If you had been with me a week ago as we pulled into the circular driveway to the home of the Schwartz’s, you might have been as incredulous as me. A gorgeous brick building loomed over, casting a shadow across the entire driveway. As we exited the vehicle and proceeded up the stone path, a cool midday breeze poured over the hill and brushed against our faces. The birds were alive and the warm sun felt fantastic. We let ourselves into a small foyer at the front of the building where we were greeted by Gerry, a kind elderly woman. She welcomed us into the kitchen to a full spread of salad fixings. The kitchen was alive with aromas; roasted meat wafted into my nostrils, the oven sizzled away and a dark stock simmered gently on the stove.
Three other guests sat at a corner table and introduced themselves as Maggie and Sophie, both sisters and Dalton. Maggie, was a short girl with dreadlocks, braids and beads woven into her hair. Dalton, her significant other had similar hair to match. Sophie was more reserved with a happy demeanor and hair that ran down over her shoulders. We made casual conversation introducing ourselves, and in David’s case, caught up for lost time. I began browsing some of the art on the walls: each piece unique, culminating into an eclectic collection that was only a facadesp for the rest of the house. Shortly after the Sophie’s and Maggie’s father, Lain appeared and gave us a quick introduction to some of the astounding pieces hung about the walls. Gerry gave the announcement that lunch was ready and we were instructed to get Dean from his studio. David, Birte and I clambored down the stairs into the basement lead by Sophie to collect her grandfather. Still matching the theme of the house, the entire stairway was full of various hanging paintings, sketches and other mediums. We pulled open the studio door and there sat a tiny old man with large rimmed spectacles. He was meticulously lining up a picture in a frame – to undoubtedly hang on the wall too. Dean interrupted his work to show us some of the other pieces he had been working on as well. With some convincing we managed to get him moving upstairs for the impending feast. As we walked out of the basement, the house loomed with fantastic aromas. Rounding the corner into the kitchen they came together into a marvelous symphony of smells. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, half roasted squashes, peas and now along with the salad, various cheese, crackers and three different selections of bread. Lunch – they call it – happens this way each sunday at the Schultz house. This “go big or go home” mentality should have prepared me for what was to some.
We sat down to a perfect relaxed lunch, plates overflowing, with all sorts of accoutrements. We enjoyed pleasant conversation as the young folk went around the table telling each other a little about ourselves and what we are currently up to. Interestingly enough, each of us was on some sort of sabbatical or break to help realign our thinking. In classic grandmotherly style Gerry insisted we go for seconds, which Birte and I more than willingly did. We ended the meal with a spread of fresh baked desserts of brownies and an assortment of cookies.
Our plan following this repast was to attend the Decorah Symphony Orchestra. We had plenty of time before our show and David requested that we get a proper house tour, remember, “go big or go home.” We started in the dining room since we were all present. Dean commenced by saying, “if you have any questions about anything, I’ll lie about them.” I knew this was going to be wild. In the dining room we were surrounded by a myriad of items. Original porcelain made from molds of master potter, Marguerite Wildenhain; a slab of hieroglyphics 4000 years old, which only three people can read and translate; original Picasso painted pottery and a smattering of arrowheads littered the shelves; pottery thrown, of all shapes and sizes, by famous artists and family members were intricately laid out intermingled with paintings from same miscellany of artists, some friends and some millionaires.
We dove into a tour of the first floor. Each room we entered, totalling five, had various mediums of framed art matching the characteristics of the dining room. We then took a hike upstairs and were shown an even more extensive collection. Each room laid out intricately, walls laden with sketches and paintings paired with sculptures and pottery on beautifully constructed pedestals. Dean led the tour from room to room where the themes of each become more specific.
The proceeding rooms were stocked with various artifacts from around the world. An entire room dedicated to German artists and the Bauhaus and another loaded with artifacts from a four year archeological dig by Dean in Panama. The Africa room had ebony statues, intricate stone carvings, and yards of stone carved bead necklaces. An Asian theme dominated another with a collection of paintings and pottery, some pieces worth over a quarter of a million dollars. Hallways and some of the rooms themselves were decorated with extensive libraries of reference material relating to each respective room. As we toured each, Dean handed us pieces and artifacts, some over thousands of years old, to hold and inspect – it almost felt wrong.
We concluded our tour prematurely because we were running behind to the show. Dean has stories about about each individual item – and he shared many of them – but if I included them all in this post, its length would surpass even the miles of beads in their collection. As we descended the flight of stairs into the dining room we were greeted by one last surprise. Laid out on the same table we ate, were over 50 thrown miniature pots crafted by Lain and his daughters. We were instructed by the family to inspect them and select our favorite to take home. I was just as incredulous departing as I was on arrival.
Many are familiar with “Mid-Western hospitality”, the kind where strangers open their home and offer the guests nearly anything they want. For the Schwartz’s this was a understatement. The care I was given, along with David and Birte was some of the finest I have ever experienced. I felt honored to participate in a fantastic meal, magnificent tour of a living, tangible museum and receiving a gift made truly from the heart. It is quite characteristic of the people of Decorah to display this genuine hospitality but nevertheless it was still greatly appreciated and quite remarkable.