On July 1, I wrote about the talented Czech painter, Antonin Boubin, who only lived with his wife and two sons in Crookston for a short time back in the early 1970s. Since then, I have learned more about this talented artist by talking to those who knew him or are related to him in some way.
On July 1, I wrote about the talented Czech painter, Antonin Boubin, who only lived with his wife and two sons in Crookston for a short time back in the early 1970s. Since then, I have learned more about this talented artist by talking to those who knew him or are related to him in some way. First, I spoke with Ray Dusek who acted as a language interpreter for the Boubins for at least three years. Ray knew that Antonin Boubin, II was not only a painter but a highly respected leader back in his home country of Czechoslovakia. His father had been a well-recognized Czech politician. I also spoke with Duane Walsh who lives in Wisconsin. Duane’s mother was a next door neighbor to the Boubin family when they moved to Grand Forks after living at St. Joseph Academy in the Woods addition in Crookston.
Finally, I talked to Anton and Vera’s son’s wife, Olda’s widow, Ruth Boubin. Each person shared a different part of this extraordinary person, beyond his gift as a painter. I believe that it was his paintings that helped save him and his family. Those people who purchased and saved the Boubin painting(s) from over 40 years ago are invited to bring them to the Carnegie on Saturday, Aug. 20th for a showing to give tribute to this man. Fortunately, Ruth Boubin, the daughter-in-law of Anton and Vera along with four of the Boubin grandchildren will be present at the Carnegie during this five hour showing of his art. This exhibition of Boubin’s artwork will be from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. during Ox Cart Days.
First, I learned from Ray Dusek that he used to have long conversations with Anton in his first language of Czech. Ray understood him to be a leader of the protests against communism in Czechoslovakia. Somehow Anton knew that the promises made by the communist government in Moscow would never happen. They were too good to be true. The Czech people were promised all these gifts and rights but to Anton it didn’t make sense. In their talks, Ray realized that Anton had once been a very prominent citizen and was a very recognizable leader in Prague. Anton was very bright and talking with Ray he would wonder aloud why the Czech people had not listened to him. Anton was one of the fortunate ones who had eventually gotten out.
However, despite Anton being a people person with a delightful personality and being very impressive, he also had the typical artist’s moodiness. After all, Anton had been through so much trauma being jailed and tortured, plus relocating in a new country without having a job or knowing the English language. According to Ray, Anton had extreme mood swings. Yet, when it came time to show his art at an art exhibition, to the best of his abilities, Anton would take time with his customers to explain his paintings. Ray told me that Anton’s favorite paintings were landscapes and rural scenes from Czechoslovakia.
Next, according to Ruth Boubin, her father-in-law, was known to be very charismatic and engaging. She added that he was a very educated man from a very affluent family. Interestingly, it was Anton’s wife, Vera who had told Ruth that if he had gone along with the communist program, they would have lived like kings. Indeed, the Boubins’ lives would have been easier if Anton had not resisted. From what Ruth had learned from Vera about her father-in-law, Anton was fairly well known in the country and had a good reputation as a dentist. Anton had studied art in Egypt and was also recognized as an artist in Czechoslovakia. Ray knew too, when talking to Anton, that it was unfortunatepeople did not fully understand the value of Boubin’s talent in his works.
Anton had much pride to go with his family background and also his strong convictions. When the Boubin family first came to Crookston, they were given 30 days of food to get them acclimated but after that, they had to find work to support themselves. During the first year, Anton hoed beets while Vera washed dishes to make an income to feed the family. At some point, money was so low that Anton would fast and he would go and do a painting so he could sell it for the much needed money. According to Ruth, he was a perfectionist in his paintings.
I also asked Duane Walsh if he knew the Czech language or how he could communicate with Anton despite the language barrier. Duane told me they would drink brandy together and he would talk with Anton because he was the type of person “you just wanted to visit with him.” Anton listened and understood English more than he spoke it. He had certain English phrases he knew and used frequently. Duane was impressed with his sharp mind.
Duane Walsh and his wife Virginia found that Anton and Vera were both very polite and showed good manners while they hosted them in North Dakota. Duane believed that despite the age difference between Anton and Vera, the two were very much in love. Duane said they were both outgoing and not quiet. Duane deemed Vera’s English was perfect and said she had excellent communication skills. Vera and Duane’s wife, Virginia, talked much together. On one of their visits for the Bismarck art show, which Duane helped sponsor, their younger son Olda, also joined his parents. They all stayed at the Walsh’s home and Duane remembers Olda as being very nice and well mannered.
I believe I need to give a bit of background about Vera Boubin. Actually, it was Anton’s wife who introduced Ruth to Olda, their second son. Ruth told me with a laugh that Vera was afraid her son Olda would never get married. Therefore, Vera did her part to introduce Ruth to Olda and she encouraged the relationship along. From what Ruth gathered about her mother-in-law, apparently Vera was an only child. While back in Czechoslovakia, Vera took care of her mother and her dad owned a bakery. Ruth told me a story that Vera had told her. As a very young girl, Vera was around 10-11 years old and she would see Jews on the train after they had been rounded up during WWII. Vera would bring bread to them from her dad’s bakery because she would try to feed the Jews on the train while it sat at the depot. However, one day she was caught and told in no uncertain terms that if she was found doing that again, she would be shot.
Vera was only 19 years old when she married Anton, maybe to escape her family situation. There was a 28 year age difference between the two. When the Boubin couple left Czechoslovakia for the final time, Duane does remember that Vera had told them they had very few clothes with them and she had lined her fur coat with all her jewelry.
Both Duane Walsh and Ruth Boubin told me that Vera had become quite a good cook of Czech food at a fancy restaurant in Grand Forks. During a visit to Bismarck, Vera got out of Duane’s car and handed him some homemade bread. He had expected that inside the paper package would be the usual light weight bread we are accustomed to. However, when he received it, he said it felt like it weighed 3 pounds, it was the dark bread in a traditional round loaf.
Duane remembered that Vera had asked him several times to look up the art galleries in Vienna, Austria that had about 12 of her husband’s paintings. Apparently, this Austrian gallery was collecting a history of Czech artists. They knew of Boubin’s life and wanted pictures taken of all the art he had done in the U.S. to add to their collection. Duane was not able to find the location of this art gallery. Now he wished he had pursued it. This art gallery in Austria might still value and have those 12 paintings done by Boubin when he had painted them in Vienna.
Anton suffered the consequences of rebelling against his government when he was imprisoned from 1948-1950. According to Ray Dusek, while Anton was a successful dentist, he did not do as much painting. During his years in prison, the guards broke Anton’s wrists and fingers so that he would not be able to practice dentistry once released. Anton never talked to Ray about his time spent in prison except he did say that it was hell and food was scarce.
Ray remembered one instance that Anton told him about when the Russians were taking people OUT of the country. To get rid of Boubin, after he put up such a loud battle at the depot, they put HIM on the train that went to Vienna. The authorities knew he would return because his family was still in Prague. Anton had the ability to get people riled up because he tried to convince people see that these were bad lies and they should not believe in communism. Some people did listen and followed and believed him. Boubin was upset with the Czech government falling prey to the communist dogma for believing that they had such great attributes. He would tell them by using reasoning and logic, “Think about it…” Sadly, Boubin’s words of caution fell on deaf ears.
Ray knew of another instance of danger when Anton was going to meet up with Vera at a certain place in order to cross the border. He was able to escape with the family because he successfully rendezvoused with them. Such was the life of Anton Boubin. His former prominent life of prestige and wealth in Czechoslovakia had been reduced to constant threat of danger and fear of life. Ruth told me what her husband Olda had told her. The Boubin’s neighbors had sold out on them, they went over to communism in order to gain favor with the government. No one knew who to trust.
Ruth also shared that the Boubin family had been taken out to the countryside by the Russian soldiers. This was after Anton had already served time in prison yet he continued his protests and rallies in Prague. The authorities did not want Anton to be considered a martyr in prison so they had not killed him earlier but let him live. When they took the whole family out of the city, they threatened Anton, “stop protesting or we will kill you and your whole family.” Anton challenged them directly with, “Kill us now.” He was extreme in his views on freedom of expression and religion, he was very impassioned.
Ray explained the Anton Boubin he had come to know through long conversations they had, that perhaps because of what Anton had gone through, he was a changed person. The extremes of life style from what he had been before prison life and communism took everything away. Boubin would ask Ray, “Why is this happening, why did the Russians do this to my country?”
Please come to the Carnegie next Saturday, Aug. 20th from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. to witness the art which saved Anton Boubin’s life and altered the lives of his wife and two sons. The four Boubin grandchildren and their daughter-in-law, Ruth Boubin, will be in attendance and eager to learn any stories you might have to share about the great artist and what he accomplished once he had freedom in the U.S.