LINDSBORG ‒ The old enduring structures downtown have long summoned an art and craft in themselves, certain triumphs and flourishes that unspooled even as a building’s first footings were set. Today they are ingrained, stepped over, passed by with rarely a glance: the proud patterns of tiles before a doorway, the ironwork at a threshold, the finery of transom and sash, the stature of great windows in a storefront, and more.
There are treasures inside as well, starting with those sturdy old floors, the perch, and sweep of trim along the walls, the fine flawless imprint of a tin ceiling.
At Designs, the flower and gift store at 103 N. Main, the stencils along the upper interior walls take everything up a notch for their certain thrill. The stencils were discovered 12 years ago, in August 2006, not long after Earl and Janet Gravatt bought The Bouquet Shoppe, as it was known then, from Betsy and Chuck VanGundy.
The Gravatts had begun a remodeling that started by removing a drop ceiling. As the tiles and forms were taken away, the carpenters and the owners noticed vague shapes on the walls above the ceiling line. As light came into the high corners, color and form emerged – the straight stem of what turned out to be an artichoke in an enchanting green, a kind of dark chartreuse; another stem angled horizontally and then straight to the ceiling, bursting into what appeared to be a hibiscus, or a large poppy, in a brilliant deep pink with shades of mauve.
The vibrant art high on the walls was the work – stencils – of Gustav Nathaniel Malm, the Swedish immigrant who became renowned nationally for his artistry as a master painter and his work as a stencilist. (Some of Malm’s work is among dozens of exhibits in “The Creative Spirit,” a celebration of area artists that opened recently at the Smoky Hill Museum in Salina.)
In the Lindsborg store, Malm’s craft rolls along, above the six-inch molding, the sharp horizontal and vertical angles of stems and blossoms, spare and clear, on a pleasant backdrop of original washed burlap.
About the same time the Malm stencils were discovered and more of the false ceiling came down, the store’s original tin ceiling, its arresting patterns, were revealed. The old ceiling, in fine condition, was cleaned and painted. It remains striking today.
Four years ago this month, the Gravatts sold the store to Sherrie Bertrand, who reopened it, revised, as Designs. “Lots of people notice, and compliment the stencils,” said Teresita Deckard, Sherrie’s daughter. “It happens a lot. They love all of it. The stencils are an amazing part of this store and all its history. We let people know when they ask.”
In the early 1900s, the place had been the Berglund Drug Store (the name remains in the small tiles at the entrance) and then Anderson’s, a place preferred by youngsters because of the extra cherry atop ice cream sodas.
G.N. Malm, an artist, entrepreneur, and designer, emigrated to the United States en route to Lindsborg in 1889. The discovery of his stencils was significant because so little of his work in this venue remains.
An aside: Malm, also a celebrated author and editor, found time to design and supervise construction (1904) of the structure known formerly as the Alba Malm Almquist home at Second and Swensson, which has been restored to its former eloquence, and more, by owners Michael J. Fox and Sue Schlegel. It is now known as Seasons of the Fox Bed and Breakfast.
The structure, in what was called a colonial revival style, was actually fashioned by Malm for his close friend, Samuel Thorstenberg of Bethany College, an accomplished singer, professor and choral director.
Malm had experience and training as a master painter and designer and created a distinct decorative system that was adopted and promoted by the nationally known Acme White Lead and Color Works of Detroit (later, Sherwin-Williams).
The stencils at Designs are about the enduring beauty and gladness in art, the simple pleasures in a place, such as looking up to find joy looking back.
The listening tour rarely leads to better hearing
The difference between what citizens say they want, and what legislators say citizens want, has never been further apart. From Topeka to Washington, the disparity grows wider, from topics of gun control and education funding through health care, farm aid, infrastructure and more.
Citizens are talking, but is anyone listening?
The notion that legislators listen is promoted heavily. They return “home” for the occasional tour, or a pep rally thinly disguised as a town hall meeting. And those weekend issues forums can be carefully screened, especially the questions. Legislators’ answers are often talking points scripted at a Policy Institute or other political think tanks.
A listening tour is an event massaged long ago by Pat Roberts, a kind of theater to convince the locals that their man or woman in Washington is carefully tending their interests, a faithful servant who has nothing to do with the wretched state of affairs in the nation’s capital. (Insert “state” for “nation”, “Topeka” for “Washington”; for this topic, they’re interchangeable.)
Listening tours are designed to portray Washington not as it is – a congressman’s home away from home – but as some jagged foreign outpost.
Such an event always includes a monologue, well-heated and half-true, about the terrible log jams, the craven special interests, the sordid political games, the silly codes and strictures of life in Washington (Topeka). This and more is mostly the work of the Other Party, the obstructionists who foil any hope of compromise, of common sense and purpose.
Our man or woman in Washington (Topeka) speaks with such authority that the locals dare not question his version of why things are so terribly wrong and getting worse.
If only we would imagine all the other legislators of all the other districts and other states, each of them on a listening tour, each explaining the terrible log jams, the sordid games, the suffocating strictures of life and work in the Capitol, each blaming the Other Party. Or its people.
Imagine all those fingers pointing this way and that, the locals nodding in sympathy. Then what?
The legislators return to Washington (Topeka), that’s what. They return to the craven special interests, the sordid politics, the ego boosts, the perks and benefits and campaign donations that attracted them in the first place – and keep them there.
Elections put legislators in Washington and Topeka. The listening tour and the issues forum help to make it a round trip, again and again.