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Coming Out of the Dark

Discovering a lost collection, Feb. 2019, photo by Marcy Merrill

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. -Rainer Maria Rilke

Last night at sunset, I sat on a driftwood log and listened to a chorus of frogs. I burrowed deep into my jacket, cold but happy for the extra hour of daylight. Below me, the site of last summer’s campfires had been swept clean, the logs moved out in winter tides. In the distance, migratory shorebirds flew in undulating clouds over the water. Overhead, geese honked by as they winged north. As I listened to the sounds, I felt like I was coming out of my own hibernation, the first in my newly-emptied nest. Both of my kids are now living away from home-my daughter is in Seattle and my son away at Evergreen State College. It’s a transitional time in our parent-child relationships, one that is sometimes difficult to adapt to, but overall rewarding. So now I’m living with two hounds and a lot of art. Immersed in research and writing. And yes, also making jewelry. To those who’ve read past posts I shared about Native American artist Eugene Landry, there is exciting news to share.

The Eugene Landry project now has its own website, an upcoming exhibition, and a 52-page catalog. Thanks in large part to Washington Humanities, for awarding us a 2019 Storytellers Grant, and to the Shoalwater Bay Tribe for co-sponsoring this project.
Please check out the website, view the catalog, and follow us. It seems like every week there are new developments as this story unfolds.

Searching in the newspaper graveyard, photo by Marcy Merrill

photo by Marcy Merrill


(This is a continuing series about Native American artist Eugene Landry.)

In an effort to understand Eugene’s life I’ve been trying to understand what it was like to be disabled (back then the term was crippled or handicapped) in mid-century America. Many of the people I’ve interviewed who knew Gene did not know why he was in a wheelchair. It’s a subject, in general, that makes people uncomfortable. Back in those Post War days, there was a lot people didn’t talk about. At the same time, however, the seeds of revolution were being sown, and I looked to news stories and popular culture of the time for clues.

The fact that Americans elected a president in a wheelchair seems miraculous, even today. But in 1932, FDR had the cooperation of the press to downplay his disability. He was photographed standing at podiums not being pushed in a chair. He drove a car with hand controls. Using the invisible medium of radio he engendered confidence with his words and voice.

rare video clip of FDR in wheelchair, not shown while he was in office.

Susan Peters

Actors with disabilities were rarely seen on the screen, especially in the 1940s-50s. While Lionel Barrymore had a successful career as a character actor, actress Susan Peters was not so lucky. While on a hunting trip in 1945 Peters was accidentally shot by her husband, film director Richard Quine. She was a rising MGM star until the injury that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Determined to continue her career, after hospitalization Peters returned to the studio but found few roles. She played a wheelchair-bound villain in The Sign of the Ram, then went to the stage. By 1952, suffering from clinical depression over the dissolution of her marriage and her limited career options, Peters ended her life, age 31.

Studio publicity shot showing Peters posed in her convertible outfitted with hand controls.

Dwight Guilfoil

As I scrolled through newspaper archives for information about meningitis, the disease that paralyzed Gene, I found a story about World War Two pilot Dwight Guilfoil. He contracted meningitis and polio during the war. As a civilian, he couldn’t find a job. In 1950 he founded a manufacturing company that eventually employed over 100 physically handicapped workers. In 1960 he was awarded the Handicapped American of the year award by president Eisenhower. Guilfoil said, “ Industry’s reluctance to employ the physically impaired is simply another form of discrimination, resulting in mental segregation as rigid as that established by the most severe Jim Crow law.”

Tacoma Daily Ledger Feb. 2 1960

Television’s First Disabled Hero; Ironside

Ironside (Raymond Burr) and assistant Mark Sanger (Don Mitchell) 1967

Seven years after Guilfoil’s Presidential award, a crime drama premiered on television featuring a disabled detective. Set in San Francisco, Ironside confronted the issues of the day-civil rights, counter culture, the generation gap. Today it is both a marker of social progress and of how far we still have to go. Ironside’s handpicked team included an African American youth, Mark Sanger (Don Mitchell) and a female policewoman (Barbara Anderson).
In the pilot episode, Chief Ironside is shot by a sniper. He survives but is paralyzed. Discharged from the hospital in a wheelchair he meets with the police commissioner in their favorite bar. Ironside asks to return to work.
The commissioner tells him “It’s not up to me. I’d be glad to have you in the department anytime-in or out of a wheelchair-but there are rules.”

At that time there were no laws prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Twenty-two years later, in 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

The only way Ironside can continue to work for the city is as a “qualified volunteer”. He offers to work for free. Ironside gets an office, a staff, equipment and a great theme song by Quincy Jones. The show continued for eight seasons. The show was awarded an image award by the NAACP in 1968 for “developing Mark as an intelligent and angry young black man.” (Cy Chermack, producer)
In 2013, Ironside was remade for television starring Blair Underwood as chief Ironside. Both Burr and Underwood could walk away from their wheelchairs, unlike the character they portrayed.
Disabled advocacy groups are angry about the casting of non-disabled actors in parts written for disabled characters. Some liken this to the outmoded practice of casting Caucasian actors in ethnic roles. A Washington Post Headline reads “Disabled actors say they are the last civil rights movement in Hollywood.” The story goes on to say; “The disabled are, arguably, the largest minority in America, its 56.7 million members constituting nearly 20 percent of the population, according to the 2010 Census. But a study from the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that combed through 900 popular movies from 2007 to 2016 found that only 2.7 percent of characters with speaking roles were portrayed as disabled.”

As I finish writing this post, Variety has announced that CBS Entertainment made a commitment to “audition actors with disabilities for new productions picked up to series”. This is in response to advocacy organization’s request for increased disabled representation.
History is being made today.

As the ad said in 1968;
“You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.”

Fred Landry, Gene and Myrtle Landry, outside their Indian Museum, Tokeland WA 1976

Kindred Spirits-2019 Tokeland Studio Tour

An art colony is a place where creative people live and exchange ideas with one another. Think Big Sur or Laguna Beach in the 1950’s and ‘60’s for example These were places artists went to “get away from it all” and live the dream. Today Tokeland, Washington is such a place-a haven for a diverse group of artists drawn here by the beauty and isolation. The lack of development and distraction provides the kind of setting that gives birth to dreams and creative experiments of all kinds. Although the art forms are diverse they are connected by place.

Jeffro Uitto photo

Some make art with material gathered from the beach. Jeffro Uitto salvages wood from coastal waters and builds fantastic large scale sculptures from his Tokeland workshop. From here, his pieces are shipped to national art shows and displayed in museums worldwide.
Judith Altruda is a metalsmith who gathers sea glass and black stones from the beach, setting them in silver and gold. Sophia Anderson, a senior at Evergreen State College, paints portraits of her Shoalwater Bay tribal ancestors on wood reclaimed from houses that washed away at nearby North Cove.

Sophia Anderson

sea glass ring Judith Altruda

Many are inspired by the rustic beauty of the area. Oil painter Melody Gerber only has to look out her bay facing studio window to find inspiration. Joanne (Nelson) Barney photographs the places she has known all her life-from fishing boats to wide open tidelands. Marcy Merrill finds an endless source of inspiration for her photography in the flotsam that washes up on local beaches and river banks. She describes her collection as “Items found in local waters and quirky images thereof.”

Marcy Merrill photo

North Cove Glass blower Jeremy Bartheld says “the climate is very conducive to playing with fire. It doesn’t get too hot or too cold to work in the studio.”

Jeremy Bartheld photo by Marcy Merrill

Shoalwater Bay tribal artist Earl Davis draws on his heritage to carve replicas of bowls, house posts and other items made by his ancestors and now housed in museums.

Earl Davis photo by Marcy Merrill

Once a year these artists open their studios and invite other artists to gather in communal spaces and show their work. Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 4, from 10:00-4:00 Pick up a free map or follow the signage to each studio. After the tour, join the artists at a wine tasting and art auction to benefit Ocosta High School’s art program.

A Tale of Two Artists, Part One

(This is a continuing series about Shoalwater Bay artist Eugene Landry. To see the first post click here.)

Last week I visited two of Tokeland’s finest artists, Wally and Marlene Mann, at their studio on Willapa Bay. They were busy getting ready for Tokeland’s annual art tour.

Wally and Marlene Mann, Tokeland Washington

The Mann studio is a large airy space, made cozy on a rainy coastal morning by a fire crackling in the wood stove. The walls are covered with art and tools of the artist’s trade spill onto every surface. I sipped a cup of green tea and looked at Wally’s work in progress, a pastel of an old bakery in Nahcotta. Wally’s subject matter includes scenic old landmarks, some of them long gone now, like the old Coast Guard boathouse on Toke Point. Learning that Wally had lived in Tokeland as a young man, I asked if he’d known Gene Landry. The answer was yes.

The Mann Studio

Back in Time

Wally moved from Tacoma to Tokeland in 1958, when his parents bought a small grocery store that sold everything from candy to fishing supplies and also housed the post office. Wally and Gene were the same age, about twenty years old, when they met. Both had an interest in art. Wally had studied at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida after graduating from high school in 1955. Gene loved to draw and showed artistic promise as a high school student.

Eugene Landry (far left, front) advanced art class, 1955 Weatherwax High School, Aberdeen, WA

Wally recalled going to Bainbridge Island with Gene’s adoptive parents, Fred and Myrtle Landry to visit him in a care facility, in about 1958. Most likely Gene was there to receive physical therapy. He had been confined to a wheelchair after contracting spinal meningitis when he was a senior in high school. Wally remembered seeing Gene there with crutches and leg braces.

Less than a year after his visit with Gene, Wally moved to Seattle and enrolled at the Burnley School of Professional Art. Rated one of the best art schools in the nation (Seattle Times, Jan 16, 1959) Burnley offered fine and commercial art instruction. One day after class, Wally rode the ferry to Bainbridge Island and paid Gene a visit. Could this be how Gene got the idea to attend Burnley?

The Burnley School of Professional Art

Founded in 1946 by Edwin Burnley and his wife, Elfie, the school emphasized the fundamentals of art. The philosophy was “one can’t become a good commercial artist without also becoming a fine artist.” Students attended six hours a day, five days a week, receiving instruction from some of the best-known artists in Seattle, including some members of the Northwest Group.
The school was located in an old building on Pine and Broadway that had been the original home of Cornish College of the Arts. In 1982 the school was sold and renamed the Seattle Art Institute.

By the early 1960s, Gene’s family moved to Seattle and his father got a job at Boeing. Gene most likely started classes at Burnley in 1961. His cousin, Kenneth Baker remembered carrying Gene up a flight of stairs to reach the second-floor classroom as there was no elevator. Another student carried Gene’s chair.

1959 The Burnley School of Professional Art

Art School Confidential

Wally Mann was a student at Burnley in 1959. I asked him about that experience.
“They had some very good instructors, folks that were pretty well known around town then. It wasn’t a real easy place. The instructors pressed you pretty good. I remember one gent was a design instructor. He’d come in once a week and critique our work. We’d line it up against the wall and then he’d walk along and make you uncomfortable.” he chuckled. “He was pretty strict with what he did. There was another guy who ran the life drawing class. William Cumming. He went on to be pretty prominent in Seattle art.”

Cumming, dubbed “The Wayward One”, was a teacher at Burnley when Gene was a student there, and undoubtedly an influence.

In a guest column for the Seattle Times (October 10, 1965) titled Art Schools need Fundamentals, Cumming chastised the Seattle School district’s high school art curriculum for not teaching fundamental skills adding that “creativity cannot be taught”.

“Underlying all the disciplines is the simple fact that art is a special way of seeing which involves much more than looking.”

Nude studies by Eugene Landry, photo by Marcy Merrill

“It is through years of constant seeing like this that the artist develops a unique manner which the world sees as his style.”William Cumming

To be continued

Making Contact

Last week I got a phone call in response to the article about Eugene Landry. (see previous post). The caller said he was sitting in his car at Swanson’s. He’d been reading the newspaper while his wife shopped for groceries, and found my story.

“I’m the guy who built Gene’s dome.” His voice was soft and had a hint of a smile.

This was the second phone call I’d received since the story was published six weeks ago. Since then I’d been working on a timeline of Gene’s life, and had a lot of blank spaces to fill. The story I wrote mentioned the geodesic dome and small beach front cabin where Gene once lived and made his art.

Although many remembered it, so far I’d not been able to turn up any photographs of the dome, which had been razed in 1998 to make room for casino parking. Today a gas station sits on the site. I talked to people to get a history of the dome, but after forty years, the facts were hazy. I heard the dome was put up during the summer of 1978, possibly by a hippie who drove a Rolls Royce…or was it a Citroen? or was it someone else entirely? Maybe it was the guy with the great danes… Someone said a couple of guys from Canada might have put it together from a kit and then moved on. And so it went. I never expected to talk to the actual builder of the dome, figuring he was either a fugitive, dead or just plain untraceable.

And suddenly this sweet guy from the nearby town of Cosmopolis was on the phone, with a story to tell.

collection of Don Norkowski

A Dome Primer
Buckminster Fuller popularized the geodesic dome while teaching at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, in the late 1940’s. Fuller believed human societies would soon rely mainly on renewable sources of energy, such as solar- and wind-derived electricity. He hoped for an age of “omni-successful education and sustenance of all humanity.” The dome design embodied Fuller’s personal worldview of Less is More. Even the U.S. government recognized the usefulness of the structure, and hired Fuller’s firm Geodesics, Inc. to make small domes for the Marines. During the 1960’s the dome became synonymous with the counter culture. Drop City AKA “the first rural hippie commune” formed in 1965 in Southern Colorado. Foraging for sheet metal from junk cars and dumps, the artist/residents created a series of domes that served as housing and communal gathering spaces. For a short video clip from a BBC documentary, click here
Over the years Gene had two domes built on the Rez. Each had a wooden ramp to accommodate his wheelchair and were used as studio space. One was on the hill behind the smoke shop,the other was on the edge of the bay. Obviously the dome design was important to him. Was it the philosophy? The lifestyle? I had to learn more.

Meanwhile, Back in Cosmopolis
One week later, I drove through a quiet neighborhood in Cosmopolis, an old logging town, looking for the home of Don Norkowski. Following his directions I turned off off Highway 101 and looked for “the house surrounded by rhododendron bushes”. A sandy haired man wearing a grey blazer over a colorful shirt and blue jeans greeted me at the door. He reminded me of a high school band teacher, he had that air of patience and good natured smile. Don invited me inside and introduced me to his wife.
In the living room a box of photos and old newspaper clippings sat on the couch, along with two original pieces of Gene’s art. Like something out of a dream, he handed me a photo of Gene’s dome. At last-proof that it really existed!

collection Don Norkowski

“I was an Infamous North River Hippie”

While a student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, Don took a class called Space, Time and Form. He learned how to build geodesic domes from a book by Lloyd Kahn called Domebook.

“I would read Buckminster Fuller-he was the guru of domes. I just got the urge to build one. I’d spent too much time in acedamia and not doing enough with my hands. Once I got into it I never left. I went blue collar.” He shows me a photo of a dome at the corner of Smith and Butte creek.”This was my hippie place,” he smiles. “I was an infamous North River Hippie.”

Don was 22 years old when he dropped out of Evergreen and went into the dome building business, setting up shop in the home of a friend on Cedar Street near the river, where he built a greenhouse. And then, “Gene showed up one day. He heard about me and he looked at this (the greenhouse) and he said ‘can you build me one?'”

Gene hired Don to build his dome. Back then, in 1976, the daily wage was five dollars an hour. Don recycled old growth 2x4s, planing and oiling the surface, to build the frame. They used beach-salvaged Alaskan cedar to make the girders. “It smelled like perfume when you cut into it.” he said, with a nostalgic tone of voice.

photo collection of Don Norkowski

A Dome for All Seasons

Over the course of a summer a dome was built and a friendship made between Don and Gene. He visited after the job was completed, showing me a photo of how Gene kept it as an art studio. It was sparsely furnished inside, with a wood stove and simple lighting. I ask Don why he thought Gene liked domes.
“The dome had an ambiance about it. You always found yourself looking up, staring at the patterns..and it would definitely help with inspiration, especially with a window looking out over the bay.”

photo collection of Don Norkowski

After The Dome
After we finished talking about building the dome, Don showed me two pieces of Gene’s art he bought during that time period. One was a highly detailed charcoal drawing of a boat at the docks. Don said “I liked his art. But we were poor hippies. I had a sister in law, she was older than me, she grew up in a different generation. She never said anything but I could tell she didn’t like me…being a hippie. There was a short period of time where my brother and I exchanged gifts at Christmas. So I decided to take a chance. I bought the picture from Gene. I remember the price, $75. That was two days wages. I gave it to my sister in law and she loved it. Had it professionally framed. And I got treated a little nicer since then.”
Don’s brother gave the drawing back to him after his sister in law passed away in 2001.

Fond Farewell

As the time came for me to leave, I asked Don how he would sum up his time with Gene. He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts and find the right words.
“He always had a smile, was always positive…there was never any negativity or reaction to his plight. I know that. That’s one thing I definitely came away with.”

photo courtesy of Don Norkowski

In Search Of:

Since last winter I’ve been researching the life of a Shoalwater Bay artist I met many years ago when I first came to Tokeland. His name was Eugene Landry. I’m sharing an article I wrote for a local newspaper about my search for Gene’s art. This is just the beginning. I’ll be sharing progress (and roadblocks) here, on my blog. My goal is one post every week.
Eugene Landry

Goodbye 2018

“Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
George Bernard Shaw


As the year draws to a close, I look back with gratitude. To all of you engaged in creative endeavors, be it challenging yourself to learn something new or go deeper with your craft, I wish you joy and fortitude. Be Bold. Take risks. Dream Big.
See you in 2019!


sea glassing on elba island


An Italian Sea Glass Odyssey

An Odyssey is described as  “an epic journey”.  I am sharing a story penned for  Beachcombing Magazine of how I came to visit my ancestral hometown and hunt for sea glass along the Italian coast. It was an unforgettable journey, and one I hope you enjoy reading!


Living on the Edge/Torre Del Greco

Christ the Redeemer statue at the marina entrance, Torre Del Greco. Photo by Rebecca Di Donna.

Torre del Greco, a comune of Naples, sits in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius. Up until the early twentieth century, it was a resort for wealthy Italians and tourists seeking to climb Mt Vesuvius. Today it is a gritty, blue-collar town, not concerned with packaging itself for outsiders, which is quite refreshing. We went there to meet an online friend from the sea glass world, Rebecca Di Donna. She and her husband, Paolo, invited us to their apartment for a late lunch after we finished seeing Pompeii. Dennis and I got back on the Circumvesuviana and rode a few stops down the line, toward Naples. We got off the train at Torre and started walking toward the Marina, somehow managing to get lost even with directions.



Being “lost” is a good way to find your way around!

As we walked through the town I thought about its close neighbor, Herculaneum. Once a city of wealth and prestige, it was completly destroyed when Vesuvius erupted in 79 A. D.  Torre del Greco was lucky that day-spared by the gods, so to speak. Natural disasters are kind of personal to me. I was living in Washington state when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, and remember the uprooted forest trees stacked like pick up sticks and mountains of volcanic ash along the interstate. Thirty years later I still live in Washington state, on a beautiful peninsula that happens to be in a tsunami zone. With proof that an earthquake and tsunami wiped away much of the area in the 1700’s, we live with the knowledge that its “not if, but when”. Still, we go about our daily lives and try not to obsess about the future too much (at least I don’t). Is that how it is to live here? I wondered, as we walked by signs of past volcanic eruptions.

Lava flows following the line of the building and street from an eruption in 1862. photo by Rebecca Di Donna

Times change, of course, but the basics of everyday life; eating, drinking, working, praying go on. Like their ancestors, the modern inhabitants live their lives within the shadow of an active volcano.

Food For The Soul

The fertile (volcanic) soil produces the most flavorful produce and wines, which we were about to experience firsthand at the lunch that awaited us- but we were still lost.

The olive market, photo by Rebecca Di Donna

Fresh artichokes!

Roasting carciofo (artichokes) street vendor, photo by Rebecca Di Dona

The Coral Museum

There is a coral museum in Torre that I really wanted to visit, but it was closed the day that we were in town. The most beautiful coral comes from the nearby Mediterranean sea, and an industry sprang up here in the 1700’s producing cameos and jewelry from the vibrant red and orange branches.  Coral has been used for adornment and worn as a protective amulet for centuries. On a personal note, I have always loved coral ever since I was a teenager and a package arrived from Italy containing a box of Altruda family jewelry.

The cameo’s and broach belonged to my great aunts. There were seven coral amulets, worn by my grandfather and his siblings when they were children.

The residents of Torre del Greco are called corallini, in reference to the cameo and coral jewerly industries located here.


Commemorative postal stamp, literal translation “processing of the coral, Torre del Greco”

Maybe next time?

As we walked toward the Marina (the long way, I’m sure), I had to stop to photograph the details we passed along the way. I was hoping we would find Rebecca’s apartment before too long, as we had already walked miles on the hard paving stones of Pompeii. We were ready for a glass of wine and a snack!

The influence of Egypt was popular centuries ago in Pompeii, and today, in Torre del Greco.

Doorknockers are one of my favorite things to photograph!

One of many neighborhood shrines.

The influence of religion and ritual are very much alive here. Street processions, singers, submerged statues in the marina for protection- yes, protection would be very much on the minds of people at any time in history who lived here.

The End is Near

Marina view at Torre del Greco

At last, we found their apartment address and rang the bell. No one answered. Two boys from across the street watched us and then came over. They confirmed that our friends lived here, and then they rang as if that would produce better results, but no dice. Not sure what to do next, we walked over to a nearby bench facing the harbor, and sat down. Very soon a man on a Vespa rode up and asked if we were Judith and Dennis. It was Rebecca’s husband, Paolo. They had been looking for us!

Pranzo Fatto a Mano

Near the entrance to the apartment

View of the harbor with the statue of Jesu, as seen from their living room. Not pictured: Mt Vesuvius-it was too cloudy.

We were brought upstairs to the top floor apartment of a six-hundred-year-old building. Rebecca and Paolo, whom I had never met in person before, seemed like old friends. As with other people I have met from the sea glass world, we already had a lot in common. Soon we sat at their table and had the beautiful food prepared by Chef Paolo for our lunch.

Fried peppers and tomatoes, cooked in locally produced olive oil.

Fresh mozzarella di bufalo, olives, bread, and wine, all from the local area. What more does anyone need?

Bread baked that day at their local bakery.

They fill their glass jugs at the local cellar with wine from a vineyard near Mt. Vesuvius.

As we sampled the delicious food, conversation flowed like the hearty Vesuvian wine. Paolo, who is from Capri, is a professionally trained Chef. He had lived in the States for a number of years, and was working at a restaurant in Santa Barbara when he and Rebecca met. They hit it off, married, and moved back to Italy about five years ago. Our visit included a show and tell of sorts. I showed some of my sea glass and ancient coin jewelry. Rebecca, an artist, showed us some of her mixed-media pieces hanging on the walls of their home. Her creativity overflows in everything she touches, be it painting, photography or lifestyle. Many of her photos of everyday life are included in this post. Thank you Rebecca!

Privacy screen glass, once used in bathroom doors and windows, turned into sea glass and found on the beach by Rebecca, photo by Rebecca Di Donna.

I drooled over her Italian sea glass and pottery collected on Capri and all over the Mediterranian. Of course, we had to do some trading!


Grazie Mille Rebecca and Paolo-ci vediamo lánno prossimo!

Before it got too dark, Dennis and I started back for the train station. This time we had better directions and made it there in about ten minutes. We got on the train for Sorrento, tired, content and happy. We could not stop talking about our visit, rehashing Paolo and Rebeccas’s incredible hospitality.  I will definitely return to Torre del Greco on a future visit to see the coral museum. Hopefully next time the sun will be shining so I can actually see Vesuvius!

Next Post/Amalfi Coast

Vesuvius as seen from their apartment-photo by Rebecca Di Donna.