Scrapbook One Hundred Ninety One…

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SEPTEMBER 2018

 

George and Me

George Montgomery was born in 1916, which made him 14 years my senior, but we didn’t care about that. We were really good friends who collected western art and Indian artifacts together. He was a movie star and an artist. Our gallery sold his bronzes. We both loved Montana where I spent many summers. He was born in Brady, MT, and half of his ashes are buried there.

But our similarities started slowing down really fast after that. He was a genuine cowboy who worked on his family ranch. That was nothing I wanted because they had to get up too early, work outside when the ground was frozen, and dig fence post holes in the blazing summer sun.

Other dissimilarities: George was 6’3”, strikingly handsome, possessed the gift of glib in a good way, and made 105 movies. Some with John Wayne.

And he was haunted by a fear of flying the likes of which may be noted in the broad annals of aviation history. One time we were having Frito Pie at the Santa Fe Five and Dime on the plaza. Our spellbinding stories to each other occupied too much time in the telling, but we loved them anyway.

Suddenly George looked at his watch and cried, “Oh God, I’m going to miss my plane.” He had an important meeting in LA that absolutely could not be missed. I thought he might collapse, and the airport in Albuquerque was 65 miles away. “George,” I shrieked, “You can make it if I fly you to ABQ, what do you think?” He looked horrified. “Ok”, he whimpered.

Twenty-five minutes later we were in my little propeller driven airplane heading south. Albuquerque Center handed us off to Approach Control, who turned us over to the tower. They cleared us to enter a right base leg for runway 27 and we were number 2 in the pattern. An aircraft on a half-mile final approach was cleared to land ahead of us.

Well, the small airplane ahead of us crashed on the runway and started to smoke. Two people crawled out of the wreckage and fled. Suddenly there was a lot of commotion on the radio.

George looked straight ahead and didn’t say anything.

The excited tower operator reported that runway 27 was now closed and advised us to enter a right base leg for the north/south runway. We touched down over a mile away from the accident and didn’t interfere with the copious emergency vehicles that raced down a taxiway.

George looked straight ahead and didn’t say anything.

After some back-and-forth discourse with Ground Control, we were cleared to taxi to the gate where his jumbo jet was loading passengers through an up-ramp.

When I stopped, George quickly got out of my plane, jumped off the wing and boarded the airliner just as the door was about to close.

I don’t remember if I yelled goodbye. f

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scrapbook One Hundred Ninety…

scrapbook

SEPTEMBER 2018

 

A recent conversation with a friend about Eric Sloane prompted me to go through his papers in my file cabinet. The first item I found was the following story that I wrote many years ago, and never published. I remember with great fondness that interesting event with my friend Eric.

Today I look around at me,
And rue so many things I see.
Maybe it will help if we
Recall the way they used to be.

 

The Sheet Episode

One winter morning about 1980, while gathering some sun near the pond behind my gallery, I told Eric a funny Taos story about an Indian who had been invited to dinner at the home of Louise and Joseph Henry Sharp. During the meal, the host and his wife retreated briefly to the kitchen. When they returned they found that their guest had departed along with Louise’s prized white linen table cloth that had adorned the table. The dishes were askew and Louise was aghast. The next day Sharp witnessed the Indian walking near the plaza wearing his new wrap-around table cloth.

My story reminded Eric that in 1925, when he visited Taos Pueblo, most of the Indian men wore white sheets as an outer garment. He recalled that many years earlier, some of the men wore nothing at all in the summer time, except maybe an eagle feather hair decoration.

During the Army presence at the pueblo after the revolt of 1847, some of the wives complained that the feathers didn’t cover up enough. Kit Carson took the matter up with the Governor of the Pueblo, and after some deliberation, the Indians agreed to wear clothing, but only if the Army supplied the garments.

A simple solution was effected with the issue of regulation army sheets for the Indians to wear, thus starting a long and colorful tradition at Taos Pueblo. Everyone was happy, especially the female tourists.

Standing Deer by Joseph Sharp – Forrest Fenn collection

Unfortunately, over time the Army disappeared from Taos Pueblo, and so did the white sheets.

So, Eric and I decided to re-supply sheets to the Indians, expecting them to be thrilled, and we could wallow in the realization that an interesting episode in Taos Pueblo history had been rekindled. The next day, with a gross of J.C. Penny sheets in my car, we struck for Taos where we spoke with the Governor of the pueblo. After telling him the Kit Carson story, we suggested that he take our gifts and issue them to what we were sure would be a delighted group of natives.

We departed the pueblo with the gratification that belongs only to those who have made great cultural contributions on a magnificent scale. Our friends held us in thrall until the next day when a friend of Eric’s in Taos phoned him to report that the governor and two of his friends were successful in wholesaling large quantities of sheets on the plaza.

Eric and I had a good laugh at our own expense but were somewhat pleased to know that at least we had added, in some small way, to the economic growth of the pueblo. f

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scrapbook One Hundred Eighty Nine…

scrapbook

AUGUST 2018

 

Does Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Really Exist?

I met Forest Fenn one day in the early 1970’s while visiting family in Lubbock, Texas.  I was around 10 years old and with my dad who had an interest in everything and anything art.  It’s all a blur now.  I had no real idea of where we were or what we were doing at the warehouse in what seemed to be an industrial side of town.

My dad had learned of a foundry and a caster of bronze who was moving to Santa Fe to set up a foundry. We found him and he made time for us. Dad asked Mr. Fenn many questions that day about the lost wax method of casting bronze sculptures.  I was fascinated by the discussion and was even more interested when Mr. Fenn handed me a small piece of dark brown casting wax and told me that if I sculpted something out of it he would cast it for me.

I naively took this man at his word. I lost no time and quickly sculpted a rather crude horse figure, placed it in a box and sent it back to Lubbock. Several months past and the horse crossed my mind a number of times. But back in those “no internet’, “no over-night shipping” days we had a healthy patience about expectations and waiting.

Sometime later a small box bearing weight arrived by mail and I recognized the name on the return address  – Forrest Fenn – Santa Fe, New Mexico. I hurriedly open the box and unwrapped the packaging and there it was, my little wax horse exactly as I had sculpted it, only now it was in solid bronze. I was amazed. A sculpture that I had created with my hands now was in a form that was as permanent as it could possibly be. I felt like a real artist!

Looking back on all of this, there was no gain in it for Mr. Fenn.  He had to fabricate a mold, and then melt the wax out of the mold followed by sweat and the extremely high temperature of a foundry. He took on the risk of pouring the molten bronze into the mold, followed by the finishing work and a patina applied perfectly – even to an insignificant piece of “art”. He did all of this while keeping up with the address of a boy he would probably never see again. And, Mr. Fenn never asked for anything in return.

The horse is almost comical looking and it sits today in my living room. And although very few people notice it, when I do, I think of a young boy and a man who did not know each other but made a promise with each other. And that promise was kept.

Many people are searching for the famous treasure. I feel a responsibility to tell all, that, I already found the real Forrest Fenn treasure -over 45 years ago!

By the way, Mr. Fenn, Thank you. 

Bill
Natchitoches, La.

 

 

 

 

 

Scrapbook One Hundred Twenty Two…

scrapbook

DECEMBER 2014

 

Fenn Bronze

When I retired from the Air Force in Lubbock, on September 6th, 1970, my routine had been to arise about 0430 and go teach students how to fly airplanes. So when I got out of bed on the morning of the 7th, my wife asked, “Where are you going?” The question was a shock and I suddenly realized that I didn’t have any place to go. So I got back under the covers and started pondering the future of my family.

My retirement pay was 800 bucks a month, and I had a wife and two young daughters to support. Necessity wets the wits of the inexperienced and that meant I had to move quickly.

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The Babysitter was cast in 6 pieces and put together with a heliarc

My hobby was casting art bronze. I did it by running a natural gas line from the fireplace in our living room, through the kitchen and pantry, and into our garage. That’s where I melted and poured the metal. I was a one-person operation. Could I turn it into a living, I wondered?

My foundry equipment was homemade. I powered the melting furnace with a vacuum cleaner motor, and, by welding in my front yard, I created the lifting tongs and the pouring shanks.

My wife and I decided to go for it and see what would happen. She would tend the house and the kids, and I would finance the operation.

So I hired two guys and rented an old, abandoned grain elevator in town. My idea had little to offer but some promise … and a whole lot of exertion.

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The pyrometer measured the bronze temperature. We wanted 1850 degrees Fahrenheit

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Lifting molten bronze from the furnace

 

Pouring bronze into the molds

Pouring bronze into the molds

 

 

 

 

Soon, I was casting work for artists who couldn’t pay. They wanted to settle up when they sold their bronzes that they couldn’t sell. That twist started me thinking. I could make the castings at very little cost if I didn’t count my labor. So I started buying the artists’ original wax models and casting editions for myself.

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Original wax model by George Dabich

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Applying liquid patina to a bronze

That should have solved the problem, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t sell the bronzes either. So I learned to trade. It was easy to make deals with traders who had antique guns and Indian things that they couldn’t sell. After months of working all day long and most of the night, I still didn’t have any money. But I had a nice inventory of Indian baskets, rugs, Winchester rifles, and Colt pistols. I was like the rich man who had all of his money in a safe and couldn’t find the key.

My wife and I lived that life for two years until we moved to Santa Fe where we slept on the floor and built a foundry – and an art gallery. Peggy was my rock and mortar.

Lots of doubts and insecurities were felt during those building years. We learned early on to stop looking for reasons why something couldn’t be done, and to just go do it! And I have never been sorry.