Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Traveling Sketchbook, or Serendipity

The Girlfriends gather once a year in South Haven for a weekend of getting-away-from-it-all which includes laughs, adult beverages, and a white elephant gift exchange. We enjoyed this annual event so much this year in January that we decided to make it a semi-annual event and do it again in September. 

We opened white elephant gifts while wearing fake facial hair, which made every gift and every conversation exponentially more hilarious. The gift exchange produced a collapsible, portable camping toilet; an awful "get-in-touch-with-your-feelings" card game from the 1950s, targeted to socially-challenged adolescents; and a sexy black lace dress with plunging neckline, which the recipient modeled. We photographed her and immediately sent the image to the husband in question. 

The most interesting gift of the night was an old sketchbook that Girlfriend Y-Tee had found decades earlier in an alternative school on Chicago's north side. No one claimed them or knew where they had come from, so she called dibs and brought them home. They had been sitting in a storage box in her basement for thirty years--and now one of them became part of Girlfriend Tradition. We wondered about the artist, and whether his career had taken an artistic trajectory.

"Let's try to find him!" we agreed, and I whipped out the trusty Internet. The name on the front cover of the sketchbook was David Enblom, so I googled "David Enblom artist." I got almost 40,000 results--but the first page of links was all our guy. The link led us to a website called MNArtists.org, and Mr. Enblom's homepage on that site listed his own website, which we quickly checked out. 

Mr. Enblom, it turns out, is a talented photographer, although his website was designed for minimum aesthetic appeal and maximum randomness. His landing page includes links to his photographs, his Facebook page, Beatles songs and lyrics, and a playable list of the Billboard #1 Pop Hits from 1941 to 1976. Glen Miller's Song of the Volga Boatmen is playing in the background at this very moment. 

I took photos of several sketches, attached them to an email, wrote "Found these in a sketchbook with your name on it. Are they yours?", and hit send. Thirteen hours later, Mr. Enblom replied enthusiastically, "Yes they are! Would love to see more!" 
 So we sent four more images, and told him that our friend had found his sketchbooks in an alternative high school in Chicago in the '80s. This launched a dialogue with Mr. Enblom, who thought his mom had tossed all of the sketchbooks in the trash. He asked to "borrow" them so he could copy the images, but G.YT was happy to reunite them with their creator. Mr. Enblom--can I call him David? I feel like he's practically one of the girlfriends by now--David lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, and has never lived in Chicago; so how did his sketchbooks end up in a north side high school? David started filling sketchbooks when he was in his early 20s, in 1971. He had switched from studying pre-med to art; you can see the influence of pre-med in his anatomy drawings. "I fell in love with art," David told me, "Dada, surrealism, fluxus." He believes that his girlfriend at the time brought the books to Chicago. She later married a guy who was involved in starting the Prologue school where the books eventually ended up, and where Y-Tee found them many years later.It was a big thrill, David said, when the sketchbooks arrived in the mail. He had assumed that they had all been thrown out and that he'd never see any of them again. Getting the books back "was like finding out you have a brother that you were separated from. I'm getting to know a part of myself--how many memories do you have from 40 years ago?"Many gifts came out of this little adventure. One of them is that David introduced us to The Sketchbook Project, which is a "global, crowd-sourced art project and interactive traveling exhibition of handmade books." There are already more than 28,000 sketchbooks in the exhibit--and you can join the fun. Order your very own sketchbook here for only $25--or check out the digital library of sketchbooks on the website.


jeanie said...

This is such an amazing story. I feel like I should have read it in the Tribune.

jeanie said...

This is an amazing story. One of those things you read in the paper or magazine or on 20/20. And it happened to lil ol you

studioGypsy said...

what an absolute adventure in reuniting artist with books!! and the sketchbook project is awesome!!

Eve Bradshaw said...

Jeanie, Gypsy, Thanks!