It was the first chilly day of October and I rode my bike to a coffee-shop in the Demun Neighborhood. Block apartments line the one way streets. After a nice small pot of pour-over coffee I took to the alleyways as usual for the scenic way home.
A painting of a tree sat next to the dumpster and it captured my eye with it’s supreme beauty. Next to the dumpster was a dozen or so paintings, empty wooden things and a small outdoor stove painted with deep shades of green. I narrowed my glance and began to view each wooden painting, one by one.
A car came by and parked across from the dumpster and a yoga student saw my interest and told me an “art professor with dementia” had painted them. I found a way to bring them all home and began my journey to discover the life of Edward E Menges. This became an article called “the last paintings of Edward Menges.”
After randomly meeting the widow of Edward and getting to know her, I decided his work needed to be seen. I was a member of a local Harmonious Artisan collective called “Ripple of Existence”, so I showed his last paintings on a Sunday afternoon at Kismet. As an Art gallery without a featured artist that month, it was “kismet” that they would agree to show his work.
I wrote the blog-post and created the scrapbook that weekend. After his work was hanging on the wall, it inspired a month long effort to help push public awareness of his unwritten legacy. History groups were contacted and media was alerted. The fruits of that labor are unknown. Who was touched by it, and who was not is still to be determined.
As time went on I went back to the one bedroom apartment to spend time with the Widow Menges, and show her some of the work. Most of the time she didn’t care about his legacy or my project and just enjoyed the company. We sat in the garden and once went to a local meditation together. This is her story.
She changed the whole project by teaching me to let go.
Who was Edward Menges and how did he end up living next to Forest Park? Since I can not speak with much authority on the manner, I will let those who knew him best speak of his nature.
This is the Bio-mythographeology of Edward Menges, an obituary, an article, a newspaper article and art magazine. What can we learn from the public record?
Finally we leave with the published article from All the Art Magazine, as Dumpster Archeology fulfills the need to spark the legacy of Edward E Menges in the Art Community he influenced.
The last paintings of Edward Menges by Lew Blink
A reflection of the divine creation in the steady disciplined hand of an artist, is neither dogmatic or specifically religious, but is rather a shadow of the spiritual experience that transcends the echoes of ideology. The act of creating art can be seen as a sacred endeavor. 96 years is an extraordinary amount of time for Edward Menges to hone his craft. This particular Artist had a lifetime of creative output, that sadly ended last year. Now his paintings can only whisper their secrets in imperceptible ways. Some feel his work resonates a visionary message, as if he had one more unfinished thought left to express in his “light through the forest” landscapes. His last paintings beg a larger question. How did they end up next to a dumpster?
Divine providence is the playground of the muses. Was it serendipitous luck that put me in that DeMun alleyway? Of the souls that could have appreciated his work just days after his passing, mine is less than random as the creator of Dumpster Archeology, a platform for forgotten stories. Next to the brown dumpster was a bleak winter scene stacked on other paintings. The way the light shone through bare branches cascading outward in reflected lines of color, made me pause and inspired interest like a metaphysical magnet. As I shifted through the dozen paintings covered in expensive acrylic patterns, I understood the masterful aspects. Green merging into yellow pale dots, black twig lines overlaid on a field of transparent luminosity. One could be transported to a forest alive at dusk, or the waking spring sun and always with the hallowed emergence of light.
The story unfolded like a flower in bloom as a local told me, “an Art professor with dementia” had painted these landscapes. After finding his signature, my obsession grew with each new element of the story added. Who was Edward? The Archeology aspect of the project is a form of data mining and the random facts started to paint a picture. Mr Menges was a Professor of Fine Art at Florissant Valley Community College for 22 years retiring in 1986. He was born in University city in 1921 and spent his childhood playing in Forest Park. A lifetime accomplished artist with publications, gallery showings and a world renown status, it would take pages to explain his impact but this is not a biography piece, this is the story of his last paintings.
The mystery was solved a month later when I found myself at the same dumpster talking to an elderly woman throwing out her recycling. “Have you heard of Edward Menges?” I asked. Synchronicity exploded like fate as I met his widow, Jane. We shared tears and she showed me the tiny one bedroom, their home for decades. Edward’s paintings are still covering the walls. It was easy to see the old man, still vibrant sitting on that front porch painting landscapes, a block from his beloved Forest Park. She had hoped the paintings would be reused when clearing the spaces in the vacant world her husband once shared. These dumpster paintings are not masterpieces, they are just a glimpse into his fading vision. Jane is asking herself the big questions in the wake of her husband’s passing, like what is death, consciousness and comes next?
Time has a way of erasing cultural impacts. Edward created hundreds of paintings that represent his overall perspective more than my small collection of little landscapes. The decades rolled by as he and his wife spend their days in DeMun, walking to the zoo, reading books and painting. It is these same childhood forests that became the muse of his final years. Edward was a man slipping into dementia and painting that holy light shining through the trees of Forest Park. To honor his legacy is to observe what he left behind and share the personal stories of the impact he left on St Louis and our hearts.
“The last paintings of Edward Menges” is an ongoing Art/History experience, exploring a tiny fraction of his work and this story, Currently showing at the Kismet Creative Center on Cherokee.