In 1933, Margaret visited Hungary for the second time in three years. She had been born in Hungary and left with her parents when she was a young girl. Unlike the first visit in 1930, this trip was out of necessity. Doctors in the U.S. had diagnosed her father, Frank Muller, with an inoperable stomach problem and he had been given only a few months to live. An operation was performed in Hungary, and Frank lived another thirty-seven years. A letter recently came to light, written by Margaret to a friend in the United States, inscribed Budapest, Dec. 12, 1933. In the letter, Margaret expresses her surprise at the news of her friend’s upcoming marriage. She goes on to speak of a young man who seems to be seeking her hand in marriage. It’s the end of the letter that caught my attention.
“I’ve met quite a few young men since I’m home, and some have asked me to marry them – but up to now I’ll take strawberry.
I don’t know whether I even mentioned the artist I met when we were here two years ago, well he’d be the only one I’d care for here but his financial conditions are pretty difficult now to allow him to marry in a hurry, so I don’t know how things will develop.
He painted my portrait, and it looks grand! I guess he’ll give it to me for Christmas.”
The artist Margaret mentions, though not by name, was Stephen Csoka, the man who would become my father. In 1933 my father was 37 years old, my mother was 21. He was a well recognized artist in Hungary, having been awarded many of the prestigious prizes for art and his work had been exhibited in Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, the United States, Japan, Yugoslavia as well as Hungary. His life story and art can be found in the book Endless is the Way Leading Home, the Art of Stephen Csoka. But this story concerns itself with another aspect of Margaret and Stephen’s life, a collection of art that they named “Marital Milestones.” Each year of their marriage Stephen gave as a gift to his wife, an anniversary “card.” Each was, in fact, a drawing which encapsulated the year’s highlighted events; the winning of awards, the births of their children or the struggle to balance his life as an artist with his occupation as a house painter, in caricature’s filled with the personal tenderness and poignant wit which was the cornerstone of the couple’s 55-year bond.
Margaret wrote captions for several of the drawings which I have reproduced below the pictures. In the case where Margaret’s caption was missing, I took the liberty to write a caption from the image and from my memories of the events depicted. Some years are missing from the collection, I assume either unfinished or misplaced over the years.
Frank Csoka, Spring 2015
Frank Csoka has organized many exhibitions for his father,
Stephen, including a centennial exhibit in 1997 at The Hofstra Museum, Hofstra University, L.I.,NY; the Hungarian Heritage Museum in Cleveland, Ohio; and the Embassy of the Republic of Hungary, Washington, DC.
Frank produced a book on Stephen’s artwork and life titled: Endless is the Way Leading Home, the Art of Stephen Csoka.
Frank’s latest endeavor is an exhibition of anniversary drawings given by Stephen to his wife Margaret, including artwork and awards highlighted in those drawings. The drawings and exhibition are called Marital Milestones.
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