The donors who made it possible
By Sidney Schuhmann Levesque
On the evening of June 8, the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council will open the newest addition to the Storybook Sculpture Project, the Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden. Thanks to the generosity of many donors, the garden continues to enhance Abilene’s reputation as the Storybook Capital of Texas.
In addition to five sets of storybook character sculptures, the garden has a small stage for outdoor performances and dozens of quotes from storybooks. The garden’s purpose is to inspire families to read and to provide an opportunity for parents to speak to their children about values conveyed through the stories.
The garden is on the grounds of the Abilene Convention Center and its sculptures are based on some of the most famous characters illustrated by Garth Williams: Charlotte and Wilbur from “Charlotte’s Web,” “Stuart Little,” and all the characters from the Little Golden Book “Three Bedtime Stories”- Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Kittens Who Lost their Mittens and The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf.
Hardin-Simmons University art professor Steve Neves created the sculptures, and Abilene Christian University professor Geoff Broderick cast them in bronze. The estate of Garth Williams and the books’ publishers granted permission for the creation of the sculptures. The family of Williams will be in Abilene for the opening festivities.
To celebrate the special role storybooks play in our lives, a 15-foot sculptural “Generation Tree” is at the center of the garden and interested donors may honor, in a lasting way, the name of a loved one who played a special role in their life.
A unique feature of the garden will be the incorporation of the “iBeacon” technology that will allow families to hear short readings from the stories illustrated by Garth Williams and featured in the garden.
Hundreds of volunteers partnered with the ACAC and the City of Abilene to work on the garden. The Dyess We Care Team donated more than 500 hours to the project. Team member Bryan Carrillo went above and beyond, recruiting people to work many Saturdays and creating the system to assemble the metal anchoring system for the trees.
The garden is made possible by foundations, businesses and individuals who have donated more than a half a million dollars. The people for whom the garden is named, and those who sponsored the sculptures, are all long-time Abilene supporters who have left a lasting legacy on our community. We take you behind the scene to learn about the people who helped make the garden possible.
The naming of the garden
Dick and Kaye Spalding are stalwart supporters of the arts and Abilene non-profit organizations, serving with and chairing numerous boards for more than 40 years, according to Lynn Barnett, executive director of the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council.
In 2015, the Abilene Chamber of Commerce recognized Dick for his numerous community contributions with the Citizen of the Year award. After working in hospital administration, Dick became president of Serenity House, a treatment center for drug and alcohol abuse.
Dick and Kaye’s vision and dedication to children, storybooks and art has been instrumental in shaping Abilene’s reputation as the “Storybook Capital of Texas.” They were two of the original founders of the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, were pivotal to the commissioning of the “Childhood’s Great Adventure” sculpture based on William Joyce’s book, “Santa Calls,” and have been key to the developing Storybook Sculpture Project. The Spaldings have played roles in making a number of the sculptures possible: Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who” and “The Cat in the Hat,” William Joyce’s “Nicholas St. North,” and Mark Teague’s “Good Night Dinosaur.”
Hearing of the plans to create a storybook garden to house several Garth Williams sculptures, they wanted to provide a beautiful environment for families to enjoy year round. Funds from the W.B. and Sadie L. Adamson Foundation also were directed toward the project, and the garden was named the Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden in their honor.
“He was an expert on roses and could make anything grow here,” Dick said of W.B. “So a garden idea was a natural.”
Sadie established the foundation, and asked the Spaldings to direct those resources after her death. Her husband, Dr. W.B. Adamson, was one of the first cardiologists in this part of the world, and the son of another long-ago local physician. Although the Adamsons had no children, they loved youngsters. Through Altrusa International, Sadie gave thousands of books to students, “making a storybook garden a natural for her,” Dick said.
W.B. and Sadie both worked in the medical field and traveled extensively, mostly to medical meetings. W.B. passed away in 1973.
“Our life together was a richly rewarding, deeply gratifying experience,” Sadie wrote in her personal papers.
After his death, Sadie continued to be a strong supporter of many Abilene arts groups, such as the Philharmonic. She bought tickets and attended all theatrical presentations, including all the colleges, and attended long after her ability to hear had left her. She was a long-time member of the Abilene Woman’s Club and the Central Presbyterian church. She passed away in 2009.
“They loved Abilene and supported everything good here,” Dick said of the Adamsons.
“Wilbur and Charlotte”
The first donor to step forward to sponsor a Garth Williams sculpture in 2015 was Betty “Poppy” Crowe. She said the book “Charlotte’s Web” is a favorite with children and it shows how people – or talking animals, in this case – can work together, even a rat named Templeton.
“I just think it’s a wonderful project,” Poppy said of the garden. “I love art. I’m not an artist, but I’ve always loved art and loved to do it with the children.”
She is an Abilene High School and Hardin-Simmons University graduate who taught for 35 years in the Abilene Independent School District, mostly at Austin Elementary. Her family is well known in Abilene, having once owned the popular Thornton’s Department Store. Her late husband, John, started the construction company now known as The Crowe Group. In 2000, the ACAC recognized him for his work with the NCCIL. The couple had five children and now have 16 grandchildren, including one grandson, Justin Crowe, who serves on the board of directors for the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council.
Poppy said she is proud that some of her former students have gone on to become art teachers in Abilene schools.
“I like anything to do with kids,” she said. “I love Abilene!”
“The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf”
Kaye Price-Hawkins and her husband, Joe Hawkins, chose to sponsor “The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf” sculptures because they represent universal human qualities, conflicts and outcomes, she said.
“The ultimate closure to the story is really the beginning of all that is good in life and that is: the beauty of community and companionship as we try to conquer whatever ‘bad’ is trying to take over our lives,” Kaye said.
The couple continually contributes to the beauty of this community, through arts organizations such as the NCCIL, The Grace and with other nonprofits. Other storybook sculptures the couple have helped sponsor for downtown Abilene include “Nicholas St. North” in 2014 and “Good Night Dinosaur” in 2016.
Kaye serves on several boards, including the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council and The Grace Museum board of directors. She is a language arts literacy consultant and owner of Priceless Literacy. Joe is a retired business owner with a servant heart who has done everything from pouring concrete to cooking omelettes on Friday mornings for BOBS (Breakfast on Beech Street).
“The Three Bears and Goldilocks”
This sculpture was sponsored by Patti L. Jones, Jay and Lindsay Hardaway and the AVJ Foundation.
Patti is an Albany native who loves theater and the arts and has been involved in the Fandangle her entire life. She is the daughter of the A.V. and Pat Jones. She has served on a number of nonprofit boards, including the Community Foundation of Abilene, and is a current board member of The Old Jail Art Center in Albany.
Patti’s son, Jay, is a former Abilene City Councilman who now serves as the district director for Congressman Jodey Arrington. Jay is a trustee for St. John’s Episcopal School and president of The Grace Museum’s board of directors. He and his wife, Lindsay, have three daughters – Lucy, Claire and Nellie Cate.
The family was interested in sponsoring the sculptures because they love books, Lindsay said. “If you have ever seen Jay’s office, you would understand,” she said with a laugh. “… We love the arts, especially Patti.”
The sculptures of “The Three Bears” from the Garth Williams book “Three Bedtime Stories” is especially meaningful for their family because Patti’s mother, Pat, called her four grandchildren (three boys and a girl) “Goldilocks and the three bears.”
“The Three Little Kittens and Mama Cat”
Joyce Truitt-Geis was reading the Abilene Reporter-News one morning in her Hamby home when she noticed a half-page ad with a giant photo of a Cat in the Hat sculpture.
“I fell in love with it,” said Truitt-Geis. “It brought back childhood memories.”
The ad, which was placed by the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council, asked for donations to help fund the “Cat in the Hat,” an addition to Abilene’s Storybook Sculpture Project. Impressed that Abilene would take on such a project, Joyce went online and made a donation.
“She was the very first donor, and her enthusiasm and support helped launch the fundraising efforts,” Barnett said.
The funds for the “Cat in the Hat” were raised quickly, and the decision was made to try to raise funds to purchase five additional Dr. Seuss sculptures. Joyce and her husband, J.L. decided to again support the sculpture project and sponsored “The Grinch.” She liked the idea of encouraging reading and she knew children would enjoy visiting the sculpture park.
“I’m not into art, but I’ve always been a big reader,” she said. “My daughter is a reader, and I love to please children.”
Joyce has one daughter, Jacinda Ballard, a Clyde High School graduate. Her late husband, J.L. Geis, was a builder of homes in Abilene and nursing homes throughout Texas. Joyce said she helped her husband with the business and ran an antiques store for a while. She decided to sponsor another storybook sculpture – this time “The Three Little Kittens and Mama Cat” from the Garth Williams-illustrated Golden Book “Three Bedtime Stories,” because she likes the city’s transformation into the Storybook Capital and thinks it’s good for business.
“I want to help Abilene,” she said. “I love to see Abilene grow. This will give people another reason to visit.”
Lale Estes loves doing things for children, and she says the growing Storybook Sculpture Project is one of the leading initiatives happening in Abilene for children.
“I’m thrilled the community has embraced this project,” she said. “… I believe children are magical, and I believe the sculptures are magical as well.”
She has supported the sculptures through her family’s foundation, the T & T Family Foundation. Lale, who is married to Dr. B.J. Estes, became involved in the sculptures when the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council was raising community support for the Dr. Seuss sculptures in Everman Park.
Lale said she works with the Community Foundation of Abilene to direct her gifts, which have supported many projects related to children such as the CALF festival as well as Frontier Texas, the Historic Paramount Theatre and the Boys & Girls Club Christmas party.
She was thrilled to partner with long-time friends Peggy and Bob Beckham on the “Stuart Little” sculpture based on the E.B. White book illustrated by Garth Williams.
The Beckhams also became involved in the Storybook Sculpture Project when the Dr. Seuss sculptures were being acquired, and they support the arts through their donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation of Abilene.
“Supporting children and encouraging their love of reading is one of our favorite avenues,” Peggy said.
Bob has received the Exchange Club’s Golden Deeds award, which recognizes dedicated volunteers. Peggy has dedicated much of her life to advocating for the arts and humanities. In 2015, she received the Pro Bene Meritis award, the highest honor bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. She is a former Abilene school board member and was the Abilene Chamber of Commerce’s 1994 Citizen of the Year.
“I firmly believe that we all have been given gifts and talents that we have a responsibility to use to improve the life around us,” Peggy said at the time of her UT award. “We have received much from our communities, and to give back is to be a good citizen.”
For a full list of garden sponsors, please go to www.storybookcapitaloftexas.com/garden
THURSDAY, JUNE 8
4:30 p.m. Costume Contest
5-8 p.m. Mark Teague Exhibition open
6 p.m. Storybook Parade
6:30 p.m. Storybook Garden opens
6:30 p.m. Wilbur’s Garden Party
7 p.m. Authors’ Talk & Book Signing
FRIDAY & SATURDAY, JUNE 9-10
9 a.m.-4 p.m. Garth Williams Art Exhibition
9 a.m.-4 p.m. Storybook Garden Activities
9 a.m.-4 p.m. Cookie Decorating
9 a.m.-4 p.m. Abilene Philharmonic’s Instrument Petting Zoo.
9 a.m.-5 p.m. May Farm Petting Zoo
9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Train Rides
9 a.m.-4 p.m. Hair Chalking, Face Painting
9 a.m. Dramatic Readings & Art Activities
9 a.m. Balloon & Magic Show
9:30 a.m. Ventriloquist
9:45 a.m. Dramatic Readings & Art Activities
10:15 a.m. Music with Mister Mark
10:30 a.m. Dramatic Readings & Art Activities
11 a.m. Ventriloquist
11 a.m. Balloon & Magic Show
11:15 a.m. Dramatic Readings & Art Activities
12 p.m. Dramatic Readings & Art Activities
12:30 p.m. Ventriloquist
12:45 p.m. Dramatic Readings & Art Activities
1 p.m. Music with Mister Mark
1 p.m. Balloon & Magic Show
1:30 p.m. Dramatic Readings & Art Activities
2 p.m. Ventriloquist
2:15 p.m. “The Cricket in Times Square” movie
2:15 p.m. Dramatic Readings & Art Activities
3 p.m. Dramatic Readings & Art Activities
3 p.m. Balloon & Magic Show
3:30 p.m. Dramatic Readings & Art Activities
4:30-5:30 p.m. Character Autographs & Pictures
5:30 p.m. Friday “Charlotte’s Web” movie
6:30 p.m. Friday NCCIL dinner
5:30 p.m. Saturday “Stuart Little 2” movie
7:30 p.m. Saturday “Cinderella” Broadway musical