William Hardesty Layton – 2017 Inductee

(On this date, August 6, 2017, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the second of the five members of the OCHF Class of 2017.)

In Memoriam: William Layton

Translation and adaptation of the article published by Paz Mediavilla in Babab magazine (babab.com/no00/william_layton.htm) by Von Rothenberger

William_LaytonIn November 1993 I had the opportunity to speak with the teacher William Layton in what would be his last interview. A few months later he ended his life at his home in Madrid, Spain on June 15, 1995. He was 82 years old.

During the interview Layton informed me without, of course, letting me share in his decisions on the latest efforts to keep all his affairs in order and under control. For example, Layton was finalizing details with Yale University to which he would donate his correspondence with the writer Thornton Wilder – 150 letters from 1942 to 1973 (two years before the death of Wilder). He was also was finishing writing a play, “Don Quixote of Denmark Hill”, whose protagonist is the writer John Ruskin.

And, moreover, one of the cornerstones of his life, he was teaching drama at the Theatre Lab that he founded. During that interview I was informed that he was going to start to study “Uncle Vanya.” With this work, he said, he would close a circle, since it was the work with which he got his first big break.

Because of his personality, devoid of any desire for fame, his work has not had the widespread it should have had. So this article will serve to remind all the people who are not aware of his work and the high regard that he has earned for his contribution to the development of theater in Spain, which is evident in the good work of the professionals who are his students.

William Layton was an author, actor, theater director and teacher of the best Spanish actors and directors of the moment. Fondly named are the numerous actors and directors who trained with him and are successfully performing different functions and receiving recognition on the world stage, such as Juanjo Puigcorbé, José Pedro Carrion, Chema Muñoz, Ana Belén, San Segundo, Juan Margallo, José Carlos Plaza, Nuria Garcia, Alfredo Simon, Carlos Hipolito, Enriqueta Carballeira, Juan Pastor, Amparo Pascual, Antonio Valero, Carmen Elias, Julieta Serrano, Ana Marzoa, Berta Riaza, etc. He also encouraged people who have contributed to the development of theater in this country as Vicuña or Juliá, and who continue to work for it, such as the master choreographer and stage movement, Arnold Taraborrelli.

American by birth, living in Spain since the sixties, Layton received numerous awards for his work, including Best Director of the Year (1979) by Spectator and Critic for the Radio Spain production of “Youth Radio of Spain” (1979) and the 1990 Daedalus Award. In February 1989 he received the prestigious Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts from the King of Spain, Don Juan Carlos de Borbón.

A life devoted to theater predates that time. What follows is a sketch of what he told me was roughly his life and career development.

William Hardesty Layton was born on December 23, 1913 in Osborne, Osborne County, Kansas, United States. His parents were Walter and Helen Olivia (Amos) Layton. William, together with his siblings (brothers Harold and Robert and sister Helen), was raised first in Osborne and later in Salina, Kansas, where his father served as mayor, and then in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1936 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Layton William birth announcement Osborne County Farmer Thursday Dec 25 1913 Page 4
William Layton’s birth announcement in the Osborne County Farmer newspaper of Osborne, Kansas, on Page 4 of the December 25, 1913 edition of the paper.

Layton traveled to New York where he began his training as an actor and made his first works. On a trip to London with his friend, writer Thornton Wilder, he was introduced to the European theater and there starred in a production of Wilder’s play “Our Town”. He took a break during World War II, where for four years he joined the Marine Corps of the United States, enlisting on October 19, 1942, later storming the beaches at Iwo Jima, and finally being discharged on March 15, 1946. The explosion of a grenade near him produced deafness with which he lived the rest of his life.

Layton William New York Passenger lists Roll T715 1897 -1957 1946
Record of William Layton arriving back in New York City from a second trip to London in 1946. Taken from New York Passenger Lists, Roll T715, 1897 -1957, National Archives.

Returning to New York Layton resumed his work as a professor at the American Academy of Dramatic Art and at the American Theatre Wing, and was a member of both the Alfred Dixon Speech Institute and the Neighborhood Playhouse. He worked as an actor in various theater productions such as “American Way” (1939), “Mr. Big” (1941), “The Duchess of Malfi” (1946), “Command Decision” (1947), “Summer and Smoke” (1948), “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and “The Glass Menagerie”. After the war Layton could not readjust to life in America, and it was fortunate that during this time in New York Layton met Agustin Penón. This meeting changed Layton’s life, as he was introduced to the person who gave birth to his interest in Spanish culture. 

William and Agustin collaborated in performing a radio drama for the Quaker Oats cereal company which was called “Don Quaker”. For a time they toured South America, and Penón had the opportunity to share his fascination with Layton for the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. At this time Layton starred in the Brazilian television series Pancho and the Man. In 1955 Agustin Penón went to Spain and began research on Lorca and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the poet’s death. He convinced Layton to visit Granada and, from that moment, Layton began his interest in Spain to where it ended in transferring his residence to there.

Layton William with Agustin Penon
William Layton (standing) with Agustin Penon.

Upon Agustin Penon’s death in 1976 Layton received Penon’s personal archives, including all of his research regarding Federico García Lorca. Layton took this material and together with fellow writer Ian Gibson compiled the book “Agustin Penon: Diaries Lorquiana Search”, which was published in 1990.

Layton studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York in 1956. For a time he alternated his stays in Madrid and New York, until he permanently settled in Spain. In October 1960 Layton founded the Studio Theater of Madrid (TEM), where he taught along with fellow actor Miguel Narros. Layton was also present at the founding of the Independent Studio Theatre (TEI), the Little Theatre and Theatre Stable Castilian (TEC). He became known at that stage to Germán Bonin, the then-director of the Royal School of Dramatic Arts (ESSN), who invited him to work with him in Barcelona ​​at the Institute of Theatre, where he met Puigcerver Fabia, a man of great prestige in the Catalan scene. From 1968 to 1984 Layton worked as a teacher for the National Film School in both Madrid and Barcelona, Spain.

The most successful of Layton’s work in Madrid was the production of “Uncle Vanya” by Anton Chekhov with Castilian Stable Theatre Company (TEC). Also celebrated was his production of Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story,” which ran three times in his lifetime – 1963, 1971 and finally in 1991, starring José Pedro Carrion and Chema Muñoz, at the National Theatre Maria Guerrero.

In 1989, a month before receiving the Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts, Layton opened at the Spanish Theatre directing the play “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” It was a great success, as was his next play, “Zero transparent” by Alfonso Vallejo, an author for whom he felt a special admiration.

These plays were followed by a series of collaborations,  including “Hamlet”, “The Oresteia” and “The Merchant of Venice”, with his onetime student, José Carlos Plaza,  during the period when Layton led the National Drama Centre.

In Madrid Layton founded the William Layton Theatre Lab, where, as I said, were trained many of the best actors and directors Spain currently has. Through the success of the Lab and his many other efforts Layton is now considered to be the father of the modern Spanish theater.

In 1990 Layton published his book “Why? Trampoline Actor: A Way of Life on the Stage”. “For me, theater is experimentation, collaboration, reading, concept search,” Layton once explained. “No ‘test’ but play, experiment, try things in terms of what artistic reality is being created. I attend several times the first week to give notes to the actors, then I go less often. The best feature has to be the last.”

Let this article serve to remind the world that the teacher Layton is still alive in the memory and the work of many of us.

 

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William H. Layton Movie and Television Roles:

1961             Siempre es domingo   Spain (uncredited)

1963             Confidencias de un marido   Spain

1966             Lola, espejo oscuro  [Lola – dark mirror]   Spain

Layton William H movie photo #1
William Layton in a scene from one of his 1960s movies.

1967             Las que tienen que servir    Spain

1968             Los que tocan el piano   Spain

1969             Esa mujer   Spain

1969             La vida sigue igual  Spain

1970             La Cólera del Viento [The Wind’s Fierce; also known as Wrath of the Wind]                              Spain, Italy

Layton William H movie photo #1 movie wrath of the wind 1970 b
William Layton in a scene from the movie Wrath of the Wind (1970).

1970             Transplant   USA

1971             A Town Called Hell [A Town Called Bastard]  UK, Spain (uncredited) 

1971             Man in the Wilderness   USA

1972             La Casa sin fronteras [The House Without Frontiers] Spain

1972             Travels with My Aunt   USA (uncredited)

1973             La Campana del infierno [Bell from Hell]  Spain, France

1973             Los camioneros (TV series)   Spain

1973             Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe [The Scarlet Letter]  Germany, Spain

1974             Apuntes para una tesis doctoral    Spain

1974             Cuentos y leyendas (TV series)   Spain

1974             Los pintores del Prado (TV series)    Spain

1974             Open Season      Spain, Switzerland, UK, USA

1974             The New Spaniards      Spain                          

1975             La adúltera     Spain

1975             Los pájaros de Baden-Baden    Spain

1977             Curro Jiménez (TV series)   Spain

1977             Hasta que el matrimonio nos separe   Spain

1977             La Gioconda está triste   Spain, Italy

1977             La saga de los Rius (TV series)    Spain

1977             Las locuras de Jane    Spain

1977             Hasta que el matrimonio nos separe [We did not separate . . . to divorce] Spain

1978             Memoria    Spain

1979             El juglar y la reina (TV series)     Spain

1979             Los mitos (TV series)     Spain

1980             F.E.N.    Spain

1983             Bearn o la sala de las muñecas [Beam or a room of dolls]  Spain

1984             La conquista de Albania     Spain

1989             Autumn Rain   Spain

2008            Heaven on Earth    Canada

                     (Nominated by the Directors Guild of Canada for 2009 DGC Team Award)

 

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Mr. Layton (a conversation with Carlos Hipólito)

by Marcos Ordóñez

March 20, 2014

(Reprinted from the website: blogs.elpais.com/bulevares-perifericos/2014/03/)

I’m re-reading Why? Trampoline of the actor, the compilation of texts and theatrical exercises that William Layton published in 1990, and I realize that last December was the centenary of his birth. Professor, actor, stage director, translator and playwright, American, Kansas. He studied in New York, at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he trained in the teachings of Stanislavsky under the tutelage of Sanford Meisner, one of the heterodox of the Actors Studio. He arrived in Spain in the mid-fifties, with the help of his friend Agustín Penón, the first great Lorca researcher. In Mérida, he was dazzled by the way of listening to the scene by Mary Carrillo, who starred in La Alameda, by Anouilh. In that festival he discovered “that the Spanish actors were capable of titanic efforts but they got bored with the continued work”. In 1959 he settled in Madrid and created the first “laboratory of actors” of this country, along with Miguel Narros and Betsy Berkley. Forty years later, several generations of actors and actresses had deepened (and even revolutionized) their way of interpreting thanks to him. In 1995, suffering from an almost absolute deafness and with mobility difficulties, Layton committed suicide so as “not to be a burden,” as he wrote in his farewell note.

I want to know more about the American teacher. So I call Carlos Hipólito, who was his disciple from a very young age. He responds with his usual passion and cordiality.

Hipolito Carlos by
Carlos Hipolito

“I love talking about Mr. Layton! There are still people who do not know how important it has been for the theater of this country. I had the great luck that I was formed when I began to take my first steps as an actor, at eighteen, that is, at the best moment and with the best educator imaginable. Starting with him was a gift. I feel privileged, and I believe that everyone who has learned from him will tell you the same thing. You know that Layton, Narros and Betsy Berkley created the TEM (Teatro Estudio de Madrid), whose first promotion was presented in 1964 with Process by the shadow of a donkey, Dürrenmatt, directed by a very young José Carlos Plaza.

 

What comes now seems like a soup of letters. I began to receive classes ten years later in the TEI (Independent Experimental Theater), which was born in 1968 as a split of the TEM, and in turn would become the TEC (Spanish Stable Theater). These classes were somewhat itinerant. They began in the TEI room, the Little Theater of Magallanes Street, which had a capacity of seventy people, but the seats could be removed and thus expanded space. From there we went to the dance studio of Karen Taft, in Libertad 15, where she also taught movement with Arnold Taraborelli, American as Layton, of Philadelphia, and tried the functions of TEI. Later Layton Laboratory was created, which started, if I remember correctly, in the Spanish test rooms and then in Carretas 14, which was when I disengaged a little, for work reasons, but whenever I could go back to continue learning.

My professional debut was in So Five Five Years, directed by Miguel Narros, in 1978. Doing two daily functions seemed to me something extraordinary. At that time they were already the TEC, with a management team formed by Narros, Jose Carlos Plaza, Layton and Taraborrelli. Narros and Plaza used to sign the montages, and Layton and Taraborrelli always collaborated in directing. They were all great, but Mr. Layton, as we all called him, was extraordinary. He was a teacher and a sower. Now anyone is called a teacher, but there are very few who are really teachers.

The first thing that caught my eye was his appearance. Very elegant, with great authority. Eyes piercing, [like a] hawk. And a grave, precious, persuasive voice. Not only did it revolutionize the art of acting in Spain, but it made us see very clearly the links, the legacies. He showed us where we were coming from. He told us that there were a number of actors who were our elders: they had never stepped into a class, but they were the best teachers we could have. And that is not usual. The usual thing is to try to erase all of the above, especially if the person who says it is a foreigner. There are many schools that despise what others do, as if they were the only possessors of theatrical truth. And he was just the opposite, a man of immense generosity, constant. He would get excited and tell us, “You have to run to see what Berta Riaza does in that role. He is doing exactly what I ask you to do.” He adored Mary Carrillo, Berta Riaza, and Gutierrez Caba.

Mr. Layton taught me what I call the “fundamental principles”, beginning with the approach to the text. It made you discover, line by line, what the character was silent. He said: “If a text is well written, you will detect not only what the character says but what he decides not to say, which is much more important, because it is what defines him and makes him really interesting. But it’s not always easy to see.”

Another day he told us: “Many actors have the tendency to want to tell the whole character, to “illustrate” it, and then the interpretation becomes redundant. Do not “explain”, nor forget that the public also thinks. They not only have to listen to you but they have to be moved: they have to think with you, and wonder what you are thinking”. It combined in an incredible way to delve into the psychology of the character with an absolute practical sense of how to handle an actor on stage.

He had the pride of one who knows he knows, but deep down he was very humble: “There are many people who say that I am the one who has brought the Method to Spain,” he said. “They are wrong, because the Method does not exist. What is the Method? It’s naming common sense. The Method does not exist because there are so many methods as actors. Each of you will find your own method through what you learn here with me, what you learn in another school and, above all, on stage. Note that two actors who have studied in the same school never work in the same way. Even the same actor, by his vital circumstances, never prepares the characters in the same way: it depends on whether he does it in the spring or in the winter, if he has had an illness or is healthy . . . there are always a thousand variables.” He always taught to relativize everything, not to put big caps on things.

There was another startling thing about Mr. Layton. He had spent many years in our country and was fluent in written Castilian, because he did a lot of translations, but he still spoke a very American Castilian, a Spanglish that was not always easy to decipher. To finish it off, a grenade left him deaf in Iwo Jima. Many people asked me: “This man, how can he teach and direct?” They did not believe me when I told them that he had a capacity for observation and listening that touched the paranormal. He listened with his eyes. He studied the placement of the body and always knew if you were in the right tone. And what he said coincided fully with what the other directors of the team had warned.

As teacher and director he had an infinite patience. When an actor did not understand something, he went to the basics to help him get to where he wanted to take him. If the actor had not done the initial work on his own, he’d done the whole process with him from the beginning. Being patient is a way of being respectful. And he knew how to lead each one in a different way: that is one of the greatest qualities of a director.

There were two eras in my relationship with him. The first was in the classes; the second, on stage. In the TEC I did The Tartar Lady, of Nieva, the Don Carlos of Schiller and Long Trip to the Night, of O’Neill. They were directing Narros or Plaza but, as I said before, Layton was always there, and helping you to break down each scene. In the second stage a friendship was formed, because in the rehearsals there are many dead times and I was fortunate to be able to talk much with him about life and the trade.

He could be laconic, very cowboy. And hard; he had been a Marine and that marked him. Respectful always, but hard. He hated the sensibility. Under that initial layer of roughness was an emotional man and close.

He taught me to value discipline, respect for work, for the stage, for the public. To never yield to the easy, to demand of you. To overcome you always, but without comparing yourself with anyone. He said: “Never try to be more than another. That is absurd, it leads nowhere. You have to compare yourself with your previous work. If you try to be better than another you are bound to fail, because there will always be someone who says that the other is better than you, and that will sink you. You do not have to compete.”

He put me on guard against the facility: “There are actors to whom everything is very simple. The director tells them something, they catch him on the fly and they act for him. That’s great, but they run the risk of believing that resolving what the director asks them is worth it. You always have to be vigilant, because the search never ends”.

After a rehearsal of Long Trip to the Night he said something that I tried to follow strictly: “Carlitos, the best job is the one that is not noticed. I hope that the public that sees you acting never thinks “what a good actor he is”. You have to try that the stage does not leave the actor, but that the public always sees the personage and that they create it to him. When they finish, if they want, they think about how good the actor is, but not during the scene. Do not go out and make a show of faculties. You never have to “show” the job. The viewer has to think “how simple it is, how easy it seems to be,” however much it has cost you. If they tell you that, you have done well. On stage we play to be others, and when you play, even if you get tired, you get tired at ease. “

Many years have passed but I still think about him. He did not give me crutches to walk on stage: he gave me legs. Thank you, Mr. Layton.

Layton William Why Trampoline Actor
The cover of a modern reprint of William Layton’s 1990 book “Why? Trampoline Actor”.

 

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In March 2017 a new book on William Layton and his work in the Spanish theater was released.

Layton William Implantation

William Layton: The Implementation of the Method in Spain

by Javier Carazo Aquilera (Editorial Fundamentos, Madrid, Spain, 2017)

The history of interpretation in Spain and, hence, the formation of actors, changed radically when in 1958 an American named William Layton decided to settle in these lands to teach a technique that until then was only known by actors and films American: the famous Method. But not the Actor’s Studio Method commanded by Lee Strasberg, but the one learned with Sanford Meisner. And with it Spanish theater resumed that modernizing current that had been cut off with the outbreak of civil war in the 1930s and the subsequent dictatorship, drowning the efforts of Cipriano de Rivas Cherif, Margarita Xirgu or Maria Teresa Leon.

From the first trip to Spain in 1955, Layton perceived the shortcomings of Spanish actors and the need for a long overdue renovation in the technique of interpretation. Beginning in 1960, with the successive founding of his own schools-theater groups, plus his teaching experience in public places and the adhesion of Miguel Narros and José Carlos Plaza, two key names in his career and in the Spanish scene, he managed to implant and develop a methodology for actors who today stand as a majority in dramatic art studies.

Among his contributions are the creation of one of the first private theater academies, the application of the Method in the stage montages and a dignification of the actor – a profession quite badly beaten in Spain. In adapting to the idiosyncrasy of the interpreter here, this teaching eventually drifted into the Layton Method – an own formula that has jumped to the dramaturgy (in the curricula, in the texts or in the scripts) and to the direction of scene, with the indispensable analysis of text and the table work. – by Editorial Fundementos.

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William Layton

Because of his limitations with language, deafness

and humility, he was a team man

Marcos Ordóñez

elpais.com/cultura/

27 April 2017

Among the great theatrical shocks of my adolescence was Edward Albee’s play Historia del zoo, in January 1974, in charge of the TEI (Independent Experimental Theater), directed by William Layton, with Antonio Llopis and José Carlos Plaza, in The Poliorama in Barcelona. I had not seen anything so intense as that, so full of truth. And Antonio Llopis seemed to me a unique actor, out of series. That is why I have fallen on the new book William Layton, the Implantation of the Method in Spain, by Javier Carazo (Editorial Fundamentos), perhaps the most complete text on the American master, and all those who by his side carried out one of the most exciting adventures of our Theater. I fear it is unknown to the younger generations.

To speak of the great Cowboy of Kansas is also to speak of the group formed by Miguel Narros, Jose Carlos Plaza, Arnold Taraborrelli, French Pillar, Paca Ojea, Begoña Valley, Francisco Vidal and a very long list of professors and interpreters who continue learning or spreading their teachings in The Layton Laboratory. Because of his limitations with Castilian, his deafness (because of a grenade in Iwo Jima) and his essential humility, Layton was, therefore, a team man. He always said: ‘I am a good director, though not very good; a regular actor and a great teacher.”

Javier Carazo’s book tells the story of “Mr. Layton”, his theatrical passion, and also shows the essence of his “fundamental principles”: how to bring truth to the stage, how to preserve the freshness of a text after a hundred or two hundred representations. In this book I have learned, for example, that the “table work” of History of the Zoo lasted two months.

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SOURCES Robert Gaylord Layton, Englewood, Colorado; International Movie Database; Wikipedia; Marcos Ordóñez, “Mr. Layton (a conversation with Carlos Hipólito)” (www.elpais.com, 2014); Marcos Ordóñez, “William Layton: Because of his limitations with language, deafness and humility, he was a team man” (www.elpais.com, 2017); http://www.babab.com; http://www.editoralfundamentos.es; http://www.laytonlaboratorio.com; http://www.prabook.com.

 

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Elsie (Reasoner) Ralph – 1996 Inductee

The woman who became America’s first female war-time news correspondent was born April 25, 1878, in Osborne, Kansas.  The daughter of Venetia Emeret Shearer and Calvin Reasoner, Elsie Reasoner received her education in Osborne, Leavenworth, Kansas, and in Washington, D.C.  At the age of seventeen she began work in Salt Lake City, Utah, as a newspaper reporter, followed by stints at newspapers in Chicago, Illinois, and Omaha, Nebraska, where she also helped to put together the Omaha Exposition of 1898.

That same year the United States declared war on Spain.  It was the biggest news story of the year and Elsie wanted to be a part of it, so she took a temporary leave of absence from her job in Omaha and left for New York, where she got a job as a correspondent for McClure’s Magazine.

It may interest my friends out there to know that an Osborne girl is bound for the war.  I leave Saturday on the steamer Atlai for Kingston, Jamaica.  Here I will probably meet my father.  We go from here by the dispatch boat Dauntless to Santiago, where I will meet the Red Cross Society.  Am to write an illustrated article on their work in the field for McClure’s.  Have two months leave at Omaha, and think I can do the trip in that length of time.  Will be glad to bring the Osborne people any little souvenir they may desire, say a Spaniard-in-alcohol.

“Many thanks for the many kind notices you’ve been giving me.  Three cheers for Kansas, McKinley and Old Glory.  Hastily, but very sincerely, Elsie Reasoner.” –Osborne County Farmer, June 30, 1898.

Once in Jamaica, Elsie met Clara Barton and talked her way aboard the American Red Cross steamer State of Texas.  “Tonight I am going over to Santiago de Cuba and will board the Texas, Miss Barton’s boat,” she wrote in a letter to her sister in July, “Will probably don a cap and apron and go right into the field with the nurses . . . I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m the only woman correspondent that will see this war.  They call me ‘plucky’ and ‘courageous,’ but nine-tenths of the American girls would be here if they had the chance.”  Elsie then sailed to Santiago, Cuba, where she bowled over the hard-bitten press correspondents and won a place on the Associated Press packet boat.

To a bright and winsome miss of 20 years, fresh from the Sunflower State, belongs the distinction and glory of having been the only American girl to follow the boys in blue to Cuba and to make her way to the front against many obstacles and by her own exertions . . . .” — Boston Globe, September 15, 1898.

Miss Reasoner was on the Associated Press boat at the time of the battle of Santiago, but went over to do active work in the field with Miss [Clara] Barton as there was at that time a scarcity of nurses.  In appearance Miss Reasoner is short and a brunette with dark hair and eyes.” — Kansas City Journal, August 8, 1898.

Elsie worked with the Red Cross in Cuba and wrote several articles on the ravages of war.  She was interviewed by the major papers of the day and later that September she was given the plum assignment of covering the coronation of Queen Wilhelmina of Holland–again the only female correspondent present.  Elsie continued working for the Associated Press over the next few years but gave up her promising newspaper career when she married noted illustrator Lester Ralph in New York City.

The wedding of Lester Ralph, son of the late Julian Ralph, author and correspondent, and Miss Elsie Reasoner, a war correspondent, occurred at All Saints’ Church at five o’clock yesterday . . . Mr. Melville E. Stone of the Associated Press, who gave Miss Reasoner some of her greatest news assignments, gave the bride away, and Mr. William Ralph, brother of the groom, was best man.” — New York American, May 16, 1904.

Elsie took up modeling and sculpting as a hobby, and in 1908 went to Europe, where she studied in London, Paris, and Munich, Germany.  A bust of hers at the Royal Academy in London garnered international attention in 1910 and orders began to pour in from around the world, and Elsie soon became widely known in the art world.  She was also one of the first artists to work with plastic.

Mrs. Lester Ralph, the talented American sculptor now working in her own studio in London, has sold a sculptured sun dial to Otto H. Khun of the banking firm of Khun, Leob & Co. for $2,650.  He saw it in clay and was so favorably impressed with the beauty and originality of the design that he made the offer before it left the studio.

“Mrs. Ralph has received several orders for busts, including one from J. J. Shannon, the portrait painter, and she is making rapid progress as a sculptor.  Half a dozen of her completed works will be exhibited at the next Academy and the International Society show.” — Philadelphia North American, January 19, 1911.

In 1913 Elsie returned from Europe and was visiting her sister in Lloyd, Florida, when she died from phlebitis, the sudden giving away of a blood clot on the brain, on April 29, 1913 at the age of 36.  She was laid to rest in the Ralph family lot in the Fair View Cemetery at Middletown, Monmouth County, New Jersey.  To this day her grave along with her husband Lester’s remains unmarked.

Elsie was named to Who’s Who, International Edition, shortly before her death.  Two of Elsie’s works, a bust of Dillon Ripley and a relief entitled “The Dance of Life,” are still on exhibition by the Royal Academy in London, England.  It is only right that this talented Osborne County native be recognized at last for her accomplishments with a permanent place in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.

The Kuhn Sun Dial, created by Elsie Ralph.
Bas Relief of Mrs. Margaret Leonard. Created by Elsie Ralph.

*  *  *  *  *

The Utahnian

VOL. 1,   NO. 23                       SALT LAKE CITY, NOVEMBER 21, 1896        $2.00 A YEAR, FIVE CENTS A COPY

 MISS ELSIE REASONER OF SALT LAKE CITY.

“1 saw a vision of deep eyes.

In morning sleep when dreams are true,”

These beautiful lines of John Addington Symonds are recalled by the face that looks out from our columns this morning and gives greeting to Nebraska readers from the capital of Utah.  The illustrations the Excelsior is printing every week of Salt Lake City beauties are causing much talk, so much comment among the men in fact that we almost hesitate to print more lest there be a stampede for the city by the salt, salt sea.

“And now a beam of pity pours,

And now a spark of spirit flies,

Uncounted, from the unlocked stores

Of her rich lips and precious eyes.”

*  *  *  *  *

 McClure’s Magazine

September 1898

What a Young Girl Saw at Siboney.

by Elsie Reasoner

(Reporting from Santiago de Cuba, just after the great Battle of Santiago)

As the “State of Texas” steamed into port, we sighted on our starboard bow four gray, sinister battleships, while to port, a white, hopeful messenger of courage, rocked the great relief boat “Solace.” Massive cruisers and blunt-nosed torpedo boats were about us, and here and there, like swallows, skimmed tiny yachts and launches.

I talked with Miss Barton of her experi­ence. She told me how, the night after our first great battle, when hungry men needed food, weak men needed stimulant, and wounded men needed care, word came from General Shafter to seize all means of transportation and to hurry supplies to the front.

It was at this juncture that the Red Cross people arrived. When they went ashore, they found no suitable habitation for the nurses.  Yet, undaunted, the nurses packed their satchels, and went forward to their work. Under the efficient direction of Miss Barton, supplies from the Red Cross boat were sent to the front long before any other.  After superintending the loading of two carts of provisions, she took her seat beside the driver, and rode to the firing line, ten miles away.  Her story of her experi­ence is most thrilling.

“We arrived,” she said, “at night, in a drizzling rain. All along the line the wounded were lying in trenches.  A few were nursing a sickly fire of soaked brushwood.  No food nor comforts of any kind were visible.  We immediately kindled an opposition fire and unloaded one cart of provisions.  Out of the extracts and cordials we had brought with us, I succeeded in making a great kettle of excellent gruel.  Little did I think, twenty-five years ago, when doing the same thing or our boys in blue and gray, that at this time and place I should be following the same old recipe.  Our next trouble was in cloth­ing the wounded.  Theirterrible condition cannot be described.          When they were var­ied in from the battlefield, their clothes were soaked with blood and rainand caked with mud.  Heroic measures were necessary.  With a few quick slashes they were cut loose, stripped off, and thrown away.  A few surgeons were there to attend to the care of their wounds; but with no shelter, no clothes, no provisions of any kind, the poor fellows were reduced to the primitive condi­tion of the savage, and could only be laid in rows, weak, wounded, unconscious, and stark naked, upon the bare, wet ground.  I hope that never again may I see such a pitiful sight.  From some rolls of muslin we had luckily brought with us we tore strips the length of a man and covered them.  All night we tended the fitful brush fire, and made kettle after kettle of the strengthening broth.  Next day we journeyed back, and the following night I slept on a dry-goods box in the old abandoned post-office.”

In a near-by house were the fever patients, tossing restlessly, impatience of the enemy in their veins, eager to be once more in the thick of the battle smoke.  Moving noise­lessly among them, bathing here a fevered brow, administering there a helpful medi­cine, were the sisters of the Red Cross.   Deftly, quietly, and skillfully they performed their work, equal to any emergency.  One sat in a corner, with the head of a negro in her lap, carefully bathing his black face, and fanning away the troublesome insects.  He had fought gallantly; had proved that in his dusky veins flowed the true soldier’s blood.  For two hours the nurse sat, her cramped position bespeaking complete fatigue.  In an outer room, over a hot fire, others were making kettles of strengthening gruel, and still others were assisting the surgeons in dressing wounds.

At midday the heat was intolerable.  The blinding sunlight beat down in great waves, and the white sand gathered it up and threw it back with dazzling brilliance that blinded the eyes and made strong brains reel.  Not a breath was stirring.  Up the narrow street the silence was broken by strange moans and cries.  It was the hospital of the wounded Spanish prisoners.  Small, uninviting tents were scattered here and there, and in them lay weak, despairing men.  Some babbled in delirium, others cried like children with the pain of their wounds, while all of them shot out sullen looks of revenge.  Among them, with steady hands and unmoved faces, were the Red Cross doctors.  A number of gaunt, half-clad reconcentrados looked on idly.

The quiet courage of the American sol­diers, who accepted all that came without complaint, was in sharp contrast to the constant moaning of the Spaniards, many of whom were not badly hurt.

A lieutenant of one of the regular regi­ments was brought in horribly wounded.  A Mauser ball had pierced his shoulder, and half of his hip was shot away.    The sur­geons looked at him and shook their heads.  Then he smiled, and called a newspaper cor­respondent who was standing in the door­way of the tent.

“Will you send a cable message for me?” he asked.

Taking a pencil, he wrote an address and two words: “Am well,” and asked that it be sent to his wife at a frontier fort in Montana.

As we stood in an open tent, a poor fel­low was brought in on a litter.  He had a nasty wound which threatened life-long en­feeblement.  As he entered the tent he spied a friend.  “Hello, Fred,” he shouted, “where did they get you?”  “In the shoul­der,” replied his comrade.  “And you?”  “They did me in both legs.  Good shot for the Dons, wasn’t it?” was the laughing re­tort.  In all the place there was not a groan, not a word of complaint, save now and then an ejaculation of impatience lest the fighting should be over before they should have an­other chance.

[The “Miss Barton” mentioned is Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.]

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Elsie Reasoner at approximately age 12. For many years this was the only known photograph of Elsie.
Photo of Elsie, taken in Europe.
The Willie Plantation, located near Lloyd, Florida, as it appeared in 1907. Elsie was visiting Mrs. Clara Willie, her sister, here when Elsie suddenly died of phlebitis in 1913.
The Ralph family lot in the Fair View Cemetery in Middletown, New Jersey. Elsie and her husband lie here in unmarked graves.

Hall of Fame postscript:  The compiling of the story of Elsie Reasoner Ralph was probably the most interesting and challenging of all the Osborne County Hall of Fame members.  All sources in the U.S. knew her story from the Spanish-American War until her departure to live in Great Britain, after which they had no clue.  All sources in the United Kingdom knew her story from the time she arrived there until her decision to visit family in the U.S. in 1913, after which they had no clue.  The trail of her early life in the U.S. and the manner of her passing took 13  years to traverse, ending with the discovery of her unmarked grave in New Jersey and the introduction to Elsie’s Florida grandniece that yielded, among many other things, the first known photographs of an adult Elsie.

SOURCESBoston (MA) Globe–September 15, 1898; Kansas City (MO) Journal–August 8, 1898; Kansas City (MO) Journal–August 8, 1898; Kansas City (MO) Star–April 29, 1913; Leavenworth (KS) Times–April 30, 1913; Monticello (FL) News–May 9, 1913; New York (NY) American–May 16, 1904; New York (NY) Times–April 30, 1913; Osborne (KS) County Farmer–June 30, 1898, July 21, 1898, September 15, 1898, September 22, 1898, December 29, 1898, May 19, 1904, May 1, 1913; Philadelphia (PA) North American–January 19, 1911; Topeka (KS) Capital–June 5, 1910; Florida State Library, Tallahassee, Florida; Leavenworth County Historical Society, Leavenworth, Kansas; Metropolitan Museum of the Arts, New York, New York; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Royal Academy of Arts, London, England; Women’s Art Library, London, England.

Melvin “Tubby” Miller – 1996 Inductee

It is with justifiable pride that the citizens of Osborne County can look back on a long history of notable contributions to the arts. Yet all too often an individual’s years of effort in this field has gone largely unnoticed or unappreciated by most people. Until recently few outside of his hometown of Portis had heard of animator Melvin Miller or his role in drawing Porky Pig and other cartoon characters. For sixty many decades now his work has captivated and delighted audiences worldwide, and thanks to the diligent labor of close friends the man behind the gift of so much joy and laughter has became known and honored.

Melvin was born May 6, 1900, to Dan and Nora (Bell) Miller. He received the nickname of “Tubby” due to his being round as a tub as a boy. In school his talent for sketching became evident as he filled his textbooks with drawings of the lesson he was learning at the time. Melvin graduated from Portis High School in 1918 and attended the Kansas City Art School in Missouri. He was then hired by Leon Schlessinger Productions in California.

Upon arriving in Hollywood he changed his name for professional reasons, and Mel Millar was seen on theaters screens across the country. Under Schlessinger Mel worked on numerous “Looney Tunes” and “Merry Melodies” cartoons. For many of these he sketched the famous Porky Pig. Some cartoons also featured the character Portis Pig, named after his hometown. And whenever a Porky Pig feature was being shown near Portis the people there would call and tell each other so that few would miss seeing Mel’s creations.  Later Mel moved on, working a while for Walt Disney Productions and then teaching at the Hollywood Art School. He married Helen Hefner in 1957 and continued to live in Burbank, California.

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‘Little Slocum’, Other Cartoons By Mel Millar Slated for ‘News’

(Van Nuys News, May 5, 1949)

There’s a new little youngster coming to Van Nuys—a perky, happy little fellow in a big sombrero, and you’re going to see a lot of this happy chappy in the weeks to come, because he is going to be here and there and ‘round-about in the Valley to greet all present residents and newcomers.  His name? “Little Slocum”!

He is a pen-child created by Mel Millar, nationally known cartoonist and illustrator, and has been devised by Millar to tell the thousands of Valley residents about Slocum Furniture Co. at 6187 Van Nuys Blvd., and of the wide selection of home furnishings to be found there at attractive prices.

Pictures Each Issue

Little Slocum’s pen-master is a Valley man himself, and everyone has seen his clever, laugh-provoking cartoons in such leading newspapers and magazines as The New York Times, Collier’s, and many others.

Now readers of The News will see Millar’s famous drawings in each issue of this newspaper, and will enjoy them thoroughly, as they will enjoy Little Slocum’s periodic appearances in these pages to act as an alter ego to the cartoons, and to carry the Slocum Furniture message to the public.

As for Mel Millar, he has led an interesting and varied life. Born in the Sunflower State at the turn of the century, he began his artistic attempts on the side of a barn with a piece of rock.

Finishing high school, he served a short hitch in the Navy, then came out determined to pursue art as a career and specialized in cartooning at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

Draws For The Best

From here Millar went into an agency, was with a film advertising firm, then came to Hollywood in 1931 and worked in animated cartoons at Warner Brothers.

In 1944 he returned to free lancing and since that time has drawn illustrations for Talking Komics, and has sold to Collier’s, This Week, Argosy, New York Times, King Features, Fortnight and others. Also had his own cartoon business in Pasadena for a couple of years, and taught at the Hollywood Art Center School.

“I have a theory that cartoons are the best attention getters, and I sincerely hope everyone will enjoy meeting up with Little Slocum as he greets you in these columns, and also will enjoy the creations I shall draw for publication in The News,” was Millar’s statement today in discussing this new series.

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From time to time Melvin came back to Portis to visit and to attend alumni reunions, where he always entertained his friends with stories and made presents of his drawings. He published several cartoon books and did drawing until his retirement.

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Mel Millar’s Cartoons Span 3 Decades of Good Humor
By BETTY RADSTONE (Valley News, December 28,1967)

Clever cartoonists make most of us feel merry the year around. One of the best-liked American cartoonists has lived and worked in Burbank for the past 32 years. He is Mel Millar who resides at 120 S. Beachwood Drive with his wife Helen and their two cats.

In some ways Mel looks and acts like some of the cartoon characters he draws. Five-foot-six in height and almost that dimension in girth, he lives his humor. When Mel explains a gag, he laughs and shakes — much as Santa Claus — like a bowlful of jelly. His favorite hobby is eating.

The 67-year-old cartoonist, who has created some 10,000 cartoons during his career, wanted to be a cartoonist since he was a boy. In particular, he wanted to be a political cartoonist.

Millar has worked at one of the largest animation studios in Hollywood, has written books on cartooning, and has had many of his cartoons published not only nationally but reproduced in publications throughout the world.

One popular book he has written is a pocketbook, “How to Draw Cartoons.”

Millar is known not only as a magazine, trade journal, and advertising cartoonist, but as the cartoonist’s cartoonist. He receives mail regularly from aspiring young artists as well as from world-famous cartoonists.

Often, Millar receives letters asking, “would you please send me all you know about cartooning in the enclosed stamped envelope?” he said.

In 1920 Millar graduated from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. This was just a few years after Walt Disney’s graduation from the school. In fact, for about a decade Millar seemed to follow Disney’s footsteps from school, to work in Kansas City, to California.

Millar worked for the United Film Ad Service in Kansas City, Mo., from 1927 until he came to California in 1931.

His first job in California was at Warner Bros., where he stayed until 1945. His duties at the studio included being a cartoonist, a gagwriter, and storyman.

During his employment at Warner Bros., he drew well-known cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig.

Syndicate Work

Since 1945, Millar has set up shop in a studio in his Burbank home and has become a free lance cartoonist.

His work has appeared consistently in leading publications across the United States. You can find his work in the Saturday Evening Post and his drawings also have been used by King Features and other syndications.

During the past several years his works have been published nationally in a quarterly advertising booklet called “Happy Days.”

Several years ago, Parade, a national Sunday supplement magazine, asked opinions of America’s leading comedians as to what cartoonist they thought the funniest.

Interpret Differently

The late Ed Wynn, dean of all comedians, picked Mel Millar. As a result, a page of Millar’s cartoons, selected by Wynn, was featured in Parade.

“No art school can make a cartoonist. They only teach one to draw,” Millar stated. He said cartoonists interpret differently than other artists and views cartooning as an art within an art.

“A cartoonist is an artist, but an artist is not necessarily a cartoonist,” Millar said

“Artists reflect themselves, whereas cartoonists reflect the situation in a gentle satire,” he added.

Need Experience

As far as “what” makes the cartoonist, Millar said:  “It is the humor or satire of the idea that makes the cartoonist. And the originating of the ideas comes from observation and accumulated experiences of the various things one has seen or done.”

He said that cartoonists have an art of visualizing the humor in situations which many people miss until they actually see it in the cartoon.

The professional cartoonist must be versatile, refreshing understanding, and have a wide range of interests, according to Millar.

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Melvin died December 30, 1980, and was buried in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank. Through the efforts of old friends Hud and Nina Turner a limestone memorial was erected in the Portis city park in 1992 to Melvin “Tubby” Miller, so that the accomplishments of a jovial native son will be long remembered.

This and the following are cartoons drawn by Melvin Miller / Mel Millar.

 

This and the following drawings are taken from “Looney Tunes” and “Merry Melodies” cartoons drawn by Melvin Miller / Mel Millar. In a number of these cartoons he would insert an inside joke or nod to his hometown of Portis, Kansas.

 

 

 

This and the following are book illustrations by Melvin Miller /Mel Millar.

The Porky Pig Marker in memory of Melvin Miller, located in the city park of Portis, Kansas.

Inez Lucile Marshall – 1996 Inductee

Inez Lucile Marshall, one of six children of Philander and Mary (Moore) Marshall, was born May 18, 1907, in Burr Oak, Kansas. At the age of two her family moved to Northbranch, Kansas. Inez graduated from the local schools and then worked at various self-supporting jobs. Her first career was as a barber, but she had to give that up when she got hair in her lungs. Then she became a mechanic and a produce seller, driving her own truck over a multi-state region. Never marrying, Inez was an evangelist for many years in the Church of the Nazarene. She was also an accomplished musician and wrote poetry. But her best-known profession came about in 1937, when a trucking accident kept her bedridden in her parents’ home at Northbranch for a year and a half. In April of 1969 she wrote down the story of that accident and how it changed her life.

“As a result of a truck accident about thirty years ago, I became disabled [and was] later diagnosed as having a broken back. At that time my brother Ray and I each were hauling wheat to the Robin Hood Mill in Sioux City, Iowa, and returning to Glen Elder, Kansas, with loads of corn. On this trip, I had been driving day and night and was just two miles south of Lyons, Nebraska. I dozed off at the wheel for an instant, and aroused to find I had barely missed a bridge abutment and was driving on a very soft shoulder. As the truck was being pulled into the grader ditch, I quickly turned off the ignition switch to avoid a fire. The steering wheel struck me in the abdomen when the truck turned upside-down, and the last I remembered was dirt falling on me through the floorboards. How long I lay there, I don’t know. When I regained consciousness, I climbed through a window and walked to the edge of the road, unaware that I was hurt. Two men (wonderful people) stopped, quickly loaded me into their car and rushed me back toward Lyons. As we rode, I began to feel something hitting my hand. I looked down to discover I was literally drenched in blood from a head wound. These men hurried me to a doctor who gave me a pill, sewed up the two-inch gash in my head, advised me that the shock would be great, but that I would be okay.

I left the doctor’s office, walked one-half block to hire a wrecker to take me back to the truck, get it up upright and back on the road. A friendly farmer came by and offered to scoop the corn back into the truck for me. In payment for this kindness, I had him take the very dirty grain home for hog feed. From that day to this, I don’t remember driving that truck home to Northbranch–crossing a railroad track, passing through a small town, driving up in front of my parents’ house. However, when I stepped out of the truck, it was as if a curtain was lifted, and I fully realized where I was. My precious mother was hurrying toward me crying out, ‘Inez, did something happen?’ I told her there was a little wreck, but I was okay.

She led me to the house exclaiming, ‘You’re white as a sheet!’

My struggle began when, the next morning, I could not get out of bed and looked bruised from head to toe. For a year and a half, I lay in bed unable to gain my strength. One morning, I felt an urge to immediately get to the front door. Mother and Father managed to get me into a rocking chair and then on to the front door. My gaze fell upon a small rock, possibly 2 x 3 inches in size, laying in the yard. Where this came from, I know not, as there were no rocks around our place; and, I certainly wasn’t thinking of ‘rocks,’ as I was in constant pain. I asked my father to please bring that little rock to me. He did. After handling it for a moment, I said, ‘Dad, hand me your knife.’ As though she anticipated my need, my mother quickly brought her ‘dough board’ from the kitchen, covered with a newspaper, and laid it across the arms of my chair. It seemed that someone guided my hand as I began to carve, as I still didn’t have a plan in my mind. As my hands progressed, I soon was amazed to see this little rock turn into a sculptured squirrel with his tail over his back.

As the days rolled by, other things to carve from rock kept coming into my mind. My father arranged for my brother, Ray, to bring a truck load of rock from the farm of Ralph Sherman, a customer of my father’s blacksmith shop. I carved and chiseled that whole load up into small items. Then one night, I talked with my father about selling my carvings, possibly by placing a small advertisement in a magazine. He handed me a dollar, the cost of the ad. I mailed all of my carvings to people responding to this ad, bringing me a return of $167.00. The little squirrel was sold to a lady in Winona Lake, Indiana.

Upon the advise of my doctor, I had to quit work for a short time. My back condition was becoming worse and breathing the rock dust was bothering my chest. After too short a time, I couldn’t resist going right back to it, and Dr. Joe Poppen, formerly of Downs, Kansas, insisted that he would be sending me to Arizona if I didn’t get away from that dust. So, I did stop my carving for a short period of time again. However, plans for larger pieces of sculpturing kept coming into my mind. I felt compelled to find a way to continue my work. This is when I discovered that there was a vein of white limestone in Jewell County. For some time, two ladies and two boys from Burr Oak furnished the white limestone for me to carve.

Chiseling the rock by hand is very slow, and it wasn’t long until I found I could not fill the mail orders fast enough. I was becoming physically weaker, as the effort was too much. So, I had to discontinue the mail order business, and physically rest.

From this point on, I felt that nothing else mattered. My main objective was to chisel rock. Rock, to me, had a very special meaning–it denoted strength, determination, something to anchor to, something to hold steady when all else failed. The word ‘rock’ is used in the Bible so many times. It was just wonderful (and still is) to study rock. So, at night–yes, while it was quiet and people were sleeping–I continued my chiseling of rock. By now, I had so many large pieces completed, I could not find a building in either Northbranch or Burr Oak to house my work. Portis, Kansas, did have a building available to meet my needs; so, I moved to Portis [in 1955], and for a few years continued my sculpturing there.” — Inez Marshall.

The Continental Sculpture Hall, as she named it, displayed nearly 450 works by Inez. Among the more notable pieces: a large white church, complete with preacher, people, and pews; the bandit Pistol Pete holding up a covered wagon; a stone guitar that could be played; a tribute to President John F. Kennedy, which featured an intricately-carved memorial table; and a 1914 Model-T roadster. Carved from a single limestone block, the roadster had a motor, transmission, u-joints, driveshaft, working lights, a radiator that holds water with a screw-down-rock cap, and a steering wheel that actually turned the wheels. Except for a few years in Abilene, Kansas, the Hall remained in Portis as a popular tourist attraction. But eventually Inez’s age and poor health forced the sale of the Hall in 1984 to help defray the cost of her health care. By then Inez had slipped into a coma and so was unaware as her life’s work was broken up and dispersed at auction. She never awoke and quietly passed away October 17, 1984, in Osborne. She was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery.

Inez Marshall’s fame as a sculptress had achieved national proportions during her last few years. After her death the Kansas Grassroots Association mounted a campaign to reassemble her collection in its Grassroots Art Center museum in Lucas, Kansas. Much of Inez Marshall’s most important work can currently be seen at the Center, which devotes an entire wing to this visionary, self-taught folk artist who is the latest inductee to the Osborne County Hall of Fame.

A view of the Continental Sculpture Hall when it was open in Portis, Kansas. Photo courtesy of the Grassroots Art Center.

The following photos are of the Inez Marshall Gallery inside the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, Kansas,  All creations were carved by Inez Marshall: