He said it started with a train ride to buy a harp at the turn of the 20th century.
Jerry May’s father made young Jerry wait until he was 10 years old to learn to play the accordion. Begging since the age of seven, his dad wanted to be sure his eldest son “knew the value of his music” and would not give up on it. But Jerry would never give up.
Music was in his blood. From Jerry's grandfather taking the Burlington railroad into Chicago to purchase a Chicago Harp to his mother and eventually his siblings each playing piano, music was an ever-present part of Jerry’s life.
The accordion by design is a lonely instrument. With the keyboard on the right and bass on the left, you are your own accompaniment. But you don’t have to be. By the time Jerry was 13, he was taking his 12 bass accordion to accompany his twin sisters who would sing at events in town. Jerry recalled the amazing payment they received after playing for the local fire department where their dad volunteered - a pizza dinner! This was the early 1950s and pizza was just getting its start. He delighted in the novel treat.
Fast forward to Jerry’s senior year at the Marmion Military Academy, a local Catholic high school, when he joined the school’s professional band as the only accordion among largely classic brass musicians. He was inspired and upon graduation he and a friend started a band named the Mello Tones.
For the next 40 years, the band—which also included tenor sax, alto, clarinet, drums, and a bass—played classic dance tunes, including polkas, waltzes, and period classics from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, at weddings, clubs, private events and parties, riffing off each other, and loving life. Jerry led the band with a singular mission after all — making people happy.
About 20 years ago Jerry shifted his music back to his family’s German roots. He formed a new band, Jerry’s Happy Wanderers, and with lederhosen, a pinned fedora, and a collection of over 30 German songs the now seasoned musician found his dance card fully booked with requests to play Oktoberfests, pubs, and special events throughout the US and Europe. He was now only one of a few remaining accordion players in the 80,000 strong American Federation of Musicians and the only one playing German music.
Jerry is now in his 80s and intends to retire from professional music at the end of this year. We suspect you may still find him in one-man shows at the request of his family, like the snippet above from his recent gig at Two Brothers. His 60 years have brought him as much joy as the merriment he has inspired. From state fairs and festivals, river cruises and clubs, and even those sparkly Chicago high rises, Jerry has brought what is becoming a lost art to many and become one of its keepers along the way.
We close with a tantalizing surprise. Artifcts from Jerry’s extended private collection, which includes accordions that came into Jerry’s life from those who play no more.
Shortly after the launch of Artifcts, I was introduced to Steven Fuhrman, Business Manager of Didlake Imaging. Steven and I immediately connected over a shared mission, helping individuals, families, and corporations preserve pieces of “their” story. Be it family wedding photos from generations gone by to historic maps, documents, and other physical pieces of paper that help shed a light on who we are, and where we’ve been.
Steven and I also bonded over our respective privacy first mindsets. It’s not often you find someone who goes the extra mile to help people protect their own privacy. I had an ear-to-ear grin as I listened to Steven describe in detail the steps he and his team take to preserve people’s privacy when handling their most sensitive and cherished objects.
Two months and several conversations later, I had the pleasure of taking a tour of Didlake’s Manassas, VA digital imaging lab, and sitting down with Steven and Valerie Spencer, Director of Business Development, for an interview/extended conversation.
Seeing that we at Artifcts get asked from time to time, “what should I do with this box of old photos,” we thought we’d share our conversation with our ARTI Community. But before I do, one more comment: their facility is amazing. First, it is spotless. Paper generates a LOT of dust, and you would never know it by touring the Didlake facility. Second, they take security to heart. From cell phone lock boxes to security cameras. No stone was left unturned when planning the security footprint of the facility.
Having said that, on to the interview!
Heather Nickerson: Didlake has a fascinating, decades long corporate history as a non-profit. What prompted you to get into the digitization business?
Valerie Spencer: Didlake’s mission is to create opportunities that enrich the lives of people with disabilities. (Editor’s Note: Didlake prides itself on hiring local individuals with disabilities for a variety of jobs, such as photo scanning.) The management team at the time saw an opportunity with the Coast Guard to digitize large format drawings leveraging our past experience digitizing microfilm. Our first major investment was a large format scanner, a requirement for this project. Once we could demonstrate our success with large format, we could easily do other, less complex formats. Given our government contracting background, we pursued other large format and traditional digitization projects, including one with an airport. This then led us into the mass digitization market.
Heather: Tell us about the clients you typically take on.
Valerie: There is no typical project or typical client! Really, we work with anyone who has paper, anyone who has photos, maps, documents, student files, etc. We saw a need to support people cleaning out their homes during the pandemic and the holidays, prompting us to invest in specialty photo scanning equipment and to make improvements to our webpage.
Heather: Any surprises or heart-warming stories from over the years?
Steven Fuhrman: Our goal is to never turn anyone away. Most people send us boxes of photos, but no job is too small. One customer sought us out in the middle of the pandemic. He had lost his dog, and he only had three or four really good photos of the dog. He asked if we would digitize them for him as a way to memorialize his pet. Since it was in the middle of COVID, we did it for him while he waited in his car. It brought tears to his eyes knowing the photos would be preserved for years to come.
Another story that comes to mind is that one of our clients is an owner of an art gallery. She had recently discovered a box of letters that her father had wrote home to his family during the Vietnam War. She wanted to preserve the letters and his story. Our team handled the letters very carefully, taking them out of their original envelopes, digitizing them, and returning them to their original envelopes and safely storing/returning them. We were honored that she trusted us enough with those family treasures. You don’t just hand something like that over to anyone. We wanted to make someone’s life better and help preserve that piece of family history.
Heather: I can imagine you are dealing with people’s most cherished artifacts. What do you tell clients to reassure them that their items will be safe with you?
Valerie: We have a stellar reputation and have built up a lot of trust over the years. If the U.S. government trusts us with its most important documents, that says something. We also reassure clients that all our employees have background checks and have signed confidentiality agreements. We also franchise three The UPS stores and are experts in shipping and packaging; we know how to protect items in transit.
Heather: Not every digitization company has a state-of-the-art, secure facility. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Valerie: Security is really important to us so we chose a location in a professional business park occupied by other county service providers. We utilize security cameras to track entry from the exterior and access control systems to permit access to sensitive internal areas. Our storage facility is dual climate controlled, and we use a secure cloud server for our digital services. We have invested in the security infrastructure to make sure people feel safe sending us their items.
Heather: You know the story of Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients?
Valerie: Artifcts is a natural complement to what we do at Didlake. We’re both preserving items in a digital manner and making it accessible and easy for people to share their memories. We all like to tell stories, and Artifcts lets the user tell the story.
If you are looking for someone to help digitize your old photos, documents, maps, and more, contact Steven at Steve@DidlakeImaging.com.
We had a five-alarm house fire one Saturday afternoon in January when I was in the second grade. My parents sent us down to the neighbor’s house for our safety (and to get us out of the way, I’m sure). Our loyal golden retriever did not get the memo and kept busting into the house to try and rescue us only to be escorted out by the firefighters.
We could easily have lost everything. Had my grandfather not arrived when he did for a visit, and had my brother not been so excited to show him some new football cards he’d gotten, my brother never would have discovered his room full of smoke in time to save the house from the fire that was creeping through the walls after the chimney cracked. Even as it was, my father called 911 and hung up thinking maybe it wasn’t a big deal, before relenting and calling again. It was at that point my mom took the now fabled Black Forest Soup she was cooking for dinner off the stove. Dinner canceled.
We were lucky. Our family was displaced for about three months while they tore out the errant fireplace and chimney from our more than 100-year-old farmhouse (shown above)—notably, the original fireplace and chimney are still there, this was the newer one.
We had to rebuild most of our living room and my siblings’ bedrooms in addition to having everything from the walls and floors to textiles and toys professionally cleaned to get the smoke stains and smell out. Curtains, clothing, blankets, my mom’s wedding gown – bags and bags of stuff carried out for cleaning.
I don’t think my siblings and I got to take anything out of the house with us that day. But my mom had boxes of family photos. I remember seeing the blue photo box with the white lid. The rest was left to the whims of the fire.
Now I look around my adult home and think, if the house were on fire and we were all (humans and pets) out safe, what would I take out if I had time? I use this thought process to Artifct sometimes – making sure that in the worst case, I have the memory captured, and in best case, I have a record I can turn over to my homeowner's insurance agent for replacement of the (at least somewhat) replaceable items. I have even moved some items not on display or active use to airtight bins like home organization professionals advocate in case that would save them in a fire like the one I experienced as a child. Smoke and water were the primary sources of loss.
I asked my neighbor, Westlake Fire Chief David Wilson, about his experience with families in similar situations. "They don’t usually come out carrying stuff,” he told me. With the fire crew taking over the scene, families make requests of the firefighters to rescue sentimental items, like a painting in a study, a blanket from a bed, an heirloom gun from a safe, or photos from a closet. He added, “We want people to be prepared, though." You should know what you'd save and where it is located.
As you prepare for the chilly fall and winter days and nights ahead, complete the home maintenance required to keep you, your loved ones, and your home safe. Use common sense too and avoid setting up fire traps with unattended candles, hot-burning lights, poorly screened fires, or even ill-placed (seemingly benign) glass objects that can act as sun magnifiers; we do after all live in a flammable world. Don't forget to Artifct those most precious items.
Here are a few non-profit resources we found with great tactical information, planning resources, safety equipment tips, and even after-fire help guides.
An actress by profession, Diane (Di) Fowler appreciates the fine arts. Today she discusses with Artifcts the legacy of her late husband, celebrated artist and master sculptor Bob Fowler, whose career as a sculptor launched in 1963 and continued until his death in 2010. His works span form—metal sculptures, jewelry, and mixed media—and continents, from private commissions to installations and shows at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., Fabien Galleries in Paris, France, Museum of Art in Trieste, Italy, and the Woburn Abbey, England. Keep reading to learn more about the Artifcts of his work and Di's efforts to preserve his legacy and reissue some of his individual sterling silver jewelry pieces.
Since the passing of Bob Fowler over a decade ago, his widow Diane (Di) Fowler has sought to ensure his legacy lives on beyond his exhibited works, and as it turns out, she has the means to do so: the original molds he used to produce his sterling silver jewelry series. (And a few etchings and paintings tucked away biding time for a future reveal.)
Di and I met one afternoon at the EmilyAnn Theatre and Gardens in Wimberley, Texas, where she volunteers on the grounds and helps young actors with their art, having spent years on community stages herself. Di has a love for the Wimberley community that leads her out day after day to contribute her passions and experience. But today we met to talk about her late husband Bob Fowler.
Di brought out a binder for me that contained only a select few of Bob's commissions. Paging through, she was jubilant in her descriptions of the works, talking animatedly about his design of two larger than life metal works for the Houston Zoo. You may have seen them if you’ve visited. The full-size African elephant welcomes visitors at the Zoo’s front entrance. The second piece is a gorilla, standing tall at the entrance to the Gorilla House.
These grand scale sculptures were Bob’s passion, pushing boundaries to capture the energy of the subject while also bringing his academic background to play in his rigorous research to create the original concepts. This same research shines in the factual, impassioned, and sometimes humorous descriptions behind each of his jewelry pieces.
We set the binder aside as Di brought out a display case with 100s of sterling silver- and gold-plated jewelry pendants ranging from one inch to nearly three inches in size. Bob began designing these pieces in the early 1990s, each capturing the animated likeness of endangered and protected animal species from around the world. Magically, the miniatures somehow convey the same energy as seen in Bob’s large steel sculptures.
Created first in wax before being cast in molds, the intricacy of each piece and the personality captured shows Bob’s mastery of the wax art. Pairing the wax design method with Bob’s methodical research, each species carries with it a short description, a few of which seem prophetic.
For example, of the Costa Rican Climber (pictured below), Bob’s research spoke about the symbiosis of its survival with the state of world environmental affairs, quoting an unnamed scientist, “When jungles of Central and South America disappear and virus carrying insects have to find new breeding grounds, civilization will be exposed to exotic animal viruses that will make AIDS look like the common cold.”
These charms may not be the best known of Bob Fowler’s works, but they remind us of the care we all need to take to protect our world’s ecosystems while also sending his legacy onward through us all. Di told me she has begun seeking out a metals artist to pick up Bob’s work and bring the pendants to a new global audience. Select and view any of these pieces for a quick-witted education into the world of endangered species from the voice of Bob Fowler.
If you’re interested in learning more about Bob Fowler’s work or in purchasing a piece, you may contact Diane Fowler directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of Bob’s other works are also currently available for purchase through 1stDibs.
Columbus Day is upon us, once more evoking questions about US heritage and how we choose to honor those who contributed to our national heritage. Today more awareness exists about Columbus’ dark history and in several US states and cities Indigenous People’s Day has been created to honor the indigenous history and future of the United States. You’re not here for a history lesson (and we’re not qualified to provide it in this case), but if you’d like to learn more, History.com offers a brief primer on Columbus Day.
What we can offer is the first of a series of modern and ancient indigenous Artifcts, with useful details about their origins, the concepts and people portrayed, and how and why they were made. As always, we started local, turning to a holy man of Cherokee and Apache heritage and resident of Corpus Christi, Texas, to learn more about indigenous Artifcts he’s been honored with.
Growing up in Wisconsin farm country, kids would find arrowheads in creek beds and freshly plowed fields. It was not an unusual occurrence in the least, but still special enough to create excitement. Only in preparing this ARTIcle did I learn that indigenous people who come across these artifacts leave the artifacts in place, sprinkle tobacco (“the ancient one,” the oldest of herbals) onto the artifact in blessing, and move on. In modern times, outside of reservation and national park lands, leaving an arrowhead in place would not likely be possible. The better course in these situations is to contact the nearest tribe and share the discovery with them so that they can manage the artifact.
I share this to emphasize that while a child’s choice to remove an artifact as a treasure is in no way malicious, the act fails to honor the spirit and history of the artifact. Picking up that theme of honoring our past, today we are privileged to share with you two Artifcts from the collection of Larry Running Turtle Salazar.
In my first 30-minute discussion with Running Turtle I must have encountered themes across a dozen topics I wanted to explore about his life and learnings. His casual discussion of his self-described 10-year-pilgrimage into Tibetan Buddhism, including a meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Plum Village Monastery in southern France … via an introduction facilitated by Steven Segal … who Running Turtle had studied aikido, his 4th and final blackbelt, with back in the 90s … is an example of the tangents we found ourselves on and that I wished we could explore further. But today, let’s focus on Artifcts!
Don’t tease me. Show me the Artifcts >
Running Turtle describes himself in part as a wisdom seeker. (In part? He is human after all and lives many realities: artist, healer, parent, entrepreneur, neighbor, author, and so many more.) Through sharing these Artifcts, opening his ceremonies to non-indigenous people, sharing his artistry, he provides us the opportunity to be wisdom seekers, helping to bring rest and truth about the past and future of the indigenous people of the United States.
Let’s start with the old. The first Artifct is a bust of an indigenous man molded in clay by Running Turtle himself when he was 14 or 15 years old. In this artistic rendering, the indigenous man is crowned with a golden eagle feather war bonnet that is approximately 95 years old. The necklace and pedestal carry with them much longer histories. Read on.
Modern monument from a master. The second Artifct is also a bust, but this one was created by internationally known sculptor and bronze artist Dave McGary shortly before his passing in 2013. Read on.
We encourage you to make the choice to learn more about the indigenous people’s history where you live. Or, if traveling in Texas and by luck it’s the last Saturday of the month, be a guest at Running Turtle’s drum circle and experience what may otherwise feel for most of us like lost heritage. Take an active role in preserving history, too, whether it's yours or that of your local community, country, or far-off places in the world.