Wilder Bentley – The Younger and The Elder

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Wilder Mayo Bentley — Wilder Bentley the Younger — passed away in the fall of 2018, and an era ended.

Wilder Bentley the Younger was the scion of a distinguished but largely unknown Bay Area family.  His Great-Grandfather Robert Bentley was a distinguished, progressive Methodist minister who eventually became the Presiding Minister of the largest Methodist District in California, the Sacramento District.  He and his family lived in a simple, elegant Dutch-style cottage in the Berkeley Hills —  one of the few to survive the 1923 Berkeley Fire.  His sons Charles and Robert founded a fruit canning company which became one foundation of the Del Monte brand.

Charles’s son, Harvey Wilder Bentley – Wilder Bentley the Elder – was a poet, a distinguished printer and graphic artist, and a professor of English at San Francisco State.  He was also a painter, well-taught by his old friend and colleague, Chiura Obata.  Always interested in fine printing, Wilder the Elder and his wife founded the Archive Press in Berkeley, now memorialized online by the Berkeley ePlaque Project.  The Bentleys printed the first book of Ansel Adams photographs, Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail in the late 1930’s.  (You can buy one from the Bentleys’ limited edition of 500 copies here – if you have $8565.  Even the later reprints go for several hundred dollars.) (Copies of the book were sent to Washington to encourage the protection of the Sierra at the southern end of the Muir Trail.   Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes lent his copy to FDR – who refused to give it back.  Ickes had to get another copy.  The book resulted in the establishment of Kings Canyon National Park.)  Wilder the Elder’s printed works, including his 26 scroll set The Poetry of Learning, are held at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.  (To see some  works bythe Bentleys Younger and Elder, visit ABE books.  As of this date, The Poetry of Learning is described at the bottom of the list.)

Archive Press cover

Cover of the later reprint, hard-cover version

Like his father, Wilder the Younger was a gifted artist, taught by Chiura Obata.   He was also a writer, art-glass maker, book-maker, poet, historian, and craftsman.  Some of his works are archived in the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley (which also houses the Mark Twain Papers and the papers of George R. Stewart).  His works are also held at the Rosicrucian Museum, UCLA, and the New York Public Library.  His work is sometimes available for sale, as online listings reveal.

He learned to set type at a very early age, working with his parents.  Later he followed their example, establishing San Francisco’s Bread and Wine Press and publishing several works by local poets including Dick McBride.

Later, Wilder the Younger moved to Sonoma County’s Wheeler Ranch where he and his wife Penny lived for many years.  He continued his creativity, including researching, illustrating, and writing a book about the historic bridges of that area.

Although I never met Wilder the Younger, he played an important role in the creation of the George R. Stewart biography.  I was able to interview him by email and mail.  His emails – and his printed autobiography, a copy of which he kindly sent — filled in important gaps in the chapters on Thornton State Beach (where I met George R. Stewart, and Wilder the Elder and Obata and where Ranger Nick Lee educated me about the importance of the two artists.)

In one of those episodes which seem to validate Carl Jung’s idea that there are no accidents, it was Ranger Nick Lee who sent the news of Wilder the Younger’s passing.   In his letter, Nick included a notice about a retrospective of Wilder the Younger’s work that was being arranged in Sonoma County at the end of March, 2019.  In the years since Thornton Beach and the writing of the GRS biography, I had become friends with Jean and Roger Moss and learned that they knew Wilder the Younger quite well. I called the Mosses to let them know about Wilder’s passing and the retrospective, which Roger attended.

Thornton State Beach, now abandoned by the state parks and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, played a role in the STEAM history (“Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) of Northern California.   The Bentleys, Obata, and George R. Stewart, and others of their ilk enriched our days there.  Nick, who was the catalyst for the trail named for GRS, also helped engineer the trail, created beautiful poetry and works of art, wrote articles, and played his part the creation of the GRS bio.

Thanks to our small community at Thornton Beach, and Nick, I had the honor and pleasure to know Wilder the Younger through our mail communications. Like Nick, Wilder Bentley the Younger enriched the book about GRS.   When he left us last fall, a chapter in California history closed.

How lucky we were, all of us,  to work there together, that place in which literature, art, printing, and all the rest of STEAM, were enfolded in a small wilderness near a large city, a park of ‘small compass and unusual value.’

 

A Diamond/Platinum Celebration for EARTH ABIDES

EA Morleys

 

Earth Abides was published on October 7, 1949.   It has been suggested that there be a gathering to honor the 70th anniversary of that publication.

There have been two suggestions:

1. A gathering at Indian Rock Park followed by dinner at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club, like the one done a few years ago.

2.  Or the long overdue “dedication” of the George R. Stewart Interpretive Sign on old US 40 at Donner Summit.  (The signs are removed during  October so we’d need to check to make sure the sign is still in place.)

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All other suggestions are welcomed.

October 7th, 2019 is a Monday, so the actual gathering would probably take place during the preceding weekend.

If you’re interested in such a gathering, or have any suggestions for how we might gather, please leave a comment.

This might be a good time to read or re-read James Sallis’s exceptional essay about Earth Abides. It’s still the best consideration of Stewart’s great classic.

Hermes EA

Cover of the edition published by Alan Ligda, which guaranteed unbroked publication for 70 years.

Of Fires and FIRE

A reading of David J. Strohmaier’s The Seasons of Fire , and reflections on the massive fires of 2018 have encouraged this post about Stewart’s Fire. Now, in the season between the fires, there’s time to share some information about George R. Stewart’s pioneering and thrilling ecological novel.

fire first cover

George R. Stewart’s second ecological novel was about fire.  Stewart’s normal method of writing was to create something new with each work.  He didn’t want to repeat himself.  So he regularly created new types of literary works with each new book – between his first ecological novel, Storm, and the first-ever “autobiography” of  humankind, Man, he wrote the first and only history of national place-naming, Names on the Land.  (That link takes you to a fine in-depth review of NOTL by Christine Smallwood, which also includes a mini-review of Fire.)

When Stewart’s publisher and agent and the reading public begged for another novel like Storm, he resisted the call.   When the Book-of-the-Month club weighed in, promising huge sales, he finally agreed to write it.  But to make it creative, unique, challenging, and more interesting, he set the novel in a fictional National Forest rather than real locations like the ones he’d used for Storm.  His fictional forest, the Ponderosa National Forest, located adjacent to the Tahoe NF on the north side, was as accurate as any real national forest because his son Jack (later become the USGS “Man” for Nevada) helped him create the terrain and the maps.  Naming features of that imaginary landscape and giving it a history was easy – he’d just finished his book about place-naming, was already an expert on the naming of Sierra features, and knew the Ponderosa NF’s history would be very similar to the other national forests of the central Sierra.

He named features for people he knew and respected; so Jack had a creek named for him, as did Stewart’s English Department colleague Jim Hart and many others.   His final stroke of genius was the creation of a topographic model of the fictional forest – painted by his colleague David Park whose works can now sell for over a million dollars.   (The model is safely stored in one of the Bancroft Library’s secure storage facilities.)

Christine Smallwood’s mini-review of Fire in her larger review of Names On The Land includes a good quote showing Stewart’s prolific use of names in the novel, which I’ll borrow here to give an idea of Stewarts’ poetic style in the book:

Humbug Point saw the blow-up, and Lovers Leap. Horse Mountain reported, and signed off, quoting Joel 2:30–“and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.” Far to the north, Sheer Rock saw it suddenly above the high shoulder of Howell Mountain. Hamlin Point saw it build up above the round top of Cerro Gordo, like the towering smoke of a new-born volcano.

(The names are those of fire lookout towers,  which GRS uses here to “name” the fire spotters in the towers.)

When all was said and done, Stewart’s careful “design” of his national forest, helped by Jack Stewart and David Park, was so real that for years travellers would hunt for the forest during trips to the Central Sierra, and were always disappointed to discover it was fictional.   (Interestingly,  the fictional forest and the fictional fire’s location would be close to the area of the massive Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise last fall.)

Once GRS had the setting and the characters down, he wove his story.  The novel uses the same exceptional – interesting, educational, and (as Christine Smallwood puts it) thrilling mixture of action and information –   used in Storm.  Stewart glissades smoothly from a god-like overview of history, fire science, fire ecology, wildlife biology, myth, geography, and the like, to the dramatic experiences of several human characters in several places – including one of the fire towers – during the huge blaze.

The novel opens with that god-like view, of the High Sierra and its western foothills, as lightening suddenly flashes down onto the tinder-dry duff of the forest.  It ends with a similar perspective, but this time in one one of the most beautiful statements of the cycle of fire ecology ever written, as the heat of the fire opens the serotinous cones and their seeds drop onto the newly-ash-fertilized earth of the burned areas.

Ecology is the novel’s major theme, as it is in his other ecological novels, Storm, Earth Abides, and Sheep Rock.  One of the most memorable scenes  in Fire is between the old Ranger who loves the beauty of the forest, heartbroken when “the glen” is burned into ash,  and the new, young, college-educated Forest Ranger Supervisor.  The old Ranger is saddened by the burnt wreckage of his special place of re-creation.  But the Forest Supervisor tells him that beauty depends on your ecological view of things.  To a  rabbit scrub brush would likely be far more beautiful than the glen.   It’s a wonderful, gentle pioneering statement of the ecological view in which humans are only one small part of a vast ecosystem.  The old Ranger isn’t convinced; he’s lost his beloved glen.  But Stewart has made his point about the need to see such things through an ecological sense.

The novel has its share of sad and tragic passages, like the description of the Camp Fire of its day, Peshtigo, far deadlier in that time before good forest management.  Yet GRS does not dwell on the gruesome, but simply offers it as a part of the story of fire.

As usual, GRS did extraordinary research before he even picked up one of his tray of sharpened pencils and write.  His office at UC Berkeley was adjacent to the University Library and the Bancroft Library, so he could dig deep into the literature of fire.  His colleagues in the natural sciences and geography were a great help in the details of the work.

But in the best GRS tradition, he did not write the book from other books and quiet conversations.  He had himself appointed as a “Collaborator” for the US Forest Service, and headed out to help fight some major forest fires.  Stewart was so involved in that potentially deadly research that the Forest Service lost track of him and got quite worried.  But he’d simply slipped away into the depths of the fire-fighting.   He did almost lose his life once.  Walking down a muddy trail he spied a burning snag just beyond and above him.  He decided he could outrun it and jumped across a pool of water between him and the danger.  But he slipped and fell face-down in the water.  Which was a good thing – the snag fell just as he jumped; it would have hit him if he’d not slipped.

The book became a best-seller and Book-of-the-Month Club selection.  It was filmed twice – once, in a hatchet job by Paramount as Red Skies in Montana, which ignored GRS’s ecological message. And once, for television by Stewart’s great fan Walt Disney, as A Fire Called Jeremiah.  The Disney film had some Disneyfication, but is much closer to the ecological view of Stewart’s novel.

Ø Ø Ø

We read about the deadly fires of our time, or watch their smoke, and mourn the loss of those killed by them.  Perhaps we lift a glass of Sierra Nevada’s Resilience Ale, that great act of kindness from Sierra Nevada Brewing, who created it, and 1400 other breweries around the world, who, like Sierra Nevada Brewing, are donating all profits to the victims of the Camp Fire.

A suggestion:

While you’re sipping that good ale, or some other result of ζύμωσις+ἔργον – zymurgy or the science of brewing beer – to quench the fires of your thirst,

Read – or re-read – Fire, by George R. Stewart.

 

resiliencebuttecountyproudipa-2

 

 

 

A Year Of Platinum and Sapphire — The 70th Anniversary of the Publication of EARTH ABIDES

George R. Stewart kept a Datebook, now in the Bancroft Library George Rippey Stewart Papers.  Two entries bracket this twelve-month, 2018-2019:

1948:

“11/25/48:  Finished first revision Earth Abides”

1949:

October 7 – Earth Abides Published.”

EA Morleys

 

The extraordinary novel has never been out of print, thanks to the late publisher Alan Ligda and his fine-press Hermes Press.  There have been 28 English language versions alone, and the book is also published in 20 – or maybe 27? – other languages.  (A new French Translation has just been published).   It has been called a rare book which transcends its “science fiction” categorization.   And its influence has been exceptional:

Stephen King based The Stand on “Stewart’s fine novel,” and admits it.

Kim Stanley Robinson makes a subtle reference to the novel in the first volume of his Three Californias Triptych, The Wild Shore.

Poet and novelist James Sallis has written an exemplary essay about Earth Abides.

There is talk of filming the epic work.

Composer Philip Aaberg composed a beautiful piano piece, “Earth Abides” (also available as sheet music from Sweet Grass Music.)

Jimi Hendrix considered Earth Abides his favorite book, and is said to have been inspired to compose  “Third Stone From the Sun” by the novel.

And, of course, millions of people have enjoyed and are enjoying the novel.  In some cases, as reviews on Amazon reveal, the book can change lives.

It seems 2019 would be a perfect time to celebrate the novel.

Here are some suggestions for such a celebration:

  1. A second gathering at Indian Rock Park in Berkeley (suggested by one of the followers of this blog).
  2. A visit to the Bancroft Library to review highlights of the GRS Papers that relate to Earth Abides.
  3. A subsequent meal, nearby, after Indian Rock and the Bancroft.
  4. A Dedication of the George R. Stewart Interpretive Sign at Donner Summit.
  5. A hike to the top of George R. Stewart Peak from the Sign.
  6. Hike and Dedication to be followed by a barbeque nearby.

All other ideas are welcomed.  Add them to the comments and I’ll organize and share them.

October 7, 2019, is the target date for the celebration.  But that’s a work day for most people so events should probably be scheduled on the following weekend, which is a 3-day federal holiday.  (Monday, the 14th, is the holiday.)

Any thoughts?

 

Hermes EA

Alan Ligda’s Hermes Press Edition of Earth Abides. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Stewart Scholar

There aren’t too many George R. Stewart Scholars. The pioneers include Robert C. Lyon (Founder of the Friends of George R. Stewart), Vic Moitoret (Founder of the  George R. Stewart Fan Club), Steve Williams (the Pilgrim), and myself.

Now we’ve added a new one: Jason Schultz, Anaheim, California, who’s done remarkable research on the history of the Stewart family orange grove in Anaheim.

One of the rewards of posting to the George R. Stewart weblog is connecting with people like Jason, and sharing the joys of discovery. In his case, he decided to research the location of the Stewart Family Orange Grove  in Anaheim.  Stewart once described the location, vaguely, as about two miles west of the town on a road which is now the main route to Disneyland. 

Jason Schultz was able to pin the location down.  The following email exchange tells the story:

Hi Donald,

I got great information and documents from the Anaheim Heritage Center
and the Orange County Archives. Be sure to credit those institutions as
well!

I first heard from Jane Newell, the Anaheim city archivist.

Here’s what I was able to find at the Anaheim Heritage Center:
1) Property transaction from A. Gregory et al to Robert J. Laidlaw to
George R. Stewart – Santa Ana Register, May 13, 1912 ….
         Property description boils down to a few portions of the
southeast quarter of Section 8, Township 4 South, Range 10 West.
2) …
         Since I don’t see George Stewart’s name in the southeast
quarter of Section 8, I believe it is the parcel still labeled “A.
Gregory” and outlined in green.
         Per the[plat] map, the parcel is on Nutwood, just north of County
Road (aka Lincoln Ave.).

Chris Jepsen with the OC Archives provided some more specifics:

I looked at purchases (grantees) from 1889 through 1926 and sales
(grantors) from 1909 through 1929.

George R. Stewart bought a couple small parcels of land and also bought
half interest in another small parcel – all within the west half of the
southeast quarter of Section 8, Township 4 South, Range 10 West, just
west of Anaheim on April 23, 1912. (Deeds 211/176)  This area is south
of Crescent Ave., north of Lincoln Ave, and east of N. Muller St.

The sellers were Robert J. and Maggie G. Laidlaw (husband and wife). He
bought more adjacent land on Oct. 9, 1914 from Peter W. and Pauline
Schmidt (husband and wife). (Deeds 265/198) And on June 1, 1920, George
R. and Ella W. Stewart went in with their neighbors to jointly purchase
a small parcel of land for a pumping plant in that same area. (Deeds
391/328)

The Stewarts sold their Anaheim property to Bernard D. Parker, (son of
C.E. Parker, president of the Orange County Title Co.), on Feb. 25, 1928.

I was able to find a 1923 newspaper article that is also relevant…

At least part of the grove is now occupied by the Anaheim Union High
School District offices, which perhaps GRS would appreciate as an
educator himself.

Jason also sent a plat map of the property (and other files):

OC Plat Map 010

It’s interesting to note how life paths, after circling around for decades, cross again.  The family Orange Grove, where Stewart worked as a young man, is not far from today’s Disneyland.   Walt Disney would film two of author George R. Stewart’s novels, Fire and Storm.  And Disney eventually invited GRS to work as a consultant at the Disney studio.  Disney, a great fan of Stewart’s, sent the author two personal letters praising his work. 

So the circle of life turns, and turns again.

Schultz’s work is invaluable scholarship.   If the research had been available when I wrote the GRS biography, it would have been included. 

Consider this Jason’s New Year’s gift for all of us, at the beginning of the 70th anniversary year of the publication of Earth Abides. 

(By the way, I owe Jason a slight apology – this was supposed to have been posted last September; but several unexpected matters got in the way.)

The More-or-Less Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post

Time to re-post this story of the close connections between George R. Stewart and Jimmy Stewart, and between the mythical It’s a Wonderful Life town of Bedford Falls and the real Indiana, Pennsylvania, boyhood home of both Stewarts.  Christmas ispast, but Little Christmas awaits.  And since the iconic film ends with “Auld Lang Syne” this is perfect for New Year, 2019.  

It’s a Wonderful Life is still popular on local screens around the country:  This year, the local Carson City, Nevada, Galaxy Theater showed the film twice on the Saturday before Christmas.  

Long may it live.

(Don’t miss the interview with one of the stars at the end of this post.)

bedford_falls

It’s A Wonderful Story

This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies.  A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 54th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales,   (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and, of course,  It’s a Wonderful Life.

In Arroyo Grande the local theater,  owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie.  …To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages – to see how the children love the film – it is a reminder of what we’ve lost.  Now we watch movies on TV, but usually alone, and always less intently – a kind of a digital sampling of the films.  Like a CD, we miss much when we do that.  But in the theater watching Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street  we missed nothing.  And – how long since you’ve experienced this? – the audience clapped and cheered when the judge decided that, yes, Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus.  It was a fine traditional twentieth century American Christmas experience.

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For most of the people I know, It’s a Wonderful Life   is the Christmas movie.  So those who are George R. Stewart fans should know about the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart was raised in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived.  His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson,  planned to be a teacher, and even helped found a school nearby (which would become the prestigious Kiski School).  But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family; so he went into the mercantile business.  He  had a hand in a hardware store there, owned by another Stewart.  That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike.  With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related.  But they  shared only one possible distant relative.  And they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.  The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents went to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill.  GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east.

Still, the lives paralleled in remarkable ways.  GRS and his family moved to Pasadena; he went to Princeton; and after marriage moved his family to Berkeley, California.  Jimmy went to Princeton, then moved to Pasadena; and spent his life in Southern California.  GRS wrote books, two of which were filmed.  Jimmy made films, like that grand Christmas classic we all love.   GRS worked at the Disney studios for a time, an advisor to Walt himself.  Jimmy worked at many studios, creating characters and stories that touched the hearts of millions.  Ironically, GRS did not like the media, and apparently did not attend movies often, if at all.

Their paths apparently never crossed.  GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905, when he was 12.  That was the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.  Since the film we now consider a classic failed in its initial run, it is unlikely GRS would have seen it even if he did go to the movies.

Yet, in this Christmas season, we should remember there is one thing they shared; and thanks to the film, we share it with them:  The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century.  Like a trip to Disneyland, a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life enfolds us in such a place.  For a time, we walk the streets and meet the people of the town and the time where both boys grew up.

Here’s a passage from the biography of Stewart,  about Indiana, Pennsylvania, as Bedford Falls:

George R. Stewart’s boyhood town was so archetypically American that it could pass for George Bailey’s “Bedford Falls” in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In fact, the town was “Bedford Falls” – at least for the movie’s male star. Indiana, Pennsylvania, was also the boyhood home of James Stewart, who played “George Bailey” in Capra’s film.   Although the movie’s “Bedford Falls” was built on a studio backlot in the San Fernando Valley, Jimmy Stewart said that when he walked onto the set for the first time he almost expected to hear the bells of his home church in Indiana.

Each year, Indiana holds an It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, with a parade, hot chocolate,  tree lighting, and continuous showings of the film at the Jimmy Stewart Museum.  It’s a winter festival; so the people lining the streets in their warm clothing bring life to a snow-bound town, like the movie brings life to the streets of the movie set town.

(The film’s Producer Director, Frank Capra, apparently modeled his set on the upstate New York town of Seneca Falls; but for Jimmy Stewart, star of the movie, Indiana, Pennsylvania, where he and George R. Stewart grew up, was the place he kept in his heart when he brought George Bailey to life.)

This Christmas, when you watch Capra’s great film (which, by the way, is playing here Christmas Eve, this year of 2016), give a thought to the boyhood of George R. Stewart.  Keep in mind that GRS celebrated his Christmases in a town which for Jimmy Stewart was the model for iconic, American, Bedford Falls.

Merry Christmas to all.

PS.  And here’s a Christmas gift, for 2016 readers – a link to the radio interview with “Tommy Bailey,”  one of the Bailey children growing up in Bedford Falls, setting for It’s a Wonderful Life.