Save Druid Heights

WHAT IF DRUID HEIGHTS WAS RESTORED TO HOW IT WAS IN 1973?

At the Laird’s Landing historic site in the Point Reyes National Seashore 30 miles north of Druid Heights the National Park Service (NPS) has decided to remove the additions to the buildings that were made after what has been judged to be the place’s period of principle historic significance, 1890-1910.
LAird's Landing from Pt Reyes Light
At Druid Heights the NPS has set the period of significance from 1954, the year when Elsa Gidlow and the Somers family moved in until 1973, the year when Alan Watts died.
What follows is a brief attempt at imagining what following the example set at Laird’s Landing could mean for the buildings at Druid Heights. As the example of Laird’s Landing clearly shows, this is a possible future for Druid Heights. What the buildings would be used for once such a restoration was complete is an open question.
The four photos of The Mandala House at Druid Heights below are included because they clearly show the exterior of that building as it was in the 1970s and how it looks today. Its restoration would require the removal of some significant additions. Other buildings at Druid Heights would need similar removals of additions or else need to be demolished as they were built after 1973.
The Mandala House and roof, 1970s.

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The Mandala House front side and roof, 2009
Mandala from Swift report
Mandala roof tagore?
To imagine this future without getting bogged down in side issues  we need to set aside any thoughts on whether the period of significance at Druid Heights should be extended beyond the year of Alan Watts’ death or whether the loss of later additions to buildings would be tragic. That is a different discussion.
In a nutshell the restoration of Druid Heights to how it was at the end of the 1954-1973 period of significance  would mean the removal of all buildings and additions to buildings made after 1973. Even after all the time the author has spent studying Druid Heights he does not know how old some of additions and smaller buildings at Druid Heights are. But I know enough to have a pretty good sense of what that a return to the 1973 status would entail. Being a retired contractor also informs his opinions.
Before such a restoration was attempted all the buildings would need to be very well documented. It seems likely that given current technologies, besides a physical model of the buildings as they were prior to such a project a virtual model could be created that could allow one to experience them and the site. 
The Mandala House Roger Somers many post-1973 alterations to the Mandala would need to be removed and most if not all the immediately adjacent acccesory structures would need to be demolished because they were not there in 1973. As seen in the photos I have added to this post the Mandala House, originally called the Casa Rondo after being built by Ed Stiles and when it was the home of Thea Gidlow, was originally a much simpler structure and there were few if any of the accessory buildings near it. I will guess that there are more photos of it taken during that time but Detlef Kotzte’s give us an idea of what it would look like on the exterior if restored.
The Library built for Alan Watts The small kitchen and bath at the rear of the library were added after Alan’s death and so would be removed. As I understand it the hot tub below the Library was also a later addition, so it would be removed along with all the plumbing. I am not sure if this was one of the tubs built at Druid Heights by Ed Stiles but even if it wasn’t it is said to be the one that Roger Somers was found to have died in, so I would feel it should be preserved elsewhere at Druid Heights along with other artifacts.
Elsa Gidlow’s House With, perhaps, the exception of some of the decks Elsa Gidlow’s house saw little or no alteration after 1973.
The Meditation Hut This was built for Elsa Gidlow in the early 1980s according to its builder, artist Detlef Kotzte. He has also told us that her intention was to add an extra sleeping space. Given its unique details and small size it seems that breaking with the 1973 cutoff date would be taking a small exception for a significant result. It also suggests that a better end of the period of significance would be the death of Elsa Gidlow in 1986.
The Old Chicken Barn, later the Stiles House There appear to have been some additions made to this house but I don’t know when they’re completed. Comparing the photos of it when it was a chicken barn to the way it is now it appears that they were fairly minor as to the overall size, so it seems likely that not much would need to be removed compared to the Mandala House. I don’t know to what extent there were post-1973 changes to the interior.
The cottage adjacent to the Stiles House As I understand it this was built after 1973, so this would need to be removed. I wince as I write that because though I have seen only one photo of the interior I find the exterior a very beautiful building.
Ed Stiles Woodworking Shop As a wood worker myself i find that between the setting and the workspace within this is one of the most beautiful workshops I have ever seen, and besides the shops I have actually visited i have a coffee table book full of others. But Ed built the shop well after Alan Watts death, so if Druid Heights was to be restored to its 1973 state it would need to be removed. More wincing on my part at the thought of taking down such a beautiful building but I have to be consistent.
Faye’s House This is by far the most complicated building at Druid Heights, by far the most poorly constructed of all the major buildings at Druid Heights and by far the building in the worst shape of all the larger buildings at Druid Heights. Portions of it were certainly there prior to 1973. The most important of those in my opinion would be what was the original workshop and the drafting later music room. I would argue that those two portions should be restored even if that means they need to be rebuilt from ground up because of their importance to the history of Druid Heights and the projects that were built there. Think everything Roger Somers built for installation elsewhere, think Gerd Stern’s sculpture in ’63, and think all of Ed Stiles work from his arrival at Druid Heights in 1965 through his building of his own shop in, I believe, 1978. Especially if Ed’s shop were to be demolished there would need to be a place to tell the story of wood working at Druid Heights. As a wood worker myself I have my biases but I don’t think I am off base on this.
The Twin Peaks House While the most striking details of the Twin Peaks House were built well before 1973 there seem to have been some later additions. The points of the “Peaks” themselves seem to have been extended by Roger Somers fairly late in his life. I have good reason to believe that the tiled shower in the bathroom may have been added after 1973 and that may also be true for the small back bedroom. Like everything I have suggested all would have to be confirmed but the main features of the house would be left intact.
The cottage that includes a remodeled Airstream Trailer According to the NPS the California State Office of Historic Preservation feels that this structure is of significance. I have not seen a written description of this building so I can’t comment beyond saying that if they have come to that conclusion they must have a good reason for it. It is possible that there are other structures at Druid Heights that they have decided similar on. We have yet to view the relevant documents.
The treeless tree fort  There was once a platform built on tall poles at the east end of the central meadow at Druid Heights. It is visible in several photos. Besides being something for kids to play on I have been told that a famous Japanese violinist (still trying to get their name) did a performance for an audience on the ground below once upon a time. Give the structure’s simplicity it seems like a building a replica would be a valuable addition to a restored to 1973 appearances Druid Heights.
The water tank Since the Haapa family’s days at what was to become Druid Heights there has been a large water tank at Druid heights. Even if changes in the water source for Druid Heights were to happen (and that should happen because part of the current water source is the nearby creek) the tank should remain as long as it is still structurally sound. That could be indefinitely if the water is removed and a roof built over the top.
Other small structures  There are other small structures at Druid Heights. Some appear to have been used as dwellings or detached bedrooms and others for storage. They all appear to be in pretty bad shape and many if not all were likely built after 1973, so they would need to be removed.

A PICNIC FOR MICHAEL TOIVONEN’S SAVE DRUID HEIGHTS FRIENDS

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The picnic location, site 10, Paradise Beach Park, Tiburon, CA

Michael Toivonen, co-founder of Save Druid Heights, is  holding a picnic on Sunday September 22nd from noon until 5 pm at Paradise Beach Park, 3450 Paradise Drive, Tiburon, CA and is inviting his friends who favor preserving  Druid Heights’ history and architecture for future generations. If that describes you then you are welcome to attend but you will need to  follow the steps bellow.

NOTE: The maximum number of guests is 50. There is a chance this could be revised upwards but that info will only be made available to Save Druid Heights Facebook group members.

FIRST: you need to join the Facebook group Save Druid Heights. In lieu of that you could send Michael an email at savedruidheights@gmail.com that tells him a little about your interest in Druid Heights and why you are unable to join the Facebook group, the preferred method of joining in with others who feel the same. He will cancel the tickets of anyone who does not follow through on this requirement.

SECOND: once you have either joined and been approved for the Save Druid Heights group or gotten a positive response from me to your email you will need to use the Eventbrite  link below to get your name on his guest list, meaning you have signed up for a ticket. Note: those who sign up for the Save Druid Heights Facebook group need to answer a brief questionnaire. You will receive notice of this at signup. This is to prevent abuse of the group, such as by those who want to use it for commercial purposes.

AND CONSIDER THIS: When you sign up for your free ticket to his picnic you will be given the option to add additional guests. Before you do so consider this: He is holding this picnic so his friends who are passionate about Druid Heights can get together. Included amongst those are going to be people connected to Druid Heights who will be able to share some of their experiences there “back in the day”.  While it would be nice if the picnic could be wide open that is not possible and since early indications are that it will fill it would be best if those who come are there for the main reason, not just to have a picnic. An option to consider would be for others to go elsewhere in the park while you spend some time with us, and then join your friend or family member for the balance.

IMPORTANT DETAILS ABOUT THE PICNIC: This is not a potluck. You may certainly bring something to share with others but it is up to you.There will be some basic supplies on hand such as non-alcoholic drinks, paper plates, napkins, & etc. There are two barbecue pits and there will be charcoal and fire  starting supplies for those who want to use them.

Here is the link to the signup with Eventbrite:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/michael-toivonens-druid-heights-friends-picnic-tickets-71838311323

 

 

INTERNET PRECURSOR: THE WHOLE EARTH CATALOG, AND MORE THAN ONE OF THOSE BEHIND IT LIVED AT OR VISTED DRUID HEIGHTS

If you were around in the ’70s it was hard to miss the Whole Earth Catalog (or Epilog in this later edition). It was physically big and fascinating to “surf”. It has been compared to the world wide web because the catalog’s listings bear comparison to webpages and while called a catalog you could not could not purchase the items from the publisher. There were also scattered articles unconnected to the listings.

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Save Druid Heights member and former Druid Heights resident David Wills was on the staff for this and perhaps other editions. And more than one of the other staff members visited Druid Heights. Maybe others lived there as David did…

Be sure to check out our very active Facebook group, Save Druid Heights. Besides often being more detailed than what gets published here our posts often prompt comments that add new details to posts like this one.

Center, Druid Heights resident David Wills.

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Some of the Whole Earth Catalog staff, with editor Stewart Brand on the left.

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The back cover, including words of wisdom well fitting a unique era.

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MONDAY MORNING WALK THROUGH DRUID HEIGHTS: THE PAINTED HALL IN THE TWIN PEAKS HOUSE

If Druid Heights was open to the public I, and I am sure some of you, would go there on a regular basis. But since it isn’t, looking at photos will have to do for now, and believe me I have enough on file to keep it interesting.

This photo shows a hall way in the house known variously as The Twin Peaks or just The Big House. Save Druid Heights member and former Druid Heights resident Detlef Kotzte answered on being asked who painted it “Esther Roberts, she was a resident of DH for a few years.”

Once again our Facebook group, Save Druid Heights, has provided the answer by connecting us to those who know best those who have lived at or visited Druid Heights.16996234_10158287638545261_8447108693866955036_n

 

HIKING MOUNT TAMALPAIS WITH THE TRAIL MAP EARLY DRUID HEIGHTS PEOPLE WOULD HAVE USED

This is the trail map of near-to-Druid Heights Mt. Tamalpais that would have been used by Druid Heights residents and visitors back in the 1950s on through at least the 1970s and likely later.  Former 1970s Druid Heights resident David Wills has confirmed that it most certainly was what he used. This is a vintage 1950’s edition that belonged to the author’s parents.

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This would have been the map that Druid Heights visitor and for a time resident in ’69-’70 Gary Snyder used on his hikes there, and perhaps he laid it on the floor at the Marin-An shack just over the hill from Druid Heights to show Jack Kerouac where they would be going before they went on the hike immortalized by Kerouac in “The Dharma Bums”.

There have been some changes over the years but the principle trails are still there. If you hike out to Portrero Meadows (see the map closeup) you will be where Snyder and Kerouac camped in the late spring of ’56 (note: camping on Tamalpais is only allowed in official campgrounds these days and Portrero Meadows isn’t one of those).

The Dharma Bums even describes what they ate the next day for lunch near Stinson Beach, so you could load up on “salami and Ry-Krisp and cheese……and wine”, the latter almost certainly cheap and red, before hitting the trail. The Mill Valley Market still stands  at the foot of Tamalpais as it did in the ’50s  and you should be able to get what you need there, though they might not have the low grade red……

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THE “DRUID” IN DRUID HEIGHTS

IT WOULDN’T BE CALLED DRUID HEIGHTS IF ELSA GIDLOW HAD NOT KNOWN ELLA YOUNG

Ella Young

Poet, Irish revolutionary, author of fiction, mythologist, mystic and University of California Berkeley professor Ella Young’s(1867-1956) interest in the Druids, the priests of the British Isles during their Celtic period, was the catalyst for the “Druid” in Druid Heights. Ella and Elsa had first met at the 80th birthday party of poet Charles Erskine Scott Wood in 1932 at his estate, “The Cats”, in Los Gatos, CA.

In her autobiography, Elsa: I Come With My Songs,  Elsa Gidlow says of Ella Young:

“My long friendship with Ella I regard as one of life’s enduring benedictions. There are many who are ready enough to share complaints of their struggles for survival; few who will or can present visions of why survival is worthy of effort. I had had intimations of such visions from my own inwardness, reflections of them from poetry. Few people, however, confirmed my sense of life as a  heroic adventure calling for qualities of fierce strength, and noble endurance, gentleness toward the weak, and passionate reverence for beauty, in particular the beauty of the living earth-until I met Ella Young”.

The best source of information about her I have found is the Wikipedia entry. She lead quite a life and a good part of it was spent in California. She died not long after Elsa moved to her new home west of Mill Valley, CA in 1954 and by then Young was living in Oceano, San Luis Obispo county, CA. There is no evidence that she ever came to Druid Heights, but she certainly had an influence on it.

A HIGH RES COPY OF AN ICONIC DRUID HEIGHTS PHOTO COMES TO LIGHT

While there was a very poor version of this photo, with the caption “Elsa Gidlow 1959”  on page 385 of Druid Heights’ Elsa Gidlow’s autobiography ELSA: I COME WITH MY SONGS the original was not in her files that are now housed at the GLBT Historical Society Archive in San Francisco and no other copies were known to exist.

Until now. The group Save Druid Heights was contacted by a friend of former Druid Heights resident Margo St. James, Don Sobjack,  who is organizing Margo’s papers following her move into a residence for those with Alzheimer’s. He said that she had photos that were likely taken at Druid Heights, and he sent thumbnails of those photos to group co-founder Michael Toivonen. Michael confirmed that they were indeed taken at Druid Heights. Don soon sent us those photos, which are a very valuable addition to the documentation of the history of Druid Heights.

They included this 8×10 inch print of of Elsa Gidlow seated in the shoji room in The Twin Peaks House at Druid Heights. Unlike the poor reproduction seen in the book, this copy reveals many details of the room’s decor and construction, details of Gidlow’s apparel and hints at but leaves us still guessing at what book she was holding in her lap as shafts of the setting sun’s rays illuminate her and the room.

What you see here is a photo of the image taken just after it arrived by mail. It had evidently not been previously stored flat. We plan to get professional reproductions of this photo to give to appropriate archives. For the time being the original will stay in the collection of Save Druid Heights with the hope that it can eventually be placed in a new archive at the Druid Heights Historic site.

Gidlow Elsa Shoji room 1959 8x10 original

 

DRUID HEIGHTS: HISTORIC COUNTER-CULTURE MECCA IN A NATIONAL PARK FACES DEATH BY NEGLECT

Below are what the author considers the “take-away” paragraphs of his medium.com story with the above title.   You can access the full version of this story at: https://medium.com/@savedruidheights/druid-heights-an-early-counter-cultural-mecca-in-a-national-park-sliding-towards-oblivion-c806803695c2

“That’s a snapshot of the prologue and principle characters of Druid Heights. The epilogue is unwritten. Druid Heights is now owned by the National Park Service. It is increasingly uninhabited. And being unmaintained, it is falling apart.

There are varying scenarios for that epilogue. Two stand out.

In one it is well cared for, allowed to tell its stories and briefly take those who go there and surround themselves with the flowing architecture back to a very different time.

In another it could become a spot at the junction of forest and field with some pieces of concrete, perhaps, poking up through the grass and begging the question “What was here, anything special?” At most, a brief answer might be found on a plaque nearby.”

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TWO UPCOMING DRUID HEIGHTS RELATED TALKS IN MILL VALLEY, CA: MONDAY 12/3 AND WEDNESDAY 12/5

TIME TO REMIND: TWO NATIONAL PARK SERVICE TALKS IN MILL VALLEY, CA NEXT WEEK RELATED TO DRUID HEIGHTS

—MONDAY THE 2ND: GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA SUPERINTENDENT LAURA JOSS AND OTHER NPS PERSONNEL TO GIVE AN UPDATE ON THE MUIR WOODS UNIT (DRUID HEIGHTS IS INSIDE THE MUIR WOODS UNIT BOUNDARY)

—WEDNESDAY THE 5TH: GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA HISTORIAN KRISTIN BARON AND OTHER NPS PERSONNEL TO DISCUSS DRUID HEIGHTS HISTORY AND CHALLENGES

I plan to attend both and I know at least one other group member who is planning to come on Monday night: Gerd Stern

THE DETAILS:
—Monday 12/3 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Old Mill Elementary School, 352 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941, USA there will be a meeting to discuss many aspects of the Muir Woods unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Druid Heights is part of that administrative unit. The main speaker will be Laura Joss, Superintendent of the entire GGNRA. One of the main topics will be the parking and traffic situation. I know that some local residents fear that preservation of Druid Heights could cause an increase in traffic. Given the newly instituted restrictions on visitation to the area by restricting parking that would seem to have been dealt with. This meeting should add further clarity.

—Wednesday 12/5 from 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM in the Mill Valley Public Library – Creekside Room, 375 Throckmorton Ave, Mill Valley, California. To assure your getting a seat you need to register for this event. In my experience with past events if it fills up there may be seat available because of no-shows. There were still seats available as of Saturday 12/1 at 11am. Here is the link to use to register:

https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg…

From the description :
Kristin Baron tells the history of Druid Heights, a secluded artist community in the Marin Headlands near Muir Woods. From the 1950s through to the late 1970s, this hidden enclave fostered creative and innovative architecture, art, poetry, philosophy and music. She will share some of GGNRA’s efforts toward protecting this fragile site as well as highlighting the challenges of interpreting a non-traditional resource.

http://www.millvalleylibrary.org/events/cals.htm

meditation hut tom fox

Gerd Stern’s 90th at the Beat Museum in SF will include discussion of his Druid Heights experiences

UPDATE: THE GERD STERN 90TH EVENT AT THE BEAT MUSEUM IN SAN FRANCISCO THIS SUNDAY THE 2ND AT 7 PM WILL INCLUDE GERD AND I DISCUSSING HIS DRUID HEIGHTS DAYS.
When I was at the Beat Museum a couple of weeks ago museum director and our group member Jerry Cimino asked me if I would be interested in joining the discussion with Gerd on 12/2 at 7pm.
In an email yesterday Gerd wrote “If you will be at The Beat Museum on Sunday the 2nd I could mention that you were with us (on the May 24th visit to Druid heights) and we could talk about Druid Heights?”.

I will most definitely be there. And if you want to see one of the last of the Beat Generation who was at many of the major events, who built an important work of art in Roger Somers’ shop and with Roger’s help at Druid Heights and was a good friend of Roger’s this is a rare opportunity. I will guess that there will be an opportunity for you to ask questions.

Besides those of you who like me weren’t there “back in the day”, I will say, without naming them, I have good reason to believe that there are people who either are members of or follow this group who live in the SF Bay area and were at Druid Heights in the early ’60s when Gerd was. It would be great to see and meet you at this event!

http://www.kerouac.com/beat_event/gerd-stern-90/

Below, Gerd Stern on the left and Jerry Cimino on the right, The Beat Museum, December 27, 2014, Taken from this Youtube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8Nrnp_4GkIGerd Stern TBM Joan Anderson 2017

COMING ON THE WEEK OF 11/12/2018: AN ANNIVERSARY, AN EVENT AND SOME NEWS

Next Friday, November 16th, will be the 45 anniversary of the passing of Alan Watts in his home in the Mandala House at Druid Heights on 11/16/1973. By pure coincidence it was on 11/16/2016 that I took a walk through the unoccupied portions of Druid Heights after reading some articles about it online, most notably the New York Times article of 1/25/2012.
 
 
I am very glad I went there when it was still possible to enter Elsa Gidlow’s house, The Twin Peaks House and Alan Watts library, and that I took the many photos that I have shared here. On that day I had no inkling of becoming involved with an effort to preserve what I was seeing. That didn’t happen until the following summer after my having viewed the exhibit “Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia” at the Berkeley Art Museum and met guest curator, exhibit catalog author and our co-founder UC Berkeley Architectural Historian Greg Castillo.
 
Here is a link to the catalog of that exhibit. I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes they had made the exhibit and even those who did. It is simultaneously a great coffee table book full of easy to skim images and a scholarly overview of the subject that includes reproductions of hard to find original source material.
 
Back to Alan Watts, if any of you feel motivated perhaps you could post something on him this week. I am going to be out of the Save Druid Heights “office” attending the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference called “Past Forward 2018”, very conveniently being held in San Francisco. I hope to learn more about the nuts and bolts of historic preservation at the workshops I attend as well as meet and talk to people in the field of Historic Preservation. As I understand it my conference name badge will have Save Druid Heights on it as well as Michael Toivonen.
 
I will also be attending the day and a half symposium sponsored by the US chapter of the International Committee On Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) being held in tandem with the conference. The theme is bridging the divide between those whose focus is preserving cultural heritage and those whose focus is preserving natural heritage. That definitely speaks to the challenges presented by Druid Heights.
 
Last but not least, I will have some very interesting news next week…….stay tuned!

DRUID HEIGHT’S ELSA GIDLOW: IMMIGRANT


Here are some words worth considering when we think about Elsa Gidlow, who until age 6 was a resident of the UK, and from 6 until 21 was a resident of the province of Quebec, Canada. She immigrated to New York City in the US in 1920 and then in 1926 came west to California where she was to live the rest of her life, the last 32 years of it at the home she came to call Druid Heights.

“Anyone who knows the history of California knows that it has been the great flow of immigration that continually refreshes and revitalizes our culture, creativity and productivity.”-Dr. Thomas Peters, President & CEO, The Marin Community Foundation

About Save Druid Heights

Save Druid Heights was formed in the summer of 2017 by Travis Amos, Greg Castillo and Michael Toivonen after a walk through the unoccupied portions of Druid Heights. It seeks to preserve the most significant buildings and the history of this historic site. To get in touch with us please send an email using the contact button on this page or send it to savedruidheights@gmail.com. Our email inbox is closely monitored by communications person Michael Toivonen and your email should be answered shortly, usually within a couple of hours. If you need to speak to us about something urgent send us an email in which you tell us a little about it, include your phone number. and we will be in touch with you as soon as possible.

 

 

A BOOK YOU SHOULD OWN: THE ART AND LIFE OF JEAN VARDA

A LITTLE ADVICE FROM THE EDITOR: BUY A COPY OF THIS BOOK FOR YOURSELF AND ANOTHER FOR A FRIEND
Since we are doing Varda I want to put in a plug for a great book: The Art and Life of Jean Varda by Elzabeth Leavey Stroman. Besides being about Varda there is info about his friendship with Druid Heights’ Roger Somers and Alan Watts. It is lavishly illustrated, in part because of the cooperation of Varda’s family.

This book was a true labor of love by its author. I had the pleasure of meeting her last year at a book event in Sausalito, CA where I was asked by her to speak about Druid Heights connection to Varda for a few minutes.

Not only did she do a huge amount of research and writing, she hired, on her own dime, professional book designers to help her assemble the text and graphics into a beautiful book. It is both a good read and a good “take a casual look” coffee table book with an eye catching cover

Using the link below to go to the book’s webpage where you can purchase it directly for $43.45. You can also get it as a special order through your local bookstore or order it through Amazon. I’d do it directly from Stroman because that way she gets the most money, and even at $40+ shipping she said she was making nothing, just recouping some of her costs.

Here is the link to her page:
http://www.vardabook.comVarda+Cover