s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: The Mysterious Mr. Q

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Mysterious Mr. Q

Several years ago, I found myself in Schoenhof’s, a foreign-language bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition to buying a French picture dictionary and a book on the roots of Chinese characters, I bought a couple of postcards from a display next to the register.

As fitting the character of the store, the postcards were also foreign. The two I picked were by the same German illustrator, both in sort of a surrealist style. One was a picture of a bunch of men in business suits swimming like a school of fish. I sent that one to Melyngoch. The other one was of a man using a ladder to climb out of the illustration in a giant book. I kept it for myself.

Later, I went to the artist’s website, where I saw more of his paintings. Books seemed to be a theme running through much of much of his work – he painted lighthouses with towers built of books, a man sleeping on the ground with a giant book for a blanket, and a man floating in the air while standing on a book. My favorite picture, though, had no books at all: it was a picture of five musicians in concert attire, sitting or standing on a giant wooden plank which was precariously balanced on a rock in the ocean. I always wanted to buy more postcards or prints by this painter, but the distributor was based in Germany and the shipping costs were prohibitive.

Years passed, and I forgot all about the paintings, until a recent conversation about René Magritte reminded me of the other, modern surrealist. I decided to look him up again – perhaps his prints were now more widely available in the U.S.? – but when I sat down at my laptop, I had a sudden, sickening realization: I couldn’t remember his name.

I knew he was German, and I thought that maybe his name had a “Q” in it, but I couldn’t remember if that was his first name or last name. And there was a very real possibility that his name didn’t actually include a “Q” at all. (I have an odd memory for names – in my mind, “Emily” and “Sarah” are the same name, for example. Anyone I meet with either name is liable to be called the other unless I think really hard, first.)

I could see many of his paintings in my mind’s eye, but I couldn’t think of the exact titles of any of them. (Worse, I seemed to remember that the titles had been very generic in nature, like “Flight” or “Sleep.”)

I had moved across the country since buying the postcard, and I had lost it along the way. (I even spent an hour last summer looking for it in some boxes of stuff being stored at my parents’ house.) Melyngoch couldn’t find hers, either.

His website was something.de and the “something” was the German cognate of an English word, but I couldn’t remember the word.

I tried contacting Schoenhof’s, but their website didn’t have any information about the postcards, and they didn’t return my email.

I didn’t think he was famous enough to be in Wikipedia; Googling “German” and “surrealist” returned sites about Max Ernst.

Days later, I remembered that I’d seen some of his work on an art website – I could at least browse through the names of all of the artists, hoping that one of them would ring a bell. I went to the website, only to discover that it had been taken down.

I may be a 100 Hour Board writer, a librarian, and a general researcher extraordinaire, but even I was stumped as to how to find a painting with no title by a person with no name. Having almost given up hope, I then had the smallest idea of a place to start. I didn’t know the title of any one painting, but he often painted pictures of books. What if I went to an art retailer’s website and did a keyword search on “book”? Narrowing my results down to “Art.com” hits from Amazon, I carefully scanned through the results. On the third page, I finally recognized a print by
Quint Buchholz.


At September 04, 2006 6:05 PM, Blogger Logan said...

Your 'researcher extraordinaire' reputation is in good shape. The question is, did you decide to write about Mr. Q before or after you tracked him down?

At September 04, 2006 6:42 PM, Blogger Ethan said...

You, my dear katya, are a credit and example to 100 Hour Board researchers everywhere.

At September 04, 2006 10:18 PM, Blogger Squirrel Boy said...

Buchholz, eh? I suppose that explains his leitmotif.

At September 05, 2006 1:03 AM, Blogger Saule Cogneur said...

I am impressed.

At September 05, 2006 1:43 AM, Blogger Tolkien Boy said...

I personally relate to "Rope Walk." I've had so many dates like that...

At September 05, 2006 4:03 AM, Blogger Melyngoch said...

Whew. I was really afraid that story was going to end with me having to feel guilty.

Also, those pictures make perfect sense! That's exactly the kind of art you would like! They're all so, umm, mathematical? Balanced! Symmetrical!

At September 05, 2006 6:58 AM, Blogger Petra said...

I love that bookstore. Love, love, love that bookstore.

Oh, and the names Matt, Mike, and Mark are all the same in my mind. It's highly inconvenient when meeting people with those names.

At September 05, 2006 9:36 AM, Blogger Master Fob said...

Librarians are amazing people, aren't we? :)

At September 05, 2006 9:43 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Logan - Oh, afterwards. Unsuccessful searches aren't nearly as interesting.

SB - Good observation! (And it may be a useful handle by which to remember his name, should I ever forget it again.)

Melyngoch - I don't know that I'd say mathematical, exactly, mostly because that makes it sound like I would frame graph paper or something. Balanced, yes.

Petra - Ditto for Mike and Matt. Mark's my dad's name, so that goes in a different slot. But it makes more sense for both "Mike" and "Matt" to go into the "4-letter short forms of Biblical names beginning with 'M'" category. I don't know what's up with "Sarah" and "Emily."

And yes, I'd go back to Boston for Schoenhof's alone.

MF - Indeed.

At September 06, 2006 6:20 PM, Blogger Queen Zippergut said...

I love popping in and reading your blogs. Even if I didn't know you I'd get a sense of who you are from the writing...this gentle, humorous, brilliant woman, so observant, so kind, so thoughtful--in several senses of the word.

(And I'm very glad I know you.)


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