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A message from the clouds

  • MICHAEL NEWTON/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS David Price sits on the Indian Steps, found 300 paces past the breast of the Mauch Chunk Dam on the Upper Switchback Trail.
    MICHAEL NEWTON/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS David Price sits on the Indian Steps, found 300 paces past the breast of the Mauch Chunk Dam on the Upper Switchback Trail.
Published September 10. 2010 05:00PM

In the town of Jim Thorpe a new story has surfaced with the potential to alter peoples understanding of events surrounding the remains of Jim Thorpe. The athlete's presence and the artist Shozo Nagano, are the main protagonists.

Artist David Price of Jim Thorpe is the first person to tell the story. For 10 years, it was known only to him and Nagano, who died in 2008. Price forgot about it altogether and only in the last few weeks has he remembered.

It begins in the year 2000, when organizations in the town, most notably the Jim Thorpe National Bank, were preparing to host the first annual Jim Thorpe Day. For the celebration, the bank wanted to create a poster depicting the athlete.

Price was approached by the bank to see if he would take on the project. However, says Price, "when the bank approached me I said you really want Shozo Nagano to do this; this project is exactly what he excels at, classical male figures."

Nagano agreed to try but was unsure of being able to complete the assignment. At this point Price had become the liaison between the artist and the bank.

"I was the bridge. I had to make it all happen."

Time went on, the date of the event neared and Nagano was still not having any success coming up with an idea.

"He was really struggling with it," Price recalls.

That changed one afternoon when Nagano, then in his 70s, took one of his customary walks up to the Indian Steps on the top of Mt. Pisgah.

Nagano, who had been trained in meditation techniques from boyhood, meditated daily.

"He would sit at the top of those steps and go into deep meditation," said Price.

Meditating on the Indian Steps, Nagano experienced a vision. A sense of peace and harmony pervaded him. The feeling was emanating from a figure, Jim Thorpe, running through the clouds. The painting was finished in a matter of days.

Price was relieved and excited to hear that the painting had been completed. Then Nagano told Price how he had come to be inspired.

"When he described it I thought 'Oh boy.' I was trying to deal with the bank and they were already a little uncomfortable with the idea of Shozo doing the poster because of the nature of his work. He did a lot of male nudes.

"This is a conservative group of people to begin with. On top of that, they're trying to make this event go off without a hitch. The Thorpe family was going to be here. The bank had a lot of expenses connected with this thing."

Fearing the story would complicate or jeopardize the deal, Price's reaction was to make Nagano promise not to mention it to anyone.

"Shozo didn't understand me. He was very innocent and naive in many ways," said Price.

"He asked why? And I didn't say it to him like this, but I was thinking 'This is going to go right down the toilet if you tell this story.' I mean, bankers can only swallow so much and this was just not something I thought they would accept."

So the vision was kept secret, the story went untold. The poster, depicting Jim Thorpe from the waist up framed against deep blue, was printed on schedule and declared a great success.

The initial run sold out almost immediately.

"There was actually a fist fight on the east side over the last poster," says Price, "That's how enthused people were about it."

The Thorpe family was also pleased with the poster; the birthday celebration was a success; and Sept. 9 officially became Jim Thorpe Day in Jim Thorpe. Time passed, Price forgot about the story of the vision. Nagano died in the fall of 2008, mourned and celebrated by the many in town who called him friend.

What spurred Price to remember what he had forgotten was a New York Times article published earlier this summer. The article, entitled, "A Legal Battle Over Jim Thorpe's Remains," featured an interview with Jack Thorpe, who is suing the town in an attempt to regain his father's remains.

When he read the article Price said, "I got upset and I thought, 'Why? What's the big deal? Why would this bother me?' Then one day early this week, I woke up in the morning and this whole story connected to Shozo Nagano came rushing back to me."

Nagano's story is important to Price because he feels that it adds a new dimension to the issue of the remains.

"There is a spiritual dimension here."

Price focuses on the figure of Nagano, a small man, hunched over his canvas, dedicated to something more than money.

"He wasn't getting paid. He just did it. He put an enormous amount of work into that painting for no other reason than to honor the man."

The work of artists on behalf of the memory and presence of Jim Thorpe is not often discussed in articles on the subject.

"There have been other artists who made contributions and honored the memory of this Olympic hero through their interaction with the town of Jim Thorpe," said Price. "That's a wonderful and noble thing. And people act like it never happened, like there is no spiritual dimension to this side of the story."

Now that it has been remembered, it is likely the story will spread. The facts will change, the feeling will remain.

"When he saw this young athlete running through the clouds, Shozo received a message of love and great joy," said Price.

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