By TODD NEEL, Social Worker, MSW, LCSW
What is left behind after the demise of famous artists? Their artwork.
The work of departed artists Harold Balazs and Rudy and Lela Autio show at the Art Spirit Gallery during the month of August 2019.
The public and private pieces of the work of these notorious artists have caught the attention of many people throughout the northwest and around the world. The Autios of Missoula were close friends with the Balazs family, who hailed from Spokane.
Harold and Rudy met while in graduate school at Washington State College (WSC) in Pullman.
“It was at Pullman that I met Harold Balazs. Pullman had little to offer outside of friendships, but I had a lot in common with Harold at art school. He had enormous energy as a student which was contagious,” wrote Rudy. “He was articulate and funny and maintained this high level of energy throughout all the years I’ve known him.”
Two of Rudy’s children, Chris and Lisa, spoke of their father’s illness starting in 2004. He has been diagnosed with leukemia in 2005. There was a time when his hands were too weak to work with clay, so he turned to other forms of art, and he completed portraits of his children and grandchildren—parting gifts left behind for all.
Rudy died in 2007, and Lela died later in 2016. Their offspring tried to take inventory and clean out the family home while Lela was still alive, but their mother resisted and put items away as she wasn’t ready to let go of them.
After their mother died, it took the siblings a year to inventory and get appraisals for their parents’ leftovers.
Sometimes “things” anchor us to relationships and the real meaning of life. Without relationships, what else would we have? Just piles of meaningless stuff, piled higher and deeper in the dust and cobwebs.
Relationships are also relics we may leave behind.
After the parents died, the four Autio children had to work together to keep talking. They remained as friends, as does not always happen between siblings after the death of the parents who can be the glue that keeps them together.
In December 2018, Rosemary Balazs graciously hosted this writer in her home in Mead, Wash., for a three-hour interview. She brought out a thick file folder of correspondence that Rudy and Lela had written to Harold over their long and supportive relationships since the 1950s.
She allowed the entire set to be photographed, digitally preserving snapshots of their relationships. The correspondences from Rudy and Lela to Harold reflect the deep character of the individuals and the affection they had for one another. Certainly, these letters should be posthumously preserved in a museum or published.
During this interview, which occurred just prior to the one-year anniversary of Harold’s death at 89, Rosemary was tender with emotion as she discussed their lives together. She was 87.
A tour of Harold’s shop underneath his studio revealed notes written on his chalk board like: “Our Father makes art in heaven, and Harold be his name,” and, “We have organized ourselves beyond our abilities.”
Rosemary told of how Harold got sick towards the end of his life and how he insisted on continuing to work, even though he would sometimes fall and not be able to get up.
One artist’s gems may be junk to someone else, but a reflection of the value of these artists has been on sale at the Art Spirit Gallery, a piece of Rudy’s pottery sells for approximately $40,000. Remember to bring your bucket lists and checkbook to the Art Spirit Gallery during the month of August 2019. ISI