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.