REMEMBERING MY FRIEND, DANILO KONVALINKA

FOR A HISTORY OF THE MUSICAL WONDER HOUSE in Wiscasset, Maine, click below on a LINCOLN COUNTY NEWS article from 2014:

WISCASSET, MAINE — In a stately old home you will find on the shelves and in the drawers, on display and out of sight in Wiscasset’s Musical Wonder House, cylinder records, thousands of them, mixed up and out of sorts. Some are valuable, some are not, but all are windows to a bygone era of recorded sound.

As the Musical Wonder House finished its season, the museum’s staff and supporters looked forward to a busy winter of sprucing up items in a vast collection of music boxes and gadgets. The place is known for miles around for its elaborate wind-up musical cufflinks, shoe brushes, footstools, teapots, cigarette dispensers, snow globes, paintings, and more.

The age-old craft of restoring antique tune carriers may have some computer-based company in this off-season’s workload, though: creating a database that catalogs the venue’s enormous and scattered collection of cylinder records.

Longtime Musical Wonder House visitor and volunteer Glen Gurwitz is an expert on the cylinders, which predated disc-shaped records and were developed in the late 1800s for use in Thomas Edison’s Phonograph machine — or another subsequent imitation.

Gurwitz spent an entire week sizing up the seemingly endless task of sorting through the museum’s cylinders in anticipation of an effort to organize the collection with an online database.

Cylinders were matched with appropriate canisters, which were compared with the correct lids. The old records came from various sources, as people who’d discovered them in attics or garages over the years would offer to donate or sell cartons full of the musical antiquities to the Wiscasset collectors.

“You can’t get this stuff from a book,” Gurwitz said. “You have to be doing it for years. Is it made out of brown wax or black wax, or celluloid? Is it foreign or domestic? Is it vocal or instrumental? Does it play for two minutes or four minutes? Is it something extraordinary or something very average?

“There are thousands of them around here — they’re all over the place,” he continued. “You can open up any drawer in the house and find them. Which ones are worth $5, and which ones are worth $500? There may be some here worth $1,000, but this isn’t a money hunt. This is a way of seeing what they have and taking inventory.”

Gurwitz, who lived in Vermont, is a retired customs inspector on the U.S.-Canadian border south of Montreal, has been visiting the Musical Wonder House since 1969.

The longtime historian of recorded music talked about the old cylinders and their players so contemporary listeners might relate to them.

“People have always valued entertainment,” he said. “At one time, almost every household had a piano or an organ or violin. By the 1920s, most families had some kind of a phonograph, the same way we all have computers and cell phones now.”

The phonograph and similar machines fell out of favor at the end of the Roaring ’20s, as the onset of the Great Depression left many Americans unable to afford new cylinder records to play. In addition, free music and news soon began to be broadcast over the airwaves, and old gadgets like those that populate the rooms of the Musical Wonder House became obsolete.

DANILO KONVALINKA – ALBUM

I remember the day I stepped into the Musical Wonder House to apply for a bookkeeping position for Mr. Danilo Konvalinka. Greeted by a formal but friendly Glen Gurwitz, I was overwhelmed by the cases of shiny, intriguing, vintage music boxes of every size and shape, some so ornate they were pieces of art. Next my eyes skimmed the Grand piano, wind up phonographs, shelves of music sheets, and antique tapestries covering nearly every wall in every room. Ushered upstairs to a room with boxes of random paperwork and receipts to be sorted, calculated and presented to Mr. Konvalinka in a form appropriate for tax processing. After that first day I questioned my motive for accepting such a position but decided to give my effort a second day.

The second day I arrived at the hour expected, near lunchtime. Glen met me at the door and invited me to meet and talk with Mr. Konvalinka, who immediately asked me to call him Danilo. He was cooking and invited me to sit down at his black and white enamel top kitchen table and talk with him as he stirred the dish on the beautiful but enormous eight burner commercial gas stove in his huge old kitchen. His dish, he explained, was a Bavarian specialty (the name now escapes me), made with sauteed and shredded cabbage, grated carrots, fennel seeds, celery seeds, a bit of olive oil, a tiny measure of apple cider vinegar, pepper, and salt. We shared the savory dish as we talked to get to know each other. His history was fascinating, and he certainly had a fascination of everything musical.

At the conclusion of our lunch, Danilo asked whether I would like a “tour” of his establishment. I was nearly beside myself at this invitation and merely managed to nod enthusiastically YES. As we walked from impressive dark room to dark room, (blinds prevented fading his valuable tapestries) the back of his fingertips swiped lightly across each tapestry as he explained its complicated significance and that he personally collected most of them in foreign countries. Some of them were one-off originals. His face glowed with pride, drinking in my excited reactions to each tapestry, obviously significant to him.

Next, we advanced to the shelves and shelves of numerous unique music boxes. Opening the glass doors of one, he gently brought a couple individually off their glass shelves and wound each fragile mechanism to play the tunes just for me. The ornamentation of some of these handcrafted boxes was exquisite, and what an extensive collection! Some of the musical tunes were humorous, some were catchy, and many were classical music tunes. We must have spent hours in that room, him demonstrating how each music box worked, winding and playing the tunes for my fascinated face.

When my bookkeeping project was completed, Glen and I shared another scrumptious lunch and lively conversation with and prepared by Danilo. It was a bittersweet couple of weeks for me as I did not want it to end.

Danilo Konvalinka peacefully passed on in 2015. He was a great and impressive man who loved music. I am richer for having met and come to know him just a little bit. He taught me through the tours of his MUSICAL WONDER HOUSE much more than how to cook that cabbage dish!

KATAHDIN KATY v.1 – v.2

Considering the purple mountains’ majesty helps us to envision the setting of Katahdin Katy’s world. Katy herself is majestic, tall, and slender with basic but chiseled features. She takes long, reflective walks barefoot from May through October, sometimes jogging or spending time on the mountaintop performing intricate Yoga poses. She wakes before dawn each day to do stretches, hanging from her yoga sling hung from a beam in the log cabin studio ceiling before her trek to the summit of Mt. Katahdin. Sitting patiently, she waits to catch the first rays of sun licking ever so slowly over the land, casting a crimson hue over the mountaintop, warming her tanned face.

Some days her hike was strenuous and invigorating, leaving her with so much energy she accomplished more in that day than in other entire weeks. On other days her thighs felt as though they each weighed a ton and were challenging to lift left, lift right, walk forward, and nothing productive or inspiring was accomplished. It seemed to depend on whatever she allowed her mind to harbour. She rented too much space in her mind and allowed worry to affect her negative or positive choices, impacting entire days.

There existed no “best friends” with whom she consulted. Oh, she had friends but was cautious about savoring the few people whose company she rarely did enjoy; visiting them at her leisure and infrequently when driving around local towns was more appealing than hiking alone.

Along the return trip to her cabin, she stops, stretches to breathe in the clear mountain air, bending to pick a fresh bouquet of mountain laurel, knowing the bright red berries will remind her of the mornings’ blazing sun. Even through the drizzle on any misty day, Katy is inspired to integrate each color, shape, and texture her eyes have absorbed, translating them into her pottery.

She sat gazing wistfully out her wide studio window across the abandoned paper wasp nest, peering through the pinecones, between the pieces of pink granite, and onto the sparkling line of blue stones on her wide windowsill. Katy pondered a moment to consider how she could incorporate the scent of the cleansing raindrops beating down on the rocky cliffs or how the fresh dewdrops evaporating from the blossoming flowers could be included somehow in her clay.

Her breathing was the only sound inside her studio. Perhaps the bird songs outside the studio entertained, soothed, and inspired her? She began the process by energetically slapping a couple heavy handfuls of cold, raw, grey clay onto her pottery table. Mindfully kneading it, warming it, she guided it into a beautiful example of the design she saw in her mind on her manual pottery wheel. Fascinating swirls, lines, and patterns were carved into the formed pottery, slip colors applied, and when firing was complete, Katy held the cooled object of beauty up high, bringing it into the light.

Katy hopes her pots and vases somehow reflect the love of her life in this extraordinary place, revealing a glimpse of her rare moments of wonder on the mountain. Katy hopes to share with others not familiar with the beauty where the mountains meet the sea.

ABIGADASSET

The mask depicts a Mighty Warrior-Superchief of the Sagamore’s; Mid-Central Maine’s First Nation’s people who governed the Algonquin-Abenaki family’s lands in the 17th century.

Midcoast Maine is the burial place of Abigadasset. The Abigadasset River in this area runs through Richmond, and Abigadasset Road stands near the historic Jellerson School in Bowdoin.

Many land ownership or usage challenges faced him in the early settlements of white men arriving up & down the Kennebec River.

SWANGO or SOWANGEN, Island of Eagles (now known as the Swan Island where Marine Biologist Steve Powell lived in the 1940’s and recorded voluminous statistics on geese, ducks, deer and other wildlife) was one of the most threatened territories the Bashaba most often visited. The head of the friendliest native band in the area from Bath to Hallowell: Chief Kenebiki of the Kennebec River. Considering Fort Richmond and the Chaudiere Corridor’s proximity, the area was coveted because of the access to all Maine points and for the trade vital to survival done all along the river.

In 1604 the French explorer Samuel de Champlain met with the Bashaba and called him “chief of this river” (referring to the Penobscot, Maine’s longest).

Jesuit missionary Father Pierre Biard met the Bashaba near Castine, Maine, in November 1611 to gather approximately 300 Sagamore peoples. Father Biard reported the Bashaba to be the most prominent Sagamore, “a man of great discretion and prudence.”

Abigadassett believed his task was to unite and protect the people of this territory from marauding tribes, mainly the Tarrentines, the Eastern-Etchemins & Micmacs. This group was most threatening to his people’s peaceful co-existence as they formed an alliance of traders and raiders who were hostile toward the Western-Etchemin & Abenaki-Pennacook peoples.

Eventually, despite all peaceful efforts to preserve his vision, he was killed by the Tarrantines within a year or two of Captain John Smith’s exploration of the Maine coast.

FOGGY WEBS AND TURKEY PARADES

When the slate black of night
turns to pale lilac, as the dawn
rolls over the forest floor,
the sky turns once again
into silvery whiteness,
like the glow that emerges
from an eclipse of the moon.

The leafless trees,
thick and tall, stand close together,
rooted in years of layers
of richly composted leaves.
Fog begins to waft through,
revealing the direction of an
elusive breeze.

Turkey hens and Tom’s begin
a high-stepping parade, single file in
their always humorous jerky-walk.
Undeterred by dangling foggy webs,
glistening with morning dew,
pointy turkey beaks lead them
along the trail and up the hill
from the Kennebec river.