I love it when good things fall out of the blue, right into your lap. It had been a long time since the cosmos had flipped me a lucky card, and I remember thinking about a month ago that perhaps things were quiet because I had been out of the circle for so long (my last show being Bowmanville in 2014) that collectors had basically forgotten about me. It seemed a reasonable assumption, even after 30 years in the business, because it can be a case of what have you done for me lately. But then two things happened. First, I had a call from a Montreal folk art collector I have known for years, but had not heard from for at least ten. He explained that his wife had died recently and it had come time to downsize and disperse the collection. He has some great things so I am looking forward to starting this process. Then the following day I got a call from a lovely woman from Thunder Bay named Alyss Rentz. She was married to Gary Rentz who was Ewald Rentz’ nephew. I am a huge Rentz fan, and it had been a long time since anyone from the family had contacted me. Alyss explained that her husband had died and she too was downsizing; and she has five pieces by Ewald that she would like to sell. As it happened she was coming to Hamilton the following week to visit relatives and she could bring the pieces with her. She described the pieces and after seeing hundreds of Rentz’s over the years I knew from her description that I was interested. She told me she would call when she arrived in Hamilton. Great! I was immediately looking forward to it.
Good to her word, Alyss called me a few days later and we set up a time the following day for me to come and see her, and the work. We had discussed the price and arrived at a figure that worked for both of us. Sight unseen, but of course I had the option of opting out if they were not up to expectation. She had described them fairly well, and they were even better that I had expected. There are three paintings, and two carvings. I’m a sucker for the paintings. I call them paintings because they are essentially two dimensional, except even here Rentz cuts out and paints all the components and sticks them on the background so they do have some dimension. There is a hunting camp along a stream with wildlife, a humorous scene of a hunter up a tree with his rifle on the ground. A bear to his right, and a bull moose to his left. Two bear cubs higher up the tree. And finally a serene composition to two bull moose on the tundra. For its serenity, balance, and subject matter this one has somehow become my favourite.
One of the carvings is an old man leaning on a cane. The final and most charming piece is a wedding scene complete with the groom hanging a ring below his hand. The bride has a plastic orange onion net covering her head as a bridal veil, and there is a tiny flower girl offering them an enormous bridal bouquet. Wonder and innocence. Rentz had it in spades. Of interest, is that this was a wedding gift from Ewald to Alyss and her husband Gary on the occasion of their wedding in 1992. Gary’s father was Rudolf, one of Ewalds five brothers. The others were Julius, Gustave, August, and Herman. We had a nice chat and Alyss brought me along several photos and clippings that they had collected. She said that they would visit Ewald quite often as they passed by Beardmore on the way to see their daughter. She remembers him as a warm, and uplifting individual. I always hear this about Rentz so it must be true.
One clipping is from the Thunder Bay Times-News from December 1978 and has some interesting insights so I reproduce it here.
Gnarled Branches, Knots, made into Objects of Art, by Gerry Poling
Some people just can’t see the figures for the trees (to paraphrase an old saying) but not so in the case of Ewald Rentz of this community. The 70 year old barber/ prospector who was born in Wales, near Minot, North Dakota, left the United States at age two to move to the community of Emmerson, near Winnipeg. His interest in odd shaped tree limbs and branches came with his move to the Beardmore area, where he engaged in operating a bush camp for Domtar, and practicing his hobby of prospecting.
Rentz also had some training in barbering and over the years came to turn it into a profitable sideline, whenever he was not out in the bush looking for precious minerals.
During his prospecting days, he began finding odd shaped limbs and knots of trees, and being somewhat of an artist; he saw things in them which people would normally overlook.
Thus he began collecting the odd piece of wood, and after adding a few touches with the paint brush, converted them into unique carvings. “I don’t think you could really call them carvings, because I don’t carve them as an ordinary sculptor would” he said.
“Take this for example,” he said holding a spiney piece of spruce wood, which until he turned it up for a better look at the bottom section, appeared to be just the limb of a tree. “I just painted a couple of eyes on the bottom piece and laid it on its side and there was a porcupine.”
Over the years Ewald has collected more than 100m pieces which have been turned into a variety of figurines, ranging from rabbits through to Santa Claus, and moose.
One of his pride and joys is a limb which when turned one way, represents the figure of a young man with a cane, and when reversed becomes an elderly man with the same cane.
For forty years Ewald has practiced his barbering trade and now semi-retired, he continues to operate a small shop adjacent to his home on the main street of Beardmore where he cuts hair and pieces together his object-de-art.
Married, Ewald and his wife Emma have a daughter, Ann Fraser, who resides in Ottawa, and a son Ernie in London, Ontario.
Ewald loves his life in Beardmore for, while it is a rather quiet life, he enjoys the people he meets and works with each day, and also enjoys getting out into the bush to look for minerals.
So far his stakes have not paid off, but one claim is in the throes of being investigated as a possible gold source. However, even if his claim fails to bring forth any great find, it has provided him with the type of lifelong activities which have kept him young of spirit and in good physical shape.