Dewey Blocksma: Art With Soul

Dewey Blocksma’s story, like his art, is an amalgam of disparate, complex, often raw parts: cutting kites out of a Pakistani sky, watching the sun set in Africa, hunching over gunshot victims in small-town Michigan emergency rooms. Blocksma, who turns 61 this month, spent his formative years living with his family in Lahore, Pakistan. His father, Ralph Blocksma, liberated concentration camps in Patton’s Third Army, and afterward, Blocksma says, "was preoccupied with the balance of good and evil." That in mind, he decided to move his young family to the newfound Islam state in 1948. At age 5, Blocksma found himself dressed in a little beret and overcoat aboard a freighter leaving from New York bound for the Red Sea. "My mother packed us up – books and orthopedic shoes. She was worried about our feet."

Young Blocksma and his family lived at the United Christian Hospital in the plains of Lahore, where his plastic surgeon father performed an innovative procedure called Advanced Arm Tube Reconstruction on women who had suffered nose amputation. During wartime both Muslim and Hindu men were guilty of the deed. As Blocksma explains, "There were men who thought a good way to get back with another man was to cut off his wife’s nose."

At that time, back in the States, nose reconstruction was performed by using a flap of forehead skin to form a new nose, but because the forehead is sacred in Pakistani culture, Ralph Blocksma created a flap of skin using the upper arm. The women could wait 4 or 5 weeks with their arm sewn to the place where their nose should be in order to connect the blood supply, then the doctor shaped a new nose.

"I was 6 years old, and I’d go along with my father on his rounds to see if it was working," says Blocksma. During that time young Blocksma learned a lot, he says, about "the possibility of a face."

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