Please come tomorrow, August 20th, to the art showing of Boubin’s original paintings to witness Anton’s talent. The Carnegie doors will open from 10:00 to 3:00 p.m. and some of the family members will be there, eager to talk to anyone who might know some stories about Anton and Vera Boubin. If you have a Boubin painting to show, you are welcome to come at 9:30 a.m. to set it up. We want to honor a man who stubbornly resisted evil and believed in freedom of the soul. He expressed that in his beautiful paintings of the country of Czechoslovakia that had seemingly turned against him.

    Last week I wrote what I had learned about Antonin Boubin through phone conversations with Ray Dusek, a family friend of the Boubins and former principal Franklin elementary school which their son, Olda, had attended. I also talked with Sister Pat Murphy who taught at the St. Joseph Academy in the Woods addition and she knew the family.   

    I spoke with Duane Walsh, whose mother lived next door to the Boubins when they lived briefly in Grand Forks.  Finally, I spoke with Ruth Boubin, daughter-in-law through marriage to Olda Boubin, the younger son of Antonin and Vera Boubin. I asked questions and listened to find out as much as I could about the life of the artist who lived with his family in Crookston only a short time before he died in 1974.

    Antonin Boubin had lived a successful life as a dentist and a well-recognized person in Czechoslovakia with a good family name. However, he was always an independent political thinker, and when his country’s politics turned to communism, Antonin was put in prison and punished for his outspoken views. Apparently, this happened when Czechoslovakia was initially occupied by Soviet troops and again after the “Prague Spring” (which was beginning to liberate the country) in 1968.  His hands were broken in prison so he could no longer practice dentistry. I believe it was his talent in art that saved him and his family.  Eventually, they ended up in Crookston 45 years ago.

    What had the Boubins’ Czechoslovakian life been like before they arrived in the U.S. in April of 1970? Ruth Boubin had heard this story from her husband Olda, Anton Boubin’s younger son. When the Russians came to invade Czechoslovakia, the Boubin Forest was where Olda and Tony joined their cousins in a cabin to hide. Their parents hid separately because it was believed that the enemy forces wouldn’t harm the children. The invasion of Soviet tanks was very sudden and Olda was only 5-6 years old at the time. He remembered he saw in the light of the next morning the aftermath of how the Russian army thundered through and cut the trees in half, not all the way but just half. Maybe it was meant to demoralize the Czech people in the densely treed area who were proud of their vast and very old forest.

    Ray Dusek told me that Anton Boubin said he had staged rallies with groups of people to go against hardline communism. There was no freedom of speech or freedom of religion. Vera, his wife, believed that when the Russians came to invade the spring of 1968, that event crushed Anton’s soul.  In the spring of 1968, Anton perhaps felt betrayed. Ruth Boubin went on to explain, “There were no negotiations with the Russians when they invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.”

    Ruth also shared that when Anton went to Vienna and took Tony, Olda’s older brother, with him, he left behind Vera and Olda in Prague. The authorities thought he would return as he had his papers arranged for that and he wouldn’t leave half his family behind.  Even as a young boy, Olda was impassioned and said what he believed. Vera had to tell the 5-6 year old Olda that he had to be quiet especially when they were on the last train leaving Czechoslovakia.  The Russians got on the train at the border to Austria to check their passports. One story I read is that Olda witnessed another boy spit on a Russian soldier and the Russian soldiers took the boy and his father off the train and shot them both dead. Indeed, that would leave a strong impression on any young mind!

    I wondered what Antonin Boubin’s new life was like as a painter once he was living as a “free” man in the U.S. At some point, Ray Dusek’s wife had asked Boubin to do a painting based on a picture of a violin that she liked. Boubin at first did NOT want to copy from a photo because he saw himself as creative and not a copier.  He eventually did the painting because he appreciated the Duseks and their help during their early transition to life in Crookston. You will be able to see that violin picture at the Carnegie on Aug. 20th during the Boubin art exhibition.

    Antonin Boubin was angry about what the Russians had done to him in prison. Anton had gone through so much and according to Ray Dusek, sometimes he would quit painting because often his hands hurt so badly. His wrists and fingers had been broken during the torture he received in prison. Therefore, the paintings that he did accomplish came with great effort, and he was disappointed when people who came to his art shows didn’t buy more of his art.

    According to Duane Walsh, who currently lives in Wisconsin, after having lived briefly in Arizona, the Boubins moved to Grand Forks and lived next door to Duane’s mother. Duane got to know the Boubins and helped Anton by sponsoring art shows in Minot and Bismarck. The usual selling price of his paintings were about $150 or $175.  Smaller pieces may have been priced around $75. Anton and Vera would stay with Duane and his wife Virginia during these art shows. Duane recalled Anton maybe sold about four or five paintings in Minot and maybe as many in Bismarck.  Duane remembered one woman artist who came to one of his North Dakota art shows, immediately recognized Boubin’s skill and bought his paintings.  Others bought because they also knew Boubin’s quality of artistic talent.

    Duane has a Boubin painting of a horse and wagon in the winter time. He remembers he got it in 1972. The person who was framing the canvas offered to buy it. Duane said, “Sorry, not for sale.”  No matter what the offering price was back then and even now, people who own a Boubin paintings are very reluctant to sell their Boubin paintings. Hopefully those Crookston people who do own a Boubin painting or two will come on Saturday, August 20th to the Carnegie to display their Boubin paintings as a tribute to this artist. The doors will open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. If you have a Boubin art to show, you may enter at 9:30 to set up. Anton’s daughter-in-law, Ruth Boubin, will be present with four of his grandchildren to answer questions people might have about the artist and his art.  Of course, these children never met their grandparents and will have the opportunity to visit their gravesite at the Catholic cemetery. So, if you have stories to share, if you knew the older Boubin couple, they would love to visit with you.

    The Boubins had moved for a short time to Phoenix AZ. Anton didn’t paint much there, only some pictures of floral arrangements and cactuses.  Arizona was too hot. Back to Grand Forks, next door to Duane’s mom, their home had an electrical fire.  One painting on the front porch did not burn, but many other paintings in Anton’s studio were destroyed. Fortunately, those paintings stored in a closet were rescued from the fire and water damage.

    According to Ray Dusek, it was difficult to adjust to life in the U.S. after living in his home country for over 65 years. Anton, considered himself the head of the house, and as a Czech man it was important for him to have a job. But most of the time, while Vera and his sons had jobs, he didn’t.  Sometimes, out of frustration, Anton would shut himself in a room at St. Joseph Academy for 2-3 days and not come out.  

    Life had been traumatizing for the Boubins. After what they had endured for over 20 years in Czechoslovakia and finally fleeing their home country, life would be difficult for anyone. According to Ruth, when the Boubin family had arrived to New York, they had been promised that someone would meet them. No one ever showed up and so they didn’t know what to do. Perhaps they went to a Catholic Church in New York where someone put them in touch with Catholic Charities, a national outreach agency of the Catholic Church.  Father Arthur Lemire, a priest who headed up the Crookston Diocesan Catholic Charities at that time, heard about the plight of this Czechoslovakian family and asked the Sisters of St. Joseph in Crookston to provide housing for them.  The Sisters gave them an apartment in a building adjacent to St. Joseph's Academy.

    Ray Dusek got to know Olda who became immersed in the English right away.  Ray said that Olda was a very bright person and became very good and successful.  He said that Vera and Tony also became quite fluent in English. Ray observed that Tony, the older of the two boys, had a mind of his own and was individualistic. Early on, that put a strain on his relationship with his parents. Despite all the tragedy his sons had witnessed in their home country, Anton was old school and expected his kids to respect him and obey him. Tony had a boating accident on Maple Lake with some of his friends. He nearly died from a brain injury when the boat motor hit his head.

    The Boubin family led a tragic life.  According to Ruth, her husband, Olda, was 12 years old when his dad Anton died. Ray told me that Antonin Boubin died in Grand Forks of natural causes. Anton did smoke and when opportunity arose, he indulged in alcohol.  Money for medicine was tight, and he thought that he could take care of himself without it.  After her husband died, Vera struggled financially, and had little language support system, except for Ray Dusek, who spoke their language. Their menial jobs barely got them by.  Duane Walsh said that when Antonin Boubin passed away in 1974, his older son, Tony offered to finish up the canvases his dad had started. Apparently he had inherited the artistic flair his father possessed.  From the little I have gathered about Tony, he worked recently as a mechanic on Mercedes cars in Florida. Sadly, there has not been much communication over the years between Olda’s and Tony’s families. Hopefully that will change.
When I talked to Sister Pat Murphy about any remembrance she had of the Boubins, she recalled one incident involving Tony.  When they first arrived to Crookston, Tony was assigned the job of collecting the garbage every Friday at the Academy.  Sister Pat had just bought a new pair of boots and she wore them in a big winter storm and they became very wet. In order to dry them, she set them on top of a garbage can and went to retrieve them the next day. They were gone. She figured out that maybe Tony had placed them elsewhere.  When she asked him, the look on Tony’s face revealed his instant recognition of the boots and that he had thrown them out with the rest of the garbage.  Sister Pat consoled him saying it was her fault for placing them where she did. She will never forget the look of horror on his face.

    Ruth and Olda were married in 1989. Tony had been to his brother’s wedding and had made a petition at the ceremony that his country would be freed from Russian rule. Indeed, that was the same year the last Russian soldiers left, it had been occupied since 1969, for over 20 years. After Czechoslovakia opened up, Olda and Vera returned to Prague, to visit in 1991. Ray said that the Boubins were saddened and distressed about certain areas of Prague that were ruined or architecture destroyed by neglect. However, from all reports from my friends who have visited Prague, it still is a very beautiful city.

    Ruth shared that when Vera and Olda went back to Czechoslovakia, they didn’t have many connections with family because of the 20 years they had been away. They didn’t know where to look for relatives. They went and asked at churches or they used the phone book to look up other possible Boubin relatives.  Turns out that the artist Anton Boubin had five or six brothers. Vera and Olda were able to find and visit with an older cousin who worked as a psychiatrist in a hospital.  Then Olda was able to meet his older half brother he didn’t know anything about.  Ruth told me that Vera didn’t explain too clearly how he was a half brother but maybe it can be assumed that Anton had been married earlier.  

    Even though the Boubins didn’t make much money in the U.S., Vera had sent money back to Czechoslovakia. They had kept in touch with some of the Boubin relatives after that visit in 1991.  Vera passed away in May of 1996.  Olda passed away in 2011. The remaining person who knows the most about Anton Boubin, is Tony Boubin who is probably 61 years old, living in Florida.  I would love to ask Tony questions about what he witnessed in his early years and how he coped with all the tragedy. If he is like his father, he must be very determined and strong willed and hopefully uses the artistic talent inherited from his creative father.

    Please come tomorrow, August 20th, to the art showing of Boubin’s original paintings to witness Anton’s talent.  The Carnegie doors will open from 10:00 to 3:00 p.m. and some of the family members will be there, eager to talk to anyone who might know some stories about Anton and Vera Boubin.  If you have a Boubin painting to show, you are welcome to come at 9:30 a.m. to set it up. We want to honor a man who stubbornly resisted evil and believed in freedom of the soul. He expressed that in his beautiful paintings of the country of Czechoslovakia that had seemingly turned against him.