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Al Martinez

It's a great day for virtue and virginity. : Art and Sex

February 22, 1988|AL MARTINEZ

Thank God for the Simi Valley school board.

Its members have swooped down from the skies like agents of the Lord to save our teen-age children from the stark carnality of drinkers and dance-hall girls.

Without the board's ultimate definition of art as sin, a generation of whores and drunks would be coming at us from the bowels of suburbia, marching to the evil pipes of Satan himself.

Not since Smoot smote smut in Utah half a century ago has the banner of American morality been held so high. It's a great day for virtue and virginity.

You can almost hear the hosannas.

For those who missed the triumph of heaven over hell, the school board voted last week to reject a donation of art to Simi Valley High by the family of the late John Ehn.

Ehn was a trapper and a fisherman who, in his latter years, created cement sculptures of the Old West that have been hailed as triumphs of American folk art by experts who must be, by board standards, in league with the devil.

Ehn's daughters offered to give the school $300,000 worth of art, pay $25,000 for its installation and donate another $30,000 for its maintenance, so that the works of their father wouldn't die.

Art teacher Bruce Kanegai, whose multiplicity of honors over the years uniquely qualifies him to judge, urged acceptance and offered a slide show to the board supporting his position.

When the show was over, the audience applauded enthusiastically, and the board voted just as enthusiastically to reject the donation.

But why? I hear you ask.

Well, in addition to the majority determination that Ehn's stuff ain't art, the board also decided that his depictions of dance-hall girls, drinkers and gunslingers might have a deleterious effect on high school students who, as we all know, have never been exposed to sex, booze and murder.


I took a look at Ehn's work to determine for myself the kind of influence it might have on the unblemished souls of the teen-agers abiding just a spit and a hoot from L. A.

There, indeed, in the front yard of a place called Old Trappers Lodge, their bright enamel paint gleaming in a winter sun, were the sculptured ladies in the life of John Ehn, fully clothed but full-bosomed, flashing bloomers and garters and, in one case, God help us , a glimpse of naked thigh.

That's not all.

The yard abounds in tombstones also created by Ehn in a spurt of playful iniquity: the resting places of Slu-Foot Sue and Cut-Rate Kate and Killer Carson and Last Word Willie.

There's Sweet Celia, too, whose epitaph reads like an ode to debauchery: "Silly and frilly, she luved 2 well; luvers and likker led her to hell."

I tremble in fear for the moral safety of the Simi high schoolers to think how close they came to evil art.

Had the school board voted to accept Ehn's statues and tombstones, and had they been made available for viewing by the students, sooner or later, words like "gin" would creep into the campus lexicon and the smell of raw whiskey would permeate the halls of academia.

Female students, alas, would be tempted to emulate the painted faces and flashing thighs of the devil's own harem, swishing their hips, flaunting their bosoms.

Degraded by luvers and likker, the little darlings would soon fling themselves on the altar of degradation, trading sweetness and innocence for lust and a dollar tossed on their bloated and besotted bodies!

Makes you wanna retch.

The fact that the high school students will not, however, be subjected to areas of impiety of which they have no current knowledge is something the Simi Valley Board of Education should well be proud of.

Now, if they could only eliminate books, bikinis, television and movies, the circle of purity would be complete.

Out with the nudity of Michelangelo. Down with the filth of "Candide."

Doors would slam shut to luvers and likker alike, and the devil's knock would go unanswered.

No manner of sexual influence would ever again creep into that pristine enclave of moral grandeur, with the possible necessary exception of decent, baby-making things adults do in the dark, and even they would be asked to do it quietly.

Not only would the kids thus be free from sin, but they would be led by those God-fearing folks on the school board who know beyond doubt that art is something sold in department stores and that only Norman Rockwell truly loved Jesus.

It ought to bring great comfort to parents in the suburbs west of L. A. to know what immovable champions of human decency they have defining the parameters of art and the policies of their schools.

I am additionally encouraged that, by rejecting Ehn's artwork, the board has also protected its charges from the evils of ignorance.

Even though they might end up not knowing art from a hole in the ground, the kids will at least know how to correctly spell lovers and liquor during the times they may need them most.

John Ehn would probably get a hell of a kick out of that.

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