The Purloined Paintings

Emily Hart 

Copyright 2019 by Emily Hart  


Photo of a Casey Orr cartoon.


     I have often operated from the premise that it is easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission. When our 4th grade Social Studies lesson mentioned Pulitzer Prize winner political cartoonist Carey Orr I decided it was one of those days.  In our dining room at home hung two original paintings by Uncle Carey.  I was sure  the class would like to see them and certainly Sister (a generic term for all nuns) would be impressed.  I had the feeling my mother might not be so keen on letting me take the paintings to school, so I skipped that pesky getting permission stage and quietly slipped out with the artwork after lunch. 

     Once back in the classroom I asked Sister if I could give a report about my uncle, Carey Orr, and showed her the paintings.  Sister's eyes widened a bit and she nodded yes.  Because this was a special occasion Sister invited the other 4th grade class and their teacher to join us for the report and students shared seats.  A packed house -- a real chance to perform!  I held up the paintings and gave a brief biography about my uncle, hitting what I felt were the high points.  His cartoons were in the newspaper every day.  He had taught Walt Disney and when Disney found a mouse in his art drawer Uncle Carey suggested he use that tiny creature as inspiration.   I may have given the impression that friendship with me might just result in an introduction to Mickey Mouse.  Besides being a famous artist Uncle Carey had also played baseball in his younger days, earning the money to go to art school.  A big finish seemed appropriate and of course I didn't want to lose my audience's attention so I added that Uncle Carey had written the song "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" and proceeded to perform it.  I figured nobody would know who really wrote the song, so why not give my uncle credit and punch up my presentation with a musical number?  Applause followed but Sister nixed the idea of me giving an encore musical number.

     Sister suggested that I let her keep the paintings on her desk until after school.  When she said that it had been terribly nice of my mother to let me share them with the class I revealed that my mother hadn't exactly given permission or known I was taking them.  At that point Sister thought it might be a good idea for my mother to come and take the paintings home herself.  I insisted that they weren't to heavy to carry, but Sister was firm on that point and telephoned my mother.

     When my mother arrived Sister told her I had given an excellent report which would result in extra credit.  My mother thanked Sister, took the paintings in arm and gave me the look that said "When your father gets home . . . ."  It was a very quiet and long two and a half block walk home.

     As we sat down to dinner my father noticed a highball at his place.  Now he did not normally indulge in a drink with dinner so that was a pretty good clue to him that something was up.  "How was everything today?" he asked, taking a drink to fortify himself.

     "Your daughter did a report in social studies today," my mother said.

     "Oh, what on?"

     My mother gave me the "go ahead, tell him" look so I did.

     "I did a report on Carey Orr, the Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist. (Just in case he didn't know which Carey Orr I meant).   Sister said it was an excellent report and everyone clapped."

     "Well that sounds alright.  They clapped did they?" 

     "And I'm getting extra credit."  This looked like it might go well after all.

     "Your daughter didn't just give a report -- she brought something to illustrate it. Without asking permission."

     There was that "your daughter" again. 

     "Cut up the newspaper for the cartoon, did you?  You know you should have asked."

     "Oh, I didn't cut up the newspaper."  At least I was innocent on that score.

     "Then what?  What did you use to illustrate . . . ."  Even as he said it the facts began to dawn and my father drained his glass.

     "Both of the paintings.  Sister called me after school to inform me so that I could come and get them.  You need to explain to your daughter what she did wrong."

     There followed a rather long and tedious lecture about getting permission (which I suspected wouldn't have been given if asked for), honesty, respecting other people's property, the risk of damaging something valuable and inconveniencing my mother.  Just in case I hadn't grasped the message each point was reiterated several times.  I professed contrition and a firm intention not to do it again.  It was decided that no great harm had been done "this time."  The evening was finished off with an encore performance of my report. 

     A few things I later learned about Carey Orr -- his interest in art began when a hobo gave a drawing to Carey's mother in payment for a meal. Though he had severe vision problems Carey Orr became an accomplished artist, studying at the Chicago Institute of  Art and later teaching there. One of his students, Walt Disney, had planned to go into political cartooning, but Carey Orr encouraged him to focus on entertainment.  Carey Orr's cartoons appeared in the Chicago Sun for 30 years, plus in many other newspapers.  While most contributions to the paper had to be approved by the editor, Carey Orr's cartoons were automatically published as submitted.  Some original paintings of his work eventually sold for $10,000.  Those pieces were a little larger than the ones I had borrowed. 

     Most important of all -- I got an "A" in Social Studies.   

Emily Hart is available for vocal performances of "Take Me Out The Ball Game"  as well as other songs which may or may not have been written by illustrious relatives.

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