Dusan Ciran was born in Brezová pod Bradlom, western Slovakia, in 1929. His father Martin died when he was only a few months old and his mother, Darina, subsequently remarried a widower called Emil Sarvady. Around the time that Dusan started school, the family moved to the nearby town of Senica, where his stepfather took over a restaurant which the whole family helped run. Dusan says that WWII was a particularly profitable time for the restaurant with the establishment proving popular amongst the 2,000 German soldiers stationed at the local barracks.
Following the War, Dusan’s stepfather was arrested on charges of collaborating with the Germans, but was released, says Dusan, when such charges could not be proved. In 1949, a family friend who worked for the local police tipped Dusan’s stepfather off that a warrant was again out for his arrest, prompting Dusan’s family to flee the country that very evening. Dusan says he and his family crossed the Morava River into the Soviet Zone of Austria, from which the challenge was still to make it to Vienna and the American Zone of the country. Dusan’s family successfully did so when the truck they were riding in was stopped by a Soviet soldier, who traveled with the family and shouted at his colleagues at the border checkpoint to hurry up and let them through.
From Vienna, the family was sent to Wegsheid refugee camp in Linz where they spent just over eight months. Dusan and his family arrived in Canada in 1950; they were sent first to Lethbridge, Alberta, to pick sugar beets before moving to Toronto, where Dusan and his brothers Emil and Milan played for the local Hungarian football club – Pannonia – and through this found work assembling scooters at Simpson manufacturers. Dusan moved with his family to Chicago in 1952, settling first on the city’s North Side. He quickly found work at the city’s Continental Can Company, where he rose through the ranks to work in the firm’s master plate department, designing and producing labels. Dusan says he made some extra money at this time by playing violin at Chicago Slovak and Czech events. He attended art classes at the Chicago Academy and then the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Together with artist Charles Vickery, Dusan founded the Oil Painters of America club, which to this day attracts a large membership. Dusan currently lives in Cicero, Illinois, with his second wife Anna.
“Up to a certain time, I think 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening, the regular soldiers could come in and eat, okay? By 10:00 they had to be in the camp. And after10:00 or 11:00 the big echelons with the stars [came]… And those are the ones, I remember how they used to, how could I say, enjoy themselves. They were dancing on the table and drinking from the glasses, and then they took those glasses and threw them into the corner, there was a pile of glass like this in the morning, you know? Honest to god, I’m telling you! Not only that but some of these guys, they had those long sabers on their side. And so when they got a little tipsy, a little drunk, you know, they’d pull out their sword and there were chairs and this guy, he’d start cutting the chairs and said ‘this is what we’re going to do to the Russians.’ And chips were flying all over the floor. But they didn’t hurt anybody, our people or anything, except they were against the Russians. But these incidents [happened] and when they were going to the washroom outside, the outhouse, my mother had wash-lines stretched across the yard and they were so – poor guys – they were so stupid with alcohol, there was one guy who was hanging his head over the wash-line and vomiting, you know.
“But they just had a good time, these people knew how to enjoy themselves. Next day, they came in, two of them and ‘Mr Sarvady, how much? What’s the damage that we did?’ And my father, he knew what to do, if it was $300, he said $600 or $700, a chair is so much or so much. And not even one word was said about it. Everything was undercover, undercover, yeah.”
“Anybody who sided with the Germans, they rounded them up and they locked them up. My stepfather was locked up for 117 days. But they couldn’t find anything against him. Because he was strictly a businessman and had nothing to do with politics, you know. He never cared for it. So, after 117, they finally released him. But that wasn’t enough, it was a few months later and one of the gendarmes we knew, who used to be in our town, they had to turn Communist too, but they still were friends and one day he came over to our house and told may father, he says ‘Emil, we have orders to lock you up tomorrow.’ He says, ‘it would be the best thing if we wouldn’t find you here, if you know what I mean.’”
“We were going with this guy who picked us up, and we were going in this small paneled truck to Vienna, all four of us. So we were traveling, maybe half an hour, 45 minutes, it wasn’t too far from Vienna, where we were, and all of a sudden, right in the middle of the road, there was a soldier, a Russian soldier with an automatic [weapon] on his side – a brbka they call it, you know, with the bullets, you know. So anyway, the driver had to stop, because he was right in the middle of the road. So anyway, the way it turned out was actually our luck, you know, that this guy came with us, because he just wanted to get a ride. So he got up on the back of the truck with us and was riding with us all the way to Vienna. So we come into Vienna and they’ve got the whole set-up out there, they’re checking credential and Ausweis and everything, you know. And I say ‘Oh my god! Which way to run?’ you know? ‘What are we going to do?’ you know? And there were about five or seven cars and a couple of trucks, and these guys, they took their time, you know, these Russians checking this and checking this. And so it was only about two or three vehicles ahead of us and this guy who was sitting with us started swearing and saying ‘What the hell is the matter with you? What’s the hold up here?’ And he [the guard] says ‘Okay, davaj! Davaj! Davaj!’ So he let us go without checking our credentials or anything!”
“He says ‘All three of you are soccer players and I’ve got a place for you, for all three of you to play soccer on the Hungarian team.’ So I remember, it was the Pannonia team and my two brothers and I, we joined them. There were 11 soccer players and seven of them were Slovak. So [there were] only four Hungarians, but they were a Hungarian team. But we were good. We played about a year or so. And then they got us jobs, I found a job working for Simpson, putting little scooters together, and little baby buggies and so on. They came with a shipment from overseas in little boxes and we put them together you know, and so on.”
Learning English from the Bible
“I took the Slovak bible and the English bible and said ‘Well this word is this and this is this, and this word is this’ because the bible is usually word for word the same. And then I started reading newspapers and books and got interested in art and went to art schools and academies and other academies; the Chicago Academy, the American Academy and then the Palette and Chisel… And then I became a studio chairman at the Palette and Chisel, and these are my accomplishments right here – a silver medal, another one is a gold medal, another one is a diamond medal. I was judged by fellow artists, not by the public, by fellow artists – those are the tough ones. And then I started, with another friend of mine, he was a famous seascape artist, Charles Vickery, we started another club, I approached him if he would help me, because my problem was that I was foreign, I didn’t know that much English, I said ‘You’re established, you’re one of the top seascape artists and painters,’ I say ‘Would you help me?’ He says ‘Yeah, we will start it, okay.’ So that’s how we started the club Oil Painters of America; I was the original founder right here.”