It was February 26, 1983. I had been living in SW Florida for almost 2 years.
I grew up an Iowa boy. I read the Des Moines Register most every morning. I couldn't wait to read Donald Kaul's Over the Coffee. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a columnist, just like Kaul.
Before I even opened the paper, the first thing I did was gaze at Frank Miller's Editorial cartoon. Miller had a cartoon and caption on most Register covers. They were awesome. Frank Miller was the protge of Ding Darling, and followed in his footsteps.
One of the grand tourist attractions in SW Florida is Sanibel Island. It is a somewhat exclusive island off the Lee County coast. It was also a favorite winter haunt for Ding Darling.
Besides being a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial artist, Darling was also an environmentalist. He initiated the Federal Duck Stamp Program. FDR appointed him to head the U.S. Biological Survey. Darling was instrumental in causing the Federal Government to buy and set aside land for migratory waterfowl. A huge part of the middle of Sanibel Island is called the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Ding wintered on Sanibel Island, and as any good protg would be prone, so did Frank Miller.
Sanibel Island is the only place I've been in America where road signs are in English and German. It seems the Germans like to "holiday" on Sanibel. During this same time period Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of Germany, and his predecessor, Helmut Kohl both vacationed on Sanibel Island.
Miller loved Sanibel Island. He would set up his easel and using watercolors, paint. Most of his subjects were doing what he called "The Sanibel Shuffle." He painted them in the act of picking up shells, which is one of the main activities on Sanibel, and very much a part of its renown.
I used to visit an art gallery on Sanibel. It was called the School House Gallery. Miller sold his paintings there. The Gallery was owned by the wife of Iki Matsumoto, another fine Sanibel Island artist. I bought, and have in my possession several signed Iki prints.
I always wanted one of Miller's originals. They were sort of expensive, at least to a very young man struggling to just pay the bills and a fast track mortgage. I dreamed, I looked, and I saved.
Finally, I had set aside enough money to buy one of his paintings. If it was still there, I knew which one too. It was a painting of an older couple, both performing the Sanibel Stoop, with a group of children just outside of the focus of the main subjects. I loved the colors, the composition, and that it was a Frank Miller original. I was ready.
It was a Saturday. We ate breakfast early and set out for Sanibel. Back then the toll to cross the bridge was three dollars. I gladly paid, and across the causeway we drove. It was a typically beautiful late February Sanibel Island sort of day. Blue sky kissed the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was warming, and the sun shone brightly. We pulled into the parking lot of the Gallery, and I ran for the door. Mine was a singular mission, to finally get my hands on an original Frank Miller painting.
I went right to the part of the Gallery where the Miller paintings hung. I scanned left, I scanned right. There was no Frank Miller painting hanging in the gallery! I went back to the counter and asked the woman working there where the Frank Miller's were. In a subdued voice, she told me that Frank had passed away last Thursday, and they had to crate all of his paintings up and send them to Des Moines.
I can't express the deep sorrow I felt that day. I can't tell you how crestfallen I was that I was too late, and that Frank had died.
As has happened too many times in my life, I was a day late and a dollar short.
Until next time--
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In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2013 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at email@example.com via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.