Historical Society, 2018 - January Minutes

GUEMES ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY

January 8, 2018

 

 

Present: Tom Deach (pres), Janice Veal (treas), Shirley & Dave Margeson, Loalynda & Don Bird with nephew Clifford Christensen, Stephanie Kavanaugh, Bill Van Vlack, Jim Morrison & niece Katie, Sally Stapp, Michael Brown, Barb Ohms, Sue O’Donnell (sec)

 

Show and Tell:

Tom brought a toy from the Kager collection of artifacts; manufactured in Anacortes WA, E.B. Manufacturing, registered 1931.

 

Program:  Kim Westenhaver presented a profile of his father William Westenhaver, a longtime resident of Mount Vernon and Guemes Island and co-founder of Western International Trading Company (WITCO DÉCOR INC.) based in Mount Vernon, Washington.  Bill who was a fine artist, found his niche as a home furnishing designer and manufacturer . “WITCO” specialized in satisfying the “Tiki Craze” with a variety of Polynesian inspired products, beginning in the 1950's and in business until 1979.  WITCO’s products were sold internationally and included clients from all walks of life, among which were a variety of celebrities such as Elvis Presley.

Some 20 years after Bill retired from the Tiki design and manufacturing industry, a young man from California showed up, very interested in the art work and wanting to learn more about it.  Kim reports this happened on several different occasions.

William Westenhaver was born in 1925 in Aberdeen WA.  He was mostly raised by his mother and “suffragette” grandmother in California.  At age 17, Bill joined the Navy and was stationed in the South Pacific, working on a floating dry dock.  Once finished with his service, he moved back to California and went to the Los Angles Art Center on the G.I. Bill.  He was a real go-getter who would fish in the back waters of California for shrimp to sell (before that state was drained and paved over).  He was a happy guy who loved to dance with a large group of friends who followed the popular dance bands of the era.

Moving from California to Washington State in the 50s, Bill had married and begun to raise a family of 3 sons.  1959 they discovered Guemes Island and stayed with relatives, Bob Post and family.  Bob Post jr. and Bill hit it off and ventured into the business of furniture design and manufacturing with an ethnic theme.  Bob Cookson was another partner for a while.

The business, based in Mount Vernon – WITCO - eventually grew to 52 employees, building furniture, home and commercial décor and attending furniture shows and publishing substantial catalogues of the work.  The timbers they used were mostly red cedar from Canada.  The rough cuts were made with band and chain saw work, then burned ‘til black, buffed and polished.  Meeting attendee Jim Morrison (of the Anacortes Morrison Mill family) told amusing stories of sourcing lumber for WITCO. 

Kim brought pictures and WITCO catalogs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, showing examples of the Polynesian art.   Also, historical books about the Tiki culture that have been recently published by Sven Kirsten, urban archeologist and author of Tiki Pop,  Tiki Modern and The Wild World of Witco.  Sven highlights the charms of the Polynesian, mid-century style in his writings.  He now also narrates cruises to the South Pacific.

Kim brought photos of William as a child, with his parents and wearing his Navy uniform.  Some of these pictures Kim had never seen until after his father had passed.  There were also pictures of the cabins they lived in and built on Guemes, at the end of Eden’s Road.  Kim remembers the outhouses and an icebox that had to be stocked with ice!  Also, later, bringing his college friends to Guemes where they enjoyed the beach, boats and fun times together.  The family later bought property on Driftwood Lane and built a kit-frame house.  There was Tiki décor on the deck.  It eventually weathered and had to be replaced with newer carvings.  Kim brought an aerial photo of the west side of Guemes Island, probably from the 1940s.  His family continues to enjoy their island home-away-from-home along Guemes' West Beach.

 

 

William passed away in December of 2016.  Kim read from the memorial tributes (attached) to both his father (1925-2016) and mother Pat Westenhaver (1925–2007), written by friend and poet, Mike Ferrell.   Mike was nephew of Pat & Bill Turner, who were neighbors to the Westenhavers.  Pat Westenhaver’s memorial service was performed on Guemes Island.

WILLIAM WESTENHAVER

MIKE FERREL’S EULOGY

In remembering Bill Westenhaver, everyone has their own stories. He made an impression. Before I was ever introduced to the man, his reputation preceded him. My aunt and uncle, who for a long time had a cabin on west beach of Guemes Island, near the Westenhaver’s A frame, described him as “a little different”.  Maybe even…” odd” a little. Because he came up in conversations at times, the description, notably, shaded different ways. He was a character, or someone that lived in his own world, but inevitably, they placed him in that rarified, slightly suspect, yet esteemed order called “artist”, as if it was a separate branch of the tree of homo sapien.

Artist. One who practices art.  Now the dictionary tells us art is a noun, a “creative or imaginative activity, especially the expressive arrangement of elements within a medium.”  That suspiciously sounds like a verb. I would suggest that although Bill was a person place or thing—the classic noun definition—he was more verb than noun. He was a busy guy being busy, not  just a force of nature, he was also a force of art, a bit of a madman, starry-eyed, distracted, busy accepting what the world offered, then plotting, planning, dreaming up one sort of idea after another.  He had the restless hands of a restless mind. He’d grab a napkin or a scrap of paper, put a pen to it, and the inner workings of his imagination became manifest.  He didn’t think art was a mystical thing or that he tapped magic to achieve it. Anyone could try it. Watching me write in my journal on one of our sailboat trips, he told me I could probably draw well because of the skill he saw in my cursive, the neatness or whatever. For him, this was a practical and fundamental skill necessary for art. On that same vacation, I watched him color in his sketches of our trip with watercolors. He was a diligent, fast, skilled painter as he turned the sky blue, the water bluer, as he turned the lines of black ink into a world of hue, tone, value, as Bill himself might say. He was at a level of technical expertise where he could taste color by putting the brush in his mouth, pursing his lips slightly, and drawing on it.  Ahhh, blue!

Some of his creative notions found him with a circular saw in hand, a square nearby, a pencil behind his left ear.  The blade would scream and the sawdust would fly.  I saw this work many times. He built the cabin at the beach, he built boats and would experiment with design while doing so.  Chainsaws made figures out of cedar logs and made furniture, styrofoam plus q-tips, with cardboard and an eye bolt became a man’s face,  a cutting torch turned steel into skiers, golfers, bulls, birds, jazz bands, and horsemen.  The man could peevee logs, sharpen hooks, jig for cod, trap crab, hammer his thumb, golf 9, and dance like Fred Astaire. Sometimes in a single day. He was up for anything, for everything. He looked for the good time which was both ironic and redundant since, most often, he was the good time. Though he had his opinions, I never heard him utter an unkind word, as if life was too precious for much criticism. When I picture him, there is the hair the wind didn’t quit on, eyebrows prospering wildly, a genuine smile, and a generous greeting sincerely sung. He always seemed happy and alive with a  pervasive love of life, its people, its places, its magnificent possibilities.  And that is the best kind of art.

 

SOLITAIRE    _______________FOR PAT WESTENHAVER

The hull shaped like cupped hands, into an open boat

the boys load rakes, waders and buckets, rings and traps,

to crab the flats off Hat Island on a minus tide.

Long enough for crab dinner with family and friends,

the table parallels the large picture window,

framing the water and the evergreen dark islands

and the boats that linger past as the tide shifts left then right,

a moon-driven river in the mile-wide channel.

She plays solitaire from the middle of the table so she can look

out upon the salt plains like a Nebraska farm girl waiting

for the people the work takes away, seeing the islands

resolute in the deep, mysterious, and fickle waters.

A tableau of well-worn cards show seven face up,

twenty one face down, the rest in her hands after the shuffle

and the deal.  Sometimes the flag shivers and snaps

on a southwesterly the big straits – Rosaria and Juan de Fuca –

let in with the ocean.  An ashtray and field glasses

keep her company as the cards are revealed:

a black seven goes beneath a red eight

and those two move under a black nine,

ladders built rung by rung by the rules she plays by.

Singly and in pairs, purse seiners and trollers,

shoot north on the incoming tide like tractors plowing

a long, fallow field.  Minutes later their furrows arrive,

crash on the shore, hiss briefly, and are gone.

A jack of clubs covered by a queen of diamonds

ends a game; one deal leads to another.

A beachcomber bends down to pick up an agate.

She holds it to the sun and pockets the stone.

Gulls find candlefish near the rip, cry out

as terns fleece the green water of its silvery food. 

Inside the kelp one salmon stabs the air

like a dagger being pulled then sheathed.

Everything worth seeing under the sun is under the sun.

The last king, sword in hand, finds his open space

and a queen, his queen, offers a single red rose.

Club to diamond, heart to spade, the makeshift nations

come together just as a heron, great and blue,

pauses beyond the open door to scrutinize the shallows. 

Binoculars lowered, her eyes see beyond the bird

the whitecaps now, the tide turned bucking a fair-weather blow.

Her arms like a net, she gathers up the cards,

says to the man nursing a beer

who could be a king, sketching nudes on a paper napkin,

“William, what time did the boys say they’d be back?”

 

                                                                                                 M Wm Ferrell

 

A particular pleasure for the Westenhaver family is the fact that Kim’s son-in-law – Ken Pleasant - was fascinated enough with the artwork of his wife’s (Heather) Grandfather that he and Heather have taken over and revived Bill’s legacy of furniture design and manufacturing.  Ken Pleasant learned to carve through Bill’s guidance.  Check out www.pleasanttiki.com for their very colorful and informative website.  You can even order a t-shirt with a “Guemes Island” design!

Old Business:

 

Treasurers Report -  (attached)

Janice has wrapped up the details of the Holiday Bazaar and is still depositing $$ from the Ferry Captain calendar sales.  

 

A new option for folks is to donate to the Historical Society via Linetime.org  This is a wonderful opportunity and we are still figuring out the logistics.  Many thanks to all who have donated!

 

Janice is working on coordinating the transfer of donations to our treasury.  A small percentage of the donation goes to the receiving company.  Tom moves to reimburse Janice for the expense of the devices ($56), so far.  Passed

 

Current balance is $32,793.62  (+ $4,429.83 in CDs)

 

Howard Pellett has agreed to audit the books of the Hist. Soc.

 

Holiday Bazaar – next year the hours of the bazaar will be shortened, starting at 10 am and ending at 2pm instead of 3pm.

 

Calendars – we may change the calendar format for future years.  Sue suggests we offer a Guemes Channel Tide calendar with historical pictures of Guemes scenes.

 

We still have a few of the 2017 calendars available.

 

Christmas Artwork – at December meeting we were shown a large painting of Santa Clause from Community Center attic.  Tom has done some research and will see if AnnJeanette Steinman (we think that’s the name) is related to the Steinman family who owned the grocery store at 12th St. and H Ave in Anacortes.  Dave will ask Bret Lundsford of Anacortes Museum for more information.

 

New Business:

 

Harold Wave Whicker – historical society has several copies of the Weyerhaeuser book published in 1967, Harold Wave Whicker.  Could they be sold as a fund-raiser?

 

Newly donated artifacts – Michael Repass has donated a complete set each of the Evening Star (years 1995-2009) and The Tide (years 2010-2016), Guemes newspapers of the past.  This will be great for research purposes!

 

Catalog the trees! – Michael Brown has an idea to find and document the biggest trees on the island!  Perhaps list locations of 5 of the biggest/tallest cedars, firs, spruce, maples, etc.  He will ask Ian Woofenden to be part of the venture.

 

Community Hall display cases – Barb has concerns that the displays need to be refreshed.  We will look at this soon.  Perhaps add the newly discovered etchings by William Westenhaver.

 

Signage for meetings – Barb has been doing an excellent job, keeping the community advised of our monthly meetings.  She has drawn very descriptive images to put on a sign board near the ferry for the best exposure.  However, several factors (weather, traffic, parking lot changes) have us thinking of a better way to advertise our meetings.   We will research a bigger sign which, perhaps can be used by other organizations.  Sally advises us to wait and see what county will do about the ferry parking lot.  Dave will bring pictures of a sign Rotary had made.

 

Work party – Tom would like to schedule a work parties to tidy up the history closet at Guemes church and catalog what is there.  Perhaps we need to choose a monthly meeting for those interested.

 

Next meeting: February 5, 2018, 7pm; Fellowship Hall, Guemes Island Community Church

 

Coming Events:

 

February meeting – Miter Craft

 

DOG SHOW – August 18

 

HARVEST MOON CRUISE – to be announced

 

 

Sue O’Donnell, secretary

1/8/2018