Thursday, July 15, 2010

Eulogy For A Mentor: Sir Laszlo Ispanky

Sir Laszlo Ispanky, husband, father, friend, mentor, artist. Born 1919 in Budapest, Hungary. He was the youngest of 10 children, served in the Hungarian Army, was a POW in Siberia for 11 months and for all of that, had a wicked sense of humor. “Be good, or be bad, but just be careful.” he’d always say.
Laszlo came into my life through the great fortune of marrying a beautiful, young nurse, Susan Toft. In the ‘early years’, before marrying Laszlo, Suzie lived with my parents Rudy and Valeria Girandola and my four brothers and sister. To this day, we refer to her as Aunt Suzie. Laszlo had a great eye for beauty, which is what drew him to Aunt Suzie, but he was smart as well. As a nurse, always caring for people, Suzie gave such loving care to Laszlo right to his very last days. After Suze and Laszlo were married, they continued to come over on a regular basis, always with bags and bags of food, which was VERY welcome by our large family. Every year of our childhood we spent Christmas with Suzy and Laszlo and eventually, Jason, their son, who is really like a baby brother to us. They would give us gift after gift, making each of us feel so special, like my sister Chrissy, as her birthday was Christmas day, or Neal, Suszie’s godchild. For me, always amazing art books, tools, paints, easels and stretchers.
When I was fifteen, Laszlo purchased a painting from me. It was oil on canvas (both of which he had supplied). What I didn’t quite realize then, but thinking back now, was that around the same time he was adding a piece of mine to his ‘collection,’ President Gerald Ford was selecting pieces of his to give to heads of state around the world.
During Christmas, or other days, whenever we visited, I never missed a chance to make my way into his studio. Always in awe, I would look at books stacked floor to ceiling (20 foot ceilings), each and every one with pieces of paper slips stuck here and there making notations for a seemingly endless range of work. Works capturing early Americana, like “George Washington Kneeling in Prayer at Valley Forge,” or “Betsy Ross,” sewing the first American Flag or bold, visionary and powerful works like “Let There Be Light,” “Wind” and “Storm.” And of course, the greatest thrill I had was seeing those works in clay, not yet cast, knowing I was one of the first to see them. How little I realized one was destined for Anwar Sedat, or Princess Grace or Liberace. I didn’t quite grasp that this man provided the inspiration to those who inspired the world. What I knew, was he inspired me.
As I worked my way through school, Laszlo continued to give me boxes and boxes of paints. He even hired me to make some canvas for him. When I had a studio of my own, I would on occasion find him and Aunt Suzy just outside the studio window, peering in with smiles of encouragement on their faces.
Many years later, after Laszlo had fallen very ill and his memory was all but gone, I was called for the most significant commission of my life. I was asked to create a sculpture honoring firefighters who lost their lives saving others in the twin towers. My first stop was to Suzy and Laszlo’s house. Laszlo was sitting at the table being fed by nurse Suzy. I explained to him why I was there.
“You remember Lotsy,” aunt Suzie prompted, “the towers, the firefighters who died?”
“Yes.” he nodded. His eyes began to burn with passion as he shot out a series of questions. “How high up will it be?” I told him. “Indoor or out?” I told him. He stared me in the eye and gave me the most profound advice of my life.
“What you must do is make something that will make everyone go…” and Laszlo dropped his jaw in an expression of amazement. He was instructing me to make something amazing.
“Go in the studio and take anything you need.” Aunt Suzie chimed in. Laszlo nodded in agreement.
A few weeks later, I was told by Aunt Suzie that they’d visit my studio again, this time to see the sculpture in process. I worked through the night trying to get something more than just a drawing and wire finished. I put chunks and chunks of his clay onto the board, heating them in the oven so I could move faster. Finally, they arrived. Suzie brought his walker around and helped Laszlo out of his side of the car. Slowly he made his way over to the clay and was seated in a chair just in front. He smiled although he looked frail and tired as he began inspecting the piece. He lifted his head towards me and with a puzzled look pointed at the featureless clay that was waiting to be sculpted.
“Whose face goes here?” he asked me. I showed him the photograph of one of the men.
“Paulie,” I explained, realizing I had not impressed him in the least with the clay sitting there, amporphous. He gave me a look that takes about 90 years and a stay in a Siberian concentration camp to perfect.
“Well do it!” His eyes locked onto mine with all the ferocity of a college football coach. It was a power that projected straight through his eyes.
Feeling suddenly called to action, I grabbed his tools and began sculpting away at the clay that would be the face of Paulie, carving deep into where the eyes would go. Laszlo’s eyes lit up with approval and excitement. At a break, I asked him if he would touch his hand to Paulie’s outstretched (and as yet unsculpted) hand, so that Suzie could get a picture of us both. He looked down with an expression almost of disdain. I couldn’t quite make it out.
“Please,” I asked, “just for one second.”
He looked down again and touched his hand to the clay, then quickly pulled it away. I thought for sure I had now asked too much of this old man. I thought the clay was too cold and uncomfortable to his touch. He looked again at the unformed hand and then did something that took my breath away. This frail man reached down to his chair and lifted it, and turned it in one motion so that he was facing the sculpture square on. In the next moment, he grabbed the outstretched hand with both of his and began plying and changing the formless clay until it truly resembled a hand. His eyes darted about the floor.
“He’s looking for his tools.” Aunt Suzie explained.
I quickly grabbed one and thrust it into his hand. Laszlo reached towards the hand and began cutting the line in the palm, just above the thumb. This line, he had explained to me from my first waking moment as an artist, was the life line of a man or woman. It wrapped down around the thumb, cutting around the wrist. This man, with little left in his life, took his last energy and breathed it into my sculpture. Five minutes passed like an eternity. Finally, he dropped the tool and looked pleadingly at me.
“Will you ask Suzie to bring me home now?” and nodded in her direction. She came and collected him. As I watched him leave my studio, I understood his final lesson of art. This man, whose artwork circles the globe, embodied that energy we call ‘art.’ He didn’t possess it, it possessed him, and did what it would with him. He was a man who inspired those who inspired nations. Sir Laszlo Ispanky, husband, father, artist and mentor was a force of nature whom I had the honor of being inspired by.


At July 16, 2010 at 12:16 AM , Blogger Rudy's Second Thought said...

Robert I got the full force of your tribute to Laszlo upon reading those thoughts. At the Mass Thursday I could not have been more proud of you and your confidence in delivering those beautiful words. Everyone I spoke to congratulated me as though I were the one on that altar speaking what you had written about Laszlo and his wife Suze. I knew you would do a great job. It was even better than your remarks at the dedication of your memorial to the fallen firefighters. It was emotional and from the heart. Because of my hearing problem, I was straining to hear every word you spoke. The gaps were filled in after reading your eulogy. It doesn't get any better for a father to see and hear his son dazzle the congregation with your personal words about a very great artist. I am so glad your very good friend Al, the 9/11 firefighter came to hear you and pay his respects. He came over to the car as I was leaving to congratulate me on your effort. He had a tear in his eye. When you came in to Bo's House after the funeral all the people there applauded you. For a moment I thought that applause was for me...but, then, I thought, it was because, after all, you are my son. Love and prayers always, Rob. DAD

At July 17, 2010 at 4:24 PM , Blogger Robert Girandola said...

Thank you Dad - it was very moving - you taught me everything I know about loving and being strong so yes, the applause was for you :)

At July 17, 2010 at 6:53 PM , Blogger Steve L said...

Robert, I am so sorry for your loss of someone so special in your life. Reading your eulogy gave me a greater appreciation as to the genuine heart you possess and what it has brought to the world. The kindness and love that surrounds you with family and friends is so evident in who you are. I do not doubt the pride they all feel for the man that you are. Your words have truly captured the essence of your friend and mentor. Thank you for sharing them Robert. Much Love. Steve. (Windowsot)

At July 18, 2010 at 12:16 AM , OpenID tormentedinhiding said...

First, please accept my heartfelt condolences for what must be such a painful loss for you.

Your words for your mentor, Sir Laszlo Ispanky, moved me to tears, even the second time I read them, for I feel so much the genuine sense that your mentor made a lifelong impact on you, as deep as yours has been on me through your 'Wheatfield Bound.'

Reading of the painting Laszlo purchased from you as a fifteen year-old boy was so poignant. That story makes me understand how very much he believed in your talent, and how much the genuine support and belief in others can impact a life, as Laszlo so obviously did yours. I am quite sure he was as proud to have your painting in his "collection" as he was of any other that you admired then in awe.

His words to you, "make something amazing," certainly impacted you, for you did then, and continue doing so today. I can envision you carving the face of "Paulie," as you created the sculpture honoring firefighters who lost their lives saving others in the twin towers. The way you describe how Laszlo "carved the lifeline on the palm of Paulie's outstretched hand" makes me know without question this one thing: Your mentor, Sir Laszlo Ispanky, that beautiful Hungarian soul who "was a man who inspired those who inspired nations," was inspired. He was inspired by a young boy who grew to become a brilliantly talented artist. He was inspired by a man many of us know as Robert Girandola. You, my dear friend, through your art, will heal wounded souls, touch hearts and inspire in ways Laszlo himself likely knew even then.

Thank you for sharing this touching eulogy. As one whom has been blessed by the healing power of your art, I am eternally grateful to have crossed your path.

Much like Sir Laszlo Ispanky "took his last energy and breathed it into your sculpture," your art will continue to live and give energy, healing and life to many more who are blessed enough to be touched by it and you.

A very grateful soul . . .


At July 18, 2010 at 1:53 AM , Blogger rockingjude said...

Robert~You are so very blessed to have had such a force of nature in your life~I am so sorry for your loss; but of course he will always be with you~I didn't quite realize the berth of your art but I can see that it is indeed great and all encompassing...

I commend you for making use of your gift and also in being able to reach out and help others...That is truly wondrous ~ Thank you so much for choosing to include me in your circle of trust and let me learn of this great man~

I admire artists of all kinds but this is beyond greatness...May you always be blessed and allowed to share the gift that you two had together, with the world...He will live on forever in the works that he created, and of course through you to whom he chose to share his fire and soul with...

~hugs, jude~

At July 19, 2010 at 8:51 PM , Blogger Commish374 said...


A wonderful tribute - thank you for sharing. People, like Art, live forever in the impact they have on those around them.

At July 28, 2010 at 12:54 PM , Blogger don.nelson said...

Thank you for sharing these very moving thoughts. I was deeply saddened to hear of Sir Ispanky's passing. I have followed his work since I was in Jr. College in 1981 in NE Oklahoma where I began collecting his porcelains. Many of us only wish we could have known him the way you did. You are so fortunate to have shared such a special relationship with the Living Master. I was privileged to speak with him on the phone a couple of times and to have received letters in the mail. Each communication conveyed his passion for art and life. Something we all need to embrace more seriously. Thank you again for your thoughts. They spoke deeply to me. He will be missed by many of us who admired him and his work over the years from far away.
Don Nelson-Dallas, Texas


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