieces will be shipped to Portland where Edward Engelberg plans to hang them in his apartment.
World’s Richest Shipwreck Found Off Coast Of Colombia
By Pedro Mendoza
and Joshua Goodman
Cartagena, Colombia (AP) Colombian President Juan Manual Santos hailed Saturday the discovery of a Spanish galleon that went down off the South American nation’s coast more than 300 years ago with what may be the world’s largest sunken treasure.
At a press conference in the colonial port city of Cartagena, Santos said the exact location of the San Jose galleon, and how it was discovered with the help of an international team of experts, was a state secret that he’d personally safeguard. The San Jose originally sank somewhere in the wide area off Colombia’s Baru peninsula, south of Cartagena.
While no humans have yet to reach the wreckage site, the government said autonomous underwater vehicles have gone there and brought back photos of dolphin-stamped bronze cannons in a well-preserved state that leave no doubt to the ship’s identity.
Booty from the San Jose wreck
The discovery is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga that began three centuries ago, on June 8, 1708, when the Spanish ship with 600 people aboard sank to the bottom of the sea as it was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships. It is believed to have been carrying 11 million gold coins and jewels from then Spanish-controlled colonies that could be worth billions of dollars if ever recovered.
The ship, which maritime experts consider the holy grail of Spanish colonial shipwrecks, has remained submerged ever since off the coast of Cartagena even as a legal battle has raged in U.S., Colombia and Spain over who owns the rights to the sunken treasure.
In 1982, Sea Search Armada, a salvage company owned by U.S. investors including the late actor Michael Landon and convicted Nixon White House adviser John Ehrlichman, announced it had found the San Jose’s resting place 700 feet below the water’s surface.
Two years later, Colombia’s government overturned well-established maritime law that gives 50 percent to whoever locates a shipwreck, slashing Sea Search’s take down to a 5 percent ``finder’s fee’’.
Painting: Destruction of the San Jose
A lawsuit by the American investors in a federal court in Washington was dismissed in 2011 and the ruling was affirmed on appeal two years later. Colombia’s Supreme Court has ordered the ship to be recovered before the international dispute over the fortune can be settled.
Santos didn’t mention any salvage company’s claim during his presentation but the government said that the ship had been found Nov. 27 in a never-before referenced location through the use of new meteorological and underwater mapping studies.
Danilo Devis, who has represented Sea Search in Colombia for decades, expressed optimism that the sunken treasure, whose haul could easily be worth more than $10 billion, would finally be recovered.
But he bristled at the suggestion that experts located the underwater grave anywhere different from the area adjacent to the coordinates Sea Search gave authorities three decades ago.
``The government may have been the one to find it but this really just reconfirms what we told them in 1982,’’ he told The Associated Press from his home in Barranquilla, Colombia.
The president said any recovery effort would take years but would be guided by a desire to protect the national patrimony.
During his presentation, Santos showed an underwater video that appears to show jewels and the cannons. In the footage English-speaking crew members aboard a Colombian naval ship can be seen launching the underwater vehicle into the ocean.