The email was cryptic.
“I was out scuba diving yesterday afternoon and found a Robert Bina medallion, Davenport, Iowa, in the water off Rockport, Massachusetts,” wrote Chuck Marrone of Sterling, Massachusetts.
He wanted to know what I knew about it. And I had the answer.
Bob Bina began making 3-inch Bina-Davenport medallions in 1975 and scattering them all over the world. “Maybe thousands of them,” he says. "Only two have been recovered that I know of. One was discovered in 1999 embedded in a felled oak tree trunk in Kohler, Wisconsin. The other, now, off the Massachusetts shore."
BINA MEDALS are like the old story of someone putting a letter in a bottle and throwing it in a body of water, hoping someone would find it.
Bob and his wife, Delores, have been world travelers. To spread the word of Davenport, Iowa, they cast heavy-duty 3-inch ceramic medallions, attractive in blue criss-cross and assorted colors. It takes a lot of kiln work.
On the other side, he cut his name, Davenport, the year and often the place he and Delores would be visiting. That could be anywhere.
In India, he spied a crack in a temple and inserted one of his medallions. In Paris, he tossed a handful of his medallions in a trash can. One medallion was tossed off the Great Wall of China; another is in Bucharest. One, with drilled holes to anchor a thong, is worn on the nude chest of an African tribal leader.
BACK TO AMERICA: In 1995, Bina had an art mission in Kohler, Wisconsin. He stuck one of his medallions in an aging oak tree. In 1999, the tree fell and there was the Bina medallion.
The Binas are still at it. Last year they made and distributed 600 medallions. So far this year, 420. It is not a quirky pastime. They are serious.
Through the years, Bob has been a Davenport alderman, an Iowa state representative, an art teacher at the University of Iowa and art instructor in a number of Midwest colleges.
Bob and Delores still have a wanderlust. They maintain a home in Davenport, and regularly spend time in Kansas City and Chicago ... or maybe someplace like Nairobi.
We visited last week and he laughed, “I am depositing my tombstones all over the world. Ceramics like these often last forever. Whenever they see ‘Davenport, Iowa, and Bina,’ it must mean something to someone.”