Friday, January 30, 2015


In several of the past blogs on Island life, I have mentioned HENRY DELBERT HOFFMAN, who was a much revered man, know for his humor, simple life and generosity.

He was born on September 28, 1929 in Seattle, Washington, the only child of Delbert and Helen (Coleman) Hoffman of Shaw Island.

At the age of two, the family returned to their home on Hix Bay where Henry spent most of his life until 2010, except for time he served in the U.S. Army and his college years at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, where he graduated in 1962 with a B.S. Degree in Business Administration.

Though Henry was born just before the Depression, he says his family was never hungry. They raised plenty to eat, with livestock such as steer, milk cows, chickens, ducks and turkeys as well as vegetable crops. Fishing and trading with the native Indians supplemented the food shelves.

Henry was a fifth-generation Shaw Island resident, who worked as a farmer, gillnetter and carpenter. As we said in a previous blog, he ran a sawmill and rented heavy equipment for his cousin’s earth-moving business and squirreled away scrap metal “I’m a scrap metal pack rat.” He built four homes on Hix Bay, named after his great-great-grandfather. The cove “next door” is named after Hoffman’s grandfather, who came to the San Juans from Ohio when he changed his occupation from accountant to boat-builder in order to save his eyesight.

Henry remembers being lonely as a teenager on Shaw. “Instead of dating I would hunt rats in a neighbor’s hen-house, but it’s not as satisfying as going out with a girl,” he once said with his typical tongue-in-cheek humor. In college he met Marlyn, his wife of 51 years.

Family history was important to Henry and his interest in writing began with creative writing courses taught by Janet Thomas. Henry took her memoir-writing class and “Henry’s Stories” was really intended for the family so the kids wouldn’t lose the stories. At local meetings we loved to hear Henry tell old tales- he was our local Garrison Keillor. His book about growing up and living on Shaw Island is heartwarming and humorous,  written with the wit and wisdom only an early pioneer family member can have. It's an island treasure.

His stories are replete with do-it-yourself instructions describing how to build a trailer from a Model A car, retool a car horn motor to fit a wood lathe, fish from spar buoys, and build small explosives, as well as retrofit a hand gun. “Recycling is nothing new, and it came in handy during the war years,” he once said.

In his book, Henry described “the Olden Days” on Shaw of subsistence farming, including hunting and butchering, raising lifestock and going to dances at the Grange where the women talked about kids and babies and men talked about raising chickens. While a different era now Henry said: it’s still the same community spirit and caring... it’s a little friendlier now and work is better than it used to be

Henry's favorite pastime was getting out in the boat and beach-combing – a love he inherited from his father and uncle. The materials he used in building his houses were from things he found nearby: fir framework from the old ferry landing dolphins, cedar for paneling and spruce logs for ceiling timbers. “You could get good logs in those days.”

Henry and Marlyn raised three children on Shaw and all of their grandchildren were born here. About seven years ago we lost the whole family, as the farm that has been in the family for over 120 years was sold.   Over the years, he served on the Shaw Island Community Organization  and as a Fire Commissioner.. With Marlyn he also sang bass in Mother Kateri’s wonderful group in the 90’s.

Henry died in Anacortes in 2011 of pancreatic cancer but he left this island with a legacy of one who possessed wonderful smiles, the love of story-telling, a generous heart, and a humble faith in God. He was laid to rest on his beloved Shaw Island.

Henry's book can be found at the Shaw Store.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


In our previous blog on the Shaw  Library we mentioned that MALCOLM CAMERON and his wife Babs donated the land for the library, but there is more to this man then just his generosity to the island. Malcolm P. Cameron was born in Los Angeles in 1902 and died in 1975. As we said in the last blog, Malcolm Cameron donated his services as an architect to design the island library.

Return to Yellow Island
After graduating from Cornell University in architecture he practiced his profession as well as drypoint and lithography in New York and Los Angeles. This was followed by lithography, book illustration and sculpture in San Diego County. The unifying thread throughout his life has been drawing, for it was practiced in his various professional pursuits as well as purely for the joy of it.
His career was broadened with travels to Europe, Mexico, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia.

In 1962 he and Babs (Margaret) moved to Shaw Island.* "From the time of their arrival, Malcolm was fascinated with the quality of light and atmosphere in this area. The low keyed values, the soft edges of forms, the moods from gay to somber were all so different from Mexico, the Malacca Straits and the Mediterranean. A new challenge was presented, that of catching and recording this particular quality of light and it took four years of living among these islands to gain full awareness of their serenity. This element of serenity so rare in today's hectic world presented an obligation to state, that together with the shocking, the ugly and the violent, this too exists. After much time and many studies he then offered this folio of twelve drawings which represent his own feeling of the mood of the islands."

“The subject matter of these drawings is largely in the San Juan Archipelago with others in Canadian waters. Whether of broad sweep of island seascape, the solid masses of dark forest edging prismatic cliffs, or the quiet dignity of a single tree, the mood and essence have been the ever-sought priceless ingredient. The drawings are not literal nor are they realism in the sense of painstaking delineation of from and texture of physical objects. Rather, the hope and intent is that they be truthful and real in expressing the feeling of these inland seas.”
(Darvill’s Rare Prints- Orcas Island)

Blind Island Abandoned
Scattered around the island one can glimpse a few of these lovely art works: in the Library, at the Community and once in awhile in someone’s home.  About 20 years ago I was cleaning out a closet in the monastery which had paintings and blueprints from the original building (now monastery).  I came across a sort of portfolio made of a lovely, light wood, perhaps 22x30 inches, tied with a thin leather strap. 

Before I even opened the case I was sure I had made a great discovery and was fairly certain what it was. To this day I have not a clue why this feeling came over me. It was a  complete set (minus the “Reefnetters”) of Malcolm’s drawings.

Several I have never seen anywhere else are of Henry Hoffman's lumber mill here on Shaw.  Significant to us, as Henry did many odd jobs for us over the years and when we built our new chapel in 1997 he milled the wood for the beams inside and the lumber for the outside-  his last big job on Shaw.

Straits Island

*In her own right, Babs was a very talented sculptor.  Her "Seal"  rests in our Chapel Japanese garden and we have a collection of her angels- which Islanders "fight"over when on the market.
Seal Sculpture in Monastery Chapel Garden
Bab's Angels- with lamb & violin

Friday, January 16, 2015


I have a special place in my heart for our island library & museum.  First of all I am a voracious reader and secondly I served on the Library board for 5 years at one point. Because our library is owned by the island and not in the public system, we do not have the usual "junk" but wonderful books.  Our librarians are all volunteers, including the head librarian.  I wish I was a child again to read all the children's books - I have been known to take some out...

The origins of the library go back to the late 1950s when Mabel Crawford worked at the Shaw Store. Mabel loved books and wanted to share them with others, so she dedicated a shelf at the store to books that people could borrow.

When Gwen and Don Yansen sold the store, the books moved to the home of Mabel's brother, Frank Fowler, and his wife, Elsie. Frank built book cases and Elsie served as librarian. But people didn't feel free using a private home as a library and decided a separate building was needed.

The Shaw Island and Historical Society was incorporated in 1966. In the summer of 1967, several islanders, including Babs and Malcolm Cameron and Zora Gross bought one-acre parcels kitty-corner from the school and donated the land to the society. Malcolm Cameron, an architect, donated his services to design the library and Zora donated the log cabin, part of which had been the island's post office, which became the museum. Henry Hoffman and his uncle, Loyal Hoffman, finished the work in the summer of 1970 and the library and museum were formally opened Aug. 22, 1970. More on Henry in another blog.

The first addition to the library--the children's library--was opened in 1985. The back building, which provides work and storage space for the library and historical society volunteers and is linked to the main library by a breezeway, was completed in 2003. All three projects were undertaken by longtime Shaw Islander Skip Bold.

Museum- with reefnet boat replica
Currently: The library and museum have about 2,000 visitors each year. They check out approximately 1,200 books and an equal number of videos. The library also has a selection of magazines and local newspapers, a copier and a computer with internet access available to all members.

The Shaw Island Library and Historical Society generates all its operating funds from donations and relies heavily on volunteers in order to provide its services, making it one of the last such organizations in the state. Since we have so many avid readers on the island many of the books are donated by them. So there is some high quality literature by authors from across the globe.

Yearly the Library invites a renowned speaker. This past summer we had Bryan Payton, author of "The Wind is Not a River". We have teas, poetry readings and other fun events, including an annual book sale and ice cream social.  Books and ice cream?  doesn't get any better!

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Into the New Year I thought I would do a few blogs on our Island life- past and present.

When I came to Shaw Island, almost 30 years ago, our island school was one room with one teacher, K thru 8 grades. One of my first outings on the island was to the 8th grade graduation. I was seated next to one of the graduating boys and was impressed with his ability to talk to a strange adult with such ease. I was to find he was not unique for island kids.

The little red school on Shaw has been in continuous use since it was built in 1890 and is the longest- running school in the state. The building is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.  The current building was the second school house on the Island. The first, a small log cabin, was only open for a short period of time before it was replaced by the current building. That old building sits in deep woods slowly rotting away- soon to be part of the earth.

Today our school community consists of two classrooms - one for our kindergarteners through fourth graders, and one with our fifth through eighth graders. Over the years the classes have ranged from two to 35 students. At present there are 14 students.  Last year there were 22.

As far as I am concerned the kids get one of the best educations in the country, mainly due to the many islanders willing to pitch in and offer outside activities.  Unlike many areas of our country the arts have not been cut, so they have weekly music, poetry, writing and art.  Scientists visit and give courses in everything from geology to chemistry to marine biology. Due to the small number there are not competitive sports but I have known kids who could drive a boat before they could drive a car. And they always top the charts for national contests. For the most part they use their imagination in their school work and play... so lacking in education today! And it also helps that the parents here care deeply that their children are educated in more than the 3Rs.

Sunday, January 4, 2015


Shaw Island Landing- Cindy Margritz
This winter has been a strange one in the history of our small isolated island. Last winter, for the first time in anyone's memory the store closed for the winter.  This fall we lost our postmaster (and the store is still closed for winter months). This means our two daily places to meet are either closed or limited. We have been desperate: one woman parked her RV in front of store/postoffice and invited people to come in for cookies and hot chocolate and game night has now started on Thursday evenings. We celebrated Howard's 90th birthday in December and over 100 people showed up- not only for Howard but to see one another!  On top of our local woes the powers to be have decided to put all ferries on a reservation system- which means those of us with no bridges are... well, you get the picture! One wonders what next will happen.

The history of Shaw Island storekeepers stretches back to 1898 when Gene and Sadie Hoffman Fowler sold food and supplies from their house.  In 1924 they built the store at its present site, on the water’s edge. In the early days, feed (for the many island chicken farms) and building supplies for Shaw and other islands were an important part of the store trade.

The Fowlers’ daughter, Mabel Crawford, ran the store from 1924 to the mid-1950s. Darrel Fowler was the next storekeeper. He was born in 1929 to Frank (born in 1900 on Shaw to Gene and Sadie) and Jessie Rice Fowler. Darrel’s brother, Wayne, still owns land on Shaw. A large part of Darrel’s trade was in chicken feed. He would bring in two longbed trucks full of feed twice a week.

The warehouse, adjacent to the store, was originally a cannery built for the Shaw Island Canning Company in 1912. The cannery processed salmon and produce from local farms. Later, the building was used for boat building, as well as sales of feed and lumber for the store.

In 1958 after many years in the Fowler family, the store was sold to a succession of owners. The Yansen, Leidig, and Nichols families each ran the store for a number of years. When we first arrived on Shaw, John and Geb Nichols casually ran things. One would grab supplies and if they were not around, just deposit money in a box.

Mother Kateri at ferry ramp
In 1976 the Franciscan Sisters purchased the store and ran the ferry dock. The “Nuns” were famous for meeting the ferry in their brown habits and greeting people at the store. They named the store "Little Portion" after the Italian church Portiuncula, meaning "a little portion [of the earth]," where St. Francis of Assisi lived and died. For a generation the sisters ran the store putting in long days meeting ferries at the terminal. They maintained a chapel near the dock and welcomed many people to Shaw. They continued to serve the Shaw Island community for 27 years and then sold the property to the present owners, Steve and Terri Mason. Over time the owners and the kinds of items for sale have changed but the store has always been the central hub of Shaw Island life.

Our small store is one of the oldest businesses in the San Juan Islands and indeed in Washington State.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


When the Magi came in search of Jesus, they go to Herod the Great in Jerusalem and ask where to find the newborn "King of the Jews". Herod becomes paranoid that the Child will threaten his throne, and seeks to kill Him . Herod initiates the Massacre of the Innocents in hopes of killing the Child (Matthew 2:16). But an angel appears to Joseph and warns Joseph to take Jesus and his mother into Egypt (Matthew 2:13).


Egypt was a logical place to find refuge, as it was outside the dominions of King Herod, but both Egypt and Palestine were part of the Roman Empire, linked by a coastal road known as "the way of the sea", making travel between them easy and relatively safe.

Interesting to note the Flight into Egypt is one of the listed Seven Sorrows of Mary.

At Al-Maṭariyyah, then in Heliopolis and now part of Cairo, there is a sycamore tree (and adjacent chapel) that is a 1672 planting replacing an earlier tree under which Mary was said to have rested, or in some versions hidden from pursuers in the hollow trunk, while pious spiders covered the entrance with dense webs.

The Flight into Egypt was a popular subject in art, showing Mary with the baby on a donkey, led by Joseph, borrowing the older iconography of the rare Byzantine Journey to Bethlehem. Before 1525, it usually formed part of a larger cycle, whether of the Nativity, or the Life of Christ or Life of the Virgin. After paintings of the Nativity of Jesus, the Flight is the most popular subjects in the life of the Christ Child.

The artist of these painting is one of my new favorites and to me conveys the mystery of this feast in a way words cannot.  His use of colors in his art is vivid and wondrous.

Jean-Marie Pirot known as ARCABAS, a name given by his pupils, is a French contemporary sacred artist. Born in  Tremery, France in 1926, he moved to Canada in 1969, where he was appointed guest artist by the Canadian government, and was a professor of the University of Ottawa. In 1972 he moved back to France  and founded the atelier Éloge de la Main. Since 1986, he lives and works in St Pierre de Chartreuse, near Grenoble. His works are usually inspired by stories of the Bible. Of himself and his work he says:

"I took to calling myself a painter and it is a fact that I paint ten hours a day, two hundred and fifty days a year. The hundred or so remaining days are given over to wanderings, distress and the obstinate search for a "consciousness of being", suddenly lost and without which nothing is possible, especially not the passionate and often hazardous creation of those sorts of mirrors that we call works of art.

Let's say that any clear-sighted person is revealed in their thoughts and actions which, like a mirror, reflect back their own image, revealing their true selves. In this regard, a work of art provides a good example: as a mirror for its creator, it has the further faculty of revealing in a discreet but sure way, the whole creation.

Joseph's Dream (take the Mother & Child)

Days without inspiration are dark ones. They remind us constantly, as the author of Ecclesiastes does, that all is dust and returns to dust. This very fact kills all forms of joy and hope. But on a closer look, this reality hides another axiomatic one: this cosmic dust, more or less coagulated and assembled in diverse forms, holds in its inmost being the Spirit of the Universe. Docile and friendly, this divine medium can be led astray, separated and made diabolical. But, captured in its innate unity, it bears the phosphorescent clarity of meaning and flows, thus enriched, like an incandescent river towards a greater destiny, a new form in the Creation.
This is, par excellence, the raw material, made of Earth and Heaven, that is used by artists, these frank and open imitators, to whom, for sure, God grants His smile and His tenderness."