Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chapman Kelley's Memoirs - Chapter 12

     An irrefutable track record of local state and national publicity across many years, of what countless others have said about my Wildflower Works concept (1976 to present) via their correspondence and other documentation, the many meetings I conducted with my slide shows, and of course my work in watercolor, oil and drawings and much more is what directly influenced Lady Bird Johnson to establish the National Wildflower Research Center (since renamed Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center). In the years leading up to her decision to make the NWRC a reality, what follows is a tiny sample of selected correspondence coupled with a compelling narrative that underscores my assertion.

     The November 1980 issue of ARTnews featured an article about my new medium for painting, Wildflower Works, with a photo of yours truly.     
The November 1980 issue of ARTnews featured an article about the new medium for painting, Wildflower Works.  

      Jim Street, Public Information Officer of the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport issued a three page press release dated April 11, 1977, heaping praise on the Airport’s Wildflower Works.

     Robert Mac Doty, Director of the Akron Art Institute wrote a letter dated April 19, 1977 saying, “…innovative, delightful and lots of other adjectives for your divine new work.”

     Again from Jim Street of the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, penned a letter dated May 1, 1978, “…you have made a real contribution to the Airport and I thank you for it.”

     The Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Board of Directors received a letter written by the Texas Wildflower Protection Society dated May 10, 1979, commending the Wildflower Works, “You are very fortunate to have such an ambitious, intelligent designer and artist as Chapman Kelley working with you.”

     Again from Robert Mac Doty, this time as the Director of the Currier Gallery of Art, wrote a letter dated December 18, 1979 saying, “…the piece [news media article] didn’t mention all the good work you did to support contemporary art and artists in Dallas.  So there is a lot of the Chapman Kelley story still untold.” (emphasis added)

     It was not a total surprise when I received a handwritten note with very encouraging comments from Lady Bird Johnson dated June 2, 1980. Notably, this was more than two years prior to the opening of the National Wildflower Research Center in December of 1982.

     Louise Perry (spouse of E. Gordon Perry Jr.) President of the Dallas Garden Club forwarded a copy to me of a formal resolution in 1980 which states in part, "...the Dallas Garden Club endorses the efforts of Chapman Kelley to plant wildflowers in public places and does hereby encourage other such organizations, groups and municipalities to commend and assist Mr. Kelley in this endeavor."

     Jack W. Robinson, Director of Dallas Parks and Recreation wrote a letter dated August 18, 1980 confirming that a resolution has been passed by the Dallas Garden Club for "...beautifying open spaces in Dallas through wildflower plantings...it is most gratifying to have the support of influential citizens in such an important community project."

     Jane Scholl of the Smithsonian Magazine in Washington D.C. wrote a letter dated April 6, 1981 informing me, among other things, that just one more editor (of several editors) needed to come on board so an article could be written about the Wildflower Works.

     George Philip Huey Jr., Dallas Parks and Recreation Assistant Director of Maintenance and Beautification penned a letter dated May 21, 1981 saying the Dallas Museum of Natural History/Wildflower Works "...can give us the impetus for more of the same in other parts of town."

     Clyde D. Walton, landscape architect with the state of Maine Department of Transportation wrote a letter dated August 4, 1981 informing me that my broadcast commentary with Craig for Maine Public Radio "...came off well..." and requested a Wildflower Works catalog for Maine Governor Joseph E. Brennan and several others.

     Eddie C. Hueston, Superintendent of Dallas Park Maintenance, wrote a letter dated September 24, 1981 saying, “Chuck Finsley of the Dallas Museum of Natural History and Al Naugh of the [Dallas] school system are meeting with us…to determine a site for the continuing study of bluebonnet germination. This ‘spin off’ from the original Wildflower Works is another cooperative effort we are happy to participate in.”

     So Lady Bird Johnson was keenly aware of my previous years' success as evidenced above, which began as early as 1976 and with the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport Wildflower Works and later the Dallas Museum of Natural History/Wildflower Works.  In her heart she knew that the future NWRC would not fly without my hands-on participation and top-tier guidance. She phoned her best friend Patsy Steves of San Antonio, TX to have her ask me to approve and participate in the steering of the future NWRC, which I did.  To feel most comfortable about the situation Lady Bird insisted that I become a member of the NWRC's board of directors, executive committee and head of the education committee and I did so.  What I brought to the NWRC was concept and plans for its beginning, middle and long term viability.  It was something no one else had ever done or was capable of doing.  I would soon regret my decision to get involved. 
     Soon after coming on board I recommended that the NWRC hire range scientist Dr. Thomas Jefferson Allen.  Because Allen was at the time an employee with the Texas Highway Department, we sought their approval prior to the hire and they saw no problem.  In the wake of Dr. Allen becoming one of the staff, a meeting at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, Texas was convened to hear my Wildflower Works presentation which was that it was the underpinning and driving force of the NWRC.  The meeting included Laurence S. Rockefeller (of the prominent Rockefeller family) and his wife Mary, and Nash Castro, General Manager of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission of New Jersey.  Rockefeller’s interest in the Wildflower Works concept was stoked by that presentation.   After he  left the Ranch it dawned on him that he had an important follow-up question for me. Because Rockefeller and Castro had attended my lecture at the same time, and after several months had passed, Rockefeller asked Castro to refresh his memory.  Castro felt that he could not answer Laurence's query with authority. So Castro followed up with a letter to me dated August 12, 1982 telling of his recent meeting with Rockefeller and his question. 

     The two-page letter I wrote seven days later to Nash Castro dated August 19, 1982 clearly answered Rockefeller’s question about how and why my Wildflower Works concept could solve the world’s lack of potable water.  We proved that the Wildflower Works was acceptable to the general public, that it thrived solely on rainwater, used no fertilizers or insecticides and bloomed sequentially through three seasons.

     And seven days later Nash Castro penned a letter to Laurence Rockefeller dated August 26, 1982.  In the correspondence Castro tells Rockefeller, “I think his [Chapman Kelley's] statistics are rather impressive.”

     As a result of my LBJ Ranch presentation and Nash Castro's "middleman" role to help resolve Laurence Rockefeller's concern, everyone was delighted to learn that Laurence promised to make a donation to the NWRC of somewhere in the $250,000 range; Margaret McDermott contributed $25,000.
     Realizing that my use of a new medium for painting, that of using wildflowers, coupled with its massive water-saving properties constituted a major arts/science breakthrough and with just 40 days remaining until the official opening of the NWRC, Lady Bird Johnson penned a letter to me dated November 12, 1982.  "You are the real pioneer!" she hand-wrote at the end of her two-page letter.

     On December 21, 1982, the evening before the NWRC opening, Candice Land, Bonnie Leslie and my spouse Joan accompanied me for an event with the NWRC's board of directors. The event was organized, sponsored and paid in full by yours truly.   Lady Bird was scheduled to attend.  She was a no show.
     The NWRC's official opening date was by design December 22, which marked Lady Bird's 70th birthday. One NWRC board member who attended was socialite Bonnie Swearingen, wife of oil tycoon John. Bonnie and I became friends as a result of her attending my art classes in 1962 in Corpus Christi and where my work was shown at the Centennial Museum. She and John became collectors of my work.  They convinced Joan and me go up to Chicago for several fundraisers, across some years, at the Chicago chapter of the Boys and Girls Club they were supporting.  I contributed some paintings to the events. In the fall of 1977 I was the Swearingen's guest and through them I met Chicago mayor Michael Bilandic for the first time.  That trip evolved into a press interview about the Wildflower Works. All of this happened a solid five years before the establishment of the NWRC.
     After the birthday party for Lady Bird, Bonnie and John came to our suite to see my slide show which included the Dallas Museum of Natural History Wildflower Works and that showed the obvious progress through 1977.  It was on this occasion that both of them invited me to come to Chicago to do a great work!
     The morning after the opening, December 23, 1982, I learned that a superintendent with the Dallas Parks and Recreation had been added, at the last minute, to the NWRC board of directors and executive committee. Alarmed at the unscheduled and unannounced change, I phoned art collector Olga Hirshhorn for advice.  She told me to get an explanation from Lady Bird.  I immediately scheduled a meeting with her.   Instead it turned out to be a meeting held much later, probably the following month, and surprisingly only with Lady Bird’s accountant and a lawyer.  That was certainly irregular and twice that I know of that Lady Bird had skipped out of a commitment.  At some point I took parliamentarian Mary Jo Shotts with me to one of the NWRC executive committee meetings; she was to furnish advice on meeting protocol.
     Much to my surprise I Iearned from Texas Highway Department of Transportation landscape architect Craig Steffans that Lady Bird had spoken with Dallas arts patron Margaret McDermott.  Steffans conveyed to me that McDermott had told Lady Bird that I had sued "her" (McDermott's) museum, the Dallas Museum of Fine Art.  McDermott was referring to the 1975 class action lawsuit that advocated for Dallas' public interest---an interest which unfortunately had no prior legal representation---as part of the disputed Virginia Lazenby O'Hara $4.5 million in Dr. Pepper stock shares bequest to the Foundation for the Arts (an ongoing private entity) and the DMFA.  I feared that McDermott’s talk with Lady Bird had infected her with the blacklist and that Lady Bird and her cohorts would  seek to eliminate me from the NWRC project.  That would leave only one person to get credit for my "big idea" of 1976, i.e. the Wildflower Works:  Lady Bird Johnson.  And I'm sure that McDermott desperately didn't want me to continue receiving credit for this important arts and science solution to the world's greatest future problem: managing the water supply. As evidence of McDermott taking an adversarial position against Dallas' public interest, at one NWRC executive meeting I played the audiotape for Lady Bird's lawyer and accountant of the Dallas City Council hearings of the contested Virginia Lazenby O'Hara $4.5 million bequest involving the DMFA; they heard McDermott's testimony. (The audiotape hotlink and narrative is accessible here in the last paragraph of art historian Sam Blain's Dallas Art History Blog.)
     Within days of the NWRC opening ceremonies I learned that it had been decided for NWRC to instead become a clearinghouse to publish the results of others' research without NWRC actually incurring the expense and risk of doing the hands-on work.  I suspected that a ruse had taken place not unlike the classical bait and switch ploy and that the hard research work would never get done.  
     The NWRC was originally to be located in East Texas where Lady Bird had lived as a child. It was never made public as to why the NWRC original site got switched to Austin suffice to say the new site was located under Lady Bird's radio station towers and on land unusable for almost anything else.  The new NWRC site was most likely used to favorable advantage on Lady Bird's federal income tax return.
     At some point Lady Bird and I were invited to jointly give a Wildflower Works presentation in Louisiana, we accepted--but instead of keeping the commitment she sent a staff person as a replacement.
     Since the purpose of the NWRC sprung directly from and all about doing the research related to my Wildflower Works concept, during one executive committee meeting I brought up the fact that a current NWRC board member had ordered the Dallas Museum of Natural History/Wildflower Works be destroyed despite having a written agreement to the contrary.  Board member Nash Castro responded by saying members could not discuss other member's business.  The board member ended up doing a stint in prison for unlawful sexual behavior while in a Dallas public park men's room.  The scandal was reported by the Dallas newspapers.  I felt that I had hit the proverbial stone wall and so I had architect Peter Block pick me up from the meeting.  I declined a lunch invitation from Lady Bird and never returned to another NWRC committee meeting.
     In the spring of 1983 the Allen's and I were at the LBJ Ranch for a barbeque where Nash Castro, then-President of the NWRC asked Dr. Allen for his resignation.  Of course Allen was now expendable to NWRC, but that freed him up to work with me on the Chicago Wildflower Works, hurrah!  Allen was a retired Texas A&M professor so the lost income meant little to him.  Being such a kind and conscientious person, Allen would not have engaged in double-dipping anyway.
     So the initial aim of the National Wildflower Research Center was to provide the scientific support for what range scientist Thomas Jefferson Allen described as a new vegetative management system based on my Wildflower Works concept.  The millions of dollars raised for the NWRC were expected to be used for research.  That is how the project was advertised and planned.  Everyone I knew expected that Lady Bird's name would eventually be incorporated into the Center's name, but why in the world would "research" be dropped from it?  What happened?  Had the NWRC's mission changed so radically? Had Lady Bird and her handlers schemed behind the scenes to create an organization using my "big idea" to raise lots of funds, then change the entity's name, and eventually establish a memorial called Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center?  Or had the Internal Revenue Service intervened after receiving a tip that no research or publication of such was forthcoming in NWRC’s new role as a clearinghouse?  The IRS may have asked the NWRC for evidence of plant research, and having not gotten any, forced the Center to amend its name to reflect reality:  the gross lack of research activity.  By shifting the purpose and focus of the NWRC did Lady Bird and her minions dupe Laurence S. Rockefeller, his wife Mary, Margaret McDermott and all of the other initial contributors out of their donated cash?


     These memoirs are a work in progress. Please submit information you may have to refresh my memory.  

Note:  With the exception of the news media images, all of the above is my copyrighted material, all rights reserved.  Permission for use will be considered upon written request.  Blog comments are encouraged, the use of actual full names is strongly recommended, as are affiliations with organizations.

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