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Gwen Frostic: Michigan artist crafts nature into a rich life
Gwen Frostic
ALAN R. KAMUDA/DFP

Gwen Frostic, 92, at her Frankfort studio.

March 1, 1999

BY SHERYL JAMES
Free Press Staff Writer

Inside the strange shop made of giant boulders and a sod roof full of trees, where cats sleep on counters and squirrel tracks mark the floor, where a natural well gurgles and 18 Heidelberg presses clank like rhythmic railroad cars, the pilgrimage has begun.

Frostic as a child Frostic as a child.

After buying an armful of Gwen Frostic's block-print stationery products, a 50-ish man peers into the shop's office area.

He walks reverently toward a diminutive figure, 92 years old, sitting at a simple desk next to a furry, fat dog: Gwen Frostic and Eliot.

Her wheelchair nearby, Gwen wears a simple, button-up dress. Her head leans noticeably to her left, her left arm sits at half-mast at her waist. Her hair is short and curly, her glasses sturdy, like her shoes. From a wrinkled face stare two sharp eyes -- hawk's eyes.

Gwen Frostic gets engrossed in her artwork
ALAN R. KAMUDA/DFP

Gwen Frostic gets engrossed in her artwork. The original block prints created by the 92-year-old have made her a staple of the Michigan art scene for decades.

"I've been coming here for 26 years," the man says, "and I want to wish you well, dear! I hope you're here another 26 years!"

Behind him are two women, equally reverent, as if approaching Mother Teresa. "Pam here is from North Carolina, and we heard about your place and came all the way to see your work!" one woman sings. "Are you still doing creative things?"

A family of four from Pennsylvania poses for a picture with Gwen. "We order your things all the time," Mom says.

"Thank you," Gwen replies.

"I like your dog. What's his name?"

"I don't know. He never writes it."

One of Frostic's early metal works. One of Frostic's early metal works.

A Florida man comes up. Eliot barks. "He barks at all men," Gwen quips.

Two more men. One says his friend "finally made it."

"Where have you been all your life?" Gwen says.

"Is that your dog?" the man asks.

"I'm his. There's a lot of difference."

"We come every year," a couple says.

"Where do you live?" Gwen asks.

"We're from Michigan, but we moved to Ohio."

"Shame on you."

On it goes, all morning at Presscraft Papers in tiny Benzonia, a half-hour southwest of Traverse City. "" When someone asks about her favorite products, she says, "I don't have a favorite anything. I think if you have a favorite, it cuts you off from other things."

When the foolhardy few ask her age, she returns, "Well, I don't buy green bananas anymore."

In the midst of this, a man and his little girl lean in, looking urgent. "Can we use the rest room?" the man asks.

"No," Gwen says flatly.

"We had a public rest room," Gwen explains later, "but people didn't know how to use it. One woman raised a bunch of Cain about not having a rest room. People should boycott me, she said. She raised so much Cain."

ALAN R. KAMUDA/DFP

Executive secretary Betty Milliron brings prints to Frostic, who autographs the artworks.

Grin. "But she bought $30 worth."

So much for Mother Teresa.

GWEN FROSTIC is one of Michigan's most unusual natural resources, as uniquely Michigan as the state's mitten shape or the Petoskey stone. A self-made artist and millionaire, she has showcased Michigan in her work and lived here through every decade of the 20th Century.

Born in a world of small farm towns, horse-drawn wagons, one-room schoolhouses and kitchen table surgery, she remembers doughboys, women's suffrage, her family's horse and buggy and the first radios.

"The first one we had was just a tube and a box wound with wire," she says. "You hooked it up to the telephone. If the telephone rang, you had to disconnect the radio."

Gwen remembers streetcars in Detroit and picking wildflowers on Grosse Ile. She made two copper vases for Mrs. Henry Ford and, during World War II, worked at the Willow Run bomber plant.

She has lived in Michigan's Thumb, in Wyandotte and, since 1955, in Benzie County. She has celebrated, in a sense preserved, Michigan nature in her block-print art and writing.

Michigan has returned the favors. Gwen Frostic has received honorary degrees from five Michigan universities and awards from groups ranging from the Girl Scouts to the Women's National Farm and Garden Association. May 23, 1978, was proclaimed by Gov. Bill Milliken as Gwen Frostic Day in Michigan. In 1986, she was inducted into the Michigan's Women's Hall of Fame.

But Gwen Frostic is more than history, more than a successful businesswoman. Her life challenges the definition of "handicapped," a word those who know her never utter in her presence.

A mysterious illness during infancy left Gwen with physical after-effects resembling cerebral palsy. As a result, much to her irritation, most people perceive or believe she is handicapped while she does not -- and therein lies the story of her life.

Even worse, many of her customers seem to assume that because Gwen is handicapped -- and, now, old -- she is also saintly, dull-witted and, possibly, deaf. (One woman asked if Gwen could read. "How could I possibly write," Gwen responded, "if I can't read?" )

"People have said to me, 'What is her handicap?' " says Gwen's sister, Helen Warren, 90, of Dearborn, whose blunt manner is a Frostic trademark. "And I say: 'You tell me.' "

Gwen doesn't relish being written about like this, partly because she isn't writing or supervising this work. She also believes that to analyze anything too closely is to destroy it. She does not think she's done anything extraordinary. Besides, she never looks back, why should we? Sentimental, she is not.

ON CHRISTMAS EVE, 1906, the baby Gwendolen was as hot as a cast-iron stove. Her young mother, Sara, clutched her and paced the wooden floor, her eyes dark with worry. Every now and then, her husband took over.

Fred Frostic, then 26, was the high school principal. But school was far from his mind that Christmas week in Croswell, a rural town in Michigan's Thumb. The baby's fever had persisted for days. Sara, just 21, had tried all the remedies at her disposal then. But in 1906, there just wasn't much Sara could do as her second born, 8 months old, cried in feverish pain. Except pace. This she and Fred did, day and night.

Sara must have assumed she could lose Gwen, as she called this spirited child who had already begun to walk.

But one exhausting week later, Gwen suddenly got better. Fred and Sara were thankful and relieved, but then they noticed that Gwen couldn't walk anymore. Her left hand and foot looked odd.

Traveling by train and streetcar, Fred and Sara took Gwen to a specialist in Detroit for a diagnosis. "He didn't know what it was," says Gwen's sister, Helen, who remembers her mother's stories about that week.

At some time, it was assumed Gwen had had a mild case of polio. This is what she says, and nothing else.

No one will ever know for sure what plagued Gwen that week; high fevers in infant polio victims are not common, and severe illness in infants can cause cerebral palsy.

Gwen's youngest sister, Margaret Schweitzer, 72, of Rockville, Md., remembers her father telling her Gwen had started walking at 8 months old, just before she took sick.

"When did she walk again?" Margaret asked.

"What do you call walking?"

"When you get somewhere on your two feet."

"We called it walking," Fred said, "when she could go from one place in the room to the other on her feet, regardless of how many times she fell."

THE TWO PEOPLE most important to Gwen were, and still are, her parents. Fred and Sara Frostic both were born in the Thumb in the 1880s, and both earned teaching certificates from Michigan State Normal School in Ypsilanti, now Eastern Michigan University.

An endlessly curious man, Fred was the household dreamer. Among his interests was a passion for Michigan nature and geology.

Hard-headed, practical and bright, Sara was a fine cook and a wonderful seamstress. She was also in charge.

"Mama did the discipline," Gwen recalls. "She never said, 'Wait till your father comes home.' " Likewise, you never told Mama you were bored, "or she would find plenty for you to do."

But Sara was not always conventional. At a time when handicapped children were almost always hidden at home and kept out of school, it was simply assumed Gwen would attend.

Between Gwen's birth and 1918, the Frostic family multiplied and lived in small farm towns. Helen was born in 1908, Frederick Ralph in 1909. In 1910, Fred took a job as superintendent of schools in St. Charles, just southwest of Saginaw. William was born that year, Donald in 1913, Andrew in 1917.

Fred and Sara raised Gwen by both ignoring and acknowledging her limitations. Helen remembers her mother saying Gwen "wouldn't be around very long," reflecting common beliefs then about polio victims. Gwen was in some ways coddled, but alsoexpected to keep up with her siblings.

"I never knew I couldn't do something," Gwen has often said.

She walked miles with her siblings to pick flowers, and played games such as pom-pom-pullaway. When she fell, her siblings were not allowed to pick her up. Sara also made Gwen sew on buttons -- possibly to enhance focus and hand-eye coordination.

Teachers told Sara that Gwen would never be able to write. Gwen immediately proved them wrong, developing a special script that now is a recognized trademark.

Gwen says she was just like other kids. Not exactly. Helen remembers children coming up to her asking, "What's wrong with your sister?" ( "Nothing," the scrappy Helen would reply. "What's wrong with you?" )

Privately, Helen understood that Gwen couldn't do everything. Her foot turned in and her head tilted slightly to the side. Her speech always has been slightly slurred. She didn't walk well until she was 6.

At school, Gwen more than kept up with her peers and showed artistic talent early. She also had unusual interests: playing with blocks, and later hammers and saws. Hardware stores fascinated her, and still do.

"I never got a train" for a present, Gwen says. "I always wanted a train. The boys got trains."

In 1917, the Frostics moved to Ann Arbor while Fred earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Michigan. In 1918, American doughboys bound for Europe crowded the Michigan Central depot there, where Gwen, then 11, saw her uncle Duncan Alexander, a doctor, go off to war.

That same year, Fred became superintendent of Wyandotte Public Schools. He would remain there until he retired, beloved and respected, 32 years later.

COMPARED to Croswell and St. Charles, Wyandotte was a big city. The population was about 13,000. Biddle Street, the town's main avenue, had been paved since 1907.

A short walk from downtown on Oak Street, the Frostics settled into a green-and-yellow Victorian house built in the 1860s and now on Michigan's list of historic places. When Fred installed storm windows in the 1940s, he learned that each window was a different size.

Life in the Frostic family was equally unpredictable. There were art projects, hobbies, newspapers and books everywhere, people coming over for dinner at a moment's notice, family chess and bridge games, singing around the piano, guinea pigs and dogs -- the Frostics always had a dog.

Dish washing was an adventure. Gwen usually washed, one of the boys dried, and then threw the dishes to another boy at the pantry door. A lot of dishes were broken.

Gwen's brothers, Margaret recalls, "took to boiling up dead animals. They separated out the bones and hung them in their bedroom upstairs."

In the kitchen, Helen recalls, was Gwen's drawer, full of art supplies.

Gwen sailed through school and joined the second class, 70 students, to graduate from Roosevelt High School in June 1924.

By her senior year, Gwen had already earned respect for her artistic talent, and did the artwork for the 1924 "Wi-Hi" yearbook, which mentions her often. She used a band saw to create life-size posters for school events and took mechanical drawing along with art classes -- almost unheard of for girls then.

"Her brush, her pencil and her pen will make this world a better place!" the yearbook says. In mock elections that included categories such as Most Popular, Bashful, Worst Bluffer and Laziest Boys, Gwen was voted Class Artist. Gwen had lots of friends then, but no romantic relationships. Some say Gwen had no interest or need. Others think it more likely that because she looked handicapped, she wasn't asked on dates or to dances.

Gwen, at much prodding, says romance "just didn't come, it didn't happen."

FOLLOWING her parents' lead, Gwen "went to Ypsi," the family's way of saying she attended her parents' alma mater in Ypsilanti. There, Gwen joined the Alpha Sigma Tau sorority and studied art education from 1924 to 1926 and earned a teacher's certificate.

In 1926, Gwen transferred to Western State Normal College, now Western Michigan University. In one art class there, Gwen carved her first image into a linoleum block: a monkey.

Gwen left Western just shy of a degree in 1927 and came home. "I had to make a living," Gwen says simply of her decision to set up a metal shop in her parents' basement. She would make and sell art, she decided. She called the business Metalcraft.

She bought 18-gauge copper and brass at a hardware shop on Leonard Street in Detroit, getting rides from friends or taking the bus. Using mallets, hammers and saws, she began to create beautiful things, many of which survive: an intricately carved copper hot plate; an exquisite, dragon fireplace screen; a waist-high copper sundial.

She taught art in Dearborn and metal craft at Detroit's YMCA. Her reputation spread. One day, a woman came to the Frostic front door. Gwen doesn't remember her name. But she remembers who sent her: Mrs. Henry Ford.

Mrs. Ford wanted two flower vases, the woman said. Gwen made the copper vases and charged $25 each -- "what I charged everyone else," she says flatly.

IN 1935, Sara Frostic, 50, died of a stroke. As the eldest daughter, Gwen took over domestic duties. Only Don and Margaret, 9, were still home.

Margaret remembers these years as adventurous. Once, she and Gwen put down new red linoleum in the kitchen, decided they didn't like the color and painted over it. One year, Gwen made Margaret a green, pink and chocolate birthday cake.

Three years after Sara's death, Fred married Florence Shirley, the high school French teacher. Gwen, in her early 30s, got back to her own life. She worked hard and also socialized with women's groups at Detroit's popular restaurants -- the Russian Bear, the French Village, Sanders. Often, she met her brother Bill for lunch or dinner.

"Every spring, he would call and say, 'Let's go find spring,' " Gwen says. "We'd head south until we found the first robin, and then we'd come back."

Gwen was articulate, entertaining company. She had a great command of current issues, strong opinions and a sharp, at times impish, sense of humor.

"When we were first married," Helen says, "she bought us an enormous bag of canned goods -- with all the labels torn off. We never knew what we were eating."

In her work, Gwen had been experimenting with a new substance made by Monsanto called plastic. With it, she made the face of a beautiful copper clock. Monsanto, upon learning an artist was ordering their plastic, contacted Gwen and asked her to make something for the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

Gwen brought home some plastic and went to work. She simply says she "heated" the stuff. Margaret remembers it as a kid watching really neat things going on in the kitchen. Gwen tried heating the plastic in hot water, and then in the oven. She mangled and mauled it. The end result was a beautiful tray with a copper inset and plastic outer edge carved by a jeweler's saw into morning glories.

The tray was, indeed, displayed at the fair. But Gwen never saw it there. "I didn't have the funds to go to New York," she says unemotionally.

She still has the tray, "but I haven't looked for it in 20 years."

WHEN World War II came, metal for artwork and most other uses was diverted to war production. And the Ford Motor Co. bomber plant at Willow Run was the queen of war plants. It covered 1,300 acres and produced one bomber every hour. The planes thundered right out of the plant to Europe.

Perched like stadium boxes above the massive plant floor were glass-walled offices. There worked the engineers, accountants, technicians, their desks overlooking the giant bombers.

Gwen was among them.

She worked as a tool and die drafts person -- one of very few women doing so. Her job required frequent trips onto the plant floor, where she would stand in the shadows of those enormous bomber wings. She worked from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for $2.75 an hour six days a week until the war ended.

Gwen wasted little time mourning her metalcraft business. If there was no metal, there was no metal. But as she gfnjump bgwen1x$worked at the bomber plant, Gwen thought: there was linoleum. Lots of it.

She remembered the monkey she had carved at Western. Linoleum carving was an old craft. It was a lot easier than pounding metal.

Gwen bought some linoleum squares at an arts store, some paper and a used, hand-fed electric printing press. She had no idea how it worked. So she took the whole thing apart then put it back together. Then she knew how it worked.

Her first block carving was of a fish. Gwen stamped the fish onto some note cards. Presscraft Papers was born.

Working out of a former Wyandotte grocery store, mainly on weekends, Gwen was soon printing letterhead stationery, business cards and other commercial jobs. When she could, she sketched wildlife -- a cardinal in her parents' backyard, for instance -- and carved the images into linoleum blocks.

In the back of the shop, Gwen had a simple apartment. It was the first place except college where she lived away from her parents' home. She was 39, and she would live thereafter in a home-shop setup, most of the time alone.

Gwen had become rigidly independent. She refused to ask for help and saw little reason why anyone else should. This affected her interpersonal relationships. Gwen had friends, but her friendships were not always deep, nor did they last. She was at times charming, thoughtful and generous. But friends could wither beneath her blunt remarks and criticisms.

V-J DAY -- Aug. 14, 1945 -- found Gwen back at her shop, living frugally, working constantly.

But the war wasn't over for everybody. On August 20, Margaret, in her late teens, was alone, sewing in the dining room at the Frostic home. A messenger at the door asked for Margaret's parents. They weren't home, Margaret said. The messenger had a telegram, but had to deliver it to an adult.

Margaret, not grasping what the message was, called Gwen at her shop. "She knew what it was," Margaret says. But Gwen said nothing.

"We had to walk a long way" to the telegram office, Margaret says. "It was warm. Gwen was not walking well, and I could see she was upset. When we got to the telegram office, they said they wouldn't give it to us there, we had to go home. So we walked back to our house, and they brought it, and she opened it."

Bill Frostic, 35 -- a surgeon who had served his country since 1941 and Gwen's closest sibling -- had been killed when his plane crashed into a mountain in Hawaii. "Gwen was really upset," Margaret says. "I don't remember tears, but close to it."

BY 1951, Gwen's business was flourishing, but something was out of balance. Half artist, half businesswoman, Gwen the artist felt stifled.

In 1950, Fred Frostic had retired as superintendent of Wyandotte schools. With Gwen's help, he bought five lots in an unusual vacation development operated by the Congregational Summer Assembly near Frankfort. They built a tiny cottage. Gwen started spending a lot of time there, walking through the woods with her dog and her sketch pad.

Gwen had fallen in love with Northern Michigan. She strongly identified with the natural world, each flower and plant following its own preordained plan. Nature had become her god and her best friend. "I work with nature," she once said, "because it treats me equally."

The north woods encouraged Gwen to drop the contract printing jobs. She decided to close her Wyandotte shop during summer and open a summer shop up north. That would give her more time to carve, make more of her own stationery, maybe do some writing.

After three years, she dumped Wyandotte altogether. The death of her father in 1954 helped settle the matter.

Her family didn't believe she would actually leave; Helen says: "She said she was going to sell everything and move up north. And we all laughed. We knew she couldn't do that. And one day, she backed a truck up to the door of her shop, took all her stuff and moved up north."

FRANKFORT was a charming tourist town in the early 1950s, much as it remains. In summer, it swelled with tourists who shopped, swam and sunbathed. In winter, the beautiful Victorian summer mansions went dark and business slowed to a crawl.

In the midst of Frankfort's quaint downtown, a rather strange woman was seen limping down to the local swamp or up to the post office with a fox terrier almost every day. She usually looked a mess -- her hair awry, her brow sweaty, her dress and hands smudged -- and she slurred her speech. Some people assumed the woman was a drunkard.

As Gwen, 50, and her dog, Teddy became better known, people realized the smudges were just printer's ink, the limp was permanent and the swamp was where Gwen sketched wildlife. She may have looked funny, but she was not feeble-minded. In fact, she was very sharp -- sharp as a migraine, to some of the businessmen in town.

At that time, Gwen was Frankfort's lone female business owner, ostracized from the all-male Rotary Club and other such groups. Many Frankfort businessmen didn't take to her.

They were uncomfortable with her appearance, for one. She wore little makeup, made no attempt to look "pretty" at work, and her handicap only made her less appealing. Worse, she didn't seem to care one whit what they thought of her. She wasn't social, like other women. She didn't smile enough.

"She had the disposition of a rattlesnake," says a man who worked for her.

Gwen returned the disfavor. "I don't think she had a high regard for most of the business community," says Robert Laubach, Gwen's first accountant. "She probably felt that their businesses ran them, they didn't run their businesses, and she was probably right."

Gwen belittled salesmen mercilessly, says John Peterson, a lifelong Frankfort resident and former owner of the Benzie County Patriot. ""

"She'd cut 'em in half," agrees Jim Rogers of Frankfort, who built additions for Gwen's Frankfort and Benzonia shops. "She'd say, 'If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?' "

Gwen soon moved her tiny enterprise, located next to a bait shop, down the street to a narrow storefront. Eventually, she added an apartment and storage space. Her products were now all Gwen, start to finish. She selected the weight and color tone of the paper and devised a unique feathered deckle edge, to give a rough untrimmed look to the paper. Spacing between letters and words, indention and punctuation of her first books -- "My Michigan" and "A Walk with Me" -- were unconventional. Pages were never numbered.

She researched her animals and plants thoroughly, carved the prints, wrapped her products in clear plastic -- no promotional slang, no prices -- and set them on plain wood shelves. The images stood out -- and sold.

As she made more money, Gwen hired several workers, bought another press, donated quietly to various groups. She joined women's organizations, understanding they would bring profits as well as friends. Living alone, she spoiled Teddy and fed huge groups of geese. Locals got irritated with the droppings all over downtown.

But Gwen was no such sap with her employees.

"There were no coffee breaks and no vacation," says Ron Conklin, now an artist, who worked for Gwen in the early 1960s. "Pay was usually as minimum as she could get away with."

"She hired a lot of women," Conklin says. "They would come in starry-eyed and leave a little wiser."

But Presscraft Papers, Conklin says, "was a good, clean place to work. It was no sweatshop. I liked her. I liked her blunt statements. She wasn't a bad person to work for, she just didn't believe in coffee breaks."

Evelyn Argue cleaned Gwen's Frankfort shop and, later, her Benzonia place. Gwen worked long and hard, she says. She could be funny -- "she could say some of the gol-darndest things" -- and angry: "I'll tell ya, she can get mad." Sometimes, she made her famous baked beans for everyone. She quietly loaned employees money.

Customers or acquaintances often didn't know what to make of Gwen's sharp tongue. "She could insult the hell out of people face-to-face," Conklin says, "and they laughed and laughed. They thought she was kidding" or tolerated the barbs because she looked handicapped.

Gwen's friends say they learned to look past the insults.

"She's just as mean as she ever was," says Mollie Rogers, who lives near Frankfort and has called Gwen a close friend for years.

IN ABOUT 1960, Gwen bought 40 acres along River Road on the Betsie River, seven miles south of Frankfort. It was full of trees, wildlife and fields. It was also in the middle of nowhere. She was looking for a place to move.

The average business person would never relocate a successful business from a tourist town to the boondocks. Add a woman nearing 60 who is "handicapped" and you approach lunacy.

Gwen decided to do it.

In 1961, Gwen broke ground for her new shop. She hired Jim Rogers. She had no actual plans and never thought about an architect. She and Rogers set out four stakes on the property. A neighbor dropped by and said to make it bigger. They did. And so it went.

Can you get any big stones? Gwen asked Rogers.

Yeah. All the farmers around here have big rock piles, Rogers replied.

Good. Get some. Get a lot of them.

Rogers went to a farmer. The farmer offered to cut the boulders, which were very large. Well, no, Rogers said, she wants them big.

The stones were hauled to the building site. Gwen told Rogers' crew she did not want the rocks piled up in any certain way. "I want them to look like they fell there," she said.

When the crews hit a natural flowing well, Gwen said to turn it into a fountain inside the shop.

When the beams were going up, Gwen said to space them irregularly.

When the round house was added, Gwen said to make the roof sod.

When crews got the poured cement floor nice and smooth, Gwen told Rogers to cut off the feet of road kill and put their footprints in the wet cement. She wanted plant imprints, too.

Rogers had to break the news to his dubious work crews.

"I said, 'Now you have to pick ferns and leaves and lay them on the cement and pick them up later.' The main helper wouldn't do it. He said, 'I spent all day getting this perfect.' "

But orders were orders, and, much to their surprise, the men began to enjoy the weird task. "Before we were done," Rogers says, "these masons were just like kids."

Sliced tree trunks became benches, wall covering was sliced logs -- bark side up -- and branches were hand rails. Driftwood became door knobs.

There was no suggestion of outdoor "landscaping." Nature was landscaping, let her do what she wants.

Gwen sent out announcements. "We have moved to the frog pond, Teddy and I," read one. "Come wonder and wander with us," another read.

The new shop opened for business April 26, 1964. It was Gwen's 58th birthday. She had her own piece of nature and a business plan no one could understand.

GWEN FROSTIC has weathered her share of physical ups and downs. She has had a few simple operations, eye surgery, shingles. Once she broke both of her wrists. Her doctor said she would lose the use of her hands. Guess what?

Gwen's life today is a tailored version of what it always has been. She lives alone above her shop. She works. She carves at night, reads the newspaper, watches a few programs, such as "Murder She Wrote" and "Jeopardy," and the Dallas Cowboys -- "because they know how to win," she says.

Gwen still takes occasional drives in her Lincoln. She once favored Cadillacs, but now, she says, "you can't tell a Cadillac from a Chevrolet."

Twice a day, she feeds the creatures from her side porch. She goes through a 33-gallon bag of peanuts and who knows how much bird seed each week. Gwen once described the daily bird fest as "cheaper than going to the opera."

Gwen does not often see family, though she calls and sends money now and then, especially in a crisis.

Her friend, Pam Lorenz, invites her over to her home and restaurant in Benzonia, but if a crowd is expected, Gwen begs off. "She doesn't like confusion," Pam says. "If she is by herself at Christmas, that's fine."

THE MICHIGAN that hosted Gwen Frostic's birth nearly 93 years ago is gone -- the horses, saloons, one-room schoolhouses, streetcars.

One day, Gwen, too, will be gone.

That is the subject of current Gwen Frostic folklore.

What will the artist-in-winter decide to do with all she had made when she is gone?

She's going to take it with her, some say. Destroy it all.

She's giving everything Western Michigan University.

She's selling out.

She's going to burn the place down.

Gwen isn't saying. She doesn't talk about death. But she must have thought about it. Years ago, she composed her epitaph.

"Here lies one doubly blessed . . . she was happy . . . and she knew it."

When asked if she did, in fact, compose this, she smiled a little. "I might have," she said.

Birds ...
from the tiniest hummingbird --
to the greatest eagle ...
somehow have a mysterious power
to set our spirits free ...
In the woods and low marshlands -
little animals make their homes ...
the muskrats -- raccoons -- squirrels
always have ... otters play in the streams
and lakes ... and the white-tailed
deer roam among the woods and hills
May it ever be so ...

-- from "My Michigan" and "A Walk with Me"

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