Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another mystery to unravel

I confess, I scour eBay for objects and non-photographic images of Yellowstone, the Tetons, the great American mountain west, and once in a while bid on something interesting. I've just brought back from the frame shop a little image (only 4 x 6 inches) titled Yellowstone Falls, signed just "Beauchamp." The seller didn't have much to add, but she enclosed this info sheet: 

In spite of the several apparent facts that should have been easy to pursue, my efforts on Google have turned up almost nothing. Now there aren't very many questions that a few attempts with Google, varying the query as each turns up a datum of relevance (such as a variant of the artist's name), can't shed light on. However, after several disappointing tries in this case, today I finally uncovered something that suggests the date might have been 1936. That certainly makes sense given the strongly WPA style.  However, the image in the Davis and Ryan book, while convincingly identical in style and subject matter (iconic Yellowstone!) sports a radically different signature. I can't post it here (due to the protected nature of Google books) but here is a close-up of the signature on my serigraph for comparison:

Please click to view the one an only other image of Mr. Beauchamp's art to compare signatures, and read the snippet about how Beauchamp's serigraphs (among the works of many other prominent artists) were at one point acquired and intended to be sold by Jack Haynes, son of the renowned Yellowstone photographer and documentarian, Frank Haynes, in the Yellowstone Picture Shop.

Here's a close-up of this pretty and evocative little image (which I might add, has been wonderfully enhanced by custom framing, in comparison to the shabby mat it was in when I bought it!)
The serigraph depicts the lower falls of the Yellowstone River, and as always, I encourage you to click on it to enjoy an enlarged view of the details. In spite of its 75 years, the colors are vibrant. (I wonder if it was in someone's drawer or trunk all that time?) In the meantime, if you know more than I do about Jack/John W. Beauchamp, artist, please leave a comment or get in touch with me directly, vcwald at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Snow up!

Everybody knows I love watching Yellowstone Web cams. Here's a favorite, mounted on Lake Butte, high above Yellowstone Lake, by the University of Utah's Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (funded by the US Geological Survey). The "capture" of the elk (the rest of her herd was there too) dates from July of 2010; the little critter on top of the snow, which is apparently deeper than the elk is tall, dates from mid-March of 2011. It's a little ermine, or a long-tailed weasel, in winter white -- what wonderful happenstance he ran in front of the camera to be recorded for posterity. After nearly 20 years of drought, Yellowstone had a most wonderfully snowy winter in 2010-11. Let's hope it marks the beginning of a return to normal moisture levels -- or if not "normal" whatever that is, then wetness at the high end of average. If all the snow melts gradually, it will seep into the soils and keep the trees, forbs and grasses hydrated throughout fire season, providing abundant forage for Yellowstone's hooved herds -- bison, elk, mule deer, moose, and pronghorn antelope -- so they can fatten up and better withstand the next winter of deep, long snows.

The "volcano" cam image is refreshed once hourly for public enjoyment on the Web, but for research on changes in the profile of the land it updates continuously. The sweet sleek elk cow and her herd (unlike the ermine) apparently noticed the camera and one of them decided to investigate. Here's the footage, posted by the USGS, titled, Elk Licked My Webcam. Hilarious!

(Even better with your sound turned on.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Too Many Norman Stories: Story 2. Me, Us, and Norman

To Pia and Robert and
Veronica Wald
Such fine neighbors
Norman Maclean
Norman Maclean could be intimidating to those who sought his admiration, but to me, in every way I would have chosen had it been possible (both my own died before I could know them), he was like a grandfather. Nonetheless, we were circumspect guests while visiting Seeley lake, and the way we automatically endeared ourselves was by bringing Pia, our big beautiful shepherd mix, along. Norman was fond of her, as evidenced by the order in which he dedicated our copy of A River Runs Through It and Woofer, as we always called Pia, had the time of her life. An apartment dog at home, she could roam free outside the cabin, through the unlandscaped, unfenced real estate to the lake shore a few dozen yards away and back, to her heart’s content. The weather was pleasant and we spent hours sitting outside chatting with Norman while she went exploring. At first chance she plunged deep into some very dense brush, thrashing around so much we thought maybe she had entangled herself. But before we could launch a rescue, she burst forth triumphant, grinning her big dog grin, with a thoroughly dried and stiff-as-a-board silver fish sticking out almost a foot from either side of her mouth. A fisherman must have lost it months if not seasons earlier, as it was desiccated to the point of mummification, and to a city dog with a taste for curiosity, a thrilling find. To her everlasting disappointment, we, not being able to rise to quite the same level of enthusiasm, made her drop it into the garbage can and firmly seated the lid.  

The cabin had only one bedroom, a small, intimate room behind the kitchen, which had been Norman’s beloved mother’s. The men slept in the living room near the fireplace, or, on warm nights, on the sleeping porch facing the lake; I was honored to have his mother’s room to myself, snuggling dreamily deep under soft quilts. While there was tap water from the well in the kitchen sink, there was no toilet in the house, only an outhouse under which, Norman had explained, a skunk raised a litter of kits every summer. Ladies who needed facilities in the middle of the night used the mountain equivalent of a chamber pot: an old 5 lb Hills Bros. coffee can. That might sound like a lot of coffee, but opening on a can that size is a riskily small target for a sleepy woman. It was probably our first night there that the inevitable happened. Fortunately, I was able to right the can before much damage was done, and to thoroughly daub the bedside rug with water from the kitchen without waking anybody. Though until this writing no one else knew a thing about it, I will never forget it.

In the morning, it gave Norman pleasure to fire up the stove, grease the pans, and prepare eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, and toast with lots of butter, for his apparently too thin Chicago guests. As neither the mealtime protocol nor the furniture in the cabin was formal, Norman handed each of us our plates right off the stove where they had been sitting to keep warm. We took our plates into the living room to set wherever we were comfortable, to eat before it got cold. I was served, and, sitting at a TV table, started to eat; then my ex was handed his plate, which he set down on the arm of an old-fashioned school desk. Note, as is clear from this photo, the desk arm is slanted slightly for more comfortable reading and writing. Bob turned around to retrieve something, maybe salt and pepper. As he did, the oils on the bottom of the plate suddenly did their thing, and the entire plate slid off the desktop, did a magnificent 180 in mid-air, and plopped, food-side down, on the floor.
Photographer unknown
Bob, stricken by the thought that Norman would momentarily appear from within the kitchen to decry his incompetence to function outside the big city, was far too embarrassed to fess up and request cleanup equipment.  He stood unmoving with a look of terror on his face as I said, at an ever-increasing stage-whisper, Get the dog! Get the DOG!!  GET THE DOG!!! who was outside enjoying herself looking for dead fish. Finally his paralysis passed, he ran to open the door, called her in, and lickety (literally) split, the eggs and hash browns and buttered toast were all...toast. Gone, not a dot of bacon grease to be seen. Bob’s hearty appetite impressed the happily oblivious Norman when he asked for a full plate of seconds. And Woofie had a really, really good start to her day.

As I read this and think back on that wonderful time, I realize it was only by some undeserved miracle that Norman’s  loutish, incompetent human and canine urban neighbors managed a three-day visit to Seeley Lake, Montana, without destroying either their host’s home, or their own reputations.
The blogger and Pia (Woofie) at Seeley Lake,1981

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Too Many Norman Stories: Story 1. The Truth Behind the Photo

In 1975 my fiancĂ© (now my ex-) and I moved into a neat little condominium, with a wood burning fireplace of all rarities, at 55th and Woodlawn in the Hyde Park neighborhood, a couple of blocks from the University of Chicago campus where we both worked. We soon began to hear about “the old professor” living in the unit below ours, recently rocketed to unbidden celebrity for his two-short-stories-and-a-novella book, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. By 2011, everyone has heard of A River Runs Through It, cinematized by Robert Redford in 1992 (starring young heartthrob Brad Pitt in the role of Norman's brother Paul), but in those days ARRTI was a book, a book of stories resplendent with dimension and imagery, love and loss, trials and triumphs. 

My undergraduate years at the University were only just behind me, and I feared the English professor emeritus would be tough on me. But it wasn’t long before I met and fell unconditionally in love with Norman Maclean. The gruff guy was his persona, but always, always there was affection underpinning everything he said and did around me. And he was kind enough not to complain--much--about our noisy habits over his head.

Norman and his wife Jessie had moved into their condo from a large neighborhood home after their children, John and Jean, had fledged and Jessie was already suffering from the lung ailment that finally took her in 1968, the same year I washed up on the shores of the University of Chicago as a freshman.  

When we entertained we frequently included Norman among other guests, or he came up on his own, for a meal or a cup of coffee. He missed Jesse so terribly, in spite of his busy new career as author-in-demand.  I kept his undated thank-you in which, in his sweetly self-deprecating way, he  reveals all of that and more:

Veronica: It was very nice the other evening. I’m sorry that I stay above [a reference to our home’s location relative to his] too much, because when I’m allowed...I stay too long and talk too much. The fire was nice too. .

I had by this time read, and re-read, ARRTI, and wept (and still do) at the end unfailingly. I was a member of an all-women book club, two monthly meetings of which he graced with his authorial presence. He called us "the Girl Scouts” but there’s no question he enjoyed the opportunity for intimate discussion of his works and respected the bright readers that we were.
The Maclean cabin at Seeley Lake, 1981
Copyrighted and not to be used without permission

Although I’d always been an outdoorsy girl, I didn’t know much about the northern Rockies where the stories were set, so I was thrilled when along came the opportunity in 1981 to stop in at the family cabin on Seeley Lake, Montana where he spent his summers thinking, writing, and fishing.  Norman was a warm host, cooking us big mountain breakfasts, arranging a tour of the local sawmill, driving us far up logging roads into the mountains, and taking us on an unannounced visit to the cabin of this friend Bud Moore and his wife. Alas, the Moores were not in.  But their canoe was sitting by the shore, and Norman said to me, “let’s go for paddle” around the large beaver pond on the property. I was in the back, and my job was to steer. He sat in the bow, offering, as the man (albeit a 79-year old one), the power strokes to move the canoe ahead through the sweet afternoon light of the high mountain waters. Mind you, Norman was an accomplished mountain man, and was especially comfortable on water, be it a rushing trout stream or a serene tarn. Mind you, I was a citified young woman with armloads of camera equipment and boatloads of good will. But no experience or instinct handling a canoe. This made for a slightly riotous ride. When the frustrated Norman turned back to say, “Darlin’!” as he called me and all women he loved, and to unleash annotated comments on what I was doing wrong and how, unless I performed as instructed, we were going to capsize, I whipped the camera to my eye, and caught what has often been captioned as Norman Maclean in “a contemplative moment.” Thank God the canoe made it safely back to shore, my roll of film dry and intact, for the photo, which was first picked up by the University of Chicago Press to use on blurbs and promotional material for later editions of AARTI, has become iconic. 
Copyrighted and not to be used without permission.

More Norman Maclean stories, of which there are many but somehow are mostly about me, to come...

Norman Maclean MUST reads:
  • A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
  • Young Men and Fire: A True Story of the Mann Gulch Fire
  • The Norman Maclean Reader: Essays, Letters, and Other Writings by the Author of A River Runs Through It, edited by O. Allen Weltzein
Norman, I will always miss you.