Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Top Tips -- Hospice and End of Life Care (updated 12.2.23)

This is a post in progress...

My wonderful Mom has passed away. The last weeks of her life taught me how vital it is for EVERYONE to have a practice of self-soothing -- prayer/meditation/deep breathing. Whatever works, this life skill is essential. Learn it early. Practice it often. 

More on all that later...

The loss of Mom is a lot to process. And there's still all the administrative tasks to deal with. I am taking things slowly. "Apply oxygen mask (self-care tools) to yourself before assisting others," remains in effect.


For now, I'm remembering the great life she lived: 

a 62-year loving marriage with Dad; 

travel and adventures from the late 1930s to her last Europe visit (a month long trip in 2013 -- when she and Dad were in their 80s!). 

She compiled 40 photograph albums from the 1950s-2020s. These are vintage time capsules of Europe, Hawaii and several states in the US.

She was an artist, and the best mom ever.


Dad passed away suddenly two years ago. His departure put mom and me on a journey. It was a desert we crossed together. Sometimes the conditions were harsh, but thanks to planning and resources — we got to see some beauty in crossing too. Now we are each at our own version of the oasis at the end. Relief. Reflection. Remembrances. Rest.

Even though Mom was in her late 90s -- and had survived bouts of pneumonia starting back in May -- it was a struggle to get her on hospice in the last months of her life. I'm still deconstructing what went wrong. She suffered in the last few weeks -- and I think that was preventable. I'll be sharing more of the experience in this post. Hopefully other families can learn from the lessons we learned the hard way. 

Everyone deserves the peace, safety and comfort we all expect from hospice. No one should have to fight for it.


12.1.23 segment from Amanpour and Co. on the grinding costs of elder care. It references important NY Times “Dying Broke” series (https://www.nytimes.com/series/dying-broke).  There are no easy answers on how to afford elder care — short or long term. It's a universal problem. This segment discusses the average costs of $10k/mo for assisted living -- which means 6 figures a year! Aging at home with Private care is even more. Spending down all assets is often inevitable if many years of constant care are required. If elders are expecting kids/family members to take them in and provide full-time caregiving -- be aware of the emotional and financial impact. Have the hard conversations early and often.

This next video is 2 years old, but the challenges are still the same. "The Retirement Gamble" from Frontline

Japan is often cited as an example of how to handle elder care better. But their system is under a strain as well..

Sunday, November 5, 2023

November on the blog -- artists to be thankful for

November got away from me. (art below by Martha Sawyers, 1947)

Vintage Thanksgiving postcard image

This month was supposed to feature posts on artists to be thankful for. Many longtime friends.. and also a new-to-me find... all inspiring. Two of these posts got completed ...

Peter de Seve 


Peter's new book:

A personal favorite de Seve image "Something Familiar" prints available via Peter's website

Bill Swan

Here's a preview of  more "thankful" posts you'll be seeing at some point.. Not but not this month

Pierre Alary

Rosa Bonheur

Claire Wending, Terry Whitlatch, Marguerite Sauvage, Lili Chin, Karla Ortiz
The fab 5 

Thankful for Bill Swan and the Fiberglass Landmarks

There’s something magical about oversized, fiberglass figures. Once you fall under the spell of one, you are always looking for more. (photo below of International Fiberglass 1966 catalog via https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/47459)

For me, it was the Sinclair dinosaur and the Mobile station Flying horse. 

photo below from Roadside Archicture.com - Dinosaurs:


For generations of families on roadtrips along route 66… and small town businesses… it was the “Muffler Man.” (2 photos below from google images search)

There have been several videos and news segments about fan-turned-advocate Joel Baker and his quest to conserve these “American Giants” of advertising art:

Restoring a Paul Bunyan

CBS Sunday Morning segment

Also this 2022 video from the You Tube channel "Electra Slide"

Did you ever consider the story of the artist behind these icons? It would make a great mini-series! There's a hardscrabble self-taught artist.. the struggles, successes, and falling out of friends in an entrepreneurial industrial art business... the heartwarming legacy of a dreamer and his youngest daughter, who shared a love of horses... the heartbreak of the effect of fiberglass establishing his career, but also costing him his health... the renaissance of interest in his oeuvre decades after his passing. 

It was a common interest in model horses that connected me with Lisa Smith. Her father, Bill Swan, was the artist behind many of these fiberglass giants. She kindly sent me a copy of her book about her father. https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Lisa-Smith-ebook/dp/B097RCZSD4

“The Man Behind the Muffer Man” by Lisa Smith is a slim book, but speaks volumes about her Dad. It's a touching account of his hard work as an indie artist in the 1940s-70s, their father-daughter bond, and her search to document her father’s work and help him get recognized for it. The family lore alone is compelling. The book is a biography of Bill. It also shares important information on how the “Muffler Man” he created came to be, expanded into different versions, and launched him on a unique career path.

Bill was a lifelong observer. His artistic expression began at the age of three when he started carving objects and animals out of soap. His blended family life was complicated, but his Mom always supported him.  Art became an escape from harsh treatment by his Father and a way to get positive recognition by others.

Bill was 12 when was taken in by the Nez Pearce Indians. When they learned he was a runaway boy on a horse, they let him stay on the reservation. He learned how to hunt, fish, build teepees and train horses. His natural horsemanship developed, creating strong bonds with the horses he trained.

Years later, Bill returned to his family. He did well at school because he had a photographic memory. His teacher saw potential in his artwork and let him draw pictures all day. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade. His horsemanship skills kept him employed as a professional cowboy. His gentle but firm approach to training horses was unusual in that era. He soon had clients across the Northwest and Canada. He even worked as a saddle maker for a time. 

His art skills landed him a job as a designer for a company in Idaho. This is also when he met the love of his life, Jane. They married after only a few months of courtship, and Bill raised her daughters as his own. Bill and Jane later had other children, including Lisa.

Bill’s freelance art and design work moved the family around quite a bit. A highlight for Lisa’s older siblings was the time when the family relocated to Alpine, Ca. Bill had been hired to design and construct several large dinosaurs for small park. The attraction was popular when it first opened.. and the Swan family enjoyed living nearby along with use of the park’s pool and other amenities. Sadly, after the initial success, there weren’t enough customers to keep the park open. When it closed, the dinosaurs were free offered to any fans who could haul them away. A few shadows of the park still exist on the original site.. including one last dinosaur. This Feb 2020 video from the You Tube channel "Sidetrack Adventures" shows the park and shares more of its history. 

After the Alpine, Ca. job ended, Bill moved his family to the city. This move was to start working in fiberglass for a company run by a friend. Bill was mostly self-taught, making molds in his workshop, for what became a cottage industry of making oversize fiberglass statues as outdoor advertising attractions for local businesses. Bill worked for this company for 11 years as its primary designer and sculptor. But he had a falling out with his friend and boss. Bill wanted to sign and date all his creations, but his boss refused. Bill was able to put his initials “BS” as a brand on a cow statue, and some other figures.

Bill’s most iconic figure was the Paul Bunyan statue. The molds for this figure were likely also used to create the majority of the subsequent “Muffler Man” works. No one kept exact records about the number of Muffler Men produced, but it’s generally accepted there were around 400 across the US at one point.

Bill sculpted a 10-foot long fiberglass horse that became the Ford Mustang emblem. Once again, Bill never got credit.. but his family still has the thank you card to Bill from Edsel Ford. (3 photos below via Lisa Smith)

Artist Bill Swan below with his model of the "mustang"

Bill also crafted the original Bob’s Big Boy.

Sample Big Boy photo below from Downey, CA bob's https://www.bobsbigboybroiler.com/

There are photos of many more of Bill’s statues in Lisa’s book.

According to Lisa, all of Bill’s works began as drawings. He would sculpt the figures out of clay. And even do details on the final fiberglass versions. Since none of the final works are signed, Lisa depends on the attention to details in them to identify the ones her Dad produced.  

Bill also created the horse figure molds for the Thoroughbred, the foal, and the Arabian, models that are produced today by the Fiberstock company. (photos below from the Fiberstosck website.)



Few of Bill’s originals drawings still exist today. There were a number of small sculptures that he did, including a small Paul Bunyan. His wife loaned many of these to a county museum for many years. Sadly, the current whereabouts of these artifacts is unknown.

Bill was a prolific and passionate artist. He was at his peak in the 1960s-70s. But his many years of working with fiberglass...under conditions that are now known to be highly toxic.. took a toll on his health. His final years were difficult as he struggled with emphysema. His poor health prevented him from taking a job offer to help design Disneyland. After so many decades of hard work, it devastated Bill that his talents and work ethic hadn’t allowed him to provide what he dreamed for his family. Not being able to take this prime position with Disney was another blow.

Bill hoped leaving the air pollution might help him regain his health, so he relocated to Yreka, California near the border with Oregon. The family was able to have a small ranch there. They got involved with 4H and horse shows. Bill and Lisa had a shared interest in horses and they rode together when his health allowed. He returning to sculpting small objects and animals out of white pine wood, using a utility knife and sandpaper.

As his health declined further, Bill wanted to be closer where his sister lived, so the family moved to a small town in Washington state. His wife volunteered at the Asotin County Museum. She loaned some of Bill’s popular sculptures to be displayed there. His artwork connected him with others in the community. He even befriended a couple who was inspired by his work. They took his advice when they started their own sign business and made sure to sign their artwork.

Bill Swan passed away in February 1984.

The recent revival of interest in the Muffler Men and other American Giants is a tribute to the enduring appeal of Bill Swan’s work. https://usagiants.com/

The next time a large fiberglass sculpture captures your attention, remember Bill Swan. These figures are often associated with landscapes from our childhoods. Be thankful for Bill and the other often uncredited artists whose artWORK shaped our visual maps of neighborhoods.. or places visited.

Thankful for Peter de Seve -- Peek inside "Local Fauna" (updated 12.19.23)

An artist to be thankful for is Peter de Seve. He's renowned in many fields... illustration, character design, posters, New Yorker covers... and a popular panelist, artist guest at conventions, and instructor at workshops. Peter's also a longtime friend of SNB. Here are Peter and Stuart at SDCC in 2010.

Here's a link of Peter at the SNB booth at SDCC back in 2009 https://stuartngbooks.blogspot.com/2009/07/sdcc-2009-peter-de-seve-part-1.html

Peter's brand new book is a substantial 288 pages! A rich treasure trove of images... and behind-the-scenes of his working process. Stuart is pleased on offer an option to purchase an exclusive, signed bookplate along with the book.

UPDATE 12.19.23 -- Peter posted on his Instagram about this 12.15.23 Wall Street Journal review of his book. The review is by animation art scholar John Canemaker.


SNB was happy to  help with book and sales support for Peter's booth at Lightbox Expo 2023 https://stuartngbooks.blogspot.com/2023/10/lightbox-expo-2023-1-of-5-peter-de-seve.html

These links have more insights into Peter's work and process:

New Yorker Ice Age cover story

de Seve Studio tour  2017

notes from Danesh Mohiuddin,  participant at 2014 Schoolism workshop

2011 interview from Norman Rockwell Museum show  "Ice Age to the Digital Age: the 3D Animation Art of Blue Sky Studios"

Here are some interior pages from "Local Fauna" --