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In Santa Barbara, the Weisbarts give one lucky dog a new home

Judi Weisbart with BeBe.

Judi was having a rough time.  In 2015 she lost her beloved mom, who’d lived with her for 34 years.  Over the next 12 months, the Weisbarts lost 7 friends and family members.  Judi’s mom died with her cat Ninja on her lap.  When her mom’s body was taken from the house, Ninja “let out a blood curdling scream and, after, refused to eat.”  3 weeks later, Ninja died.  3 months later, the Weisbarts’ Lhasa Apso Macho died.

The only ones left in the Weisbart home in Santa Barbara, CA, were Judi and her husband Harry.  “It felt weird,” Judi says.

Last April, following the fires and debris flow in Santa Barbara, Judi adopted a puppy from a shelter in Camarillo, CA.  Charlie was a “sweet dog, but he barked.  The barking bothered Harry’s ears.”  Judi posted the pup on Craigslist.  In 2 hours, 6 people wanted him.  Judi gave him to a mom and her 6 year old daughter.  The mom had lost her car in the floods, which also took the life of her employer.  “The trauma she’d suffered was obvious.  I was meant to give Charlie to her.  He helped her with her fear and sleeps with her at night.”

But my sister’s dear friend Judi missed having a dog.  “I wanted something to love and care for,” she says.

Harry Weisbart and BeBe.

Judi and Harry enjoyed Shabbat dinner in LA with Harry’s oldest and best friend, Gary Jacobs and his wife Sylvia.   The couple had a little white rescue dog.  Judi was inspired.

She told Harry she wanted to return to the same shelter where they’d found Macho.   “It was 102 degrees out, but Harry’s a good husband.  He agreed to go.”  In the heat, the shelter “didn’t smell so good.”  The only available dogs were pit bulls and chihuahuas.

Judi told the woman in charge of the shelter she’d like a Lhaso Apso.  The woman snapped, “You and 20 other people.  Stand in line.”

Judi and Harry walked out.   In the parking lot, they saw a woman holding a little white dog.  Judi asked about it.  The woman was from L.A.  She found the dog running in the street and took her home.  She had a vet check for a chip.  Negative.  Nor were there any reports about a lost dog.  She’d been with the woman for 5 days, but the woman couldn’t keep her.

Judi asked, “You drove 40 miles just to drop off this dog?”

The stranger nodded.  “This was the closest no kill shelter.”

Judi asked to hold the dog, who promptly licked her face.  Harry asked if she pooped or peed inside.  Nope.

Judi asked, “Can we keep her?”

The dog’s temporary owner beamed.

The Weisbarts headed home.  In the back seat, their new pooch didn’t utter a whimper.  A vet guessed the dog at close to 3 years old, a mix of poodle, maltese and maybe cocker.

The Weisbarts’ newest occupant understands simple commands—“down” and “bed.”  Her comprehension of where to poop or pee’s a  tad lacking.  Judi’s philosophical.  “Nothing’s perfect.  We often need to take on challenges to truly bond with a pet.  I hope to have her trained very soon.”

Judi told her girlfriend about her “new baby,” deeming her another “miracle dog.”  Her friend said, “It’s beshert.”  (Yiddish for “meant to be.”)   Judi agreed and named her latest charge BeBe, for Beshert Baby.

Way to go, Weisbarts, on taking in a rescue dog.  Wishing you lots of licks, oodles of wags, and plenty of properly deposited poops.

Denver Moore challenges Kathy Izard to create housing for Charlotte, NC’s homeless

The Hundred Story Home is subtitled “finding faith in ourselves and something bigger.”  It’s a well-titled, well-told tale of one woman’s seemingly impossible mission.  Several meaningful coincidences give her hope and keep her going.

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Author Kathy Izard calls them God-instances.  I call them Godsigns.   In any case, the book’s a great read.  Especially since Kathy was a confirmed non-believer.

Kathy grew up with a father who often told her “you can do anything,” but died at 64 of leukemia. And with a creative mom who suffered years of bipolar episodes, hearing voices, and frequent hospitalizations.  Forced to sit through tedious church services as a child and disillusioned that God didn’t spare her father, Kathy gave up on God.

Her experiences make it clear: God didn’t give up on her.

A graphic designer and young mother in Charlotte, NC, Kathy volunteers at a soup kitchen run by the Urban Ministry Center (UMC).  Reading a book, Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and formerly homeless Denver Moore, she organizes a luncheon featuring the authors.  She drives Denver around town showing off the UMC’s soup kitchen, art room and vegetable garden.

Denver asks, “You do all this good in the day and then lock them out to the bad at night? Where are the beds?”

Kathy writes, “His accusation left me gutted.” She finds herself volunteering to create a housing complex for the homeless and name it Moore Place.

Kathy researches homelessness. She concludes that it costs less to house homeless people than to pay for their hospital bills, substance abuse treatment and other expenses. That the chronically homeless represent 10-20% of the homeless population but consume over 50% of the resources. That housing them would free up shelters to serve the 80% who could transition with less intensive support.

Kathy closes her business to start a program she calls Homeless to Homes. Realizing more than 6000 homeless people live in Charlotte, she becomes good friends with several. They include Larry, aka Chilly Willy, who in the past 20 years had survived prison, muggings, illness, heat waves, and ice storms. And Eugene Coleman whose campsite is a hole in the ground under a highway overpass.

Another friend is Bill Halsey, a “quiet cowboy” in a dirty leather hat who lives in a cave he dug by the train tracks.  One day at the UMC, Kathy’s serving soup. A tough guy cuts the line to take seconds. Kathy objects. The soup thief throws the bowl of tomatoes and noodles at her. Halsey jumps in to defend her.

Kathy determines to create homes for these people. It takes 10 years of superhuman effort to make the contacts, spread the word and raise the money to build an apartment complex to house more than 100. Though uncomfortable with fundraising, Kathy manages to inspire others and receives donations from big foundations and corporations and many individuals.  One anonymous donor she calls the Mailbox Angel sends monthly pink envelopes with Hallmark cards containing $5 or $10 and a note: “May God bless and multiply this small amount.”  About them, Kathy writes, “The idea that someone I had never met would give to your cause this way made me feel I wasn’t crazy…”

Kathy’s friend Lisa prays with her.  Kathy, an agnostic who prides herself on self-reliance, admits, “To get this done, I have to believe in God because I can’t do this myself.” Lisa insists God is on the case.  Dubious, Kathy asks how she’d know.  Lisa says, “God has a funny way of showing off.”

After 10 years and a small trial program, God shows off in many ways. The building gets built; residents move in. Kathy sees how having a home changes them. She finds Caroline, the perfect person to run the Homeless to Homes program. Caroline, who worked at Common Ground in NY, moves to Charlotte where she grew up. Caroline’s old high school decides to raise money for Moore Place. Caroline’s asked to speak. She invites Eugene Coleman to join her.

In a packed gymnasium, Coleman stands behind the mic not saying a word. Finally, after what Kathy calls “an uncomfortable silence,” Coleman asks, “Can you see me?” Another long pause. “Because for 20 years, I didn’t think anyone saw me.  … I didn’t want to be seen. Drugs took all my pride, robbed me of every piece of self-respect, every dream I ever had. But somehow God saw fit to give me a second chance. And that second chance is people like you.”

Moore Place opens. Chilly Willy, Coleman and many more are housed, Kathy receives another pastel envelope from the Mailbox Angel. This time there’s a small return address with a name, Lily Halsey. Kathy realizes she’s the mother of Bill, the man who came to her defense in a soup line and no longer lives in a cave. He has a real home in Moore Place. Kathy visits his mom in a nursing home. Lily tells her how her son lost his job, his confidence and his home. And how she worried about him. When she read of the UMC’s plans to create housing, she wanted to help. She began sending a few dollars each month, and praying about it. Kathy writes that Lily “said with unwavering faith, ‘No one would have built Moore Place unless they believed God was in it.’”

From the standpoint of physics—a field that fascinates and befuddles me—Kathy’s determination demonstrates the power of the quantum field. Stick with me here.  In a recent newsletter, scientist and author Dr. Joe Dispenza, explains: “When we connect to the quantum field—that place where all new potentials exist as possibilities not yet materialized into our 3D reality—our nervous system becomes like an antenna or a super conductor whose job it is to pull more highly organized, coherent energy, information and consciousness from the field into our biology.”  Whoa.

Kathy puts it more simply.  Near the end of the book, she reflects on her journey.  “I can’t explain grace or God’s plan, but this much I have learned: grace is that moment when your purpose speaks to you so loudly you can’t help but hear it.  Believing in it is crazy, but denying you heard it is even crazier.  You may not see it coming, but when grace finds you, stop, listen, and take good notes.  Everything in your life has prepared you for this.  You are ready, and grace is real.”

If you enjoy reading about Godsigns and about prevailing over tremendous  odds, this book’s for you.  Thanks for sharing, Kathy.  May such grace find us all.

Singer and Pastor Rennie Kaufmann helps Aretha Franklin close to home and a little boy far, far away

The boy who would become Matthew proudly holds a book of photos of his new American family and sits at a laptop computer to meet his new brothers and sisters via the Internet.

Rennie Kaufmann, of Grosse Pointe, MI, is one of the most talented people I know.  An amazing singer with a ginormous heart.

Rennie with Oprah

First, here’s a story involving Rennie and Detroit legend Aretha Franklin: In 1998, Detroit’s late Queen of Soul sang Puccini’s Nessun Dorma in honor of Pavarotti at a MusicCares dinner.  2 nights later, she was booked to perform a Blue Brothers number with Dan Akroyd, John Goodman and Jim Belushi at the Grammys.  Pavarotti was there to sing Nessun Dorma, but was too ill to perform. With 20 minutes to go, the producer rushed into Aretha’s dressing room.  Could she fill in?  She listened to the dress rehearsal, then said: “I can do it.”  She pulled off a bravura performance of one of the most famous arias of all time, on TV, before a live audience including Faith Hill and Celine Dion.

So what did this have to do with Rennie?

Earlier that year, Aretha called Rennie, who was recommended by a Detroit music association.  Aretha  wanted help with the Italian pronunciations of Nessun Dorma.  Rennie was thrilled.  He FAXed her a phonetic text of the words. Soon after, Rennie did his first gig for Oprah on a Caribbean cruise she hosted for poet Maya Angelou’s birthday.  Guests included producer Quincy Jones, singers Odetta and Natalie Cole and “pretty much everyone who was anyone in black entertainment.  It was a kick to be included.”  After the cruise, Aretha called her new pal again to make sure he was watching TV.  Oprah was showing video clips from the cruise.

But I digress. Though he sings for the rich and famous, Rennie’s not carried away by celebrity. The reason I wanted to talk to him involves his adoption of a Chinese boy 3+ years ago, a boy with Spina Bifida and special needs.

Rennie with his wife Karen at their church.

Rennie and Karen, in their 50s, had home schooled and raised 5 biological kids, all now adults.  Another child was “the last thing on our minds,” Rennie says.  He sings at private and corporate parties, lately with daughter Esther,  “to support my family and my day job.”  Rennie’s the pastor of Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Plymouth.  He’s also a chaplain for Wellspring Lutheran Services and ministers to people in rehab and sick and hospice patients.

The Kaufmann kids grew up volunteering along with their parents.  The older children had been on service/missionary trips.  About 5 years ago, the younger 2, Luke and Esther, expressed interest.  Through the organization Joni and Friends, Karen, Luke and Esther learned about Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village in China.  It’s a safe haven for at-risk special-needs orphans who’ve been abandoned.  When the threesome left for Beijing to serve for a month, Rennie joked, “I hope you’ll come back with the same amount of kids you left with.”

Toward the end of their overseas stay, Karen et al Skyped Rennie.  He recalls, “There was a long pause on the computer screen.  Then Esther said, ‘So Dad, there’s a little boy who needs a forever family.’  And Karen said, ‘I’m honoring your request to return with the same amount of children.  But I put one on layaway.’”

The little boy was 13, with a congenital spinal disease.  Once he turned 14, he’d no longer be eligible for adoption—that is if anyone wanted a child with obvious medical problems.   Esther, 22 (17 at the time), says the 13 year old was “one of the oldest children at the orphanage.  He was so sweet, always helping  others.  It would have broken my heart if he didn’t have a family.”

“We didn’t have a pot to pee in,” Rennie said.  But he told his wife and daughter, “We’ll pray about it.  If it’s God’s will, it’ll happen.”

And so the Kaufmann family began holding garage sales and spaghetti dinners.  The community rallied.   “It seemed like every time we needed extra money for an adoption expense or background check, the money showed up.”  4 months before the orphan, whom they named Matthew, turned 14, Karen and Rennie went to China to bring him home.  Meanwhile, Esther took a couple of semesters in Mandarin to  minimally communicate with her new brother, who then spoke no English.

Matthew’s had surgery on his spine and elsewhere.  “He’ll have a lifetime of medical needs,” Rennie says.  “But there are opportunities for care in the US he’d never have had.  He takes voice lessons and piano and studies hard.  He tells stupid jokes like his dad.  He’s brought us great joy.  We say that HE adopted US.  In Hebrew, his name means Gift of God.  God prepared a family for Matthew.   With him, we feel complete.“

Now 17, Matthew enjoys accompanying his dad in helping seniors and rehab patients.  He’s catching up academically.  His proud papa says, “He talks more and more about becoming a doctor.  And he aced his first college class!”

Rennie says, “We aren’t islands.  We’re meant to reach out to each other and lift each other up.  My guiding principle: Love people.  Use things.  Never the other way around.”

Sing it, Rennie!

The Kaufmann Clan these days. Matthew is in the center holding his nephew Caleb, who is Renie’s and Karen’s grandson.

Recovering from leukemia, Elana Ackerman grows up to be a doctor

Elana and her husband enjoying Charlevoix, Michigan.

Elana’s been a survivor more than half her life.  At 11, she was an avid reader who also loved to write and had attended writing camp.  She began bruising easily and feeling tired.  She was diagnosed with leukemia.  After 3 years of treatment at Detroit’s Children’s Hospital, she was back on her feet and back at Hillel Day School.

The experience had a lasting effect.  Elana wanted to help other children the way she’d been helped.  After her illness, she published a book of her poems and poetry exercises along with Lynne Meredith Schreiber, In The Shadow of The Tree: A Therapeutic Writing Guide for Children with Cancer.  Through the Make A Wish Foundation, she landed an appearance with Al Roker on the Today Show. Book sales took off; proceeds went to cancer research.

Influenced by her medical challenges, Elana decided to become a doctor.  She attended Michigan State U through the Medical Scholar program, which provided direct acceptance to med school. She also spent several weeks in London during undergrad; and in Russia while in grad school.

For the past year, Elana’s been a pediatrician at Henry Ford Hospital. She spends half her time on hospital rounds; half in the Henry Ford Clinic in W. Bloomfield, MI. As for being a doctor rather than a patient, she says, “It’s no fun being a patient. I much prefer wearing a white coat.”

Having looked at life from both sides, Elana maintains an upbeat attitude. “I try to be positive and adaptable,” she says.  “Cancer is part of who I am but not all of who I am. The experience helps me to relate to my patients. I don’t usually talk about my background. Sometimes I forget to mention it.  But if a patient’s having a hard time with a diagnosis, I’ll bring it up. I’ll say something like, ‘I’ve been where you are, and I got through it.  You can, too.’”

Elana’s gotten through a couple of recent health challenges as well, including a gall bladder extraction. “I just adapt. I make the most of what I have and surround myself with people who love and support me.”

In 2017, Elana experienced a “6 month whirlwind.”  She finished her residency at the end of June, started a new job in August, took her medical board exams in mid October. She got married this past January.  Whew!  Her husband, Andrew Goldberg, is a lawyer.

Does Elana recommend a career in medicine?

“Not for people who like a lot of sleep.” She laughs. “It’s hardest during your residency.  For me, medicine is a calling.  The human interaction is wonderful.  Figuring out a diagnosis is a puzzle, a lot of fun.  From the first day of medical school, I’ve never had a dull moment.”

Soon after talking to Elana, I was listening to NPR. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the physician whose research blew the lid off the Flint, MI, water crisis, was interviewed. She said her inspiration for becoming a doctor sprang from an accident she survived as a young child. One winter, her father was driving Mona and her mother in northern MI when the car skidded on a patch of black ice. The car crashed in a ravine, leaving Mona with a broken jaw, an injured spine, and, eventually, the desire to heal others as she was healed. And ultimately to brave the bureaucracy and save thousands from poisoned water.

As a mere mortal who values her sleep and couldn’t wait to finish undergrad, I’m ever grateful for the Elanas and Monas and others with the brains, drive and stamina to become physicians.  That includes my team of cancer docs– Dr. Ira Mickelson, Dr. Gordon Moss, Dr. Jeff Forman, Dr. Jack Ruckdeschel, and the late Dr. John Malone—all of whom helped save my life.

Thanks, Elana, for sharing your story.  And for all you do to help and heal others.

Artist Mami Takahashi illuminates the immigrant experience

Artist Mami Takahashi with her dome made of flexible, two-way mirror sheeting that allowed her to observe people staring at her. Care to see more images of her Hiding and Observing project? Simply click this image.

With immigration front and center in our national discourse, Mami Takahashi offers perceptive insights into the immigrant experience.  Mami moved to the US 6½ years ago.  She turned her initial sense of awkwardness and estrangement into imaginative artworks.

Aside: My sister invited me on a trip to southern Japan next fall.  My husband Burton is down on international travel.  I’m not.  Hiragana (“therefore” in Japanese), instead of playing golf one summer morning, I drove to Petoskey’s Crooked Tree Arts Center (CTAC) for a talk by Mami Takahashi.

Artist Mami Takahashi begins to weave the lines that will separate her in Cage Mentalilty. Care to see the video of this project? Click on the photo..

According to the CTAC description, Mami’s an “interdisciplinary artist who integrates traditional and contemporary approaches in ideas, methods and media to address perspectives on foreignness and Americanness.”

Say what?

By the time Mami finished, I understood what an imaginative and insightful talent she is.

Born in, Japan, with art degrees from 2 Japanese schools, Mami earned an MFA in Studio Practice at Portland State U in Oregon.  She’s now a research scholar at the U of O.  Her interest in differences between American and Japanese culture informs her work.

“Many people think Japanese people are shy because we tend not to look into peoples’ eyes,” she said.   “Looking into your eyes feels like too direct a communication.  Society pressures Japanese women to be shy.”

I was reading Daughters of the Samurai, a biography of the first 5 Japanese girls educated in the west, in the late 1800s.  Their experience reinforced  Mami’s claim.  According to the 18th c. Confucian-influenced treatise Onna Daigaku (“Greater Learning for Women”), “The only qualities that befit a woman are gentle obedience, chastity, mercy and quietness.”

Obedience?  Quietness?  God bless Susan B. Anthony!  God bless America!

Mami talked about what she called “individual versus groupness.”   She said, “In America, it’s important to be unique.  In Japan, we don’t want to stand out.”  When she first arrived in the states, Mami’s English was lacking.  She had few friends.   She was “frustrated” at school.  She felt her professors “pushed” her too hard to express her own uniqueness. “I was raised with a sense of group identity.”

She turned her dilemma into thoughtful conceptual artworks.

To represent her sense of being invisible, an outsider, she created a capsule made of 2-way mirror film.  She sat beneath it with a video camera, recording the responses of passersby.

Mami Takahashi writes on the film that separates her from viewers. Care to see the video of this project? Click on the image.

For another video, she stood behind a piece of clear film and wrote in Japanese, over and over, “I hate this school.”  Her face vanished behind the words.  Her professors didn’t know what she was writing.

Mami also expressed her sense of “cage mentality”—a famous phrase from popular Japanese novelist Riichi Yokomitsu.  Mami stood in a corner of her studio and looped yarn over and over a frame until she disappeared behind a scrim of yarn.

Mami spoke about the different sense of art appreciation between the cultures.  Japanese value traditional art; in the U.S., “contemporary art is dominant.”   She showed a slide of a lovely Japanese gold leaf flowered screen followed by an image of conceptual artist Marcel DuChamp’s first “readymade.”  His urinal, displayed as art 1912, dramatically changed art history.  Japanese consider craft and art to be equal in worth, she said.  Americans value “fine” art over craft.

Mami referenced a cultural difference in theater as well.  The Noh musical drama, popular since the 14th c., is performed by men wearing masks.  “The Japanese concept is to give up your own identity to perform.”  In Japan, she says, “I learned a skill set of losing my identity.”   American theater, on the other hand, “encourages actors to create their own interpretation of a character.”

She mentioned other differences.  In Japan, at 5’1”, she’s considered tall.  In America, she’s short.   In Japan, “being feminine is required.  In the US, many women—especially younger ones—aren’t comfortable with feminine expectations.”

From an artistic viewpoint, Mami’s work is influenced by the concept of Ma, or negative space.  According to Professor Google,* the word translates as “gap” or “pause.”  You likely first encountered Ma (other than she who birthed you) with the classic illustration of the white vase in a black rectangle.   When you focus on what surrounds the vase, you see 2 profiles.

Mami was in NoMI thanks to the Good Hart Artist Residency program, something about which I intend to learn more.  (And to share with you, dear reader.)  Thanks, Mami, for your thought provoking work and insights.  And for helping us to see each other more clearly.

Care to learn more?

Visit Mami Takahashi’s website for more images and videos.

*My sister’s term for Wikipedia.  Wish I’d thought of it.

8.8.88: My lucky number merges with a painting by Julian Lethbridge

Do you have a lucky number?  Mine’s 8.  Here’s how #8 proved itself 30 years ago…

In the 1960s, when I wrote for Women’s Wear Daily and Home Furnishings Daily, our office was in Detroit’s New Center Building.  I spent many lunches in a small gallery across the street on the mezzanine of The Fisher Building, lapping up the insights of art dealer Gertrude Kasle.

My appreciation for contemporary art deepened with the opening of Jackie Feigenson’s gallery in 1977 in the space where Gertrude’s had been.  (And where, years before, I’d had my hair cut at what was then Antoine’s Beauty Salon.)  I bought our first piece of local Cass Corridor art, a Michael Luchs assemblage, from Jackie’s inaugural show—in honor of Burton’s and my 10th anniversary.  It was my first dip into original art.  In time, I bought several more works from Jackie, and then from her successor, Mary Preston.  I enjoy them still.

While the art I purchased was relatively affordable, our friend Bob Sosnick was swimming in a bigger pond.  A trustee of New York’s Whitney Museum, Bob was amassing art by nationally and internationally known artists, including Terry Winters, a colleague of famed Jasper Johns.  I adored Winters’ paintings.  His prices were out of my league.

Back then Burton and I attended a party at the Roostertail thrown by Detroit Free Press columnist Mark Beltaire and his P.R. exec wife Bev.  Another guest was interior designer Florence Barron, a collector so crazy about art she hung dozens of works from her own collection in homes she designed for clients. At the party I asked Florence what artists I should be watching.  She beckoned me with her index finger, brought her lips to my ear and whispered: “Terry Winters.”

Soon after, Burton and I dined with the Sosnicks.  Burton surprised me by asking Bob if I could shadow him in New York, visiting artists and galleries, for a weekend.   I think the smile on my face stretched farther than the Brooklyn Bridge.  Soon after, Bob and I traipsed up the stairs to Terry Winter’s loft.  There, surrounded by paintings in varying stages, I inhaled the smell of paint and turpentine and felt as though I were on sacred ground.  I, who prided myself on being tough and skeptical, began to cry.  Bob and Terry politely ignored my embarrassing response and didn’t even mention it when we 3 went to dinner.

My two Julian Lethbridge pieces.

The next day we visited the studio of Julian Lethbridge, who’d moved to NY from England and wasn’t yet represented by a gallery.  I loved his web-like paintings and could afford them.  I offered to buy a light one and a dark one. Yes, he said, on the light one. The other wasn’t dry yet; he doubted it would look the same when it was finished.  He’d let me know in the future if one turned out looking like the darker version i wanted.

Soon after, Julian had a successful show at NY’s prestigious Paula Cooper Gallery. His prices escalated.  I was just happy to have my one painting.  And the memory of an amazing weekend.

Several months later, my phone rang.  “Suzy, it’s Julian. I told you I’d call if I had a painting that turned out the way you wanted. I think I have one.”

“Great,” I said, doubting I could still afford it.

The price, he said, would be the same as the first.

“Today is 8.8.88,” I said.  “I was married on April 8th; my first son, David, was born on October 8th.  I knew something good would happen today.”

Recently, I showed the paintings to my artistic new friend Karen Raff. We  became pals when we met on a plane.  I followed up with a series of delightful columns about her. Karen looked at Julian’s paintings and cocked her head.  “They’re filled with number 8s,” she said.  Until then, I’d just seen the images as webs.  Karen gave me a new perspective.  One thing I love about contemporary art is its openness to interpretation, its interaction with the viewer.

WE SHARE 8: I share my love of 8 with countless people around the world. One is the legendary Lakers star Kobe Bryant. In 2017, he became the first player in NBA history to have two numbers officially retired by the same team. No. 8 was his first; then he played under No. 24 later in his career. Both numbers now hang in the Lakers’ rafters.

8.8.18 is fast approaching.  Hope it’s a good one for all.  And hope your number’s equally lucky.

(Postscript.  Anne and I take an annual Sisters Trip to NYC.  It’s our tradition to walk through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum and visit the rooftop.  We love looking at the changing skyline above the trees.  We always take a selfie of the 2 of us in front of the latest art installation.  After, I indulge Anne by visiting the Impressionist section; she indulges me with Modern and Contemporary.  Last year in the Contemporary section: a bonus.  2 large and striking paintings hung side by side.   They pulled me in.  I looked at the small labels identifying both artists.  Terry Winters and Julian Lethbridge.)

More than a century of life in Charlevoix, Michigan, vividly preserved thanks to Bob Miles

One of Bob Miles’ signature photos from Charlevoix.

One man’s passion for his small town in northern Michigan became his life’s work.  His son, who as a boy was indifferent to his dad’s efforts, grew up to revere him.

In 1957, a stranger purchased a farmhouse in Charlevoix.  In the attic he found a box of old photos.  They meant nothing to him, so he burned them.

Hearing of the incident, a local professional photographer realized history had been lost.  He felt called to intervene.  Receiving a gift of 350 old glass plate negatives of local scenes and people, Bob Miles printed some and mounted them on boards.  He persuaded downtown merchants to display them, along with a request for more photos.   His son Dave recalls, “Prints poured in like a tsunami.  Dad didn’t know what to do with all of them.”

Bob had moved to Charlevoix in 1913.  As a youth, he ran the projector for silent movies shown in his father’s nearby theater.  Later he worked for a local pharmacy where the owner shared  tales of the town’s past.   In 1929,  Bob gave up his plan to become a teacher and attended the NY Institute of Photography, arriving in time for the stock market crash.  He returned to Charlevoix; started his career in 1931; married a Charlevoix girl, Esther Goldstick, in 1935.

In the 1920s, Bob’s friends lived in a spacious house on Park Avenue.  In 1936, the house—now containing 3 apartments due to the Great Depression—came up for sale.  $5000.   Bob longed to buy it.  “Dad pestered Archie Livingston (head of a local bank) to lower the price,” Dave says.

“Archie said if Dad could come up with a $1000 down payment, he’d cut the price by $1000.  Dad called in his accounts receivable, got some off-the-books small loans and scrounged together the money. He and my mother presented Archie with an envelope holding $1000 in bills and coins.  They walked out of the bank with a house, a mortgage and 19 cents to their name.”

Bob and Esther Miles (with Dave at right) outside the home he used as The Bob Miles Studio in Charlevoix.

Bob and Esther moved into 109 Park a year later, after 2 renters’ leases ran out.  One renter remained—Minnie, a librarian.  “The whole town loved Minnie,” Dave says.  After Dave was born in 1940, Minnie became his “best friend forever.” Dave still lives there.

Bob amassed thousands of Charlevoix photos, including his own.

“Dad was so excited to get some of them,” Dave says.  “I couldn’t have cared less.  I know he was disappointed I didn’t pay attention.”  Dave grew up, graduated from the U of M, lived in Ann Arbor.  Returning to Charlevoix at age 31, Dave worked as night manager of The Lodge Motel.  It was THE place to stay In the 1960s.  Burton and I visited often.  (The Lodge was owned by a group headed by Julius Gilbert.  His wife Edith, the late grande dame of Charlevoix, was a dear friend.)

Inspired by the trove of images he’d collected, Bob started writing a book on Charlevoix’s history, using a newfangled IBM Selectric typewriter—a gift from his wife.  Bob began around 1968.  (He officially retired in 1972.)  In 1971, Bob finished the first of what would be 7 leather-bound volumes.

America’s bicentennial was approaching.  The Charlevoix Historical Society, of which Bob was a trustee, decided to publish a book based on Bob’s work to honor the occasion and raise money for a museum.  They planned to spend $18,000, charging $20 for pre-publication orders; $25 for the published book.  At the time, hard cover books cost under $10.  Dave says, “Dad wondered who the hell would pay that much for a book with such a limited audience.  He feared for the Society’s survival.”

Bob told the Society, “Take whatever you need.  I don’t want anything to do with the project.”

The Society chose 247 pages.  The book, in a numbered limited edition of 2000, was published in time for July 4, 1976.  “It took off like a rocket,” Dave says.  “You never saw anyone eat crow so willingly as my father.”  The $18,000 was paid off immediately.  in 3 years, book sales neared $40,000.

Meanwhile, a family house had been sold to the Society for $1 by a niece of Irene Harsha Young.  Irene, an artist, had married Earl Young, master builder in stone, creator of Charlevoix’s famed Mushroom Houses.  (Dave and Society president Denise Fate received an Emmy for their work on the recent documentary, “Earl Young, Wizard of Boulder Park.”)  In 1980, the proceeds from Bob’s book went to a wraparound addition to the 1892 Harsha House.

In 1981, Bob received an award from the Historical Society of Michigan.  Dave recalls, “My mother said Dad was so overcome he couldn’t speak.  She said it was one of the proudest moments of his life.”  Bob died 5 years later.

Today the Society has 20,000 digitized historical images.  And Dave, who once “couldn’t have cared less” about his father’s photo collection, has become Curator of Photos and Documents for the Society.  He, fellow Curator of Collections Trevor Dotson, and Society Patron/Guest Curator Ole Lingklyp of Ironton (5 miles south of Charlevoix) and NYC have spent countless hours putting together a new exhibit.  “150 Years of Photography” features 200 images by Charlevoix’ first 6 top photographers, climaxing with Bob Miles.  The show is a great glimpse into Charlevoix’s colorful past–from its days as a fishing, then lumbering village, through its horse drawn years of resort establishment, and soon to be booming tourism.   It concludes with the large industry years of nuclear and cement plants.

For Dave, the exhibit honors Bob Miles’ “lifetime of almost superhuman achievement.  Not only did my father take thousands of photos over about a third of Charlevoix’s existence, he was the sole reason its photographic history and heritage were saved for posterity.”

Assembling the exhibit, Dave says, “From the planning stages to the last caption on the wall, I could feel my father looking on and smiling,”  When cleaning up his father’s or others’ images on Photoshop, Dave recalled the light boxes Bob built to retouch negatives through a suspended magnifying glass.  Instead of just clicking a mouse to remove flaws, Bob used tiny brushes.  He moistened the tips in his mouth and drew them across shades of grey and black in circles on cards, then dabbed the color on a negative to fill in a gap or scratch. “He did it thousands of times.  The process almost ruined his eyesight.”

Your dad’s efforts, and yours, are a gift to Charlevoix.  Thanks, Dave, for carrying on the legacy.

(Note to readers: if you haven’t yet seen the show: GO.  Noon to 4, everyday but Sunday.)

Care to see more?

The Charlevoix Historical Society has a sampling of its photo collection online.

A photo by George Priest in the exhibition.

A photo by Ernest Peaslee in the exhibition.