‘Cousin’ Jim visits Wisconsin

In all of my life I have never felt a need, nor found a good
reason, to learn anything about ballet. Thinking back, I would have
to say that the closest that I ever came to learning the principles
of ballet would have been one spring when I was a kid. My brother
and I peeled bark off of popple trees for a dime a stick back then
to earn some money. If you’ve never worked at that task, don’t be
in a hurry to try. It’s nasty work. One day I tried running down
the length of a snotty seven-stick popple trunk after I peeled it –
just to see if it could be done, I suppose. Well, I’m here to tell
you it can’t be done. At least not by a Bortz who doesn’t know
anything about ballet. I think I made it almost two sticks before I
landed in the slash pile.

The only other near-ballet experience that I can think of would
have to do with slipping on rocks while fishing rivers for sturgeon
and smallies, or small streams for brookies. I ended up with waders
full of water often enough to learn that I should buy a boat. Or
not wear waders.

I did learn something about ballet on a recent Saturday morning,
though. And almost without even trying. I made a stop at the Leigh
Yawkey Woodson Art Museum on Saturday, Sept. 6, which just happened
to be the opening of the museum’s 33rd annual Birds in Art exhibit.
Only, I didn’t go there for the exhibit. Nope, I wanted to meet my
long lost cousin, Jim Bortz, who happens to a bonafide wildlife
artist from Stoneboro, Penn. Actually, we really don’t know if Jim
and I are related. I’m just calling him my cousin so that if we
ever end up in a place where they purvey malted beverages, he’ll
feel obliged to buy the first round. Still, the fact that we share
the same last name, as well as the same outdoor interests, seemed
like reason enough to go meet Jim.

I first learned about Cousin Jim through a mutual friend, Steve
Heiting, of St. Germain. When Jim started doing illustrations for
Musky Hunter Magazine a number of years ago, Steve called to let me
know he had hired a relative of mine from Pennsylvania. Over the
years, as Jim’s contributions to the magazine expanded to written
word and then cover art, Heiting would ask every so often if Jim
and I were related. Well, we didn’t know then, and we still don’t,
but considering as how the Bortz surname is not all that common and
considering that we know that the Wisconsin Bortz crew spun off
from Pennsylvania, there’s a better-than even chance that Jim and I
are related.

We didn’t try to settle that question on Sept. 6. We just had a
good time meeting for the first time and sharing a few quick
stories. That alone probably qualifies Jim as a relative more than
anything – he can spin a pretty good one. A little irreverent,
maybe – that fits, too.

I didn’t come right out and ask Jim what he knows about ballet,
but ballet is what got him into the Birds in Art exhibit. No, he
doesn’t wear tights – we’d make him give up his last name if the
did that – but his painting that got him selected for the show is
called “Backwater Ballet,” and it depicts a great blue heron taking
off from water. Cool stuff.

In telling this story, I have to apologize to the Leigh Yawkey
Woodson Art Museum folks. I have always heard about the exhibit,
but had never attended in the past. Well, I’ll tell you this: Make
an effort to get there this year. There is some great art displayed
in that building. In fact, Cousin Jim was the one who made me aware
of just how big this Bird in Art show really is.

“This is the show in the nation,” Jim said.

That must then make him the best artist in the Bortz family,
because his stuff has been juried into the show two consecutive
years. Not bad for a guy who has been only working at this level in
the art world for five years.

The other thing I discovered is that the museum staff organizes
a number of seminars and events around the show, which, by the way,
runs from through Nov. 9.

On Thursday, Oct. 9, Cousin Jim returns to the museum to give a
talk called Art and the Musky Hunter, starting at 6 p.m. As a field
editor for Musky Hunter Magazine, Jim will take a lighthearted look
at his chosen professional path and his interest in the
outdoors.

The list of events includes a bird dog “manners” talk by Rich
Wissink, of Merrill, on Thursday, Oct. 2 at 4:30 and 6 p.m. Museum
Executive Director Marcia Theel and her team have come up with a
whole bunch of events that run through Nov. 9. Go to the museum
website at www.lywam.org to see
everything on the list.

Cousin Jim is supposed to be in town for a few days before and
after his Oct. 9 presentation. I did what I figured was the
honorable thing and offered to take him fishing while he is here.
He didn’t come right out and say thanks, but no thanks, but he
didn’t readily accept, either. I figure he must have already talked
to Heiting about my lack of fishing prowess, or he reads the
newspaper. Still, he carries that shared moniker, so I_don’t know
if he can expect a lot of invites from Wisconsin fishermen. They’ll
hear “Bortz” and leave him on shore – then he’ll have to fish with
me. I can guarantee him one thing, we’ll have fun.

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