Hello! At this point I have scribbled out 22 Chapters which are roughly in chronological order…the next Chapters will be random writings.. I will have to organize them later into some sort of meaningful form but in the meantime…. I have try to find work … I am always looking for work... onward… XO Sterett
THE ANGEL’S STORY Chapter 23
North Salem, Box Tree and the Orienteer
The year: 1973: The Shepard’s Cottage on Keeler Lane was nestled in the Hills of North Salem New York. Distant views of Westchester County’s countryside were included with the rent. Our apartment was situated over a four bay, dirt floor garage that housed hay rakes, tractors, a manure spreader and all sorts of tools necessary to the running of the Keeler Farm. We had three small bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, a huge living room with a fireplace and a large unheated attic and use of a two-story high garage just thirty feet from our house.
The Shepard’s Cottage was part of a collection of barns that surrounded a huge white barn that had once been home to a large herd of dairy cattle. It now stood empty, waiting for a herd that will most likely never come home again. Both the “chicken-house” and the “sheep-barn” were also vacant. Westchester County is too close to New York City. The land is too precious and the taxes are crazy high. Not too high for the luxury of show horses of course, but much too high for the likes of common cattle. The horse barn next door was rented to a local resident who stabled several show horses and foxhunters. Our beloved little ponies, James and Candy were stabled at ground level in our garage while my sculpture continued upstairs. It was a perfect studio, well insulated, well lighted and heated with propane.
(It would become the birthplace of File #47 “Bente-Strong-of-Saw-Mill-Lane” and File #41 “Barbara-Lee-Furbush-of-Sunshine” and File #44 “The-Orienteer-of- Pound-Ridge”. )
In 1971, the first oil crisis was in full swing so there was just enough gas to get to the grocery store in Cross River once a week… plus a few extra miles. Every mile had to be carefully considered. Pickup trucks were notorious gas eaters in those days. It was a good half-mile walk from our house, down the hill to the intersections of Route #116, Keeler Lane and Baxter Road, so the children rode their ponies to and from the school bus each day. Life in North Salem was straight out of Norman Rockwell’s world…. So very busy, with lots of hard work and all buffered with clean fresh air and lots of sunlight.
Between 1971 and 1973, I completed 3 life-sized sculptures and lots of little bronze sketches. The commissions from Peter Strong and some sales at the Greenwich Library Art Show kept our heads above water.
One early afternoon in the fall of 1973, I passed by a new restaurant in Purdy’s, New York called “Box Tree.” The freshly painted, Old Purdy Homestead was being transformed! Classical music streamed through the open windows and flowers seemed to spill from everywhere. The smell of homemade bread sweetened the September airs. It was all so very beautiful. I could not pass by without checking it out. It appeared that no one was home. I did not see any cars in the parking lot. A sign outside read: “Help Wanted” and out of sheer curiosity, I decided to take a look inside. The Purdy Homestead was a typical New England farmhouse, boasting white plaster walls, exposed beams and a fireplace in every room. To my amazement and delight, absolutely gorgeous landscape paintings, housed in gold leafed frames dressed the walls. Glassware sparkling on polished antique tables were already in place for dinner and glass- globed candles companioned by seasonal bouquets of fresh flowers, lavished each presentation.
Suddenly, I was confronted by a tall blond, blue-eyed gentleman wearing a traditional chef’s outfit, white hat and all. “Vut-you-Vant? He asked? Are you lukeing-for-a-yob?” Caught off guard and feeling like I had no business whatsoever intruding into someone else’s home, I blurted out, “Yes!” He said, “Fine, your-hirred. Ve-vant-you-be-here by 5:30. Study the menu. You are now our new hostess! My name is Lars. Lars Nystromer. Come let me show you-round. These Paintings were painted by my grandmother,” he said with obvious pride. “Some of her paintings are hanging in the Big Museum in Stockholm you know, and most of this furniture belonged to my family too. My grandfather, Johannes Sigfrid Edstrom was the President of ASEA (Sweden’s General Electric Company) and the 4th President of the International Olympic Committee from 1942-1952. He was beaming as he informed me of his parentage.
Then, Agustin V. Page appeared and introduced himself. With a broad smile he said, “Welcome to Box Tree.” He spoke with a well-educated British accent. Laughing loudly he announced: “I am Bulgarian and as you can see, I dress British and speak Yiddish!” And he was too. Beautifully turned in Harris Tweeds, sporting pigskin leather driving gloves, finished off with a bright pink silk scarf, which was tucked into his open-at-the-neck-monogrammed-shirt. I sensed a new adventure was beginning. He, together with his partner were opening up this brand new restaurant in two weeks! It was their intention that the Box Tree should be “outrageously posh!” Viewing the carefully manufactured ambience, I thought that they were off to a great start! “How about Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 5:30 to 11 pm.” said Augustine?
On that particular day, I was not looking for a job, but I got one anyway. I had recently finished the little Bente-Strong sculpture and had delivered her to Peter Strong’s home in Greenwich, Connecticut. Working at Box Tree three evenings a week would be nice and a comfortable way to meet some people in my own neighborhood. “Would it be possible for me to exhibit some of my Sculptures at Box Tree, I asked. “Sure… That would be just fine with us,” said Augustine. “Who knows, you might just sell one!” Box Tree offered a chance to dress up in a long skirt and get out of my blue jeans. Besides that, a really nice group of people worked at Box Tree and working with them would be fun. We worked as a team and became quite close to one another. There was a genuine family feeling at Box Tree.
I soon discovered that restaurants and fine wine are a good combination for selling sculpture while waiting on tables and yes, I actually sold several bronzes! (Waiting on tables? Yes, a Hostess is in reality a waitress incognito in case you don’t know it! )
One evening, Bjorn Kjelstrom from Pound Ridge New York, came for dinner with his wife and several guests. He purchased a sculpture titled: File # 37 “Polly-Pratt-of-Close-Road,” a three-foot high bronze figure of a standing child. He invited me to come and visit him and his wife the following day. While delivering the sculpture, Bjorn told me that he worked for his own company called “Silva,” which was the leading compass manufacturer in the world. (Today, Silva is part of a larger company called Fiskars.) Bjorn clearly had a keen interest in the sport of Orienteering, which made use of their compasses, which his company produces. He told me that he himself was a “Ski Orienteering Champion” when he was living in Sweden.
He then began to educate me. “This sport called “Orienteering” originated and developed in Sweden you know. It is a sport, which claims that it has more participants than any other sport in the world because it is for both sexes and all ages. Americans however, are just getting to know about it. I am hoping to introduce Orienteering to the young people here in the states and in time, to make it America’s most popular sport. Orienteering is a cross-country race with a topographical map and compass. It is mainly practiced by the Boy Scouts and the Military here, but Orienteering is really big in Europe. Every weekend you can see people running around all over the place! Old people! Young people! Up and down the hills, around the lakes and ponds, in and out of the woods, jumping over streams and fences, all of them having a wonderful time!” You could tell by now, that Bjorn’s heart and soul were really into this sport!
I noticed a very large black and white photograph above the mantelpiece over the fireplace. It was of an orienteer, racing cross-country in a competition in Sweden. I made a remark in passing that it was a great photograph! Bjorn enthusiastically agreed, and said he had taken the picture himself and that it was one of his most favorite photos. “Tell me Sterett, could you make a little bronze sculpture of the young man in the photograph? I need 127 of them and I will be giving them out as trophies at competitions all over the world. Do you think you can do it? Perhaps six or seven inches high?” “Sure,” I said. “I would be happy to make them for you.” Bjorn was so happy with the resulting little running figure that he commissioned the same little figure to be made again. This time it would be nine feet high for a new National Monument to the Sport of Orienteering in Stockholm!
Another commission! I could scarcely believe it! The sculpture business…… I mean the business of getting business, had not seemed too difficult up to this point. I had no idea of how incredibly difficult it would be to live on sculpture income alone. I would soon find out about that little detail. For now, I was just enjoying being a sculptor and a mom. I will say at this point, that being a Mom beats all. Given a choice between being a Mom and a career in sculpture…being a Mom comes first every time, always and forever, nothing even comes close!
Now I must tell you, that I had no idea how I was going to tackle this huge new piece of sculpture. But for sure, I was not going to tell Bjorn that I did not know what I was doing. I accepted the commission and set to work, building the running man up on the second floor of my studio barn in North Salem.
So far, in my short career as a sculptor, I had made only female figures, mostly because it was easier to get female models. Women were more often willing to work for me for two or three hours at a time and when ever I needed them. It was more difficult to get men to model because they wanted to work full time from nine to five, five days a week with benefits. I simply could not afford that. Fortunately, I had two good-looking male cousins who lived near by and my friend David Keen who lived across the street on Keeler Lane. They were kind enough to lend an ankle, a head, a back or an elbow, or what ever part I needed. My nine-foot running man was a composite figure based on the three of them.
I strung up my homemade, aluminum armature using the cross beams in the studio barn and used wooden puzzle pieces wrapped in wire to support the clay on the figure. There was a hook in the top of the sculptures head, which I tied to an overhead beam, hoping to keep the figure in an upright position. Actually things went quite well for a while. I had only the one photograph from which to work, but thank goodness for the intensive anatomy training at the Rhode Island School of Design. Before long, I had a fairly credible figure.
It was then, that the first crisis began. My beautiful man was starting to sag! I raced to the upper barns where David Keen was working with the show horses and squealed for help! Together we bounded up the stairs. The running man was sinking lower and lower. I mean nine feet of clay is really, really, really heavy! We ran a rope through the hook in the sculpture’s head and tossed it up and over the highest crossbeam. David began to pull on it with all of his might hoping to raise the figure upward. I got underneath the man’s behind end and I too pushed upward but to no avail. The sculpture collapsed. As it sank to the floor, I remember seeing David being pulled up toward the ceiling, swinging back and forth, while the sculpture flattened me out on the floor on the studio. Ahhhh, such is life. I had to begin all over again of course. This one, I chalked up to what one might call a “learning experience” and you can be sure that my next attempt at armature building was bigger, stronger and far more successful! Daddy always told me that you learn from mistakes, so not to worry about them and to always keep moving forward. I guess he was right. You actually do learn from your mistakes after all.