A Saga Ends??
Posted by parhad on July 26, 2001 at 11:46:50:
I think I closed a chapter yesterday on an interesting episode in the life of an Assyrian sculptor. The personal is most definitely the political when you deal with our
In 1995, I believe, the convention was held in Chicago. I shipped out 2000 pounds of plaster in the form of the finished Sumuramat and lion, in several crates. For
the entire convention, my sons and I hauled these sculptures around in the back alleys and up and down the freight elevators of the Sheraton Hotel. At the Sunday
banquet we'd stacked the sections up and had an unveiling. For all of that we picked up not a single donor until the day we checked out and struck up a
conversation in the lobby with a Mr. Sapper Sapper of London.
He was an elderly gentleman (died three years ago I believe), rather successful with his own Brokerage House in London, and something else in Geneva...I'm not
sure exactly, except to note that there was money floating around. He said he would donate for a maquette of Sumuramat and sure enough when he returned to
London, wired the money.
The next year the state convention was held in San Jose and Jackie Bejan put on the best convention I'd ever been to. I displayed several sculptures there and we
picked up some more donors. One of the sculptures I had on display was a maquette of the monument of Ashurbanipal. Over the years many people had asked if I
had any more...if I could make more, but I'd said the edition was sold out except for this last one.
I can't remember exactly how things got to where they did but I recall being cornered by Mr. Sapper and his wife, who were angry that I had sold some other piece
to someone else before letting them know. At that convention a certain person had bought a copy of the large head of Ashurbanipal and the same person, and two
others wanted the maquette I had there as well. The Sappers made such a fuss that I agreed to sell them the maquette of Ashurbanipal. They were mollified
somewhat but still came away thinking I was a major crook of SOME kind. Of course the other potential buyers were upset.
When Mr. Sapper returned to London he called me to say he wanted to have his son's name placed on the Sumuramat Monument next to his own, that he'd bought
the maquette for his son (who was in the same business) and would I do that? I said that this was a sale between he and I...the donations to the monument had to
pass through a non-profit agency, and it had been my policy not to swap "gift" maquettes for people. If they donated for a monument, they received the maquette for
that monument and couldn't "select" one from a catalogue I didn't have anyway.
He insisted however, said if I didn't agree the sale was off. I said that was a little hard as there had been people at the convention perfectly happy with the
arrangement as it stood, and that for him to change our deal now like this didn't seem fair. He bristled at that, said take it or leave it. At that time I was bending every
nerve to finish the monument and the sculpture I was selling was all being used to finish the monument anyway, so I caved in. I asked him if he would at least either
buy something else or make up the differnece because the other people in the top category had all given $6,500.00 while he wanted his son's name to go in that spot
for $5,000.00. I said it wasn't fair to those who'd given the full amount. Now mind you these people aren't exactly strapped for funds, and I'd made the concession
already, and he'd threatened to kill the deal AND I had no one else just then, so I felt it was a reasonable request given the fact that if word got our I'd be accused of
all sorts of things by Assyrian "patriots" who can't wait to "patriot you" right into the ground.
It was at this point that things got nasty. He said that I was getting enough money from him already (he must have included the donation the year before) and that the
sculptures weren't worth all that much anyway. His tone was as insulting as his words. Now I will admit, gentle reader, that I could have hung up the phone and
found someone else. But I run on Machiavelli's principle that the State cannot be bound by individual rules of morality...not if it wants to survive against other States.
Assyrians have no State, no country, therefore I am a State within myself...I need that extra leverage or I wont survive...not by using individual morality against other
I was now up against another State...the state of mind that says that any Assyrian who gets anything near to what his work would command if he WASN'T
Assyrian...is cheating someone if not Fate itself. It is a state of idiocy, and MY state was going to battle THAT state.
I agreed to his deal, I dropped my request that he make up the difference. Now he had not asked me to sign anything before, but he did now. I figure he knew he'd
"bent" me to his will and wanted to hold me there. He said he would have a contract drawn up and faxed to me, and that when I signed and returned it, he would
send the money. I agreed to everything. The contract came, all twelve pages of it...I signed and returned it and the money was deposited and I forgot about the
whole thing, waiting for them to contact me.
Nine months later I was reminded by his son in law who said the family was building a residence in Newport in Southern California and was wondering when they
would receive the maquette. This time it was my sad duty to inform them there was a "problem". The problem was that I was not going to comply. I was warned that
this would be very bad, that we had a small community, word would travel (like it doesn't if you mind your P's and Q's anyway)...that Mr. Sapper was a generous
man who could be counted upon in the future, hint hint.
One of the guidelines I operate under is that I represent more than myself...arrogant perhaps but there you have it. I am not in "business"...I am not interested in
"getting ahead"...or rather I have my own version of what that means. I am probably the first Assyrian artist to insist on "white man's prices". It isn't greed on my part.
I want to establish a base-line above "starvation" or "degradation" for other artists who might come along. I think I've done that somewhat already. No one would
admit it of course, but I've raised the asking price. You can at LEAST ask for a fair price without causing whole herds of Assyrians to get the Fan Todds and faint
I also want to establish the idea that we should treat out artists better, much better, way much better. Without their efforts in the future we remain what we are...a
source for doctors and engineers and cab drivers, and not a whole lot else...at least not AS Assyrians. We have many talented people among us who would no
sooner try a career in the Arts than they would a walk to Mt. Everest. So, when someone buys from me, or fools with me...it isn't just a sale or an isolated
incident...it reflects on the community's attitude or sophistication, or even sense of fair play, when dealing with our artists. Sapper did not only take advantage of me
personally... he maintained and fostered the low level of respect we have when dealing with what we of all people should recognize is a most powerful tool to be
used when facing the outside world....The Arts...our own especially.
Anyway, I refused to make the piece even though they offered to pay the extra $1500.00. said it wasn't about money...it never had been, but how were they going
to believe me? Money was what most people LIVED for. I have no aversion to it, but there is much more at stake here. Damn the furure sales, damn the gossip and
ruin of my reputation, it was shot long before that anyway.
There things stood till I received a call a year later from Ramsey Sapper, the son, who said he was coming to America and by god would get his maquette or I'd be
sorrty. I tried to explain what had happened but he said they had a signed contract from me and that what I was claiming was all lies and nonsense. Said he was
prepared to sue...the usual. Now, one of the advantages of being a broke artist is that you have nothing anyone can "take"....I mean there has to be SOME
compensation, some justice in heaven and on earth for us.
I found out after our conversation that Mr. Sapper had died some months before. I was really upset that things had taken this turn, but I was determined to persist.
Mr. Sapper's name would go on the monument, of course...his son's name would not.
Sure enough I received papers notifying me of a hearing to be held in Los Angeles. I couldn't make out the papers though and missed it. I wanted very much to be
there... Next thing I knew there was a judgement from the court telling me that I would have to deliver said maquette AND place the name of Ramsey Sapper on
said monument as I'd agred to do in the contract. I ignored that as well.
Next, papers arrived asking me to come to court in Napa County (where I live) and "show cause" why I hadn't done as I was ordered to do. I showed up and stood
before the judge, Mr. Sapper had an attorney there, and was asked if I would agree to be "in compliance", I said sure thing, and we were sent to side room to work
out an arrrangement. The judge said he hoped we could come to an agreement among ourselves etc.
I told the attorney that I didn't have the maquette laying around the studio, I would have to make one, and unfortunately the mold had deteriorated to such an extent
that I simply couldn't, in good conscience, allow an inferior sculpture to leave the hallowed premises of the tractor barn of a studio I couldn't keep a roof on anyway.
Said I was willing to give Ramsey another sculpture, that he could choose even from among ones which were set at a higher price etc. The attorney said he would
discuss the matter with his client, but wanted to know if the name of his client would appear on the monument as per the court's order. It was important to Ramsey
that his name appear next to his father's on the monument..last wish and all that. I agreed to do as the Judge ordered.
I sent photographs to the attorney, who forwarded them to Ramsey. Ramsey began sending me certified registered letters soon after and we eliminated the lawyer. I
got tired of this official way of communicating, sent him my number and ignored the next registered letter that came. Finally he called, told me which sculpture he'd
selected ($10,000 piece) and that was the one I delivered yesterday.
I have one last thing to do in order to be in complaince...that is to put the name on the monument. And here is where legal talk comes in handy. The order says I
have to put Ramsey's name on the "monument". It doesn't say where.
My concern all along was to play back the same treatment I was served. A switch was done to me...it was assumed that I would go along, would HAVE to go along
if I wanted the money he'd agreed to pay. The tables were turned on me, so I turned them back. I am at a disadvantage in these things because I don't have lawyers
and they knew I was rushing to finish the monument. Rich or powerful people accept their status as conferring the "Right" to do as they wish, as they can get away
with doing because so many advantages come to them through that status. That's how the United States can kill thousands and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and
starve their children. There are so many stories of artists being screwed in such "deals". I also had an obligation to screw back the person trying to screw me. After
all there had been no need of any contract as long as Sapper himself knew our deal was a fair one. He KNEW he pulled a fast one...that's why he felt he needed a
contract, to lock me in. He made a mistake...he thought I was normal.
It wasn't the money, I wound up giving them a piece that sells for twice the amount he paid. I wanted them to know that simply having the Law, or Sanctions they
impose, on their side will not be enough. This is what Ghassan will learn...it is better not to wake a tiger in his den...I don't play by rules he would understand. Leave
me a way out, a way to turn the tables on you and watch the crystal shatter. he was not going to get what his fatherr "forced" out of me. he was not going to get what
the court "ordered" me to give him. And he will not.
I never tried to screw them out of anything...I gave them a more expensive piece. It wasn't his court orders and lawyers that got him satisfaction in the end...I GAVE
it to him because I was fair all along. THEY began the foolishness and dropped the idea that soneone was out to cheat someone..HAD to be doing it, and it HAD to
be me. I liked Mr Sapper, I like what I know of his son Ramsey...I like John Nimrod well enough personally...but this isn't personal. When they treat me like thatand
get away with it, they will feel free to treat others the same way. Let them at least be wary, if they can't be fair.
When we delivered the sculpture to their gated compound in what has been described as the second most expensive place to live in this country, Ramsey was away
in Europe. A delightful Assyrian gentleman showed us is, but I would only go as far as the entryway to the house. My luck with these people would probably get me
accused of stealing the silverware, so we put the sculpture on the marble floor. The man said, "Did Ramsy tell you where to put the sculpture"?
"No", I said as we walked out..."I told HIM where to put it."