Some Things Charlie Said To Me
In October 1975, a friend who had worked for Charlie suggested that I call him to ask for a job. I was a 22 year old sculpture graduate, flat broke and full of strong opinions about just about everything. I could think of only one pipe organ whose impressively huge interior and five manual console I had once seen and heard, the Longwood Gardens Organ in Pennsylvania. However, my poverty and my precarious day to day life style pushed me to find the courage to call Charlie. Well, we chatted for about 45 minutes and he offered me a "try out" for a job! I had formed a mental picture of him based on the youthful and dulcet timbre of his speaking voice and the quick engaging wit of his facile mind. I arrived at the shop a few days later to begin what was to be a formative relationship with one of the great mentors of my life. I met Charles B. Fisk, who appeared to be a little shy, a little older and more conservative looking than my imagined picture from that marvelous voice.
The adventure began. Charlie had a way of inspiring you to think that building organs with him was noble work, the best work, and that the money was secondary to the life you were living in the work. His criticisms, which were plentiful, represented a kind of abiding interest and personal investment in a person's success. Somehow, whenever you had his attention you felt privileged. It was his atelier and things were done his way, though he always encouraged collaborative problem solving. This was stimulating and formative to any creative mind. Ever improving the sound and the mechanical action of the instruments were always the most important considerations. He believed in art too, insisting that, fine artists, not "wood - carvers" adorn the facades of his instruments with unique designs. Here are just a few of the piquant memories I have of my relationship with CBF which I now see were sign posts in my growth as an artist and a human being.
Charlie, to me, as I impatiently pestered him about when I might be able to begin work on the Wellesley carvings:
"Look, you should never look forward to anything until it's already happened."
Charlie to me in the drafting room one day as he explained something about the circle of fifths:
"Be careful, you might learn something."
As I proudly showed off my first car, a formerly bright red 1969 Saab 96 which I had repainted "British Racing Green" resulting in a dull olive khaki color Charlie said:
"Oh, it's Goose Sh$# Green!"
As I proudly showed off my first sculpture in wood, a polished Ram's Head made from a maple wood "kiln sample" which the hardwood salesman had given to me Charlie said:
"Oh, it's Rammy Lamby, it looks as though it should have wheels and a string to pull it along!"
On innumerable occasions he actually took my tools from my hands and laid them aside when I was polishing and perfecting something or other, saying:
One day I was talking to Charlie in his office, generally complaining about how things were not going so well for me at the time and that there didn't seem to be enough money and so on. Toward the end of our conversation he said with a most sympathetic tone, "Well, I don't suppose a small raise would help." I readily agreed and later that day stopped short thinking, "Huh? He actually charmed me into declining a pay raise!"
I once remarked to Charlie as he routinely and genially corrected my English grammar: "I'm going to call this the Fisk Finishing School for Girls."
One Saturday I determined to fix the radio in my poor old Saab. Now, I knew that I had no idea what to do though I did manage to take the thing out of the dashboard. I remembered that Charlie, the electronics genius, had a sweet tooth so I came up with a plan. I bought two big bags of M&M's, one plain and one peanut just to give my plan every chance of success. I carefully arranged the radio with the chocolate temptingly scattered on my back bench and waited for Charlie to pass by. Sure enough, in no time he was munching away and turning the radio over in his hands. "Charlie, I asked, do you think you could figure out what's wrong with it?" Well, he hadn't the faintest idea. We opened it up and closed it back seeing nothing obviously wrong inside as the M&M's dwindled. He went on his way towards the pipe shop and I put the radio back into the Saab. It worked! When I gratefully reported this to Charlie sometime later, he said,
"Hee hee hee, your first lesson in electronics."
Charlie was uneasy about giving compliments, particularly direct deliveries. He said to me as he handed me a beautiful recommendation he had written about me for a grant application, "Don't believe a word of it." I took it in stride, as meaning, "Don't let what I am now telling you I really think about you, go to your head!" This was all part of my artistic tempering at the C. B. Fisk forge.
Charlie to me in the middle of the pipe shop, (he strongly disapproved of music in the workplace) as the waltz in a certain movement of a Mahler symphony came over the speakers:
"Would you care to dance?"
Charlie, consoling me after a relationship break up:
"All endings are beginnings."
Charlie said to me many times in the summer and fall of 1983, during our last collaboration, the long awaited wood - carvings for the Wellesley organ, his lovely gentle voice becoming steadily weaker over the months:
"Make them fierce!"
Charlie placing a crown of the Wellesley
Organ model upon Morgan's head.
Photo: Owen Jander