I had such and interesting day on Wednesday. After my Art History class, I drove out Darmstadt Road to drop off some photos I had taken back in September. But let me start at the beginning.
Many times I have driven by a large greenhouse on Darmstadt Road. It is no longer in use and has some broken panes of glass. It’s overgrown and so filled with greenery run amok that it seems to overflow through the windows and doors. I stopped one day back in September to ask for permission to photograph the greenhouse and met Emmie Schmidt. She was very gracious and told me that many people have asked to photograph the greenhouse, including several bridal parties who wanted to use it as a backdrop. We chatted for a while and she told me that her husband’s family had grown produce there since 1914. She and her husband retired in 1990 and leased the greenhouse to a rose grower. That business ended after several years when the growers could not compete with low-cost roses imported from Central and South America. Emmie and her husband William decided to demolish the structure and hired someone to do the job. The contractor took their money and never completed the job. They had been in litigation as a result and that had only recently been settled. So, fortunately for me, the greenhouse was still standing. Emmie told me that day that no one had ever brought her photos after getting permission to take them. I promised that I would bring her copies of mine.
I took a number of photos of this wonderful structure that day and ordered prints of many of them and printed some enlargements to give to Emmie and William.
Finally, on Wednesday this week I headed to the house again, determined that Emmie would have pictures. I could tell that they must be home because there were cars in the driveway. I rang the bell and after a considerable pause, Emmie came to the door. I reminded her of my promise to bring her pictures and she invited me in. As we entered her living room I noticed a beautiful quilt on the floor by her chair and commented on it. She had been working on this quilt, she told me, to commemorate their 50th wedding anniversary. It was hand quilted with embroidered quotes all around on the lovely golden yellow fabric of the trim surrounding the patchwork that included fabrics from the many quilts she has made over the years.
William came into the room, and Emmie introduced us. They decided that I needed to see pictures of the greenhouse from its working years. I spent more than an hour with them looking at detailed albums Emmie kept over the years documenting their family business. They grew tomatoes and lettuce in their greenhouse, which ultimately covered one and a half acres, and in the surrounding fields. Each of their scrapbooks documents a year and includes news clippings about weather conditions, photos of the various stages in the growth of the plantings, and statistics about the quantity of produce grown and sold. In 1986, for example, they grew over 40,000 pounds of tomatoes! I saw pictures of William’s family in the early days of the farm as well as photos and clippings showing Emmie and William and their children working on the farm. Emmie also included pictures of tomatoes clipped from various sources. They sold produce to local supermarkets and also had a farm stand selling tomatoes and lettuce to the community. It was fascinating to see the workings of the family business so carefully documented and remembered. They showed me pictures and described the workings of the growing process including how they had to sterilize the soil with steam after each growing season.
At one point, I noticed a painting on the mantel in the room and realized that it was Emmie and William. They were sitting on their porch with a large American flag behind them. It was a 50th anniversary gift, they told me, from their nephew who now lives in British Columbia. The beautiful portrait was created in acrylic paint using a grid technique that was not noticeable until you observed the piece more closely. Their nephew, David Marchant, began painting several years ago after retiring. He paints one square a day. Each is meticulously drawn and painted and the overall effect is very realistic and yet the shading of the colors in each square is just different enough from its surrounding square that the pattern is observable and creates a beautiful graphic effect. They took me into the kitchen to see a print of another painting David had done of a cabbage. It was beautiful! Emmie wrote down a URL for me to his blog, which I visited later that night. It includes pictures of his various paintings, a daily blog he posts, and a link to a video showing him painting a square of one of his canvasses.
Before we leave the story of Emmie and William Schmidt, let me tell you a little more about their home. It is a ranch style house built in the 1960’s after the original white farmhouse was torn down. The kitchen area is large and long with the kitchen at one end and a dining/sitting area on the other. The walls are covered in the original wallpaper from the sixties and adorned much like a salon-type gallery with the patchwork of their lives – photos, all kinds of tomato-related mementos collected over the years, artwork, and other memorabilia. Around the top of the walls surrounding the dining/sitting area is a collection of Royal Copenhagen blue Christmas plates, one for each of the fifty years of their life together. When they were first married, Emmie told me, they had Melmac dishes (if you remember those, you’re as old as I am), and she decided she would have at least one beautiful plate – and thus began the tradition. She showed me this year’s plate, which she had just received and had not yet hung. The plates were particularly special to me because I have several that were gifts to me from Tom and the kids back in the 7o’s. I located my series among those on the east wall. The good news is that there is still lots of space on one of the long walls for them to add many more annual plates.
Finally, as I was preparing to leave, Emmie explained to me why it had taken her so long to answer the door when I rang earlier. She showed me an anniversary gift she had just opened from a friend from church. It was a brass plate engraved with “50th Wedding Anniversary.” Included in the package was a letter describing how the plate had been passed from couple to couple as they celebrated their respective golden anniversaries. As part of their responsibility for the gift, they must pass it on to another couple for their 50th anniversary. Emmie was so touched that she had been crying when the doorbell rang and didn’t want to open the door with tears in her eyes.
December 9, 2011