Thursday, March 31, 2016

Bits of Divinity

Zestful Blog Post #154

This post is about one of those chance encounters that can count for nothing or everything.

On Tuesday afternoon my new friend Nan took me to the Des Moines (Iowa) Art Center, where we enjoyed a little lunch in the café and a walk through the collection and special exhibits. The center is really pretty impressive, having been designed in various stages by I.M. Pei, Eliel Saarinen, and Richard Meier. The collection is equally impressive for a smaller city. One of the security guards answered a question about the architecture of the place, then struck up a deeper conversation with us.

Milton L. Bunce, Jr. has been working there for years, and he’s come to know the place intimately—at a level beyond knowing the works that live there. He asked us to note the shadows in the atria and other rooms with windows, and invited us to notice how the light changes, throughout the day, throughout the year. The architects knew what they were doing, he felt. We were receptive. Mr. Bunce opened an upper fire escape door and showed us the view of the lawn and sculptures from there. He asked us to imagine what it all looks like in the different seasons, the fiery trees in the fall, the dry white wash of winter. Then he asked if we’d like to see something special. We would.

He unlocked a storage cabinet and took out a couple of tattered sketchbooks, which were filled with his own pencil drawings. He only took up drawing a few years ago, he said, but he’d gotten pretty good.

He showed us his drawings, including one of him in his Navy uniform with his wife when they were first married. He copied it from a photo. During quiet times, Mr. Bunce is allowed to work on his drawings right in the museum. His sole tools are a number-4 pencil and an eraser.

He said he tries to interest the schoolchildren who come to the museum in drawing, too. Not an easy thing. But I bet a few have looked and listened.

When we parted from Mr. Bunce, I remarked to Nan that it was like bumping into Christ. Which is exactly what it is when you meet up with someone who is open, who gives it everything he’s got, and who just naturally expects you to be open, too. Call it Christ or any other name you might give to that pure human beauty that everyone carries inside. Not all of us let it shine through all the time, though. But that’s what it’s all about, I think.

(Had a blast doing dinner with students and faculty, then reading and talking about the writing life that evening at Simpson College. It’s wonderful to meet new people enthusiastic about writing, reading, and teaching. Thanks, Nan.)

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  1. What a wonderful experience you had at that museum! Not everyone is willing to share their view of these exceptional places like he was, so you were very lucky.

  2. Yes, BJ, and moreover not everybody who works at a museum connects with it as deeply as Mr. Bunce.

  3. It is rare to experience the passion of a stranger, and when they introduce you to what makes their heart beat they can turn an ordinary experience into the extraordinary. Everything they explain or point out to you seems to be covered with fairy dust, even the mundane such as how a shadow falls. You are right, it is like meeting Christ.

  4. Very true. Hard to believe one could work at a museum and not love it, but true. He is exceptional

  5. Rose & BJ, you're right on target.


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