Caren Ware's Blog

August 25, 2011

Hidden treasure…in a blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — Caren Ware @ 8:36 pm

Go back to my blog in Nov…”100 years”.  I introduced you to a gentleman that will be turning 90 in a few months, Karlis Smiltens.  Karlis is Latvian and served in World War II,  and LIVED.  I always thought he had to be one of only a few young men that were fortunate to live through that time.   His story and the  water colored, haunting sketches he had done during those dark days of history were humbly kept in his head and stacked neatly away in his home.  I made my kids get to know Karlis and subjected them to his living history, a much more embedding way to understand the real impact of war.

A call last week further confirmed that my hunch that this quiet, under exposed,  artistic man was in fact one of the few that did survive.  A thick Russian accent in broken English explained that he was hired to do a documentary about Latvians that survived the war.  His task was proving to be difficult.  In a worldwide search he found only five living WW II Latvian men.

I had visited Latvia last summer to have Karlis escort us to The National War Museum in Riga where he had just handed over most those paintings he had tucked away all those years.  He was 88 years old at the time.  It just so happen to coincide when I was competing in Worlds in Finland that he was there visiting.  A  less than a two hour plane hop popped my daughter and I in Riga.  I was taken by how beautiful the Latvian women were and how well groomed and dressed.  He explained that the ratio of women to men was so upsetted by the war that women had to put  charm for the few attentions of the few men. Learned charm had been handed down through the generations.  Not sure if that is true, but the truth was…all these years later, these young women shopping along in Riga were takenly beautiful.  Even my teen daughter amused.

Well, this Russian found Karlis on my November 2010 Blog.

He had been assigned a film crew of Latvians whom wished to come to Karlis’s two room studio and film his story. They thanked me and said Karlis, who doesn’t own a computer, cell phone,  nor twitters or posts on face book would had ever  been uncovered had I not blabbed on my blog about him.  They arrived in Southern California  just a few days later, cameras, thick accents, and all.

A successful Latvian doctor, now Chicago based, had funded a full documentary on Latvian World War II Veterans.  He had lived through years that harrowed no other and he wanted his country’s story to be preserved and told.  The film crew spent four full days discovering and recording Karlis’s war torn teen years and the paintings he had done that expressed  bleakness and death.  He would explain with his eyes drawn to the ground that those years had no color…and his paintings of the time were shades of greys and weary greens.  Partly because there was no money for colors and partly because there was just no color deserved of the time.  He would remind me as I tackled hardships here in the USA with business, finances, or family that  hard times were when two men came upon a women, grabbed her, took her shoes off, and walked away leaving her barefoot.  Shoes were hard to come by.

It took Karlis over seven years to get to the states and reunited with his sister after the war.  He used his artistic side to get him employed illustrating for the cartoon Cecil and Beanie and later Walt Disney Studios.  He also did lots of race t-shirts.  If you ran Fontana Days Half Marathon & 5K from 1985 to 2000, those were his t-shirt designs.  He designed our PRIME TIME logo with the simple, but distinct timing clock.

He has only sold one painting in his life, but hey, Van Gough never sold a painting in his entire  life. Since Karlis gave  most his war paintings to the National War Museum in Riga, Latvia  there is sudden interest . Who  is this meticulous man who has chosen to live single and simple, and  had all these paintings stored under the bed and floor boards of his two room studio apartment in the United States?

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