Zelko's art

Zelko's CV

Tributes to Zeljko

Memorial service


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Art, photo & memento display at luncheon following service

In Memory of Zeljko Kujundzic - a eulogy from the memorial service
January 28, 2003 Osoyoos, BC Canada

We last saw Zeljko in December. It was a good visit. I read his WWII escape episodes to him from "Torn Canvas"; Claire sang "Dona Dona" and "Los Pescadores" to him. We spoke in Spanish when English didn't seem so accessible. He laughed, cried, and before we left, kissed Claire's hand. Was it a last gentlemanly farewell? This morning I want to bring together some of the many aspects of this amazing man's life and give thanks for the love and beauty he gave us.

His daughter Kate says Zeljko's stories were "better than the ones in books", and now realizes that he inserted Marko and other relatives into traditional folk tales. Mind you, we didn't always know where the line was between fact and fiction! So maybe it helps to think of Zeljko as a storyteller as well as an artist.

Dealing with Alzheimer's is difficult. Grieving has to start before death, yet we want to hang on at the same time. Where has this brilliant mind gone? When and how do we say good-bye? We know from Pat Udahl, the Hungarian caregiver at Sagebrush, where he spent his last 5 months, that he had many bright moments on his journey into a different world from ours. We experienced a few humorous moments ourselves:

I phoned Zeljko from Wells one time last year, before he went into Sagebrush, and after chatting with him for a while, asked if he'd like to speak with Claire. "She's not here," he said. "That's good, Zeljko, because she's up here in Wells, not Osoyoos," and he laughed.

But today I want to try to remember all of Zeljko, not just his recent years. He was 5'9", but his children thought of him as very, very tall. He certainly left his mark on the world. His wonderful children have been my favourite work of art, since I married one of them and have been welcomed into this wonderful, warm and sometimes wacky family.

One of the first things Zeljko wanted to do when he came to Canada was to buy a Leadbelly record. Perhaps it was because of their shared prison experience. Certainly it's appropriate today to have Claire sing "Dona Dona", written originally in Yiddish in 1940. Zeljko's monument "The Gate of Life", a memorial to the holocaust at the Jewish Community Centre in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, was one of his great achievements of which he was most proud, up there with the solar kiln, the concrete thunderbirds at UBC, and the Mayor's Chain in Nelson. Perhaps it was because his native Yugoslavia endured a kind of holocaust of its own in WWII.

Zeljko hated war. He lived through it and witnessed firsthand the callousness and cruelty people can be capable of. Just after the war, overwhelmed by his discouragement, by the "Torn Canvas of reality", he said he nearly stopped creating. In many ways, his art symbolized his affirmation of life, a commitment to humankind. Though in some ways I don't believe he ever fully recovered from being a prisoner of war, he was very proud of being a survivor, of persisting and succeeding as an artist [instead of becoming a banker, as his father wanted]. He also said, "I wasn't going to bring my parents to Canada to have my children, me and your mother work in their restaurant, instead of being an artist!"

His return to Hungary and Yugoslavia in 1987 was very important, taking the exile full circle and reuniting him with his son Laszlo. I imagine the warm reception his resistance comrades gave "Z" will be reawakened this week and they'll sing the old songs together again.

From my work with Canadian Artists Representation, our artists' union, I know how strange the artworld can be, with its fads, schmoozing, and perverse economy which means the artist is often the last person to be paid. People don't always treat artists well. Zeljko was determined to make a living, to make his name, yet he defied categorization and cared little for certain protocols, let alone the Pharisees and Pretenders of the art world. His vision was the artist as Renaissance Man; freedom, liberal values, integration of art and science, the paramount importance of the individual. I think he sometimes paid a price for those values and for his stubbornness. But he didn't let it stop him.

His "Art with Zeljko" TV program was a charming, how-tow program. "If my children can do it" - and they were often recruited as models - "you can, too!" His confidence, enthusiasm and encouragement inspired many students to pursue their dreams.

Zeljko was driven to do his art, and he was ambitious and prolific in many media. Sometimes the family paid a price for this, for example, in the Nelson house with four children in one room with baby Natanis, and Zeljko in the big studio upstairs. He had a "substantial" ego.

But the family accommodated this and all appreciate his work - testimony to who he really was. It couldn't have been easy "growing up Bohemian" with a father who had a beard, long hair, wore sandals, painted a nude mural on the front of the former Methodist church in Kelowna they moved into. This was before hippies - how embarrassing! But looking back it's also clear how they grew up with an appreciation for cultural diversity that they didn't realize wasn't typical of those times.

Zeljko had a tremendous respect and appreciation for indigenous and ancient cultures: Peruvian, Shuswap, Etruscan, Egyptian. This didn't mean he was averse to sneaking a photo when he wasn't supposed to, or stashing an Etruscan shard, but it did mean that he always sought to integrate the knowledge and wisdom of the past with modern know-how. Just as he loved to integrate art and science, just as he resisted being pigeonholed into one medium or genre of work. When Zeljko had a show, he liked to exhibit sculpture, prints, ceramics, weavings, paintings all together, blending function with beauty and mystery.

Zeljko made an enormous and as yet not fully recognized contribution to the arts, especially in BC: the Kootenay School of Art, Okanagan Art Centre, his association with the late George Ryga, his decision to remain living and working in smaller communities - especially important now when BC's hinterland is being undermined in spite of supplying most of the province's wealth, and while enormous forces throughout the world seek to homogenize and centralize culture.

Who can forget the great pyramid project which recruited hippies (and some forced child labour!), pushing rocks uphill for the Church of the Solar Messenger? "Yeah, that's our dad!" We're blessed to have Zeljko's "bishop" Santo Mignosa here with us today.

" Dezso" (as his parents called him) had many expressions:
· facial ones, like " I can pull a sailboat with my teeth!" (and he did.)
· "Son of a dog, not like that! That looks like a dog's breakfast!"
· "Do you want to hear this or not?"
--always with copious hand gestures--
The family still disagrees about the right way to tell the donkey joke: was the head too big or was it the feet? The most common phrase was "I know, I know." And quite often he did know…

He made his own paints and put them in tubes; dug clay for KSA. He was the guy to ask technical questions: how to make sepia ink from walnut husks? How to turn copper black? How to dry clay without warping? How to crank out thousands of clay tiles by hand with a simple jig? How to make a glaze from Mt St Helen's ash? Going for a drive with him could become an adventure: if you encountered some road construction, he might spot some carbonate and start filling the trunk with it for later use in paints and glazes. (Never mind the traffic jam behind.) He took delight in figuring out how to salvage enamel from the beaches of Spain and fuse it to ceramics. This was a man enchanted with the world. A Romantic, too: who else would fill a solar kiln lens with wine instead of water or another liquid?

I never saw this, but it's been described so well I can almost see it: Zeljko emerging from a lake with his flippers, swimming mask and trident with a fish speared on it. "Look what I got!" As the beach cleared of swimmers! This obviously inspired the young Andy, who went off fishing with a spear, "knowing exactly what to do" (like father, like son) and ending up with the spear through his leg. The Fire Department had to cut it off (the spear, not the leg). Then the poor boy was sent home without crutches, just a couple of little Band-Aids. How would his friends ever understand what a drama he'd been through? "Don't worry," said Zeljko, "I'll make you a crutch," and quickly produced an adapted broom handle for the mortified Andy.

Another classic Zeljko story is when he and Ann bought a three-wheeled Morgan in Edinburgh. I don't know if he had a license or had much experience driving, but they hadn't had it long before he drove it down a main street and got the front wheel stuck in a tram track. Standing by the inevitable wreck, he cursed the tram driver for not getting out of his way.

Ann could have married a strait-laced man; she chose Zeljko and got fired from her job. They were a team on many projects, such as "Torn Canvas", KSA, weavings, making this wonderful family, so I want to recognize her role today.

Liz and Zeljko were a team for the last 26 years and worked together under the same roof. I know it's not easy for two artists to live together, let alone when one is a Kujundzic, so I consider this an achievement and want to appreciate Liz for her loyalty, patience and love. It must have helped having enough kilns!

My message for Zeljko's extended family is that you'll always be close to him. Grief is a difficult thing. It takes a long time and many stages. My wish for you is that this be an opportunity to reflect on your lives with Zeljko, remember what he gave you, what you learned. The tears will wash the hurt away. The joy and love will remain.

Do you remember him whistling? Listen and you can hear it again…

Bill Horne
January 28, 2003