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Joe's Neighborhood

‘For everything there is a season…’

9/24/2014

There’s a man. And there’s a man. And there’s a man. Yup, another man. Of course, one more man. And there’s a… hold it, my goodness, it’s a woman.

joes1It’s not a shabby crowd in which to hang. Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, Fabritius, Steen. To tell your mom that your painting is hanging just a few steps from “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” is not exactly embarrassing. Although it certainly can’t be denied that it was a men’s club back then, however great they were. A men’s club… and that 17th-century wonder woman, Judith Leyster.

But first things first.

Westrum Optometry sits in the heart of Des Moines East Village. A lovely shop in a lovely building in the lovely historic district. A mom-and-pop business. Joel Westrum and Karime Reveiz Westrum run this show. Joel is the optometrist, and Karime is the office manager. A powerful duo.

They are young.  They are enthusiastic. They are hard-working. They genuinely want to help you — in English or Spanish — whatever works. It is no surprise to find out they are small-town Iowans from Webster City and Stratford. The heart of farm country right here in downtown Des Moines.

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And Judith Leyster?

Well, Leyster was a rare female Dutch Master. And one of her few paintings, “Man Offering Money to a Young Woman,” hangs in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, Netherlands.

joes2This painting by Leyster isn’t about the crucifixion of Jesus, or Adam and Eve in the Garden, or David’s defeat of Goliath. Nope. This would be an unsuccessful solicitation of prostitution. Perhaps there is a gender issue here.

Leyster was a star, according to Judith Molenaer for the National Gallery of Art:

“Leyster achieved a degree of professional success that was quite remarkable for a woman of her time. By 1633 she was a member of the Saint Luke’s Guild of Haarlem, the first woman admitted for whom an oeuvre can be cited, and in 1635 she is recorded as having three students.”

Now, nearly 400 years later, Leyster sits in the main hallway — Rembrandt is in the room to the right, and Vermeer is in the room to the left. Not bad.

And what about Karime Reveiz Westrum?

joes3Reveiz Westrum went to college in Environmental Studies. But she loved art. All forms of art. And took as many art classes as possible from the University of Iowa. Soon she had enough for a double major. It turned out painting was one of her true delights.

“This picture was an assignment that I had due. I didn’t realize it was due until a half hour before class. My cat was laying on the picture as I was doing it. You can see some of its paw prints. I didn’t realize what the picture was at the time. But I love it.”

As she should.

But then life does a few twists, as it is inclined to do for all of us.

First Leyster. She married in 1636. She had five kids and helped with her husband’s business. Which was art. A big job. As for her art? Brought to a standstill with marriage. Life took over. She had kids to raise, a business to run. She ended up burying three of those kids and died herself at the age of 50, not so unusual back then. She is an old Dutch Master who did all her art by 27. Children, husband and business were the stuff of her remaining 23 years.

The End.

Is that unfair? Are you offended? Was she robbed by her husband and children and business of even more artistic accomplishment? Did she get the short end of the stick by dying at 50? Should she be shaking her fist at the gods?

Consider Karime Reveiz Westrum. Spread throughout Westrum Optometry are other paintings and pottery, all created by her. But if you ask, you will find that all the art is at least 9 years old. Nothing produced since 2005. The year of her marriage.

“After we got married and started the office, I just got out of the habit of making stuff. I’m always a little bit disappointed in myself. It’s like the classic, ‘Oh, I don’t have time for whatever.’ But I plan to someday get back into making stuff. And then I always think it doesn’t have to be that you’re creating formal art. Every day you make little creations. Whether it’s my child’s drawings, different things we do together — I don’t know how to put my finger on that — maybe I say this to make myself feel better. But people create things every day. They can be small things. Or large things. Or things that nobody else really sees. Hopefully, I’m creating something.”

And with your business?

“We just went into this business as a team. We did what we had to do. Neither one of us had experience at running a business. For example, the medical part of it — the billing, insurance — I learned as I went. And I’m still learning. We have come a long way. It is not just the two of us anymore. We have learned to delegate. And three years ago, Helena arrived.”

Did your new baby turn everything upside down?

“No, she turned everything right side up.”

joes4And your art?

Karime Reveiz Westrum smiles.

“Right now I want to be a good mom.  That’s kind of what it comes down to.”

Hmmmm… perhaps that old rascally Preacher in Ecclesiastes wasn’t pulling our leg. Perhaps we are all piece workers in our own life, just going from job to job. Seasonal help. Today you’re a mom, tomorrow you’re an Old Master.

Why not? CV           

JoeWeegBWJoe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines. Joe can be reached by email at josephpweeg@gmail.com.

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