Ira Winarsky: Artist, Architect, Friend

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

It is with a sad heart that I write this blog about my friend Ira Winarsky, one of my earliest Florida students, who died a few days ago. He was found on the floor of his home near Gainesville, Florida, on January 1. He had attended Dale Crider's New Year's Eve gathering where he had heard his friends including Dale, Hunter Merritt and his dad Wyndell, and our son Chris play music. Ira dearly loved music and art. He himself was an artist who supported his avant-garde creativity by teaching at the University of Florida where he was a Full Professor of Architecture. You can learn more about him and his art at his web site: http://www.artfromiraland.com.

I wrote about Ira in the my first-ever Banjo Newsletter column, June  1983. The article was titled "A Day Of Banjo Teaching" and I was moved to write it after reading an earlier BNL article by the same titled with which I violently disagreed! (No surprise there!) I set up the column to spotlight each student according to their time slot. Ira had the last lesson of the day, 7:30, so I closed out with him. Here's what I wrote: 

7:30 One more to go. Ira. He's been taking from me longer than anyone else--almost four years. He didn't start with me and I've never let him forget it. We've been up and down and around so many times we're like an old married couple. "Ira, I've told you fifty times do not use your ring finger on the third fret of the second string. I am not going to tell you again!" (I say this every week.) "Okay, okay. Don't get mad." "I'm not mad."

We are at present working on getting a good sound on old tunes. I play a tune slowly into the tape [a cassette!] so that he can hear every inflection. I use his banjo so he can match the sound exactly. It's a 19__, __plated Mastertone __head with a __piece flange. (Hey, you didn't really think I'd tell you what it was and have you think there was one of those down here, did you?) For next week I record Flint Hill Special.

I listen to what he worked on for this week, Lonesome Road Blues. I really see improvement. Yay! "Let's do some singing songs," he says. We do Truck Driving Man, The Old Homeplace, Spanish Pipe Dream, and Blue Moon Of Kentucky. "Time's almost up, Ira. What shall we quit with?" He puts up his banjo. "What are you doing?" "I've got something for you."

He steps outside the door for a couple of minutes and comes back in with a cherry cheesecake with four lighted candles stuck in it. "It's our anniversary," he says. "I've been taking from you for four years. Happy Anniversary." Oh, Ira, you make it all worthwhile.

Ira was such a sweet man.

Let me copy a few paragraphs from his web page, starting with a quote from him that I love:

"My claim to fame, thus far, has been that I have the world’s largest collection of Ira Winarsky's Art!"

*******

I'm an Artist and the son of parents who were artists. My mother was a fashion designer and painter, and my father was a photographer and musician. My sister and brother are also artists.

I see life as an art piece, a work in progress. It has also been a continual quest for a means to make art, and to find and refine its artistic expression.

*******

My first memory of being aware of the elements of art, and its connections to beauty, to technology, and to the environment, occurred when as a young child I locked myself in the family bathroom, to mix up a beautiful concoction of soap, after shave lotion, deodorant and other toiletries to make an anti-gravity cream, to better see the world from above.

*******

I make art because it gives me a sense of pure joy. I’ve been quoted as saying, "Art is its own reward", and it is the process of making art that gives me the most pleasure. In the past, I have shunned the competitions and pressures to get the work out in front of the public. My claim to fame, thus far, has been that I have the world’s largest collection of Ira Winarsky's Art! This web site is one of his first steps in presenting my work to a wider audience. Perhaps it will also constitute a new beginning, to share the work with those who may appreciate it.

Rest in peace, Ira. I will cherish the memories of our times together, especially that cherry cheesecake with the four candles.

5 thoughts on “Ira Winarsky: Artist, Architect, Friend

  1. Bob Hartfield

    Hi Murphy. I’m already on your email list as I have a few of your lessons (which are SO good). I’m 64 now so I plan to be expert by 70 (maybe 75). Working on Soldier’s Joy now. Loved your blog about Ira!

  2. Martin Bacon

    You have been blessed with wonderful family and friends Murphy. Gamble Rogers was an architect too I think. Any connection there?

  3. John Tilton

    Ira was also a great friend of mine and we worked on a couple of ceramics projects together. He was a master of iridescent glazes and I have never seen any that are just like the ones he was doing. They are world class in quality.

    I loved working with him. Always some new way to look at things and wild creativity and brilliance, and such a gentle soul. I will miss him terribly.

    Nice to feel your energy again.

  4. Michael Strahm

    Hi Murphy,

    I have just learned of Ira’s passing, and as I googled his name to find out more, I came across your blog entry…thank you for taking the time to remember him…I am stunned. After many years I recently e-mailed him, not a month ago, to say hi and catch up. We exchanged stories, memories, photos and a promise not to lose contact again. It is so strange that the next I hear is of his passing.

    He had influenced so many…myself included. I don’t know if you would remember, but back in the day…’80 or so… when he was taking lessons from you, he was my theses adviser, teacher, and friend. One day when I was helping him build his house in Archer, I asked him for the name of a banjo teacher and he gave me yours…we met, and I took lessons from you, at your house, while I was in graduate school at UF. If pressed, I probably could still find your tapes…and certainly remember your lessons, all recorded so I could take them home with me. Thank you for those days, you instilled in me a love and understanding of bluegrass and folk music that I still carry. The banjo shares a spot on the wall with other instruments collected over the years…I enjoy them all and have mastered few.

    Ira was my teacher, my mentor, my friend. I am so glad to have had him in my life,…and that we had a chance to recently reconnect…I will miss him.

    Michael Strahm
    Hull, MA

  5. Bruce

    Murphy,
    So sorry to hear about Ira’s death. I well remember playing with you and him, and trying to open up my big mouth about the way he was playing something (a timing/stress matter), and you shutting me up RIGHT AWAY because you knew fully well what I was going to say, and all it would have done was confuse Ira!

    And I remember the Modular House when it was still in the making.

    Sad news. Had he kept up his banjo playing, I hope?

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