There are Hemingway portraits aplenty out there, but not many that Ernie himself sat for. Bev Buzek of Oak Park has one that she would like to sell.
Actually, it’s her late husband’s. Myles Buzek was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall of 1949 and busy working in one of the classrooms when in walked the most famous American writer of the 20th century.
Hemingway was taking a tour of the museum and apparently wanted to see a class in progress. An aficionado of the visual arts (Cezanne, reportedly was a favorite) this field trip wasn’t a complete surprise.
He stopped by Buzek’s easel and, according to Bev, was impressed by her husband’s work, thumbing through some of his canvases and tablets, critiquing each one. As Hemingway fans know he had opinions on everything.
As it turns out, Buzek, a voracious reader, was also a big fan of Hemingway and they struck up a conversation. Then Buzek got bold. Would he be willing to sit while he sketched the famous writer? Hemingway consented.
Buzek did several sketches and wrote down the colors of his clothes. Later he created the watercolor that is now in Bev’s possession, which she decided to sell because, frankly, she needs the money. Times have been tough since her husband died in 2007 at the age of 76. With the Hemingway Birthday Celebration coming up this weekend, it seemed like “an appropriate time,” she said.
The portrait shows painterly skill. Hemingway is looking up, figuratively and literally. This is three years before he won the Nobel Prize, before he suffered and survived two plane crashes in Africa in consecutive days. He doesn’t look beaten down as he did 12 years later when he took his life. He has just turned 50 years old — Hemingway, in many ways, in his prime.
Buzek was a skilled artist. He worked in advertising for many years, doing storyboards for Leo Burnett, drawing the Green Giant and Sylvester the Cat for 9 Lives pet food. In 1986, he decided to start his own graphics studio with three other artists. Unfortunately, he had to close shop in 1991 when his diabetes got worse. Eventually, he went blind.
For 16 years, from the late 1960s until the early ’80s, he was a regular at the Oak Park Art Fair on Marion Street between Lake and Ontario. He billed himself as “Portraits by Myles,” used china markers to give them a distinctive look, and didn’t charge a lot. The lines were always long, Bev recalls, even at the end of the day when it got so dark he had to turn people away. Maybe some Oak Parkers remember sitting for him.
Her husband was a member of Mensa, Bev said, constantly reading books on calculus and other forms of higher math. He worked at home until his eyesight failed. She has several of his watercolors on her walls, including her favorite, a sailboat.
They met on a blind date, ironically, on Sweetest Day, appropriately, and as Bev recalls, the connection was “instant.” When he walked through the door, she said, “the music played. He was the kind of person you could discuss anything with.”
They were married 52 years. In 1965, they moved to Oak Park.
In 1970, he painted a rose from Bev’s backyard garden, which now hangs over the mantel in a 200-year-old frame that was bequeathed to her grandmother as a wedding present in Czechoslovakia.
“The painting fit perfectly,” Bev said.
Myles painted plenty of other subjects, but “he was a great portrait artist.” She was reading about the upcoming Hemingway festivities and thought, “Now is the time.” Her husband’s medical care was expensive and now with state utility assistance cutbacks, she needs the money.
The Hemingway Foundation, she said, wasn’t interested in buying anything at this point. Their focus, understandably, is on raising funds not spending.
The 16 x 20-inch framed portrait does not have a set price. She’s willing to consider reasonable bids. So if there are any patrons of the arts out there who also happen to be Hemingway aficionados, I can vouch for that fact that this portrait is worth a look.
Bev asked if the offers could come through us, so if you’re interested, email email@example.com with your offer and contact information.
Or maybe some organization like the Oak Park Art League would consider doing an exhibit of Myles Buzek’s work.
“I have lots of memories in my head,” said Bev Buzek. “At some point you have to part with things.”