By Eve W. Engle

The dogs rule in our house. They are fed first, allowed in our bed, have their own bed in the guest room and sneak up onto the sofas when we aren't looking. Maxie, short for Maximus, is a Golden Retriever/Great Pyrenes mix, Sammy is a Black Lab/Border Collie mix. His full name is Samuel L. Jackson after one of my favorite actors. Both were abused and rescued from their former owners. They get cookies every morning.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100: WAR!

The United States was attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Americans had entered World War 2! In anticipation of the unavoidable the United States had imposed the first peace time draft on September 16, 1940. Frank Engle's name was on the list. While he was traveling with his friends his draft notice was being prepared. It finally caught up with him.

It must have been a very emotional moment to read that letter at the end of such an incredible year of sightseeing and discovery. But Frank went to the nearest duty station to report and explain his situation. What must he have said? "I've just come from the most important experience of my 23 years sir. Sorry about being late." And the response he must have received? "Really? You think a year traveling around with two other guys looking at art was the most important experience you've ever had? YOU JUST WAIT!"

However, if you were late reporting for draft duty (with a legitimate excuse) then your orders had to be reissued. So Frank was told to go back to his hotel and wait for new orders. He promptly went looking for a job and landed one with the Burbank California facility for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Since he had an extensive background in art Frank was put to work in a hanger where they drew aircraft to scale from engineering designs. Lofting (drawing) the plans to scale on the floor of the hanger was standard procedure back in those days. Frank loftted bomber designs to scale and then the pattern department would step in and cut out the parts to begin construction. When his second draft notice arrived Frank's job was essential to the war effort and he was "frozen" in his position. The War Department couldn't touch him. He belonged to Lockheed. By the end of the war he was in charge of their Experimental Pattern Department.

By the time he was drafted a third time toward the end of the war he was pushing 30 and considered too old anyway. In the meantime Frank must have found the work during the war years at Lockheed exciting and stimulating.

The Lockheed Corporation's Burbank facility was believed to be in grave danger of possible attack by the Japanese.  A secret plan called "Operation Camouflage" was set in motion. Huge canvases were stretched across the roofs of all the buildings. Fake rubber cars and buildings were installed. Workers would leave on their breaks and go "home" to pull laundry off of lines and to do other chores which made it look like they were actually in a suburb to any aircraft flying overhead.

In 1943 the development of a new jet fighter began at the Burbank facility. The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was completed and became the first jet fighter to score a kill for the United States. You have to wonder if Frank lofted these plans.

One aspect of living in the Los Angeles/Burbank California area was an almost daily encounter with celebrities. Seeing movie stars and entertainers, directors and producers, writers and artists was common. Frank encountered many while he was there. His opinion of Burt Lancaster was in direct contrast to his opinion of Andy Divine (he thought Lancaster was one of the finest examples of a male physique he had ever encountered, while he found Devine repulsive, smelly, and obese). It was a thrilling time in his life.

He remained in California for a while after the war ended. After leaving Lockheed he opened his own ceramics studio and produced decorative ceramics. Many were bought for movie props. He married. He took commissions. But the war was over, and it was time to go home to Indiana.

Zebras, Frank Engle Studios

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100: The Art Student

The John Herron Art Institute was established in 1902. Eventually renamed the Herron School of Art, by 1967 it was absorbed into Indiana University. But in 1935 Frank Engle was a poor boy with no source of tuition funding. A supporting teacher from Anderson High School understood how talented her student was, and encouraged him to apply to art school. She helped him put together a portfolio to show the faculty at Herron. They were impressed and he was accepted into the sculpture program.

Frank worked hard, really hard. But just because he was able to get into college didn't mean he had the money to survive. He nearly starved to death. Walking the trolley lines in Indianapolis where Herron was located, he would search for lost coins in hopes of finding enough for at least a  cup of coffee. He managed to get through this tough period. Under the tutelage of renowned sculptor David Kresz Rubins, he produced some of his best work while he was a student there. He did so well he won the prestigious Mary Milliken Award his senior year.

The Milliken Award was established in 1928 by William Milliken in honor of his wife. It is still being awarded to outstanding students in any medium. When Frank won the award in 1940 he hoped to use it to tour the best art museums and to study in Europe. But the Nazi's had other plans. Already in Poland, they invaded France in May of 1940 which made it impossible for him to tour Europe. That June, along with other two other award recipients, Loren Fisher and Floyd Hopper, Frank begin a trek of 18,000 miles. The three men toured the art centers along the East Coast, Canada, and Pacific Coast to California, and then down into Mexico instead. The men built a small caravan camper from scraps which they pulled behind Fisher's brand new car and traveled together studying ceramics, sculpture, painting, and other mediums by artists in North America. But all good things must come to an end. And did it ever when Japanese "zeros" attacked the American bases in Hawaii. Frank was no longer a student under the protection of a college. He was a man, and there was a war on.

Below: Frank as a student at Herron School of Art, c. 1939

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100 - Brotherly Love and the Black Sheep of the Family

My dad had three brothers, two older and one younger, Norman, Lee, and Morris. Norman, the eldest, was born on April 13, 1912 in Illinois. He completed the 8th grade and went on to a career in sales, marriage and raising a family (two sons and two daughters) in Alexandria, Indiana. He reached about 5' 9", which made his the second tallest of the boys. He passed away May of 1987 at age 75. Walter Lee Jr. was born June 12, 1914 in Indiana. Like his namesake, he was tall (6') and lanky. He was only 18 when he died of "Lockjaw" (Tetanus) in 1932 after a cut he had became infected. There is no record of his last year of formal schooling, but he didn't finish high school. Morris E. was born April 10, 1918 in Indiana. He made it through his first year of high school (9th grade), married and had two sons and a daughter. The shortest at about 5' 6", Morris passed away in 2010, at age 92. My dad was number three, between Lee and Morris. At his tallest he was about 5'7". Since their mom only reached 4'11" at her tallest it was no wonder Norman, Morris, and my dad never shopped in the "big and tall" stores.

Considering the lack of means and the family educational history, it is amazing to think that my dad not only finished high school but was able to find a way into college and eventually make a career as a university professor, even being honored for his distinguished career. No one else had a talent quite like his. His mom, Nina, was a seamstress. His dad had a varied career from sharecropper to machinist. But Frank was able to put his talent and intellect to good use, and the artist was born.

Before that though, there was a family of four tough boys keeping in trouble as the mood hit them. When one messed up they were all punished by their "Pop" who spared the rod and used the palm of his hand to set them all straight if  any one of them went down the wrong path or smarted off. He would line them up and whack them all in one fell swoop. He was a hard father, but he loved his boys. One Christmas during the depression he spent time whittling a ball and bat for them. That Christmas Day he took all four boys down to the yard of the local two room school in Marion, Indiana, so they could take a swing at their new ball. Pop stood in as pitcher and sent the three smaller boys to man the field letting Lee take the first "crack" at the wooden ball. Knowing the length of Lee's extended arm, Pop instructed the three other boys to be ready for a long ball. Lee got the feel of the bat in his hands and finally indicated he was ready. Pop sent one ball flying toward Lee who promptly whacked it so hard it made the sound of a "banger"on the 4th of July! The ball arced up, up, up and flew over the school house yard and began it's descent just as it reached the outside comfort privy. At the moment it was perfectly centered over the privy the ball dropped through the roof, and disappeared down the hole!

One time the boys were sharing the back of an old nag in a pasture. Morris had to wait his turn, being the "baby" and the smallest (his nickname was "Speck"). Finally he mounted the old horse and readied himself for a trot. What he got was a full out run, straight toward the only standing tree in the entire field. He hung on for dear life as the maniacal horse sped forward. The horse stopped just short of whacking himself senseless, but that didn't stop Morris' momentum. He flew over the top of the suddenly stationary horse and whacked the trunk of the tree with his own head. The truth was, the horse had been docile and good tempered until Morris got on his back. That was when he felt the unexpected and uncomfortable encounter with the palm of one of the brother's hands on his nether region.

Another time the boys attempted to assist their pop with a bull. The bull needed help (I have no idea why) getting properly situated to do his "business". One of the boys was selected to hold the cow steady while the others helped at the other end. Unfortunately there was a miscalculation and the brother at the front end got a face full of, shall we say, "goo". There was no calf conceived that day.

My dad adored Lee. He was amazed at how Lee was at one with nature. For some divine reason Lee could settle among the creatures of the wild and they were not afraid of him. Squirrels, birds, and other animals would approach him. When he died my dad was only 15. They must have known it was imminent. Tetanus is a nasty disease when untreated. Back in 1932 there wasn't much they could do to ease his suffering. Someone came to Anderson High School and pulled my dad from his class that fateful day. He ran the many blocks home but it was too late by the time he arrived. Lee was gone. My dad believed Lee was special. That he wasn't meant to be a mere mortal. He once told me he had no idea what would have happened to Lee if he had lived since he probably would have ended up in a factory, or working the fields. As it was, his death left a hole in the family, and in my dad's heart. And probably was the main catalyst for his finishing high school and continuing his education at a university.

Shortly before my dad passed away my cousins brought their dad, my Uncle Morris, to visit. It was bittersweet for both. It was the last time the two old men would ever see one another. They both knew it. We all knew it. But there they sat, side by side, sharing a few words, but mostly just sitting and sharing the moment, reflecting on their long and separate lives. Four brothers, down to two, who had started their lives at the beginning of a century and were ending them at the beginning of the next. They had seen hardship, death, and war. But they had also witnessed the introduction of radio, talking movies, television, microwaves, passenger airplanes, moon landings, and computers. And they had shared experiences that they didn't need to talk about, and that we will never know about.

Four brothers, down to three, then two, then one. And now they live on in our memories and imaginations.
Top photo left to right: Lee, two unknown cousins, Frank, another unknown cousin, Morris, and Norman. Bottom photo left to right: Lee, Mom, Frank, Pop, Morris, and Norman.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100 - The Carny Next Door

Once upon a time in America carnivals traveled dusty backroads, criss-crossing the rural countryside in order to bring cheap, often crude, and sometimes thrilling amusement to those who were craving a distraction from the drudgery of their lives. They became known as "carnys" and their employees were called the same. Many of these carnivals employed people of "less fortunate" circumstances. Some were talented physically, some were mechanical geniuses or were creative designers, but many were learning or physically disabled, and some were criminals, constantly skirting the law. The worst were predators. Because of their nomadic lives, their physical appearances (either biological or through adornment), their often crude demeanors, and the perception that they were socially unacceptable, many upstanding citizens in the towns through which they traveled mistrusted and were repulsed by them. Parents refused to allow their children to attend the shows and warned that an encounter with a carnival employee would be like crossing the path of a roach or a devouring wild animal. Even the tag "carny" denoted something distasteful by the way it was pronounced, with a hard "k" sound and a sneer.

In the fall of 1925 four boys were warned by their father to stay away from the son of a neighbor. The son was home visiting his mother. The father told the boys the man was a "carny", and not to be trusted. He may even have told his sons the man might steal them away. The father's intention was to strike terror in his son's hearts so they wouldn't be tempted to go down that dark path that lead to a life of wandering debauchery. Instead, he incited an insatiable curiosity. Once out of their father's sight and hearing they plotted a way to visit the neighbor to see this carny up close.

A few hours later they couldn't hide the truth. It was literally etched with ink into their skins. Bravely (and probably defiantly by the two elder brothers) the four boys made their way back home. They knew they would eventually have to face the wrath of their father. After all, they had disobeyed a direct  order. But what was done, was done. The carny was in fact a tattoo artist. After the boys made their presence known he had tattooed each of the boys. The youngest, a tender aged seven, sported a heart.  The third boy, aged nine, was braver. He sported a dagger! The "hilt" of the blade began just below the crook of his inner arm and covered his upper forearm, the "point" protruding beyond a "break" in the design meant to look like it had pierced his prepubescent skin. The other boys, aged 11 and 13, also had tattoos, though where and what they were is now lost to history.

That nine year old boy was my father. When I was a child I was fascinated by his tattoo. As he aged it had stretched, the ink turning a deep green color, dark hair sprouting from the arm making the outline less defined. I used to dream about having one just like it. I know it was a source of embarrassment for him. Few college professors of his era had such branding of a certain social class of that time. And who knows what dreadful punishment he and his brothers must have suffered at the hands of both parents when the truth of that neighborly visit was revealed. But for a few moments those boys must have felt like swashbucklers, or soldiers, or maybe even about the love of their mother as they suffered through the repeating needle stabs delivering the permanent ink into their previously unmarred skin.

I never heard what Norman or Lee chose for their tattoos. Lee, being the most reckless, surely had something even more shocking than that dagger. Morris, the youngest, had the heart. There is something sweet and tender about that to me. Of all the things he could have requested, why a heart? Especially if his brothers had daggers or worse? But maybe he didn't choose it. Maybe the carny himself had a pang of remorse and decided to draw that line with a mere seven year old. We'll never know.