Mel Birnkrant Presents:
All of the Art on this site is one of a kind, created by CHARLES PONSTINGL, for the sheer joy of it.
He intended it as loving homage to the Great Comic Artists of former days.
The images are based upon the work of many, including some that were created by, and are
“Copyright The Walt Disney Company”. The writing and photography is “Copyright Mel Birnkrant”.
TRIUMPH AND TRANSFIGURATION
CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
Charles, Jean, Seth and John visited here earlier this year. It was, essentially, a social visit, a pleasant get together for friendship’s sake. John and I coaxed Charles to let us take his picture. Always humble, he put up a battle, but, eventually, he reluctantly stood before the wall of early carvings, looking unenthusiastic, but GOOD! At one point, he struck a pose, a parody of what he thought we wanted! It was intended as a joke. That is the photograph I chose.
I remember Charles' first visit, here, thirty some years ago. We stood together in the hall before that very wall. There were only sixteen carvings on it then. I asked him a question. The answer that he gave, blew me away! I had done a little sculpting, myself over the years, the easy way, in clay. All the while I was adding and building up, it was OK. The minute I had to take away that meant I had made a mistake, and a sense of panic overcame me. The equivalent in pencil drawing would be erasing. Thus, the challenge of carving wood seemed utterly impossible to me, because it's all taking away! And if the knife should slip, there would be no putting the wood or your finger, back again. So, I asked Charles how he did it. How did he go about carving an image out of wood? His answer was stunning; and I’ll never forget it.
He said, “I see the image in the block of wood, and just remove what doesn’t belong there.”
This simple statement, uttered so honestly, AMAZED me! Art History has recorded that those very words were spoken centuries ago by none other than Michelangelo, referring to a block of marble. Charles unknowingly was verifying the continuing commonality of genus, as it has been passed down, mysteriously, through the ages.
I’ve often thought about the wisdom of Charles’ words on that occasion, and over time I’ve come to realize that it applies to more than just his carving. It exemplifies the way he lives his life. He sees the things that really matter, and eliminates what doesn’t belong there. His family, his great-grandson Seth, especially, come first and foremost in importance. Even after the accident, he still manages to take Jean out at least one night a week to dance the Polka, which they love. And they attend church religiously every Sunday. But carving remains his greatest pleasure. And when he is not devoting himself to Seth, taking him swimming, reading to him, every night, etc., it occupies most of his time. But all the rest, TV, computers, politics, and the mindless diversions of the day, he simply trims away.
The aftermath of the accident was devastating. The struggle back from weeks in a coma through the long process of rehabilitation has been difficult. There were things he had to learn to do, all over again, and his vision in one eye is permanently impaired. The good news is that Charles, the person, is still there, and so are all his memories. His mind is just as active, and his quick wit and sense of humor is unchanged. We laugh a lot together on the phone. He claims his voice is altered because of scarring from the tracheotomy, but he still sounds the same to me. He does a lot of walking to regain his balance. And much to Jean’s dismay, he has also started driving again. Speaking with Charles on the telephone, or hanging out with him, all day, he appears to be exactly the same.
But, there is a battle raging. Charles is fighting to regain his skills at carving. I’m pleased to say that is a battle he is winning! Although, he would still be a long way from agreeing with me. Visualizing objects in 3-D with only one good eye isn’t easy. And he claims his manual dexterity isn’t what it used to be. In subtle ways, he sees concepts and spatial dynamics differently. But none of these challenges have dissuaded him from carving. He continues with relentless determination.
A few months after Christmas, 2010, eight months after the accident, a belated Christmas present arrived in the mail. It was a smallish shadow box that represents the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman on a sled pulled by the Cowardly Lion of OZ, Charles’ first attempts at carving again. The pain and difficulty that he endured to create it is apparent. It is, quite possibly, the most difficult carving he ever did. I am honored that he offered it to me, and I keep it on the wall beside my bed. I see it the first thing, upon awaking in the morning, and I greet it with unpredictable emotions. Sometimes, it is depressing, at other times elating, but, always inspiring. Not everyone will see what I see in this cherished gift, this triumph of Herculean will power over adversity. And Charles, himself, rather dislikes it, so, I will not embarrass him by posting a photo of it, here. If this had turned out to be his final carving, one might be inclined to say the story ended sadly.
But, that, Thank God, is not the case! Charles' story is continuing! Last Christmas, 2011, a large and heavy package arrived here. It contained an unexpected Christmas present. I opened it with trepidation, somewhat fearing what I would see. There was no need to hesitate, for what I beheld was a Miracle! The Biedermann Calendar!
This carving is Amazing, a veritable Explosion of Creativity, a triumph of near death and Transfiguration. One can still detect the painful process that Charles is enduring in articulating some details. His polished prowess as a carver is not quite back completely, but it is on the way. Yet, none of that stuff matters. It takes a back seat to the daring abandon of the piece. It is as if Charles’ inner soul and creativity have been set free to burst forth with the visual impact of a Fireworks Display. His Universe has become reorganized in a more dynamic, more exciting, way. My reaction upon seeing it was much as it was when I first beheld the Band Concert, a feeling that Charles has taken a quantum leap onto a higher plain, an altered state, and one, in which I wouldn’t change a thing!
CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
And, so, the original Biedermann Calendar was removed from its cherished place of honor, on the prime piece of real estate, the main wall in the entrance hall where it has hung for forty years, and Charles’ newly carved version took its place.
It is now the morning of the day after Christmas, 2012. This is a day that’s known as “Boxing Day” in England. But it is Shadowboxing Day for me, for my thoughts are deep inside the shadowbox that Charles gave me for Christmas. It depicts a bleak Christmas day in “Junkville”. Bo Bug, stands, warming his hands, before the bowl of an old brier pipe that serves him as a makeshift stove. Hot embers glow in its interior, while from the broken pipe stem that has become a chimney, there floats a single wisp of wooden smoke.
We have come full circle, back to those early days, when Charles’ favorite Christmas theme was Mickey’s Good Deed. In those days, the essence of Christmas, to him, was the joy that radiated from a simple bonfire in the cold. That is the glowing essence of the man as well. I am also thinking, back to a week at Brimfield, 35 years ago, when I first met “CP”, through his carvings, reclining beside them in the back of my small station wagon, admiring a shadowbox that, also, depicted Junkville in warmer times, a summer’s day. Bucky Bug and June Bug were there as well, along with Bootle Beetle. But in this Christmas carving, Bo is alone.
Charles and I spent several hours on the phone, yesterday, as we have done every Christmas Day, for the past 32 years. It’s sort of a tradition. Of course, we discussed everything, from our grandchildren to the state of the World today, which we both agree is a sorry one, not like the Golden Age that we and the Comic Characters grew up in. So here we are, two old timers, powerless to do much about it, sitting on the deck of the Titanic. I have no appetite for rearranging deck chairs. Instead, I sit in front of a computer. Charles, on the other hand, is carving.