“Three Monkeys” convention in Northbrook delights fans
Some of the many pieces on display during a Three Wise Monkeys convention on JUly 13 at the Sheraton Chicago Northbrook Hotel in Northbrook. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times
Updated: August 6, 2012 1:18PM
NORTHBROOK — Monkeys on the left of them. Monkeys on the right of them. Monkeys in front of them.
All silent. Or mute. Or unhearing.
This primate-centric landscape, filling a big banquet room in the Sheraton Chicago Northbrook Hotel, greeted a few dozen visitors from around the country recently.
But they were used to it.
They were collectors, or the spouses of collectors, of what are known as Three Monkeys, or Wise Monkeys, or No-Evil Monkeys or Evil Monkeys, depending on their mood.
These collectors don’t even have a consistent name for their conventions, of which the recent Northbrook one was the eighth in the last 12 years.
They can be careless of what they call their hobby because everybody on Earth seems to know about these See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil monkeys.
After all, said Emil Schuttenhelm, who traveled all the way from Switzerland for this, “Every religion recognizes the three monkeys.”
This may be a surprise to those who have never seen chimps squatting alongside the Pietà or the Wailing Wall, but Schuttenhelm says we should take his word for it.
Monkey-collecting is different from collecting most other stuff that may seem similar.
If you collect little elephants or piggies or giraffes, you can go see the real ones in the zoo. You can see real monkeys, too, but they will not appear to be particularly wise, nor possess a well-developed sense of evil.
Wise monkeys exist only in replica. If you want living No-Evil monkeys, you have to be very good at animal training. Or you’ll have to staple some little monkey hands over little monkey mouths.
No one in Northbrook owned up to that.
Maybe next year, in Albuquerque.
The monkeys’ message
Vidner McCraw, a three-monkeys collector from Virginia Beach, Va., understands evil. He has been a police officer for 18 years.
He has a tattoo of three big wise-monkey heads, stacked totem-style on his muscular left forearm.
He likes to show it to young malefactors.
“You have to start thinking right and doing right,” he tells them, tapping the monkey heads with a thick forefinger.
“You have to avoid evils of all kinds.”
McCraw seems to view policing from a monkey-made matrix.
“I hear all evils,” the patrolman said. “I speak all evils.
“People speak of evils to me.”
He was the only monkey-fan cop in Northbrook. Lawyers, however, were well-represented as fans of the evil-averse primates.
“Kind of ironic, huh?” asked collector Hal Walker of Kansas City, Kansas, a former prosecutor.
Nowadays, he has difficulty prosecuting his monkey collection.
“I’m out of room,” he said. “I’ve got to give one up for every one I get.”
Some of his fellow collectors, however, suspected he was fibbing about that.
Earle Greenberg, a Northbrook collector downsizing his family home, really does have a storage problem, however. He came to the Sheraton mainly to sell off some simian statuary.
“I like them, but not enough to keep taking up space for them in my house,” he said.
He brought two cases of three-monkeys merchandise to the convention, and piled them up on a table.
“Can you believe this?” he asked. “I went online looking for a way to sell some of these, and there’s this international monkey meeting taking place in Northbrook, of all places, this weekend.”
It was the doing of Sheila and Burt Handler of Glenview. They had attended their first convention last year in Carson City, hosted by Nevada’s Bruce Kittess, and had a great time. And at the end, when people started talking about 2012, “I just stuck up my hand,” Sheila Handler said.
She went to a lot of trouble. She had people over to her Glenview house for dinner and brunch on Monkey Weekend, and arranged an architectural boat tour of the Loop.
She gave everybody a bag of M&M-style candies, each imprinted with one of the three Evil expressions.
Connie Clark, of Cleveland, Minnesota, returned the favor with a hostess gift, a three-monkey chocolate chimp set.
“She told me it was very hard to find the mold,” Handler said. “It’s gourmet chocolate, but I can’t bring myself to eat it because it’s too cool. So I put it in the freezer, and just take it out and show it to people.
“This is just a very nice group,” she added. “Everybody is very friendly.”
Cherchez la chimp
“We are all very friendly unless we are fighting against each other on eBay,” Schuttenhelm said.
If that’s the case, Schuttenhelm must have won most of those battles. He has about 4,000 pieces in his home three-monkeys museum in Esslingen.
He’s getting older, and he hopes to sell the museum to a bigger museum, so his collection can be appreciated long after he’s gone.
It was unclear why any museum would want a wing devoted to sensory-deprived monkey-statues, but Schuttenhelm seems pretty determined.
He said he might even donate it all to an institution if he had to, which may be a better deal than it sounds. Bruce Kittess of Carson City, reading off the original purchase prices of a monkey trove being sold by a non-attending collector, told of many items at around $400, and one at $2,000.
Some were made by Lladro, and others seemed made with precious metals.
“There’s a market for it, and everywhere, all over the earth, people buy it,” Kittess said.
Many of Schuttenhelm’s artifacts preserve the see-no-evil theme while employing a varied bestiary far beyond monkeys to express it.
He’s got pigs, birds, mice, hippos, koalas, and other beasts, all doing the monkey-mime, plus humans, in the form of babies, angels and skeletons. And Santas.
Collectors can be split into two groups, Sheila Handler said.
“There are purists, who only want the monkeys,” she said.
She and her husband Burt are not in that group. Burt is especially pleased with a set of three that is neither monkey nor no-evil. The theme of the set of three gnomes is, he said gleefully, “pick your nose, pick your ear, pick your butt.”
It’s a guy thing.
of the monkeys
Schuttenhelm traces the three-monkeys concept back thousands of years, to the Confucian era in China, where the little primates are still popular.
They’re big in Japan, too.
Schuttenhelm showed pictures at the convention of a trip he and his wife Anneka took there, where shops were overflowing with monkey merchandise.
Connie Clark’s husband Tom, a non-collector, was paying attention.
“I can tell you this, Connie is never going to Japan,” he said.
The Clarks had driven down from Minnesota, and Connie said she had intended to arrive empty-handed.
When they got to Northbrook, however, there was a small monkey ghetto ensconced in their trunk.
Northfield’s Bob Lakin seems more particular. His collection, though eclectic, seems to be built upon a kind of cockeyed utility. Monkeys hold up tables, provide light, dispense perfume, cap bottles, stir drinks.
“I’m interested in the more unusual stuff,” he said.
Mohandas Gandhi made an exception to his no-possessions lifestyle with his very own set of Wise Monkeys, which were recently sold at auction.
“In India, they call them Gandhi Monkeys,” Schuttenhelm said.
The Handlers have one two-monkey set, just Hear-No and See-No. It was given to them by a CIA agent, Sheila Handler said.
He had commissioned it from an acquaintance in Chad, “who was killed before he could make the third one,” she said.
Occasionally, there is a fourth monkey. He comes in several guises, notably Fear No Evil Monkey. He either looks fearless, frightened or frightening. Apparently, they all sell to the chimpy cognoscenti.
Occasionally, a fourth monkey is seen wrestling with a pad of paper and pencil.
He’s known as Write No Evil.
Several of the collectors wanted the press to know about this.