A number of years ago I was sent an article which seems to have originated from the Grand Rapids Art Museum. The article was very difficult to read. I was finally able to bring the text to a quality which allowed me to transcribe the article.
Quite frequently I find myself thinking about this relationship I have with Jaro. Caring for another artist work seems to create a bond with that artist. Jaro seems to have had the same type of job history I have had during my life. Hess obviously was not afraid of changing professions, yet he maintains a constant, with his art.
I have created artwork since I first picked up a camera. Each of us, Hess and I, we shared the compulsion of self expression, and a distain for ridged ideology. Take a moment and read about a pretty interesting fellow, Artist. Jaro Hess.
Jaro Hess (1889-1977)
Jaro Hess was perhaps the most original artist of fantasy working in Grand Rapids from the 1930s through the 1960’s. His art was a rarity, created solely out of this imagination.
Unlike the derivative paintings of Orville Bulman, with their obvious debt to Henri Rousseau, Hess’s art as a unique product of his imagination, seemingly influenced by other sources. Yet Bulman, with his high society connections and inherited wealth, achieved fame among his Palm Beach patrons, while Jaro Hess’s art languished unappreciated and unpurchased. Indeed, after Hess died in 1977, much of his art was allegedly discovered abandoned in his dilapidated farmhouse on Leonard Road.
Armand Merizon, who met past during the Depression, said of him, “Jaro has lived what I would call a truly free life – the many faceted career. European culture has really influenced him. He’s so vibrant, so different. Hess’s works are characterized by colorful and creative sensibility. They were the product of an idiosyncratic and eccentricity, “according to Hess. People come to see the painting, “the artist said, “and they ask how I got such an imagination to do them. I just tell them that I studied mathematics in school and it teaches you to think abstract thoughts. They are different,” Hess savored the differences – the absurdity. In a 104 – page letter he wrote to himself, he captured something of the uniqueness of his art:
Now although thoughts and imaginations buzz in the head light breeze and a hyve in the spring, none of them come out to be taking into the captivities[sic} and put down. So by reason that I know not what subject I should write. Period. Period we noticed the new concrete sidewalk with children’s footsteps all over, to which the commander remark that sidewalk – makers probably like children in the abstract but not in the concrete.
Born Jaroslav Hes in a small Czechoslovakian village south of Prague in1889, the artist grew up in an unusual environment. His father was an inventor and engineer who had gained wide fame in European Mining and engineering circles. Young Hes was taught German by a governess until he was five, and then entered the public schools in Prague. He later attended the University of Prague, where he took a degree in metallurgy. At the age of 16 he decided he had enough of the rigid discipline of the Prague schools, so he entered the French foreign Legion. “It was the worst five days of my life, “he later recalled. A stint in the Austrian army was required after his graduation from college, and he served two years as an officer. He was fluent English, German, French, and several of several others of the Slavic languages.
In 1910 Hess came to America to use his metallurgical training in the blooming steel industry. He worked briefly in Pittsburgh, the steel mill capital world, but later recall, “it was the dirtiest thing I ever saw. I beat it right out of there. “Hess worked as a chemist in a sugar factory in Ohio and made enough money to come to Michigan. He lived in Saginaw, where he made drawings for newspapers and local tourist association. Later he landed a position at the United States Steel Corporation in Gary, Indiana. He worked in Gary for about seven or eight years, but found the hours long and the work too demanding. Returning to the Saginaw area, Hess started working in landscape architecture. The owner of the Booth Newspapers of Michigan recognized Hess’s good taste and hired him as a personal gardener. After Booth died, Charles Greenway, who succeeded him as president of the newspaper chain, also used Hess’s services in landscaping. Has moved to Grand Rapids with Greenway and worked for a number of years as a gardener at his estate on Reed’s Lake. During the Depression of the 1930s, Hess, like many other people, found himself unemployed. He turned to making trout fishing flies and designing puppet stages and dioramas for the Grand Rapids Public Museum. For a time, he and his family lived off the land on a small farm on the northwest side painted fanciful, imaginative “maps”: the land of make-believe, and the land of the New Testament, both circa 1930-1935. These were acclaimed as creative, imaginative works, and sold well locally. However, someone allegedly stole the original of the land of make-believe, and proceeded to reproduce it for half of what Hess was asking.
During World War II, Hess returned to engineering as an employee in assembly plant in Bristol, Virginia. When he tired of that, he left for Duke University in North Carolina to work with Dr. J. B. Rhine, head of the parapsychology department and one of the early students of extra – sensory perception. Hess recalled, “Oh, Dr. Rhine was tickled to see me. He tested me and I ran kind of high in ESP. Then he took me to tour a big insane asylum at the University and asked me to do portraits of the patients, “when Hess returned to Grand Rapids, he created a series anthropomorphic animals to represent the various neurosis, fixations, and personality types. In all, Hess sent twenty-six different portraits to Dr. Rhine – representing the introvert, the extrovert, the schizoid, the anxiety complex, and so forth. Several versions of the painting called the brain doctor where the result of this experience. On his return to Grand Rapids, Hess was hired by Daverman and Associates to survey land at the old city airport. He held that job until 1950, when he finally retired.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, Hess continued to work at his art, and was a member of the Grand Valley Artists Association. He was a slow worker, and would rework large compositions numerous times until they achieved the degree of imaginative reality he desired. Among the most interesting works by Hess that have survived are the big show, 1969 and the jungle interior, circa 1968. Their whimsical humor and authentic surrealism are in marked contrast to the contrived formulas of Orville bowl Bulman and suggest that, despite his limited oeuvre, Hess was a far more original artist than the wealthy socialite Bulman. A number of works by Hess are known, but due to their poor state of concentration and the thorny legal questions surrounding them, they were unavailable for this exhibition. It is hoped that in the future, this remarkable, inventive artist of Grand Rapids will be the subject of a retrospective at the art museum.