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February 5, 2014

DAD'S 100th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION


I created a chalkboard drawing for the studio which incorporated many of my fathers sketches over the years ranging from the 1920's to the late 1930's when he illustrated a nature column and had a scholarship to attend a WPA funded art program. Many of his paintings toured the country in exhibits. In later years he illustrated the covers of Parade magazine ( 1945 -1955). My reproductions here are poor representations of his talent, but it captured some of his styles.

As many of you know, this weekend we celebrated my father's 100th birthday (his actual birthday is tomorrow, Feb 6th). I know this isn't a very plant focused post, but I thought that some of you might enjoy seeing some of the photos from the event, and the tasks which lead up to it that involved some plants.

I also though that maybe you might like to see some of these early works, as well as some photos of his life in the early part of the 20th century. Dad has kept concise scrapbooks, which contain virtually every drawing and sketch that he published, beginning with his nature club that he started with neighborhood friends in the early 1930's, a scrap book that includes 600 clippings of his club newsletter sketches documenting what teenagers did in the 1930's (beer, sausages, hiking and girls).  His later scrapbooks from the late 1930's and early years leading up to the war show how his talent for art grew, as well as his interest in birds and wildlife. Here are a few examples starting with his neighborhood nature club in 1935:

Click below for more:



What I love about this sketch, is that on that list of names, 3 of their wives were able to come to the party this Saturday night including Mrs. Staruk, who still lives three houses away. Buddy Rudge ran the old gas station at the end of our road, and relatives of the Witkowski's still live on our road.


The truck pictured here is from Weigert's. a slaughter house that stood about a mile from our house, I remember going there as a child. It was torn down 5 years ago so that a bank could be built. So what did kids eat while hiking in the 1930's? Lots of sardines, boiled corn and kielbasa. Oh yeah, and cheese and butter from local farms.

Dad's nature club was called the Wildwood Nature Club, and members were nicknamed 'Spibbies".  By 1937  the club was recognized as one of the first National Audubon Society's  Jr. Audubon clubs, a fact  which my dad was very proud of. Here, you can see how his sketching style was maturing after high school.

Dad in 1936, when skiing was still new in America. We still have many pairs of these wooden ski's in the cellar, and believe it or not, we still have two pairs of these pants ( Woolrich) in his closet. This house is weird.

Not without a sense of humor, Dad's nature club travelled around the New England states. Here, he ( his nickname was Squire) paints girly pic's on the backs of his mates.

Boys will be boys. Circa 1937, New Hampshire. Or was this an Abercrombie & Fitch photo shoot?





By 1938, Dad's illustrations were appearing in newspapers, often focused on nature, the environmental issues of the era and of course, his love of birds and plants.

An illustration just after the great 1938 Hurricane that destroyed many large trees in New England. Not sure
if I would say that maple sap is refreshing.
If you know my dad, you know that he liked his girls. A little leg never hurt when feeding the birds.

As a WPA student artist dad was getting recognition nationally, even painting many murals for public buildings and submitted many works for competition and museums.

'Tornado', 1936 which toured in a Grumbacher exhibition until 1938. Dad's career
in fine art took a shift in 1942 when he was drafted. I only have about a dozen of his original
oil paintings up to that point, and I still believe that they were his finest. 

Dad was very active in the National Audubon Society, and not only helped start many Jr. Audubon clubs
in the 1930's. he participated in many National Audubon Society events. ( plaid shirt here in
some brochures). His love of birds continues, even though it is difficult for him to see, when he recieved his
hearing aid this spring, the first thing he said is that now he can hear the wood thrushes out back in the woods.

Dad working with Comorants at the Audubon Nature Camp in Muscongus Bay, Maine, where he was
an instructor in the late 1930's.

The Forbush Bird Club ( dad was Vice President in the late 1930's) continues to attract members here
in central Massachusetts. He illustrated newspaper articles for nearly five years ( I just found a scrap book with over 160 of them). I've begun to post them on their Facebook page. I only wanted to post a couple, but members keep telling me that it's OK if I post more. I don't think they know what they re asking for. I have most of them.




Dad wasn't only interested in birds, he also loved wild flowers and native plants. Here he advises readers
to be careful when picking Trailing Arbutus, or our native state flower the Mayflower (Epigaea repens) which
was a traditional May Day flower in 1938 when he illustrated this.



The branches that I forced over the past two weeks worked out well. The Magnolia never made it, but I was able to pick some long branches of a single white camellia in the greenhouse.

We also received beautiful flowers from some local florists. I was most impressed with this arrangement from Jeff French.

I wanted to create something special for the plant window, inspired by what my father taught me about native plants, in particular, trillium and native New England wild flowers. This was my homage to a vision of spring, using, of course, many tropical and tender plants from the greenhouse, but again, to the novice, it looked like a New England woodland in spring.

I was so happy that many of my family ( and extended family) members were able to attend. Here, my ex sister in law Toni (left) and my niece Amy from Vancouver, WA ( right) help my grand niece Faeren from Georgia cut potatoes for dinner. So many generations together under the home where our family really began was a very special experience.
The mural in the back painted in 1954 includes neighbors and family members. I was not born yet.

My friend Jessica Rosenkranz designed the cake using many of my fathers early sketches and many self portraits.
In case you are wondering, his favorite color is pink!

Jess even designed a smash cake for him. We quickly discovered that 100 candles was not a good idea.

Many of you may recognize this person - Glen Lord, another horticultural friend, who I convinced to be hired as
the 'oyster shucker' for the evening ( he happens to be very good at it). He was thrilled. See? 100 oysters later....

My grand niece D'lynne from Vancouver, WA helps dad open gifts. We had nearly 60 guests Saturday night, and dad was so happy. Funny thing is, he can eat anything, which is amazing given his age. He asked for whiskey, chocolate and socks. In that order. His favorite treat is fresh oysters and beer, of which, he had many.



A view of my woodland installation on the following day.

Some Primula malacoides just beginning to bloom, raised from seed sown back in August. This tender Primrose from China won't form flower buds until the days are short, around the New Year.

On the night after the party everyone who stayed at the house ( mostly just my nieces and nephews and grand nieces and nephews) celebrated family ties over a meal that we created together. I was pretty moved and I know my late mother would have been proud that at least, these generations were able to come together for such a landmark event.

11 comments :

  1. This is very cool. Your father's sketches remind me of the Mark Trail comic strip, which I loved as a kid. What a wonderful life this man has.

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  2. hopflower6:52 PM

    Wonderful! And what a nice party you held for him. Bless him and I hope he continues to enjoy whiskey and chocolates as long as he is able. A wonderful life indeed!

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  3. How wonderful to be 100, clear in your thoughts and healthy in body.

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  4. I love that you still find somewhere to grow every when it's snowing like that outside :)

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  5. Fabulous post and a wonderful tribute to your dad! You are a good son to honor him in such a lovely way!

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  6. what a lovely post! thanks for sharing all of this with us. how nice for your family and friends and especially your Dad - happy 100th birthday to him! and lucky you to have inherited so much from a talented and engaged Dad. the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

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  7. You seem to have had a very good family celebration. Your father is a good painter. "Tornado" reminds me of paintings by Fletcher Martin.
    Your forced Hamamelis is beautiful.

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  8. What a treasure to have your dad still with you at 100! Thanks for sharing the celebration with us! A rare treat indeed.

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  9. wow! i do not even know where to start this comment, so i'll go with the superficial first :). what a handsome man your dad was when young and even now. he is the movie star version of a one hundred year old (looks more like 70). his eye for detail in his art is amazing. i love the pieces you shared with us and really think you should frame & hang them. did he make a living as an artist?

    you did not just give your father a birthday party. you gave him such a gift of love and appreciation. i cannot imagine how much time & thought went into that "simple" gathering--the chalkboard rendering of his work, the cakes with his art and likeness, just getting the family members all together at one time, the plant installations that were not only gorgeous and imaginative, but reflected what you learned from your father about nature & gardening...i could write an essay :)!

    your father had to be so touched and so, very proud of the son he raised.

    thank you for sharing your lovely family celebration and your gorgeous home.

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  10. What a wonderful celebration! Your father's artwork is fantastic, especially "Tornado". It was all lovely, thank you so much for sharing.

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  11. Thank you for this interesting and very enjoyable post.

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