The Wanamingo Head Fake

I don't know art but I know what I like


Wanamingo is a small town in the southeastern corner of the state of Minnesota. Created as a rural center for the surrounding farmers, Wanamingo endures each day with the quiet attitude that it always has been that way so it is likely that it will continue without any deviation to the well-established and comfortable norm. The population of the town blissfully hovers in the five hundred range with a few additions and subtractions occurring at any one time but nothing too concerning. The people are pretty much content with their lot in life and pass the majority of their days with purpose and a minimum of fault-finding. The retail center of town consists of a diner (or café), feed store, several churches, a farmer’s cooperative, a convenience store on the outskirts of town and of course, a bar. There are several other buildings of varying importance but generally the lay of the land can be quickly assessed with a minimum of difficulty. The people make every attempt at keeping their retail dollar close to home but that becomes a challenge when one’s needs expand past basic food and farm implements. Of course you can find diesel fuel, bacon and work boots but if you need to get braunschwager, basmati rice, a ream of paper, blue agave Tequila, chopsticks, a trampoline, CD burner or a marble sink, you have to go to the larger cities, such as Kenyon or Northfield.

As people drive by Wanamingo, as they often do, they gaze out over the bucolic scenes of farmers and their crops and assume it represents a simpler time when men were men and women were women. When a guy with a strong back and a dream could make something out of a thousand acres and his gal would be mending, sewing and popping kids out like clockwork. Although the traveler may want to have this tranquil image, the people of this small town are content with their own life pursuits and almost none of the pursuits are related to quilts, kids or anything quaint. The vehicles and their passengers are traveling at approximately sixty miles an hour or eighty-eight feet per second. If one extrapolates that against the size of the Wanamingo metroplex, a casual passenger would have only four seconds to make all their necessary observations. You may see a large oval water tower, resembling a large Mr. Potatohead, as it looms over the skyline, but generally the town of Wanamingo will appear and disappear during the time it takes to read this sentence.

In four seconds, one thinks they can learn an awful lot about someone or something. Wanamingo, content in their own skin, eschews the idea of placing a sign on its borders proclaiming something unique and/or exciting about the town. During a conversation once, the town elders discussed this very thing.

"I think we should be come a Minnesota Star City," said the first man.

"What does that mean?" asked the second man.

"I am not sure but since Dundas and Kenyon have the rank of Star City," responded the first man, "we should be one as well."

"If those two towns jumped off a large embankment," posed the second man, "should the good people of Wanamingo jump as well?"

"I doubt if that would happen," snapped the first man, "I think we should order up one of those Star City signs and I will bolt it on myself."

Well, after two phone calls to the state, the denizens of Wanamingo received two green metal signs that were engineered, then attached to the existing city sign. True to his word, the first man went out on a Saturday and bolted them both on the sign with a minimum of fuss. He went back to the café, reported his findings and ordered a cup of coffee. For the next few months, no one asked about the sign, what the sign meant or what changes in Wanamingo life would have to occur to accommodate this new achievement. If fact, only a few people commented on the sign and these were people that saw the construction activity and were more curious than anything else. However, a quiet confidence continued to grow that the town was doing what it could to stay in the forefront of enlightened urban planning.

After the lull subsided, a related conversation began about giving Wanamingo a slogan. The ubiquitous slogans littered the south with cities proclaiming one thing or another. Wanamingo, yet again with admirable common sense, chose not to declare the rather cerebral slogan of "The Center of the Known Universe" and decided not to pursue this strategy due to lack of any obvious declarations. They decided that they were not going to seek anyone’s approval for several reasons, the most important one being that there was no one in charge, as far as they could determine, who could validate any of their claims. Space being infinite and the Universe size being always in flux, the city elders felt they were responsible enough to give the claim a green light but chose not to introduce metaphysics and politics into the mix so a high road was taken and the snappy slogan strategy was shelved. The slogan would challenge the boundaries of the city but again, like the sign, the pace of the town remained the same with no known benefits of their potential self-declared claim on the Center of the Known Universe. That whole discussion became moot a few weeks later when some of the local youth stole the Star City sign and placed it in the Boy’s Bathroom at the Kenyon-Wanamingo High School. That act of vandalism (or humanity) brought the group back to square one and in need of an epiphany.

Things don’t happen too fast in Wanamingo but when it does happen, it gets people’s attention. The town, long based in agriculture, now felt it was time to continue their collective self-improvement by encouraging interesting folks looking for some room, a minimum of crap and a generally supportive but uninterested environment, to entertain relocation to Wanamingo. The cabal decided that there was going to be no tax breaks or enterprise zones, only an open invitation to anyone interested to check out Wanamingo. The group wanted to select a diverse collection of candidates that had a low risk of causing disruption and a legitimate shot at improving the cultural environment.

The community discussed how they should advertise this invitation and several options were seriously considered. However, all strategies were too traditional and too expensive and each one owning some risk due to no single method would guarantee success. Finally, they decided to mail one hundred letters to the recently named Top 100 cultural contributors living in America. The group got the list from one of their children who had left the magazine during a visit and the consensus was this group was a good start and even though it was found it a trendy arts magazine, it would do the trick.

Once the one hundred were identified, a letter was commissioned by the community to appeal to these cultural icons. The letter was straightforward and consisted of only one page. It read, in part, that Wanamingo was seeking new thinkers and the recipient of the letter was encouraged to visit at their convenience. No offer of money or any consideration was implied but the letter concluded that if they were not interested, either initially or after a visit, the letter was to be passed onto someone else. That "someone else" was entirely the choice of the original recipient and it could be anyone from their mentor, a peer, a friend or someone they admired. In turn, if that person chose not to participate for any reason, the instructions began again to encourage them to route the original letter to someone else. The goal was to have an on-going collection of people actually consider Wanamingo as their next home at any one time and it would never exceed one hundred. The other objective of implied confidentiality was less straightforward, but it did respectfully request no media involvement.

The letters went out and time went on with the town. No one was asked to call the town because this was not something the town was going to get involved in. The offer was out on the table and it was up to the individuals that received the letters to do the work. If the town became involved, the burden of any decision was going to be shared, and thus individual accountability was lost. Two letters came back, due to the passing away of two of the chosen hundred. The café group met and nominated two other talented artists and those two letters were sent out. It was a peaceful time in Wanamingo because the town had extended themselves just enough to encourage the curious as well as the people in need. The citizens of Wanamingo didn’t want to know much about their letters because they wanted people who made up their own mind; not people who needed others to do it for them. The town was there; there was plenty of land and space. Alea iacta est.

One month later, a rental car pulled up at the café. A rumpled middle-age man stepped out of the car and looked around. He ambled into the café and ordered some lunch. He said hello to the small group in the restaurant, ate his lunch, and climbed back in his car. Someone thought he might be one of the hundred and someone else thought that he was just another salesman that stopped in town for lunch. The debate wasn’t too spirited but the new element of the hundred letters added some new insights to the occasional new face that passed through the town. Since the letter implied that the town did not want any publicity with their campaign and it appeared that this potential candidate certainly respected that tone. He left as he came in and as far as the general town could see, no beat reporters had descended so the town continued to go through each day as they did the day before.

A few days after the first potential candidate arrived and departed, a real live one strolled into town and made a direct line to the city hall. The person was excited and curious about the opportunity but seemed to want to know more. A vision in black, she walked into the building and went directly to the first person she found behind a desk.

"Hello," said the person. "I received this letter from your city recently." She showed the letter with moderate flourish.

"Hello, welcome to Wanamingo," said the young man.

The person, who looked like a writer said, "What do I do now?"

"What do you want to do?" said the young man.

"I want to see if I want to live here. Do you have access to the outside world?" asked the woman.

The young man smiled and said, "We certainly do. If we don’t have it, you should be able to get it easily."

The assumed writer blushed, as it was not her intention to imply that Wanamingo was from a different planet, but rather that she was in need of several things that historically don’t fall within the usual make up of a small Minnesota town. The young man gave her a reassuring look, to imply that no harm was done, and writer smiled and continued. She was seeking overnight deliveries, messenger service, Internet connectivity, airport access, security recommendations and an overall understanding of the local cuisine. The young man looked at her and said:

"Federal Express and DHL are here everyday, we have someone who does errands, we have been hard wired to the Internet since 1992, we haven’t had a crime here since 1992 as well and we have a café."

She smiled, "Anything else?"

"No," said the young man, "but I am a bit troubled about the 1992 coincidence with crime and the Internet."

The woman smiled and asked for brochures. The young man knew that she wouldn’t be back and she was just looking for an excuse to terminate the conversation in a face-saving manner. The young man dutifully handed over the brochure and she thanked him in a manner that was a bit too excessive.

He told her that "I appreciate your interest and your efforts to come down here but if you choose not to come, please give the letter to someone else."

The woman nodded, stuffed the brochure in her huge bag, and left. The young man was right, she never came back but at least she didn’t speed out of town.

The first official resident became the Pulitzer playwright, Shermani Propioni, an Italian émigré that never felt at home in any major American city, especially New York. Raised in the rolling plains near the Med, Shermani immediately felt at home in the simple surroundings of Wanamingo and quietly purchased a hobby farm and about a hundred acres on the Kenyon side. He stopped in various shops when he was in town and he had arranged for his land to be used by the neighboring farmer. The arrangement was for the farmer to use the land for no cost but he was responsible for the normal upkeep of the farm. If anything significant were needed, Shermani would be responsible for getting it fixed. The neighboring farmer, having no idea that Shermani was, came over to discuss the potential arrangements that were initially brokered by the real estate agent. The two men were roughly the same age and shared a love for music and wine. The farmer did not ask Shermani his occupation, his intentions for the land or why he would want to purchase a farm and land if he had no interest in working the land. The farmer correctly assumed that Shermani had his reasons and let it go at that.

After several hours of music and several bottles of wine, the two men sat on the porch content with their agreement. The agreement took about two minutes but the post-agreement meeting had taken up the most of the time. Shermani traveled a fair amount for research and to deal with his literary agents but felt immediately at home in Wanamingo and was happy with his choice. His official address was still his publisher’s Madison Avenue office but now he could work on a porch on Wanamingo without interruption. The opportunity to get back to his own rhythms was too powerful to ignore and he was looking forward to the first time he could leave his house without locking a door and return just as quietly to work again. The proximity to farmers and the simple pacing of a small town was all he needed to continue to grow as a writer. Although he was a winner of a Pulitzer and the rumblings of an eventual Nobel Prize was beginning, Shermani always felt fragile when it came to his craft of writing. The frenetic pace of New York destroyed his concentration and the adversarial nature of the city damaged his gentle approach to life and raised hell with his even gentler observations. He lived in New York after the acclaim began but every day was a chore and he found himself exhausted and everything was an ordeal. New York may be the center of everything but it was also a city that never gave or asked for pause. He was running on exhaustion and slowly was growing paranoid because of the demanding nature of his celebrity.

The day the letter arrived he was at low ebb. The book that won the Pulitzer was still holding strong on the Best Seller’s list but instead of beginning quiet reflection on the next direction of his next work, he was constantly fielding calls from his agent and the publishing house demanding updates on the next book. He had poured his heart out in the book and was exhausted. That was the day the letter arrived and it was the only one he opened. He read the letter and decided it was worthwhile for a visit. He made his own connections to Minneapolis/St. Paul and rented a car. He loved to drive and the trip south of the Twin Cities was direct and leisurely. It took him awhile to find Wanamingo but he had no timetable and after a few friendly directions from people, he arrived in Wanamingo and saw the entire town in two minutes and decided the letter came at the right time. He copied down a phone number and name of a real estate agent and made the call as soon as he returned to New York. He didn’t reference the letter nor did the agent imply he knew something as well. The agent concluded the deal on the phone, received a full commission and didn’t have to do anything else except for some paperwork. The closing occurred without Shermani and the public record acknowledged the sale and that was that. Wanamingo’s population of Pulitzer Prize winners increased that day by one.

Several months went by again without a lot of activity. The crops were in and the weather was turning colder. Shermani was contemplating his winter plans, as he was unsure if he was willing to endure a Minnesota winter. After discussing it with his neighbor, he decided to leave at first snowfall and come back by early April. The neighbor assured Shermani that he wasn’t going to miss that much and of course, he would keep an eye on the place. Shermani decided he would return to Italy for the winter and continue researching his next book with the goal of providing his publisher rough galleys by early summer. The fall was beautiful and Shermani spent as much time as possible outside and marveled at the colors. His health was excellent, his diet was well balanced and he was sleeping without any assistance. His writing was becoming very sharp and he enjoyed the warm autumn sun as he sketched out ideas outside on the porch or his newly fashioned work desk that his neighbor presented him one day. The table and jerry-rigged power supply were obviously recycled but Shermani enjoyed the resourcefulness and the simple beauty of using something again. He came from a poor background and one aspect of his celebrity that troubled him was all the waste around him. People rarely finished meals, offices wasted paper and money but as he sat at his outdoor office, he felt that he was utilizing his environment wisely. He laughed when he used the word "utilized." There was a reference in one of Hemingway’s books, in which Jacob Barnes and his travel companion employed the word "utilize" throughout a fishing trip and he finally understood and laughed.

The day Shermani left town for the airport, a legendary songwriter drove through town looking for something. She was tired, she hated the music industry and she really hated defending herself on a daily basis. A songwriter writes two kinds of songs: ones they like and ones they know will sell millions. She started off selling and writing songs that came from within but she had spent the last decade selling songs that sold like hotcakes but she was tired of the same old stuff. To write a successful song, there is a tried and true formula: no more than four minutes, a simple melody, a memorable hook and most importantly, an ending that resolves itself. If you start a song in C, you end it in C. She stumbled onto this formula and rode it to success and boredom at the same time. She knew how to take an existing million-dollar song and shade it another way, change its key and replicate itself for another gold record. She stopped trying to make music for the beauty of it and she grew cynical with her success. The more crap she pumped out, the louder the adulation was for her. She was beginning to hate her audience and that was the signal to get the hell out of Los Angeles.

The letter for Olivia Ittner arrived the same day a platinum record arrived from the record company. She didn’t know how many gold and platinum records she had owned but she did remember clearly the day ten years ago when she got her first gold record. It was the biggest day in her life and she dutifully mounted it on the wall above her fireplace. She knew she had arrived and that record, with four of her cuts on it, represented her guts and emotion for an entire year. The songs that she created for the album were painful and wrenching but they were also masterpieces that provided the critical foundation for a powerful movie soundtrack. She was the critic’s darling as her songs were both immediately accessible and frighteningly personal for the public. She not only hit a nerve, she had delivered a knockout blow to the collective nerves of a nation with her songs and her star soared overnight. The publishing company was being inundated from artists looking for more of her magic but it was hard for her to explain that these songs were not punched out carelessly, but rather were crafted with some of her most guarded emotions. However, the companies didn’t care and were aggressive in seeking out her available catalog. She started making lists of hot songwriters and she was getting calls from the entire music industry, especially soundtrack work. Luckily, she had a big backlog of songs and she was wise enough to parcel them out as needed but for every three songs she dusted off and refined, she would only put one back in. She knew that she was going to run out and she knew it before she started.

The letter came and for awhile, she thought it had something to do with the new platinum record. She tried started hanging the gold and platinum records up but she couldn’t keep up and after awhile, in spite of her good intentions, the records started going into the closet and eventually, she didn’t even unpack them and just stuck them in there. Someday, she was going to organize them and really do the classic record wall but she just never had the time. The Wanamingo letter was finally opened and after quick scan, Olivia realized it had nothing to do with music and she sat down at the piano, as she did for all tasks, and read it again. She was interested but had a contractual obligation to pen two songs for an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster and that was her first priority. She got out her composition books and started noodling around on the piano. This was her favorite time in the process, the keys lay out in front of her like a blank slate and she began with simple chord progressions, trying to establish basic tempo and the general vibe of the song. She still had some older songs in her files but she tried to go without the old songs for now. She also was trying to avoid the bastardization of some of her existing catalogue and made a conscious effort to make some unique magic.

Three months later, she was in the movie director’s office, going through roughly ten songs she had brought to this meeting.

"The first song starts gently," she almost whispers, "and I added these chords for depth and breadth of the scene."

The song began as she stated and marched forward with all the ingredients of a solid Olivia Ittner hit. She had the storyboards ingrained in her head and she felt that this painfully adequate song would fit easily to the running order of the scene. The Director, considered very hot in Hollywood, was no artist but rather a graduate of the music video school with the collective subtlety of a boot in the groin.

"Excellent, very nice," cooed the Director; "I will take that one for sure."

Olivia smiled but on the inside she was appalled. The song, which would no doubt be a million seller, was the same collection of elevator music and Chinese chords as the last ten hits. This crap was going to saturate the entire nation and no one cared that it was formulaic and tired. The director heard it and knew there would be several million teenagers humming that song within a year and there was likely a prom theme or two based on it as well.

"I have gone off on a different direction on the second one," said Olivia. "I feel that the hero really isn’t satisfied with the end result of his adventure and this song sets the stage for his discomfort."

She began to play the song and knew he wouldn’t like it. This was a new song and it was a bitch to create. Olivia almost killed herself on this one and it was the first thing she was proud of creating in a long time. The introduction was a series of jazz chords with overlaying dissonance that gave an eerie feeling of being unsettled. Now, this song played through the final scenes and credits, was a beauty and she knew that all the anguish would be worth it.

Halfway through the second stanza, the Director waved her off. "What else to you have?" he asked.

Olivia felt like someone punched her; the arrangement was perfect and this idiot wasn’t interested in creating something wonderful, he wanted to sell popcorn.

She smiled and said, "How about this?" She began playing one of her older songs, one that was a standard and a previous million seller but backwards, slower and in a different key. She had doctored it up enough that no one but her would know what she had done and she was unhappy that she spent more time covering her tracks than making music. In fact, it was such a good job that if someone else would have done the same thing to her song, she doubted that she would have even noticed.

"Perfect!" Said the director; "I will take that one as well. Olivia, you amaze me. You pitch me three songs and I take two. You are an artist." He didn’t even ask to hear the last seven songs and she began to fantasize to only bringing a few songs to her next gig. He got up and hugged her as all creative people hug and shook her hand as he was walking away to another meeting.

Olivia smiled, shook his hand and most of his entourage and walked out with a certified check for the base sale of the songs. She would get much, much more with publishing rights, soundtrack sales and the like but the money made her feel like a hack. She placed the check into the zippered portion of her purse and took out the letter. She re-zipped the pouch and whistled for a taxi. She instructed the driver to head for LAX and she re-read the letter. She made a few phone calls from the taxi and arranged her flight, hotel accommodations and all necessary details. She almost made a half a million dollars in less than an hour so her agent was thrilled but as he yammered on about her genius, she begged off the phone and slipped on her sunglasses. She was going to Wanamingo.

Approximately the same time that Olivia was packing, a young sculptor was struggling with a series of pieces and was deciding that making things was fast losing his interest. He grew up on all the greats: Rodin, da Vinci, Picasso and dug the new ones like Calder and Binkley. He was current infant terrible of the art world; getting wildly out of hand, producing disturbingly powerful and dramatic pieces that defied time and physics and spending most of his time rising and falling in the eyes of the art critics. It was fun when he was younger but he was getting on in years and grew weary with the demands of his public, his wife, their baby son and the never ending demands of his time. His given name was Dominic Watteau and was the hottest thing going in the arts. Magazines around the country plastered his picture on each cover and proclaimed him the bad boy of rock, the anti-hero with a dark mane of hair that chiseled granite and moved mountains of women. He hated the image that was being created but the fame brought artist freedom and obscene amounts for many of his works. He knew he was good but he also knew he lacked depth as an artist. Most sculptors work for decades deep within their craft only to emerge on the other side with an impressive reputation and an even more impressive portfolio. Dominic did it backwards; he was proclaimed the heir apparent off the strength of some of his early shows but he knew that he was decades away from his best work. His stuff was good but when he was around his peers and mentors, the discussions of his rapid ascension troubled his entourage. Being a world-class sculptor was likened to a marathon and he was sprinting off the start line like a sprinter and he knew that it was only a matter of time before the group pulled him in and passed him by.

Dominic wasn’t getting any younger and his mane of hair and rock and roll persona was wearing thin within him. He wasn’t a ladies man, he liked to go to sleep early and he liked his family lifestyle immensely. He traveled extensively due to the demand for his work and corporations were one of the most annoying customers. The mass perception of a large corporation was the desire to collect and display big art. That meant that if the art was physically impressive and be placed in the lobby of the headquarters or on the grounds in an imposing and impressive manner, it would be sold. No matter what he did; charged ten times what it was worth, laying 50-ton granite slabs randomly into a pile or just snubbing the corporate buyer, it didn’t matter. The buyer was instructed to get a Watteau because their competition had one, they needed something big to fill a large space or just because an airline magazine said so, and they would stop at nothing to get one.

Dominic’s letter came later than most and when he received it, he thought it interesting and was already making a list of his contemporaries to route the letter to without delay. He respected the town’s request for confidentiality and also their desire to pass the letter to someone else in order to continue to seek out interesting people. The letter didn’t go into great detail about who was invited and the recipient wouldn’t know how many others were identified but that the individual receiving the letter was the true target. The letter wasn’t a competition or an appeal to the ego of the people. It requested them to consider relocating to rural Minnesota just because it was peaceful.

Dominic saw the list he began composing and he was amazed at how long his referral list was becoming. Everyone on the list would certainly consider the opportunity and that is when it hit him: why not himself?

He gave the letter to his wife at dinner and asked her what she thought.

She took her time to re-read it and looked at Dominic and said, "Give me one reason not to go."

Dominic was surprised: he thought she would dismiss the letter or provide a litany of her personal reasons why she thought the way she did. But she didn’t, she wanted Dominic to answer and answer from the negative side.

He thought for awhile and said, "I have none. I would like to look at this town and if not this one, I would like to go somewhere that was close enough to our friends and demands, but not too close."

They decided to drive to Wanamingo from their home and Dominic wished to take a few detours into Racine and Taliesin to see the master works of Frank Lloyd Wright. As a student, Dominic always wanted to do the trip but time and commitments kept him away. This time, they bundled their small child into their vehicle and went across the Midwest to a town they never heard of until a few weeks prior. Dominic’s wife was from the Chicago area and enjoyed the return to the Midwest. They had met in college at Tulane and Dominic always was amazed at why anyone would live up in the northern climates. The weather seemed unbearable and the people dull and generic. Dominic was born in New Orleans and enjoyed his Cajun and French upbringing but knew that wasn’t his final destination. After several years and almost immediate success in New York, Dominic moved to Boston and then back to New York.

He was always quite proud of his vagabond lifestyle but it was catching up to him and he wanted to recreate himself outside the glaring spotlight of a public that was brought up on recency and the hottest and newest thing. He also realized he had only experienced the worst part of winter living in the East. He put up with the snow and the calamities that come with snow but he never saw snow except as a transportation pain in the ass. He never viewed snow as anything worthwhile but as he drove, he became fixated on building snowmen and snow buildings with his young child. He amused himself with those visions for several hours and by the time he had left the Johnson Wax building in Racine, he was growing enthusiastic about the little town that had the guts to reach out and invite him.

Dominic had always-excellent critical thoughts and he worked them aggressively as he and his wife discussed the merits of a potential move. Obviously, if they were going to relocate, there was no obligation for Wanamingo or any city for that matter. He could relocate anywhere he wanted and with the money he had made recently, anywhere meant anywhere. He began looking at his requirements and wanted to have them somewhat organized when the city made their offer. He would need significant land parcels and flexible zoning laws due to his use of many industrial processes. He smelted iron, he welded stainless steel, he cut granite and he wasn’t quiet about it. He thought his physical needs were important but he wanted to make sure that his wife had her literary interests taken care of as well. The child was still very young but he was sure the city would be providing him with an excellent nanny if he asked.

They arrived in Wanamingo in late afternoon and were shocked at its brevity. The downtown of Wanamingo is a bit underwhelming for the uninitiated so it didn’t take long so see all the town had to offer. The car ride has convinced them that they should move somewhere so when they arrived at their potential target, they were taken aback by its size.

"There has to be more than this," said Dominic.

"I don’t think so, said his wife, "but you can’t accuse them of over-selling themselves."

"Why would they want people to live here?" asked Dominic to no one in particular. He got of the car, looked around at the area and walked up the street about a block and looked down one of the only side streets in this town. He buttoned up his coat and slowly walked back to the car and didn’t say anything. His wife, an expert in his moods, knew enough not to engage Dominic when he was pensive or preoccupied. She kept herself busy reviewing the information about the town that she had culled from the Internet. The pictures on the website were both truthful and accurate and things were basically where they were supposed to be. She figured this was as good a time as any, and after five minutes, said,

"Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant."

Dominic looked at her as if she was sprouting antlers.

"I wasn’t expecting that," as he hugged her.

He was truly happy and she thought the new subject would clear the air and allow Dominic to focus on this present mystery. She was right because after a sincere hug and a passionate kiss, Dominic looked hopeful and clear of mind. As they drove on to their hotel, they weren’t thinking about the town but their future together and were comfortable that the surroundings meant little as long as they were strong and in love.

The next day, after a good night’s sleep, they returned to Wanamingo and Dominic basically replicated the physical path and dialogue of the writer of several months earlier. His wife and child wanted to investigate the town and said they would see him in a few minutes and walked the other way down Main Street. He walked into the city hall and approached the same young man. The young man had since repositioned his desk to receive all foot traffic and convinced the Wanamingo/Kenyon city manager to purchase him a nameplate that boldly said "INFORMATION."

"Hello," said Dominic. "I received this letter from your city recently." He dramatically showed the letter.

"Hello, welcome to Wanamingo," said the young man.

Dominic then said, "What do I do now?"

"What do you want to do?" said the young man.

"I want to see if I want to live here. Do you have a standard relocation package for me? You know, tutors for my child, I mean my children, as well as tax breaks or credits or whatever incentives you will use to get me to live here."

The young man smiled and said, "Unfortunately, no. We would appreciate it if you lived here but that is certainly up to you….and your family."

Dominic was taken aback. He had been courted by major museums to accept an artist-in-residence role and major art institutes for his shows. Basically everyone he had met in the last ten years had bent over backwards to make his wishes come true. People get used to having all their whims satisfied and when he was denied, he was shocked. He wasn’t mad, just surprised that his genius didn’t give him special consideration. They didn’t seem to care that one of the generation’s most promising artists was actually entertaining a move to little village. It was absurd but Dominic was not irritated but more dumbfounded. If someone from the New York art community would see Dominic Watteau in the city offices of Wanamingo, Minnesota, they would faint and fall into a dramatic pile on the floor. The young man gave another reassuring look, to imply that no personal besmirching was intended and said:

"I am sorry if I disappointed you with bad news. That was not my intention. Are you hungry, we have a café."

Dominic smiled, "No, we ate just an hour or so ago. How long have you lived here?"

"All my life," said the young man, "I am off to college next year but I hope to return here or near here once I graduate. Do you want the brochure?"

Dominic smiled again and said, "No. No, thank you."

He turned around and waved goodbye to the young man and walked out the door. He wasn’t mad or insulted but rather surprised and somewhat embarrassed for what he had asked from the young man. Dominic came from a poor family and he cringed, as he imagined his parent’s reaction would be to his previous little performance. Of course, they didn’t need to buy his interest but rather wished to invite him to look around. So, Dominic looked around and liked what he saw. His wife and he switched seats in the car so he could concentrate on the land and they began to explore. They traveled all over the county and were impressed with the vast expanses of land that seem to invite them to continue their adventure. On one somewhat legitimate road, he saw the name and phone number of a local real estate agent advertising a large parcel of land for either residential or commercial development. Dominic decided to call the same real estate agent as everyone else but it was just another day in the office for this agent. The weather was going to turn soon and the agent was already planning his opening day of fishing when the phone rang.

"Hello," said the agent, "Marshall Real Estate."

Dominic said, "Hello, I would like to talk to an agent that could help me find a larger plot of land, ideally with a house and an existing out building already available."

The agent, now intrigued, reassured Dominic that there were several opportunities existing. Some had additional features, like creeks and orchards, but he was confident that he could satisfy Dominic’s needs.

"Great," said Dominic, "give me the addresses of your top two and I will call you back."

There was something assured about Dominic’s voice that made the agent cut through the entire standard real estate parlance and he provided both addresses and directions from downtown Wanamingo. The Watteau family spent the rest of the day looking a property and they were impressed with the actual choices. Dominic settled on a property south of town, which included a little less than twenty-acre plot with an option to pick up significant acreage if interested. The property included a small orchard, a nice sized house with porch, a two story out building that housed numerous and large agricultural implements and provided both large work areas but a nice large garage door system that could accommodate the larger combines and threshers. It would be perfect for his larger projects. The price was nice and Dominic then made a call to his agent in New York to take care of the deal quickly and quietly. This agent was far more careful than the other ones and Dominic’s name was never used in the public record.

Over a period of nine months, three of the top 100 artists in America moved to Wanamingo. To the ignorant, nothing had changed and the pace of the town continued to be almost non-existent and refreshingly simple. There were changes: large shipments of raw materials for Dominic the sculptor arrived regularly, the Federal Express van was seen daily zipping down the street and on a recent Spring day, a full concert grand piano was delivered to a lady somewhere outside of town. The driver was lost and had to ask for directions at the café. The café also got more interesting especially when Shermani was in town because his regular insistence of helping the cook. The menu items changed periodically and it seemed that the whole menu became slightly more interesting, with a few recipes actually coming from Shermani’s mother.

As the years went past, a new and interesting citizen would show up and put down roots but there was never a discovery by a paper or arts magazine about the steady influx of top artists into the small Minnesota town. In fact, as artists began to recognize each other, an uncommon pact to maintain their anonymity was established. This community was nice enough to invite a few into their friendly confines and the least they could do was to return the favor. Artists made gifts to the town, especially Dominic’s granite monolith that dwarfed over the replacement Star City sign. The museum that ordered the granite monolith failed to make the final payment on the piece so Dominic decided to give it to the city just for fun. He had asked the mayor and a few people at the café their opinion and everyone seemed fine with it. From a distance, the monolith looked kind of like a person’s head or a large baked potato but no one ever cared to finally define it. Up front, the unsigned sculpture was damned impressive and seemed to fit into the general landscape. At last count, ninety-three letters remain in circulation and the small but distinct chance of someone interesting coming into town for a visit always made the local conversation lively and hopeful.

Seeing the sculpture from the road, a salesman traveling though the town thought, "That is one interesting looking potato. There must be a story behind it." As he passed it, the man viewed it again from his rear view mirror and just kept driving. "Fascinating."

Back to Short Stories

E-mail the Author