Al Dornisch on Les Kouba
Al Dornisch, a painter of wildlife art and winner of the 1985 South Carolina Duck Stamp competition met Kouba in 1970. He fondly recalls his time with Les, “My family and I moved to Minnesota in 1965. We had lived in a small town in Pennsylvania up until that time. There, no one had any idea that someone could actually sell paintings, certainly not make a living doing so. I had been a painter of sorts all of my life. It was more of a pastime for me, nothing serious. Raising eight children left me with little time or money for other kinds of personal leisure.”
“When I did find a spare moment I would take out my paints and work on a still-life or wildlife piece. I had three or four paintings sitting around when my wife, Carol, heard about this artist, Les Kouba, who made his living painting wildlife subjects. She had Jude, my oldest son, take those paintings to Mr. Kouba’s studio for his appraisal. He looked at my work and told Jude to have me call him. At the time, I had no idea who he was, nor the reputation he enjoyed, but I called him anyway. I remember that conversation very clearly. ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘maybe you should come down here and see me and we can talk about this wildlife stuff.’ I had always been interested in wildlife. If I wasn’t painting it, I was reading about it or looking at it. I was intrigued with this Kouba fellow, so I went downtown to his studio. I had never seen anything like it. First I walked around the place looking at the paintings, and then I met Kouba. By anyone’s measure, he was an imposing figure. Not only was he a big man physically, he is big in many other ways. He exudes a self-confidence that quickly tells you that he is the master of who he is, what he knows, and what he does.”
“We talked about my work and my dedication, and he told me that he thought that if I was willing to work at it, I might have a chance to do something with my talent. Over the next year or two, I got to know Les quite well. I would paint something and then take it to him for his critique. He was very helpful both in his constructive criticism and his encouragement. He helped me in so many different ways. I know very little about art, and he knew so much. He helped me to select my subject matter. He advised me in the choice of paint and brushes as well as the paper and board upon which I would paint. We talked about how to price art and how to sell it. He was open to any questions that I wanted to ask.”
“It finally reached a point where Les began to buy some of my things. I was amazed over that development. Looking back on it now, I realize that it was not because my work was wonderful. Now I know that those paintings were purchased to show encouragement to a beginning artist. Over the years I have learned that mine was not a unique situation. Kouba helped others in the same way.”
“What I really learned to appreciate most about Kouba was the impression he gave me, whether deserved or not, that he viewed me as an equal, perhaps not in quality or sophistication, but as an artist no less. He had invited me into the brotherhood, so to speak. It was his attitude of treating me as an equal, that I belonged, that meant so much to me. It was wonderful to realize that a man of his success and artistic stature respected my abilities and talent. I will never forget that, or him…a big blustering pussycat with a heart of gold.”
Excerpt taken from The Legacy of Les C. Kouba by Kay Johnson.