My wife and I occasionally drop off things we no longer need – or perhaps never really needed – at a social department store in the nearest big city. On this occasion, of course, we browse through the store and see if we can’t find something there in return to fill the space we’ve created at home. A little bit, at least. When you have too few things at home and too much emptiness, it’s really disconcerting. That’s when you need something new quickly.
On one of those occasions, I was strolling through the book section. My thoughts had been circling around a friend’s email for a few days. I had previously told her that changes were coming in my life. That I will act. Now she asked me in her email what I was planning to do. – And I did not know an answer. I would have liked to answer her: „This and this and this I will do. So and so and so I plan to do.“ But I couldn’t and I was unhappy about it.
Now I was strolling through the bookshelves with these thoughts and my eyes fell on a book. It was more like a notebook. Not two inches thick. With a brown cardboard cover. A splitting swallow in the upper right corner. Just the silhouette. Written on it, as if by hand, was the title: Wing Borne. – Wing Borne! Carried on wings. Quietly and carefully I took the book in my hands. Wing…Borne… I opened it. There were perhaps twenty pages of thick, hand-torn, colored paper. Each page with a wonderful nature motif printed as a linoleum print. All as if done by hand. Text in between. Thoughts. About life. Nature. With many „- – -“ and many „….“blockprints and words by Gwen Frostic. Copyright 1967. presscraft papers. Michigan.“ Very small, as if scribbled in with a hard and sharp pencil, it was there at the very, very bottom of the page. The letters were two and a half millimeters high. Almost indecipherable. As if this information were a necessary formality that had nothing to do with the work itself. In fact, they would be more of a nuisance if they took up more space than they already do. The publisher. The copyright. Even the creator of the work was of no importance. –
I took the book home with me. It cost me one euro. – Copyright 1967….I was curious about the creator of this work. Could I learn more about her? Almost fifty years later? I consulted the Internet and was amazed: Presscraft Papers was her own publishing house – and it still existed!
On the website of the publisher was a strange house. In the middle of the wilderness. As if embedded in nature. Nature. Not a house at all. Not to be described. There she created, produced, sold and lived. Who was this woman? I found an article about her from the late nineties. She was born in 1906 and at the age of 8 months had a mysterious fever that left her paralyzed in the legs and one arm and with her head tilted to the right.
She studied and taught fine art at a young age. Cut artwork from copper and other metals and made a bowl for the World’s Fair in New York. Since she had no money at the time, she couldn’t go to New York herself to see it. After that, the bowl had been sitting around in storage with her. She was no longer interested in it.
During the Second World War, all metal was needed for the armament industry. So she decided – adapting to the situation – to resort to linoleum cut. And she stuck to it.
Gwen Frostic bought a press, learned how to use it and started her first prints in the basement of her parents‘ home. After a few years, she decided to move and open a store in a tourist town, Frankfort, Michigan. Everyone in her family thought she was joking and that she couldn’t move at all with her disability. Then the furniture truck showed up at the door and Gwen Frostic moved. She founded Presscraft Papers and opened a thriving business of self-created printed goods. The number of her employees grew.
At the age of 60, Gwen Frostic decided to move again. She bought 30000 square feet of land in the remote Michigan wilderness and began building a house there. She and a friend staked out the house with four posts, and when a local farmer came by and said she should make the house bigger – she just made it bigger. She had boulders delivered, unhewn, to be thrown over each other as a wall. They were to lie as they fell. She did not need an architect. When a spring was uncovered in the house, a spring remained in the house.
Everyone declared her crazy when she then moved her production and store from the best location in Frankfort to the middle of the remote wilderness. Who’s going to come there!? No one understood her life and business plan. Maybe she herself didn’t either. Not in the conventional sense. Maybe she knew something on another level.
In this place she stayed until she passed away one day before her 95th birthday. People came to this place. Many of them year after year. To this place that she had created. To her. To a seemingly sharp-tongued scraggly. They came to talk, to shop, and just to be there.
The venture into the wilderness worked out. Gwen Frostic died a millionaire. Probably her life had never been a dare for her and she had never been handicapped in her eyes. She was Wing Borne. Even if she could not have explained it, she had an inkling of her path, which was so different from the conventional human paths. She was physically limited, but born with blessed wings. Yet she was still not a generous boss and friendly businesswoman. „She didn’t believe in coffee breaks. And salary was always the least she could push through.“ an employee once said.
Whoever is Wing Borne stands outside of people’s ideas about right and wrong. In every respect. If you are Wing Borne, then your name is very, very small in the book of life. Then it has lost all meaning and is only an attached formality. One goes out of the world of names into the world of the intangible. And there then lies the origin of action. And this origin cannot be fathomed by the standards of the world of names and things. – – – –
Now I knew what I wanted to answer my friend: „I know what I will do. But I do not know what it will….. be.