1985 – 2014
I got my first Heye puzzle as a birthday present on my 14th birthday. It was in August 1985. It was a long time ago, in a world far, far away.
The puzzle was called ‘Big Attack’ and came in a triangular box with a black lid, which to me was fascinating in it self – but when I assembled the puzzle, it displayed an image that captured my heart and stayed with me for the years to come. I loved the life in the picture, the sense of humor. I just loved it.
I must have put that puzzle together more times than I can remember. I had a lot of toys as a kid, but this was one of the few treasures .
I was a teenager and didn’t have a lot of money. For the next ten years my life would be filled with turbulence. My parents divorced. I moved away from home. I moved a lot and my puzzle got lost. When I was 19, I moved back home to live with my father.
When the Internet was born, I was online before most people. My father worked for the domain registry in Iceland and got one of the first copper connections to his home. I fell in love with the Internet fairly quickly and I had a access to a rare commodity; bandwidth – and I wasn’t afraid to use it. When search engines emerged, a new possibility opened for me to research Heye and try to get an overview of all of Ryba’s puzzles. I hadn’t forgotten the treasure I had lost.
In the beginning I would search for pdf catalogs from Heye and I was quite successful. Using them I put together a list of Ryba puzzles that had been published. I was patient. I didn’t mind the thought of this taking many years to complete. I hoped that someone would put together a fan page with the complete list. I even thought about putting a website like that together myself. When ebay saw the light of day, I realized I might have a chance of owning all of Ryba’s puzzles one day.
Like most people’s lives, mine went on and Michael Ryba’s puzzles were kept on the back burner. I studied, got married, had two children, got divorced. Changed professions. Fell in love again and moved with my two children to Denmark to live with the man I later married. By the time I moved to Denmark I had a small collection of Ryba puzzles and my list of all his puzzles was getting bigger.
I kept looking for his puzzles and buying them online when I found them.
Early in January 2013, I was browsing for Ryba puzzles and couldn’t believe my own eyes. There it was – ‘Big Attack’, the puzzle I had now been trying to find for more than half of my life. I bought it online and on January 22 it was delivered to my door.
I assembled the puzzle and I loved the art just as I did all those years ago. I also loved the weird shaped puzzles. I wondered if there were older Ryba puzzles that I didn’t know about and I decided I had waited long enough for someone else to make a site with all of Ryba’s puzzles. I wrote to Heye and asked for their permission for publishing images of the Ryba’s puzzles on a fan page. They wrote me back the next day, saying that they could not give me permission because the owner of the images is the artist himself. They suggested I contacted him directly.
So I wrote an email to Michael Ryba. I explained who I was, that I wanted to create a fan page of his Heye puzzles and asked if he would allow me to publish his images on the page. I also explained that I did not have time to do this page until later in the year since I was doing this as a hobby. I sent the email on the 27th of January 2013 at 13:53. The very same day, at 20:19 I got a reply from Michael Ryba.
My face literally lit up. He said yes. He said YES! I couldn’t believe it! Oh I was so happy! I couldn’t believe it. I ran to my husband, jumped up and down and told him that Michael Ryba said YES! I CAN MAKE A FAN PAGE FOR HIS ART!
I don’t think my husband has ever seen me so excited about any single project. This meant a lot to me.
Throughout the year 2013, I was in contact with Ryba via email. He told me he had recently picked up his contract with Heye and was working on a new puzzle. He sent me list of all his puzzles back to 1990 and I found out that ‘Big Attack’ was the first puzzle he did for Heye. Michael Ryba was a warm, kind man with a wonderful sense of humor. I really believed that I would meet him one day. He invited me and my family to visit if we were ever in the Black Forest in Germany.
In the fall, he sent me the image of his new puzzle ‘The Pig in Art’. Oh my.. it is so beautiful. He also sent me his biography, the link to the video for ‘The Pig in Art’ and a study of his art, written in German by Dr. R. Herzog.
2013 was a busy year for me. We had just bought a house so we were settling in. At work, we were launching a new website for the company. In the summer I got married.
I had to postpone the project. I was going to put the site together around Christmas 2013, but that changed when I had to reschedule a course in project management to late January. That meant I had to study over Christmas.
Early in January 2014, I wrote to Michael and told him I had to do a project management course in the last week of January, but I would make the fan page in February. He wrote me back and said he was looking forward to seeing it. He also asked me if I had found the new puzzle in Denmark and I told him that I had looked for it before Christmas but I couldn’t find it in the game store. He offered to send me the puzzle and he did. He even signed the box for me. I was completely overwhelmed with his kindness. I told him I made myself a promise; I would not open the puzzle until the website was finished.
I did the course in January. It was really intensive. For a whole week, I did nothing but study. During the day I had the course and in the evening I would study at the hotel. When I came back home I was really worn out. I took a few days to ‘recover’ and started to work on the website. I thought to myself that I would write to Ryba when the website layout was close to complete. I had also found images of most of his puzzles, but not all, and some were in really poor quality. I decided I would use them anyway and with every puzzle I found and bought, I could update the image.
10th of February 2014. I had just gotten home and opened my personal email to see if my test results had come in from the course when I saw an email from Ryba’s email address. But the email wasn’t from him. It was from his family saying Michael Ryba died on the 5th of February in a car accident.
I just broke down and cried. I felt deeply sorry for his family. Even though I never met him in person, I felt connected to him somehow. I couldn’t believe he was gone. I just couldn’t believe it. I don’t think my family understood why I was so sad . Michael Ryba’s heart was in his artwork and even though he was not there in person, through his art he had been a part of my life for almost 30 years.
The website wasn’t online yet and I stopped working on it. I asked myself if I should go ahead. I didn’t know. I thought about how I fell in love with his work when I got his first puzzle for Heye as a birthday gift, and that he personally sent me the puzzle that was to become his last, just a few days before he died.
After taking a few days to think things over and to get my bearings, I decided I would go ahead and publish the website. Changing his biography to past tense was something I did with tears in my eyes. I felt I had let him down. I blamed myself for not finishing the website sooner so he could have seen it. It wasn’t a fan page anymore, it was a tribute to his work for Heye.
I had images of all the puzzles except one I found in the list Ryba sent me. That one was called ‘Paradise on Earth’. I made the website public, even though it was not finished, and instead of having a picture of the puzzle, I created an image where I asked if someone had the image of this puzzle and if he would be so kind to send it to me. This was on the 17th of February.
On the 18th of February I got an email from a man called Richard who told me that ‘Paradise on Earth’ was a re-release of the beautiful Schlaraffia puzzle. And he sent me the image, a much better image than I had so I replaced it on the web. This is the very same Dr. R. Herzog that published the article on Ryba’s art. Ryba even drew him in his last puzzle!
I don’t know how Richard found the website. Like me, he was a fan of Ryba’s art. He studied his art and published the article and through that they had become good friends. This was amazing. Richard has sent me all of Ryba’s images that I had in poor quality and through him I am realizing the depth of Ryba’s art. The fact that he wrote me and thanked me for posting all of Ryba’s artworks on the web means the world to me. I really want to do his art justice and Richard makes me believe I did.
Not only did Richard send me the images I needed, he also translated his article about Ryba’s art in cartoons to English so I could publish it on this website! The article really gives you a new insight into Ryba’s brilliance. Richard has helped make this website so much better than it would have been without him – and I am so thankful for all his help.
I know Ryba was not only a great artist, he was also a wonderful human being whom I would have loved to meet. It is my privilege to play this small part of putting this website together so that the world can get to know Michael Ryba the cartoon artist, and for that I am thankful.
Thank you Michael Ryba. Thank you so much for all the joy you have brought me and thousands of others through your wonderful sense of humor and exquisite art.
This is for you.