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A FAMILY AFFAIR


nc-wyeth Cover photo by N.C. Wyeth

“To Billy From Grandma” is written inside the old book. It brings back a memory of a musty old bookshop in San Francisco. I had stepped from the bright sunlight into the dimly lighted confines of what might become a pleasant hour of book-looking pleasure. When I picked up the old copy of Robinson Crusoe” and saw N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations within it, I was sure I had struck gold.

N.C. Wyeth was one of America’s greatest illustrators. His first work on Treasure Island” allowed him to pay for his studio in Chadds Ford, PA. He was a painter as well as an illustrator, and said that the two cannot be mixed. He left a legacy of over 3,000 paintings and 112 book illustrations, but perhaps he is best remembered now as the father of Andrew Wyeth and four other talented children.

The family grew up in Chadds Ford, and all five children were home schooled. As a child, Andrew showed promise as an artist, and his father was his only art teacher. He lived the rest of his life in Chadds Ford, and later remarked that “he painted his life”.

His painting of neighbor Christina Olson, “Christina’s World, is one of the most well known paintings of the 20th century and is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art New York.

christinasworld

Not as well known are the Helga paintings; 247 paintings in intimate detail of Helga Testorf, a caregiver/nurse for neighbor Karl Kuener, whose farm is seen at the top of the hill in Christina’s World.

andrew_wyeth_braids_1979

The drawings and paintings of Helga Testorf were made over a fifteen year period, and were kept secret from both Andrew’s wife Betsy, and Helga’s husband. They were stored at the home of Andrew’s student Frolic Weymouth. Helga has the distinction of being made famous by a painting, except perhaps the Mona Lisa.

helga_nude

Andrew Wyeth said that he felt he had been kept in a prison by his father; never leaving his home, he painted what he saw around him. To have painted this one subject of Helga without anyone knowing for fifteen years and then suddenly showing them to the world gave him a long imagined sense of independence.

When asked if Helga was going to be present at his 91st birthday, he said “Yeah, certainly, oh absolutely–she’s part of the family now. I know it shocks everyone. That’s what I like about it. It really shocks ’em.

In 1986 the collection went on tour to much criticism, saying it had a voyeuristic aura. After the tour the entire collection was sold to a Japanese buyer.

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ON BEING BLUE


In the National Gallery in London is an unfinished painting showing Christ being carried to his tomb.

Michelangelo did not finish the painting which he called The Entombment”. This makes me feel so much better when I look at my painting of the herd of Alaskan moose who will be forever marching through the snow going who knows where. In my case, it’s a case of procrastination; Michelangelo, on the other hand, couldn’t afford the paint.

Though the rest of the work looks nearly finished, or at least drawn in, the large blank space in the right hand corner has not even been started. It was probably meant to be reserved for the Virgin Mary in her blue robe, but the twenty-five year old Michelangelo couldn’t afford the ultramarine blue it deserved. He must have cursed for awhile and wrung his hands while waiting for his patron to send the money or the paint. But in 1501 Michelangelo left both Rome and that canvas to carve his David in Florence, and he never returned with the blue paint to finish the Virgin’s robe.

Ultramarine, coming from mines in Afghanistan and other exotic places, is made from ground lapis lazuli, then mixed with oils, wax, or other carriers, so understandably, it is not a paint an ordinary dabbler like me would use a lot of. In 1824 a reward of a thousand francs was offered to someone who could come up with an alternative to the color. A Frenchman named Guimet won the prize for “French Ultramarine”, which to the untrained eye is a good substitute.

michelangelo

Vermeer was less parsimonious in his use of the color, and proceeded to put his family in debt.

johannes_vermeer_-_girl_with_a_pearl_earring_-_wga24666Girl With a Pearl Earring Vermeer

Ultramarine is a word that has always seemed to me to taste of the ocean. It has a smooth, salty sound, suggesting a bluer blue than even the Mediterranean can reflect on a sunny morning. Think of the Greek Islands in the sunshine.

We think of the sky as being blue, yet there are more tints and shades of blue than could be used in a lifetime. The sky can be azure, cobalt, cerulean, or a hundred other tints. The bluebells of Scotland once seen, remain to be captured in memory again and again.

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RUN RABBIT


rabbit

A recipe, clipped from a magazine and yellowed with age, fell out of an overstuffed folder and into my memory, taking me back to the time when I was eighteen, married, and did not cook.

When I found the recipe for ‘Ragout of Rabbit’ I thought I had found the perfect recipe which would transport me into the realm of gourmet cook. I would also impress our very sophisticated cousin by inviting him to have dinner with us in our tiny third floor apartment. My first mistake came with pronouncing Ragout as it is spelled, but coming from a family of cooks who never used garlic, and wouldn’t think of using wine, what could you expect? The recipe called for both, and much more, including herbs I had never heard of.

After a long and complicated preparation, the recipe ended with the question “And did you notice that this recipe bears a startling resemblance to that one of Apicius?” I had never heard of the old Roman Apicius and his cookbook, and had no idea where to find it. I have since wondered if it took Apicius as long to prepare it as it did me.

We invited our cousin, and I struggled through the recipe, but he did not arrive on our doorstep. We ate the entire rabbit, which was rich with unfamiliar flavors, threw away the bones and I never made the rabbit recipe again.

Many years later, my mother raised some rabbits, along with geese and chickens, on their small property in Oregon. The geese became a problem as they considered that side of the ditch their own and attacked all intruders. This large ditch ran for miles from Medford, through their property and on into Grants Pass. It kept a moderate flow which made floating on inner tubes great fun. You could float along all the way into the town of Grants Pass if you had someone to pick you up and bring you home. My dad’s big collie dog went out of his mind barking if my mother tried to cool off by swimming and threatened to jump in when the children got in. It was strange how he knew all this water could be dangerous.

I have always liked the idea of rabbits, ever since Peter Rabbit captured my imagination. I had an unpleasant picture of Mrs. McGregor, and thought rabbits were much nicer than cabbages. When I was eight or nine, I received a sweet bunny rabbit at Easter, which promptly bit my finger. The crooked nail has been a constant reminder of how unpredictable the small creatures can be.

I have often wondered how rabbits came to be associated with the celebration of Easter, and who was the first to imagine that they could lay colored eggs. Who had the idea that a rabbit’s foot was lucky? It certainly wasn’t lucky for the rabbit.

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AFTER THE BALL


The big 70th celebration was a success. Food, drink and convergence of family and friends affixed their stamp of approval and sent us once more into the brink. I am again in awe of the daughters who made it such a grand success.

Sitting this morning in the quiet garden with only the company of a few visiting hummers, I tried to recapture the happy assembly which gathered last weekend. Sometimes it is easier to retrieve conversations and memories after a day or two of recovery.

The guest beds needed to be changed and rooms set back in order. While engaged in this chore, I remembered a remark a grandson said which touched my heart. His youngest child, a boy, was unable to come to the party, and my grandson said he had been looking forward to sleeping in his own ‘little boy’ bed with his son. Another day, another time, but it told me that perhaps this bed held happy memories for him. The twin beds in this room had belonged to Dr. A when he was a boy, and after that, they were part of a daughter’s bedroom. They are nothing special, but how do we know what dreams were dreamed while asleep in them through the years?

I will admit that my decorating skills are pretty eclectic, and cover a multitude of things I like, whether they appeal to a proponent of Home and Gardens or not. There are a couple of bears from Harrod’s sitting on antique ‘potty’ chairs in the breakfast room which I rather like, but while sorting things out, I discovered one had gone missing. I sent out an amber alert to no avail and hoped he would be happy in his new home. But while changing the bedding on the ‘little boy bed’, I found he had chosen to join the other bears in the ‘children’s room’. I don’t blame him, it must be discouraging to spend your life on the pot.

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CHANGING THE KING’S NAME


king_george_v_1911_color-cropGeorge V

When alliances change, there is a period of adjusting values and, in some cases, even names. Divorce is a good example. A certain cousin discarded her married name, and went so far as to change her children’s names as well.

Things become more complicated when you are king. Britain and Germany had long been friends, while Britain and France were perennial enemies. You don’t want the rest o the world think you are still friends with the new enemy, so the best thing to do is to change your name and those of the rest of your family. Many of the British royal family, including the king’s family, were of German ancestry and had German relatives still on the continent. With World War 1, France became the ally and Germany switched places and became the hated and godless enemy. Suddenly it became important for British royalty to dump their German names and get more British-sounding ones.

On July 17, 1917, a mass scramble to change names took place with King George V leading by example, dropping Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (which was actually a title rather than a name.) Nobody knew what his surname was in any case. He adopted the British sounding name of Windsor, and much against their will, the rest of the family were also quickly de-Germanized.

“Prince Alexander of Battenberg became the Marquess of Carisbrooke; Prince Alexander of Teck became the Earl of Athlone; Adolphus, Duke of Teck, became the Marquess of Cambridge. The unfortunate princesses of Schleswig-Holstein were ‘demoted,’ in the king’s words, to ‘Helena Victoria and Marie Louise of Nothing.’ And the poor unemployed Prince Louis of Battenberg would be Louis Mountbatten, Marquess of Milford Haven. ”

Mrs. Lauderback (2)Mrs. Lauderback sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

The former Prince Louis hated his rather inelegant title and the reason for it. ‘I am English’ he told King George, ‘and if you wish me to become Sir Louis Battenberg, I will do so.’ He absolutely dismissed the idea of becoming Mr. Louis Battenberg as impossible. He had hopes of a knighthood, which was not forthcoming, so henceforth, Prince Louis, formerly sporting the original name of ‘Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Prince of Battenberg’, would be a marquess, and Battenberg a cake.

There is no word as to how the rest of the family took to their new names.

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WONDER YEARS


jazz_baby

The decades of the 20’s were wild and wonderful. “Jazz Babies” danced their way across the country, fueled with bathtub gin and devil may care attitude. Hollywood dazzled and amazed us with glamour girls and gangsters on larger than life screens, while we watched in amazement.

The 1920’s were the decades of heroes; the days of the pony express were long gone and fearless young pilots flew the U.S. mail. Flying at night without lights and proper instruments they took their lives in their hands, and frequently lost the gamble.

One of the lucky ones was Charles Lindburgh, a barnstormer who took paying customers for quick sight-seeing rides as well as flying the mail. In 1927 at the age of 25, he rose from virtual obscurity to world wide fame by winning the Orteig Prize for his solo nonstop flight from Roosevelt Field on Long Island to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France, a distance of nearly 3,600 miles in a single seat, single engine Ryan monoplane.

Lindburgh was not the first to make a Transatlantic flight, 19 others had done it before, but Lindburgh’s flight was nearly twice the distance, and took 33 1/3 hours. He was an instant hero, the like of which people had longed for.

He and his wife, Ann Morrow Lindburgh were a golden couple, the public could not get enough of them. Though they tried to retain some sense of privacy, the press would not let their hero fade into a normal life. Sometime in the night of March 1, 1932, an intruder entered the second floor nursery of their twenty month old son by the aid of a ladder. When Ann checked the nursery later that night, the baby was gone.

Thus began the biggest search for a kidnapper that the country had ever seen. All law enforcement agencies were involved in the search and newspapers and radio pressured parents to keep an eye on their children. I learned my lesson so well, that I was even afraid to walk across our living room at night to make sure the front door was locked. I “knew” the kidnapper was waiting on the front porch to carry me away. Strangely, six or seven years later, while on a lonely country road on my way to my school in Connecticut, I was nearly snatched, but managed to get away.

Nearly two months after the Lindburgh baby was stolen, he was found dead in the woods nearly two miles from the Lindburgh home. The search continued for the murderer, which ultimately turned up one Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was electrocuted on April 3, 1936.

Though the 20’s had been the decade of the hero, the 1930’s belonged to Shirley Temple. The Dionne Quintuplets in Canada fascinated us, and dolls depicted all the children sold like hot cakes.

The kidnapping of nine year old George Weyerhaeuser on his way home from school, shocked the city of Tacoma, Washington in May, 1935. Planning to meet his sister, George decided to take a short cut, but somewhere on the way he was kidnapped.

That evening a ransom note was delivered to the Weyerhaeuer home asking for $200,000 to which the family placed ads saying they would comply with all the demands. Later there was a short note from George saying that he was alright. After following a series of orders as to where to deliver the money, someone jumped from the bushes and grabbed the package of money and ran away.

In the 1970’s my aunt and uncle lived in the house in Tacoma from which I thought George had been kidnapped. I later learned that he had been on his way home from school.

George was released and found safe in a shack in Issaquah, Washington on the morning of June 1, 1935, after which he described his ordeal in detail.

He was driven from place to place, apparently with no concrete idea as to what to do with him. He was frequently put in a closet, tied to a tree, left alone in a shack, until finally the kidnappers, addressing themselves as “Bill” and “Harry” told him his father would come and get him shortly. After which they left. George wandered to a nearby farmhouse, and announced who he was. The family took him in, gave him clean clothes and drove him to Tacoma, Washington in their car.

Harmon Metz Waley was arrested, and after making several false statements he confessed that he and he and William Dainard whom he had met in in the Idaho State Penitentiary, had kidnapped the boy.

Harmon Waley entered a plea of guilty on June 21, 1935 and was sentenced to serve time at McNeil Island, Washington, from which he was paroled in June, 1963, at the age of 52.

Waley wrote to his victim on several occasions apologizing for his actions. When he was released he asked for a job. In a demonstration of compassion, George Weyerhaeuser found a place for him in one of his Oregon plants.

George Weyerhaeuser ultimately became Chairman of the Board for the Weyerhaeuser Company. George never forgot the people who made his company, telling loggers to leave their muddy cork boots on when coming into the office, regardless of the deep pile carpeting. He knew who was responsible for making the company run.

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STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS


S & K

It was the brilliance of momentary decision when he said “I do” and she said “I do too, and that began the journey of seventy years of light- hearted experience and on the job training.

The boy with the little blue car came home from the War in the Pacific and sat on her front porch for two weeks until she agreed to marry him.

Alameda Ave. 1613

Older and wiser heads said it would never last. They were too young, they had no money and no jobs.

Seventy years later they are still going strong, which goes to show you can’t believe all the older and wiser heads.