Adventures in Reading
Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:
ADVENTURES IN READING
One day this month, the Miracle Café in Reading posted a Facebook message announcing that strawberry-rhubarb pie was available that day. I reposted their note, and within a few minutes friends Greg Jordan and Lisa Soller suggested I meet them in Reading for lunch.
See, Facebook isn’t so bad; it not only connects people online, but also in real life. And on this day, it brought three additional customers to the Miracle Café.
Greg and Lisa were still carrying a vacation glow in their auras. They had just returned from a trip to the Rocky Mountains. During lunch they told me about their hiking experiences, about staying in the same hotel that was holding a Santa Claus convention, and we discussed the abundance of Subarus and Jeeps in Colorado, each vehicle occupied by at least one person and at least one dog.
It was fun to catch up with friends. And I was glad to have finally returned to the Miracle Café. I hadn’t been there since they rebuilt and reopened following the 2011 tornado. The café is pleasant, and it once again offers a place for locals to gather for food and conversation.
And, in case you were wondering, the strawberry-rhubarb pie that had driven us to Reading, so to speak, was quite tasty.
After lunch, Greg asked if I had ever seen the Veritas Bronze foundry. I hadn’t, so we went to the former Assumption Catholic Church in Reading and Greg introduced me to the sculptor, John Forsythe.
Upon our arrival, John Forsythe and an assistant were in the workshop out back. On this 96-degree day, he was melting and pouring metal. I learned later that the liquid bronze was about 2,000 degrees. To protect themselves from the radiating heat, John and his assistant wore face shields, heavy clothing and gloves.
“Hot, hot, hot, hot,” John said as he came out of the shed, shedding his jacket in the summer sun.
The four of us then went inside the studio, the sanctuary of the old church.
John Forsythe came to Emporia from Syracuse, N.Y., in the early ‘70s to attend the College of Emporia. He graduated with a degree in art from Emporia State University, married, and stayed in Kansas. He was a shipping supervisor at Dolly Madison for years but eventually found his way back to his true vocation.
Creating statues of baseball players from the Negro Leagues has been a big part of his sculpting career. He made 12 statues for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., and seven more statues are at the PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The sculpture of Peter Pan near the wading pool in Emporia’s Peter Pan Park is his work. For downtown Abilene, he created a likeness of Dwight Eisenhower as a youngster. “Determination” is a bull he made for Merrill Lynch in Amarillo, Tex.
In his studio, he’s currently working on a set of life-size bears for a private collector in Vail, Colo.
While talking about the dedication of artists, John said, “You don’t retire. You do it till you die, or until you can’t – until you can’t see, or whatever.”
We frequently view a work of art in its final form. But when you meet the artist in his studio, see his work in progress, and hear his personal story, that all adds another layer of appreciation to a finished piece of art. And so now I am anxious to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City to see John Forsythe’s statues there.
I’d known for years that there was a bronze foundry at this church in Reading. Driving by on the highway, I’ve seen the brick structure, a fortress built well enough to withstand the 2011 tornado. But there are no splashy signs out front and no indication of the creative sanctuary that exists inside this building.
While the rest of us go about our own jobs, our own work, I like knowing that there’s art being made elsewhere, in quiet spaces, like in this unassuming yellow brick church in Reading.
Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh
Work table, Veritas Bronze