Alzheimer’s and Adele

Adele and Phoenix010

Adele in her late 70s

My mother died recently.

It was to be expected, I suppose, at her age of 91 and because of the fact that she’d been sick with Alzheimer’s for more than a decade. Knowing all of this, her death still came as a knockout of a shock to me. I’d been fooling myself for years that I was prepared for the end… I was not.

At the time that she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the doctor told us that the disease starts long before the symptoms show. My best guess is that it began about 19 years ago, after she was in a terrible car accident – she was never the same after that.

She lived with me and my family – my husband and two girls, for most of those 19 years – except for the last four years that she spent in a nursing home, in a locked ward.

My family watched her lose herself and tried to keep things normal for as long as possible. It was frustrating that neighbors and distant friends and relatives, didn’t see the changes that we did. Frustrating that no one, except the Public Health Nurses who came and went, understood the toll it took on us. It is an unforgiving and terrible disease, and leaves the person you have loved all your life, unrecognizable. Through each agonizing stage of its progression, there are no clear guidelines, because every patient is different.

There are major milestones of the condition, however, that are relatively the same across the board. It was about a year ago that her doctor took me aside, and explained to me that my mother was in the end stage of the disease. She didn’t think that my mother would live out the year – the clearest indicator of the end, she told me, was when the patient stopped swallowing. I wasn’t surprised to hear this back then. I had clearly seen her decline become precipitous in the previous few months. Then, when she was put into a Broda chair and was no longer walking, it was obvious that she was not just mentally failing, but physically failing as well.

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Adele: young and happy in the 1950s

Just two days before she died, we got a phone call that she was pocketing her food. In my ignorance, I thought she was literally putting her food in her pocket, which she had done on many occasions before. My mother was very smart, even with Alzheimer’s, and was frequently getting away with things like that – like when she managed to figure out how to unlock her seat belt on her wheel chair and suddenly stand up – a real danger to herself and to others, believe it or not.

But no. Pocketing food means that the patient can no longer swallow and the food accumulates in the cheeks of the mouth. It was the signal that she was near the end, and I didn’t realize it til too late.

There are many books on the subject, but I don’t want to read any of them. I have lived it in all its unpleasant and hurtful details. Nor do I want to watch dramatic films about it – perhaps they help to edify people, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather forget.

And that is the challenge – to forget all those years of decline and loss, and remember the whole and complete person, who is gone.

The doctor at the nursing home is a wonderful, caring person; the kind of doctor you want especially for the elderly who are sick with dementia. To comfort me, she told me that she’d seen many people lose themselves to the disease, and from this personal experience, she knew that we are more than what we say or do. What is left after the ravages of Alzheimer’s, is the core of the person in the purest form. She told me that even though my mother had lost all her ability to remember or speak or put a thought together, she still was a warm and loving person inside.

In the end there was little left of her – even her radiant core had gone out. She was rail thin, and slept almost continually. It was a relief for her to go, I am sure.

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Adele and her second baby c 1961

She wasn’t afraid to die. She had talked to me many times about it over the years. She had had a near death experience when she lost her third baby in childbirth in the early 1960s. She saw a beautiful light at the end of a long dark tunnel and went towards it and felt eternal peace. She told me that it was so beautiful that she didn’t want to come back, but she suddenly remembered her two little girls, and had to return. That experience stayed with her her whole life.

If you believe in heaven or an afterlife, you can say she is now with her baby and her husband, her sisters, and her parents, and all of her ancestors, somewhere up there. It’s a nice thought. But I am more comforted to know that she lived a full and adventurous, brave and creative life – never wasting a moment of it for as long as she could.

Even as she lost herself to the disease, she still got up every morning and smiled at the sun.

Adele landscape040








My Career in New York – Bernard Safran


My father Bernard Safran had a long career as a fine artist from the early 1960s til his death in 1995. He created unparalleled paintings of city life, rural life, and portraits of family and patrons, but he was always asked about his years in New York City working as an illustrator, and later as a portrait artist for Time Magazine. I guess New York City seemed more glamorous to people than picturing him sitting in his home studio, quietly painting what he wanted to paint. In this talk given at Holland College on Prince Edward Island, he was asked to speak about those years.


 … It was very hard work for me. It had to be good, and I was always very tired when finished, and needed a few days rest as do baseball pitchers – or operatic tenors

Holland College – September 11, 1980

Bernie Safran in park 1950

Bernie Safran c 1950

I’d like to talk to you today about my career in New York. After going to a special high school, the High School of Music and Art where I majored in art, I realized that I wanted to be a professional artist.

I decided to study illustration at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, which was, and is one of the leading art schools in the United States. I picked illustration because I had to be able to earn my living, and illustration would allow me to do it by painting and drawing. Illustrators at that time were held in great esteem, and earned at the top, a lot of money; the business was quite large and there was a good deal of opportunity. It has all changed in the last number of years with the explosive growth of TV, which eliminated many of the markets by absorbing their advertising dollars. The illustration business now bears no resemblance to what it was then.

The course at Pratt had been set up by a graduate of the famous German Bauhaus. This was an experimental art school formed at the end of the first World War when what is now called Modern Art was already reaching its maturity. The Bauhaus and it’s ideas have exercised a tremendous influence on all our lives since.

Vassily_Kandinsky,_1913_Composition STate Hermitage Museum

1913 Composition by Wassily Kandinsky, State Hermitage Museum

It is responsible for a great deal of contemporary architecture through the work of Gropius and Mies Van der Roh; it invented industrial design (so that the design of our cars, toasters and everything else resulted); it created the current use of layout and typography in advertising; revived such crafts as weaving and ceramics; strongly influenced stage design, and also the development of modern painting through Paul Klee and Kandinsky. It was destroyed by Hitler when he came to power. Many of its people came to the United States, others perished.

Bauhaus Eva Zeisel 1929

Bauhaus ceramic design by Eva Zeisel 1929. Eva Zeisel taught at Pratt when my father was a student there.

So at Pratt this legacy was continued, and permeated the school. We had many experimental classes in both 2 and 3 dimensional design, using varieties of materials and methods. In the illustrative course we also studied figure drawing, painting and illustrative design and color. In the final year we were brought into contact through the Society of Illustrators with some of the leading personalities in the field, were able to see their work and discuss it with them. All in all, I think it was a well balanced, and well rounded program, and it was supplemented by the many museums and galleries in New York.

Bernie Safran army tent Burma 1945

Bernie Safran, Burma 1945

Just before I finished, I went into the Army for three years, and served in the US Army Corps of Engineers in China, Burma and India.

At the end of the War, I returned to Pratt for six months. After the Army I found going to school less than exciting, and though I could have continued further study, I decided to try to be a free lance illustrator. This I might add, was the ambition of us all.

How do you start? First I had to have a portfolio of samples of my work. I made some, and used some of the the things that I had done at school. Then I got the yellow pages out of the Manhattan phone book, and began to go see people. There were three main categories of places that bought illustrations; the advertising agencies; the art studios that did most of the work of the agencies; and the publishers of magazines and books. There were literally hundreds in the yellow pages.

Illustration and ink fawn

Fawn, pen and ink sample illustration by Bernie Safran

I was able to make appointments with art directors at some places, others would see me if I came in. Many were a waste of time, as they handled the kind of thing that I didn’t do. It took a long time, and a lot of shoe leather before I found out where to go, and where not to go; and I soon found out that what I thought was finished work was not, and that I didn’t know anything about the business. I didn’t know anything about production which is the mechanical means of producing a magazine page, or ad; or even what constituted a professional sketch or how to present it.

scale for photos

Back in the old days before computers, you had to figure out proportional sizing of photographs and reproductions for print with a scale like this.

So, I tried to get a job as an apprentice in an art studio to learn how things were done. I did get one in an art studio that did sales presentations. It was fairly small with an art director, and five or six people working on mechanicals (which are preparations of pages for reproduction by scaling photos to fit, pasting in type in place and so on). There was one fellow there that did layouts for these pages, and any finished art and lettering that was required. We became friends and he advised me to re-do my portfolio in black and white line and halftone which is cheap to reproduce. He also suggested that I do it in dyes which look like watercolors, reproduce well, and can be worked over and over without losing the look of freshness, as watercolor does. I then left the studio, did another portfolio, and set out again.

Love Starved Woman Bernard Safran

A pulp cover by Safran. He would have hired a model for the main figure of the woman with the cigarette, and then photographed himself and probably his wife (my mother) for the figures at the piano.

I was soon able to enter an illustration studio run by Gail Phillips who was at that time an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post. It was an ideal working set up. I was taken on as all of the people there were, on a free lance basis. The studio provided working space, and all art materials. For any work done for the studio, they received a 50% commission, but you were free to have any accounts of your own without commission. The studio occupied a three story brownstone house on 50th Street and 3rd Avenue, a central location. There was a complete photographic studio with a full time photographer who took pictures for you and processed them. There was even a room full of costumes. That is where I learned to be a professional illustrator. I was able to see work being done of all kinds, and learn the methods. All work of whatever kind, by the way, was done from black and white photographs. To meet deadlines and because of the expense of models this is necessary. If, for example, you are doing an illustration of a boy and girl, you must hire models, and at that time their fee would be about $20 an hour each. Obviously if the job paid $200 dollars as some paper back books did in 1947, you couldn’t hire them for long. So you would pose them, and photograph them and the photos would cost something too. Why is it necessary to hire models? Well an illustrator can’t compete if he doesn’t. Pretty girls had to look like the current types, and the models had the proper clothes, make up and look. You couldn’t fake it, or make it up, and expect to get the work. Also there were conventions on how these things were done. The paper back books at that time interestingly enough had a self-imposed censor. Some of the things that were banned were: that men and women couldn’t be portrayed lying down; if a woman was partially clothed there could be no physical contact between her and a man, and despite the allowance of all kinds of suggestive situations for some reason known only to the censor, bare feet were banned.

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The right page of a two page spread for Outdoor Life magazine by Safran, June 1950

I wasn’t earning much at this place, and I went from there to another studio, and then another on similar arrangements. By this time, I had several accounts of my own. I also had some of my work with 2 or 3 agents. Illustration agents would cover specific areas and accounts. Agents were concerned primarily with making money, and they would operate on the idea that they did all right, if they had a large number of artists work, and were just able to produce one or two jobs for each one. I never knew an illustrator that didn’t have to look for work on his own to keep busy, though he may have been represented in one way or another by numerous agents.

I found after a while that I was taking more and more work home with me, and finally decided that I’d get more done if I gave up the coffee breaks, and paper airplane fights, and worked at home. I was married at this time, and my wife worked in the art department of a trade magazine publisher. They published such magazines as Aviation Maintenance, Purchasing, and Liquor Store and Dispenser. she didn’t like her job, contrived to be fired, and began to look for another job.

Adele glamorous 1950

My mother Adele worked as my father’s agent in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

She did a series of spot drawings (which are small pen and ink fillers, used when type does not quite fill the space on a magazine page). I added some of my own to her portfolio, and she set out. On the first day she sold three to Women’s Day for $25 apiece. As a result of this, we got the idea that she would act as my agent. This would allow me to concentrate on my work entirely.

It was necessary for an illustrator to continually change his portfolio by adding new samples. Trends and styles changed fairly quickly. In addition any work done must have accurate research so things are correct. The New York Public Library has a massive clipping collection for this purpose, but I also tried to build up a file of my own for research. My wife went out daily and saw people with my work. I stayed home, did my work, painted samples, and worked on the file. We also had arrangements with various agents from time to time. We slowly became known in the business, and were at the point where we had a number of steady accounts, and I did a great variety of work.

The bulk of my work was for book publishers. I did many paper back book covers, and a lot of book jackets for the major publishers. I also worked in magazines such as Outdoor Life, Boys Life and numerous lesser ones; and did an occasional ad. There were times when there was no work, and it always seemed to arrive in bunches. So there would be a lot at once, and great pressure to meet deadlines. I might add that it was a sudden death business. One job not quite up to snuff, and you lost the account.

Golden Treasury of Bible Stories Bernard Safran

The Bible illustrated by Safran

In one six week period that I remember, I did six paper back book covers, 40 pen drawings for an illustrated Bible, two two color halftone paintings, and a line drawing for the first installment of a Boy’s Life serial, and two book condensations for Outdoor Life consisting of about 8 large pen drawings each; one of which was Farley Mowat’s People of the Deer. As I look back on this sort of thing, I find it hard to believe that I did it. The subject matter was very diverse; the research had to be accurate; there were sketches to be made and then approved, models to be hired and photographed, and the finished work done. My wife did the research, got the sketches approved with the inevitable changes, and hired the models. I did the sketches and the finished work. During a spell like this, I was literally chained to the drawing board.

After a number of years at this, we were going to have a baby, so my wife retired, and I returned to selling my work. I found it very difficult to keep it all going. I was in the middle area of the business, and earning a reasonably good living. I decided after a good deal of thought to take a rest, and think the whole thing over. We had saved some money, and I thought I’d just quit for six months. I stopped working, went to the beach, and read a lot. An interesting thing happened. The work began to come in itself, and I found that by the end of the year that I had lost $200. At that rate, I could continue in this way indefinitely.

Father oil sketch 1956 Bernard Safran

Quick 3 hour oil portrait of Bernie’s father, Harry Safran 1956

I got the idea that perhaps I could be a portrait painter. So I let it be known to whoever I met that I would paint oil portraits for $25 apiece. I had not painted portraits since art school and wanted the practice. I did them from life in three hours, and did 40. I then felt that I could paint portraits.

Through all the 10 years that I had been illustrating, I had experimented with all kinds of painting media, and had not been satisfied. Painting had always been a struggle with the paint itself, and I was looking for something that would allow me freedom from this. I slowly came to the conclusion that I must study more. I read as much of the technical material I could find on the Old Master methods, and tried many formulas without success.

I finally came across a book by Jacques Maroger, “The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Masters”. Maroger had been director of the Louvre’s laboratory, and had spent his life trying to reconstitute the formulas of the masters. Years later I was fortunate in spending a day with him at his home in Baltimore. He was dying of cancer, and had written to me to come if I wanted to see him. When I read his book, it sounded to me like just what I  had been looking for. And so to put it to the test, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to try to copy a Rubens. My idea was to reconstruct the picture. I found that as far as I could see by the striations the brush made, and by the look of the paint, that I had something very similar. I continued doing this, studying the work of Rubens, Velasquez, Rembrandt, and Holbein mostly. This is a time honored way of study, and has been done by almost every artist of note in the history of painting. I found that aside from learning the methods of the painters, the close proximity with the great helped me immeasurably in every way. It improved my taste, improved my drawing and conception of form, and the way that I used color. Of course it is impossible to reproduce these paintings exactly, and I didn’t try. You may just as well attempt to imitate a wild dance.

Safran's study of Ruben's The Holy Family

Safran’s study of Ruben’s The Holy Family, oil on illustration board, 1958

After doing this at every opportunity, and for many months, I noticed that Time Magazine was occasionally using fine artists on their covers. I thought that I would paint a portrait with a non objective background using my newly found knowledge, and take it up there. I chose a fine old photograph of General Grant, and suggested an army behind him.

I was extremely lucky. I had been going to Time which was then at the height of its power and prestige, on and off for years, and had always been told by the art director that they were bought up for 2 or 3 years. This time I was, by accident, connected with the man who was buying covers at that time. He was a senior editor, and temporarily sitting in for the Assistant Managing Editor whose job it was. He was quite busy, but agreed to look at my work if I left it at his office. When I returned a week later, I could see he that he hadn’t. So I asked the secretary who was also temporary if I could just show him one picture, and she said “Sure”. He asked me in and suggested that I leave it with him for a few days. He then called me and asked me to do an unscheduled cover. Needless to say I was elated and worked very hard on the sketches. I had no idea how Time operated then, and was quite amazed when the cover researcher asked whether the man, the Sultan of Morocco, wore the same colored hat as robe. The photos showed it both ways. The editor picked up the phone and said, “Get me Paris,” then said “Send a man over to Rabat, and find out whether the Sultan wears the same colored robe as hat. I got a cable shortly which said that he did.

Sultan of Morocco April 1957

Safran’s first cover portrait for Time Magazine, April 1957

When I delivered the painting I had a few anxious moments as it was taken out of the office and shown to the various editors; but as he came down the hall with it he shouted, “Sold”. I was told by this man that he wouldn’t be doing the job again til summer, and that he might have another for me then. It was months before it appeared, and I wondered if it ever would; but it reproduced well, and they were so happy with it, that they presented it to the Sultan, after first exhibiting it at the US Information Library in Rabat.

I dropped into the office in August eight months later, and the same man gave me my second assignment which was Sukarno. Fortunately he had an excellent head, and the photos for the background were by a great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. I did a number of layouts, and this job was handled by the Assistant Managing Editor. He was very happy with the result. He asked me how quickly I could paint a head, and I said three days. He thereupon gave me a cover to do in three days. When I had delivered it, I was asked, “How often would you like to do them?”, and I said “As often as I can get them.” After that I was one of the regular Time cover artists, and was kept busy.

The Time cover begins at the weekly cover conference presided over by the Assistant Managing Editor. All the senior editors who head the various sections of the book are there along with their researchers, the Art Director and the production man. The cover for the coming week is decided on, but this can be changed at the last moment before the magazine goes to press late on Saturday night. There is a backlog of covers ready, and this is called the bank. Some of these are kept active for some time, but mostly where a prominent personality is concerned, they will have one done that is up to date, because people’s faces change. The covers in the bank are there because of things that may be coming up in the news, such as an economic conference at a specific date, or an election where the candidates are known well in advance. It gives the magazine some versatility as to what covers are readily available. For example, when John Kennedy was elected President, I did a cover of Lyndon Johnson the Vice-President as President. When Kennedy was assassinated, Time was able to put the new President on the cover immediately, to everyone’s great surprise.

At the cover conference, know as the College of Cardinals, each senior editor makes a presentation for future covers for his section. He may give a talk on a personality, say in the field of medicine who he feels will become prominent shortly. This is complete with background analysis, and is followed by a general discussion, and a decision on whether to commission a cover, or wait. Once a decision is taken, the cover researcher will search out all background material in the files. Queries will be sent to the appropriate correspondents for descriptive material on the person; a photographer will be assigned to photograph the subject in color and black and white, for the cover. After this has been assembled and many blow ups in black and white made from the photos, the artist who has been chosen in the cover conference or by the Assistant Managing Editor is called in.

In my case, the Assistant Managing Editor would call. Sometimes he’d tell me who it was, and other times he didn’t. I’d go to his office, and the photos would be laid out, both slides and black and white enlargements. The cover researcher would then bring in the background material which in most cases was dozens of pictures. Then we would have a talk about when the cover would appear, what the occasion was, and the general situation that the person was in at the time. We would then go over the “mug shots” of the person, and in the light of the talk pick one as the key photo. Sometimes there would be a subtler or better expression in one of the color slides than in the black and white, and that would then be made into a black and white enlargement. I generally wanted a series. I got a 4 x5, and 8×10 and an 11×14. This was so that in painting the portrait I could look from one to the other; and I found it easier to see the form that way. Where there was an obscure shadow that hid some detail, the lab would make me a light print, so I could see it… All this was ordinarily done while I was in the office. If not, the prints were delivered to me by messenger as soon as possible.

Unpublished cover portrait by Bernard Safran of the Aga Khan, 1952

Unpublished cover portrait by Bernard Safran of His Highness Aga Khan IV, 1957

When we had settled that, we’d discuss the background. The editor sometimes had suggestions, but most often I had to think up an idea on the spot. My background as an illustrator was invaluable for this since I was accustomed to being met by all manner of unexpected situations. We’d go through the background material, and sometimes it would suggest something. For instance, the editor said of DeGaulle, “The So and So thinks he’s a living monument.” I then said, “Well, how about doing him that way.” I suggested that he be done as a statue of a Roman emperor, and the researcher went off and got lots of pictures of Roman busts. Sometimes after a long discussion, and the elimination of one thing after another, for one reason or another, we’d end up with something that I wasn’t happy with. I’d go home and try to come up with another idea, and if it was a good one, they were very quick to change it. It was a very good working relationship. As they came to trust my judgement, the sketches were eliminated. After we talked about it, I’d simply tell him what I would do, and on one or more occasions the material was just sent out to me, and left to me.

Whenever it was possible, I tried to see the person, because the photographs never give you the right impression. President Eisenhower for example looked very pale in his photographs and on TV. I went to the White House to meet him and was very surprised to find that he had a very ruddy face, and exuded a great deal of what I can only describe as magnetism. I went to have breakfast with Richard Nixon when he ran for President in 1960. The pictures of him, and his TV appearances showed him to be pasty faced with a heavy black beard, shaven though he was. In person, he was entirely different, looking very healthy with a normal shaven look. All of the color pictures of Henry Cabot Lodge showed his hair to be brownish with some gray in it. When I saw him in his office, I said “Why, Mr. Lodge, your hair is entirely gray” and he said, “Well — there’s some gray in it.” These are just some examples. I met many of the people after I had painted them, and wished in most cases that I had seen them before the event.

Painting by Bernard Safran. Buddha, 1964. Oil on Masonite, 61cm x 44.5cm (24" x 17 1/2"). Gift of Time magazine

Time Cover painting by Bernard Safran. Buddha, 1964. Oil on Masonite, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

I painted the covers on an average of ten days to two weeks. It was very hard work for me. It had to be good, and I was always very tired when finished, and needed a few days rest as do baseball pitchers – or operatic tenors.

I decided very early to make myself entirely available to Time, and I turned down all other work. This enabled me to continue to study painting, and there were a lot of things that I had to learn.

In 1962, I, my wife and our two girls went to Europe for two months, and we went to go to museums in France, Italy, and Germany, so that I could look at paintings. I thought that this trip was very valuable to me, and my future.

By 1965 I had been working for Time for almost nine years. They were having discussions about a major change in cover policy, which had been in effect since the magazine had been founded. They did in fact change the policy a couple of years later. I thought then that it was a good time for me to leave, and try to be a painter full time. I was 41 years old and felt it was rather late to start, and that if I didn’t do it, I never would. So my family and I went to Europe again for two months to look at paintings. By the time that we had returned, I had definitely made up my mind to leave Time, and I did. It is a decision I have not regretted, and I have been working on my painting ever since.

self portrait Dec 1960

Bernie Safran self portrait December 1960

Scotland the Brave

Coat of Arms Innes

The Coat of Arms of my Grandfather, Colin Webster Innes.

Last week we were blessed with a bagpiper playing in the school yard behind our house. He was obviously practising for something – he marched up and down along the back side of the school in a depression where he probably thought no one would notice him… its hard not to notice bagpipes playing.

I personally love the sound – it strikes some deep ancestral chord in my brain and makes me very happy. My husband, however, found it nerve wracking – he obviously doesn’t have any Scottish blood in him (that Welsh/French Hugenot!)

My maternal grandfather was a Nova Scotian Scot and proud of his long and celebrated heritage. His people lived in Nova Scotia since the early 17th century. It was on May 28, 1625 that his direct ancestor, Sir Robert Innes, became a baronet of Nova Scotia and was the first Scot to receive a land grant of 30,000 acres from King Charles I of England. The land was eventually parceled up and sold – and my Grandfather grew up on some of the remaining land in Porter’s Lake, Nova Scotia.

King Charles I at the Hunt by Anthony Van Dyck, Louvre

King Charles I gave my ancestor 30,000 acres of land in Nova Scotia – very nice indeed. This is one of my most favorite of paintings – Charles I at the Hunt, by Anthony Van Dyck, c 1635. Louvre


The red area shown on the map of Scotland is referred to as the Moray, and was given to Berowald in 1160.

The family history goes back even farther to Christmas Day in 1160 when the knight Berowald was given a charter of land for service to the crown from King Malcolm of Scotland. The charter included the land along the seashore between the rivers Spey and Lowssie and henceforward was known as the Barony of Innes.

Hortus_Deliciarum knights on horse

This is one of the nicest images I could find of Knights from the 12th century – so I can imagine Berowald looked somewhat similar to this when the King gave him his Christmas present in 1160. This painting is a 19th c copy done from the 12th century illuminated manuscript called the Hortus Deliciarum (the original was destroyed by fire). The original manuscript was made at Hohenburg Abbey in France in 1185 by Herrad of Landsberg – a Nun.

My Great Grandfather had been raised to believe that he and his family were in line to inherit the mythical and great Innes fortune. He did extensive research into the family history, even hiring a lawyer to travel to Scotland to push his case. The lawyer’s papers were, however, mysteriously destroyed by fire on-board ship while crossing the Atlantic.

By the time my Grandfather was old enough to take an interest in the family tree himself, the fortune was gone and it was discovered that my family had no claim to it anyway. But my Grandfather still carried on the with the research and even traveled to Scotland in 1961 to visit his ancestral home called Innes House. At that time the Lord Lyon of Arms was an Innes.

Innes House in Moray

Too bad my family didn’t inherit the Innes fortune and the lovely Innes House in Moray.

My Grandfather was a proud and persistent Scot, even after leaving Nova Scotia when he settled in New York. His neighbor in Bronxville, NY (Mr. Varley) liked to play his opera records very loudly on his porch in fine weather, and this drove my Grandfather mad. For revenge he would aim his stereo speakers out the back window and play bagpipe music even louder to drown out the arias… it must have been something to hear that battle going on.

My mother shared the same enthusiasm for her Scottish roots, and hand published a book in 1970 on the Innes History and Geneaology of the Porters Lake Branch, of which there were 7 copies made.
Innes of Porters Lake family history

The book my mother made of the Innes family history. My mother set the type, printed the pages on her printing press, designed & cut & hand printed the illustrations. She inscribed the initial letters by hand, and hand bound the book with a cover of Innes tartan. She even made little slip cases for several copies.

 The book is based on the research that my Grandfather wrote up and had verified in Scotland by the Royal College of Arms.
Innes family tree

The family tree dating back to Berowald. Double click to read.

I gather from reading the book that my ancestors were considered a pretty tough bunch even back then – for example in 1584 Lady Innes (Isabelle Forbes) took revenge upon her husband’s murderer:

“There was no mercy for him, for slain he was, and his hoar head cut off and taken by the widow of him whom he had slain, and casten at the King’s feet, a thing too masculine to be commended in a woman.”        from the book Ane Account of the Familie of Innes written in 1698

Way to go ancestral lady!

Lady Innes by Thomas Gainsborough

This isn’t the lady that rolled the head of her dead enemy to the feet of the king, this is a much later and more lady-like lady. Sarah, Lady Innes, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1757, Frick Collection.

I grew up learning that eating oatmeal and being a penny pincher were Scottish traits that my Grandfather and Mother both admired and shared. I do like my porridge every morning and I do worry about money all the time, but not to the same extent or with the same delight that was taught to me through family lore.

My mother made sure that we had Innes tartan around all the time. We had it made into pillows on the sofa, made into jackets, neckties for my father, vests, scarves, shirts, and of course homemade kilts.

Innes tartan

The Innes Tartan is in my opinion, one of the most vibrant and beautiful of the modern tartans.

The year before we were married my husband and I went to London for a couple of weeks and naturally I was thrilled to order a custom-made, authentic kilt in Innes tartan. Alas, I was a tiny wee lass then and the kilt only fit until I got pregnant with my first child – and then even letting it out didn’t help. It still sits in my closet waiting to be remade into something else… someday I will honor my family heritage and make something I can use out of it – a sleeve or the leg for a pair of pants perhaps.

My Grandfather called me a “Sturdy Wee Lass” when I was a toddler, and that I was. Sadly my Grandfather died when I was little more than 3 so I don’t remember him at all. But his legacy lives on in my heart – and someday I hope to go home to Scotland and visit the castle my people built all those years ago and listen to lots of bagpipes and eat lots of porridge.

Elizabeth Rose Safran age 14 by Bernard Safran

A portrait of me by my father when I was 14. My mother made the entire outfit I am wearing including the Innes Tartan kilt. Elizabeth Rose Safran, Age 14 by Bernard Safran 1974.

Lancelot fight with Sir Mados 1315-1325

When I was researching early images of knights I came across this and it is just too good to pass up so I include it to give that feeling of Medieval life and knights. I love all the characters, especially the horse on the left tentatively watching the bloody battle. Sir Lancelot is fighting Sir Mados in front of Arthur and Guenivere and the court. 1315-1325 France, N. (London, British Library, MS Royal 14 E. iii, f. 156v).






Deneb, Aldebaran, Andromeda* and me

the Milky Way NASA

The Milky Way, photograph by NASA

I’ve always loved outer space – the vast scale of it, the foreignness of it, the discovery of it, the beauty of it. I learned this from my mother who shared her passion for science and nature with me from an early age. We spent many nights together looking at the stars.

Andromeda Galaxy by Ted Van

You can find the Andromeda Galaxy on a dark Autumn night in the constellation Pegasus. In this amazing photograph by Ted Van it appears as a large glowing blob in the right half of the picture. To learn how to find the Andromeda Galaxy without a telescope visit

As a child in Bronxville, NY,  we could find quite a lot to see in the night sky, considering we lived in a suburban neighborhood with big trees and streetlights. With just a pair of binoculars and a star chart and our book The Stars by H A Rey we found planets and moons, constellations, the Milky Way, star clusters and even the Andromeda Galaxy.

Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11 moon landing

One of the the most famous images from the Apollo 11 mission – Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon, 1969.

When the Apollo 11 Space Mission set off for the Moon in 1969, my mother and I were rapt.

Apollo 11 Lunar Module NASA model

An illustration of the NASA model of the Lunar Module. Mine looked just like it except mine was a bit messier and things kept falling off that had to be reglued… good thing the original held together.

I joined a NASA space club and received full color posters and information about the mission and our Solar System, as well as a Lunar Module model that my mother and I put together. I loved that model – it was endlessly fussy to put together, but when it was completed it looked just like the real one – it even had foil on it that I remember being very difficult to handle.

The following year when I was 10, I was given a book for Christmas by Patrick Moore called Seeing Stars  – it had beautiful full color photographs of celestial bodies.

When my mother took me on my yearly birthday trip to the Natural History Museum in NYC, we always included a visit to the Hayden Planetarium. I loved watching the sun set on the domed ceiling, and to then see the stars starting to twinkle up above. The best part was the thrill of traveling from Earth to the planets beyond – flying in our comfy seats to worlds far, far, away.

In 1973 when we moved to the remote farmhouse in Eastern Canada (see my previous posts c 1970s), the sky was enormous. We could stand outside our house and turn off the lights and see the most incredible array.

Orion's Belt Nebula orions belt nebula

A section of the constellation Orion, one of the most easily identified of the Northern Sky constellations. I chose this image because it shows the location of the Great Nebula on Orion’s belt – which can be seen with binoculars on a clear moonless, night. orions belt nebula

When your eyes adjusted to the darkness the glow of the star light was softly visible. There were vastly more stars in Jolicure than in the suburbs of New York City, and so there were many more star clusters, nebulae and other celestial phenomena to look for. We could even see the Northern Lights on occasion, and meteor showers were like bright points of fire falling from above. In the pristine air, and the open wilderness, the Milky Way cut a broad and glittering path across the sky.

My love for star gazing and for learning about the vast universe continued.

In Greece (in the 1980s) when I worked on the south coast of Crete for two seasons at Kommos Excavations, I remember one August in particular that I and two friends took a blanket and some wine and hiked down to the sand dunes near the coast.

Leonid meteor shower 1913 Erick Arnesen

A depiction of the Leonid Meteor Shower from 1913 – note that its so exciting a phenomena that people are fainting. The way the sky is shown is probably somewhat exaggerated, but that’s how it felt when we were watching the Shower from our sandy spot on the south coast of Crete – the sky alight with fire.

We found a spot away from any lights and lay there in the sand and scratchy brush and watched the most spectacular Perseid meteor shower I’ve ever seen. The shooting stars were thick and long tailed – they glowed bright as they trailed across the black heavens. And there was a multitude. It was truly awesome.

Years later my mother moved to Calgary to live with me and my husband and daughters. In the first few years that we’d moved here, there were no houses or schools, no roads or streetlights, behind us. We had a herd of cattle grazing right up to our backyard, and a big herd of deer too. The land swept from our house across the Bow River all the way to the Rocky Mountains without any development, save for one or two barn lights in the far distance. This meant that star gazing was great back then. My mother, my husband and I would wake our little kids and drag them outside to see things in the night sky.

RichardGottardo Rocky Mountains at night

The Canadian Rocky Mountains at night – a beautiful photograph by Richard Gottardo of Calgary. To see more of Richard’s amazing work visit:

The Northern Lights were sensational in Calgary 16 years ago. Giant beams of white light – like celestial searchlights, rose up from the horizon to the apex of the dark sky. Waves of brilliant color washed across the stars – green, shades of deep blue, violet – even red, splashed and ebbed and flowed high above us. One night the lights were particularly startling as they took the shape of a giant bird with wings outstretched – I kid you not – it was breathtaking.

Dean Cobin Northern Lights

The Northern Lights taken in the Yukon, Canada, by Dean Cobin. To see more images by Dean Cobin visit

Now that our new neighborhood is built up, and the City of Calgary has extended west, there are houses and streets out behind our house down to the river and beyond. There is too much light pollution to see more than the very brightest stars or planets despite the City changing all the streetlamps to low emission bulbs.

The last time that we made a concerted effort to see a Leonid meteor shower (without light pollution to diminish it) was a long time ago. Our girls were only about 4 and 7 years old. We bundled them into our car and drove out to beyond the city limits, to a wide open prairie. We found cars parked all along the back roads that night, full of people out to see the falling stars. The girls were unimpressed, but the rest of us enjoyed the comradery and the vision of fire shooting across the black sky.

The Northern Sky is very different now from when I was a little girl. The stars haven’t changed, but there a is constant, crisscrossing of traffic above our planet, made up of satellites and probably space junk. We used to look for the International Space Station whenever it went over our house;  it was like a bright white planet floating in a graceful arc.

solar system from

The Solar System, the way I learned it as a kid, included the planet Pluto. Nowadays its only considered a cold and distant lump of rock orbiting on the far edge of our Solar System. (image from

I admit that watching satellites can be fun too – but it does sadden me that there is so much up stuff there now.

The world and its place in the solar system was much more exciting to me as a child when it was a rare and exciting thing to see a satellite going by and Pluto was still a planet.


*Deneb : Deneb is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnas (aka the Swan, the Northern Cross). It is one of the most distant stars that you can see with the naked eye and also one of the most brilliant – it is a super giant star, and it is white hot. To learn more about Deneb and find out how to find it in the Northern Sky visit

*Aldebaran :  Aldebaran is a huge reddish orange colored star glowing in the eye of the constellation Taurus the bull. It is easily seen in the winter sky. To find it visit

*Andromeda : The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest galaxy to ours. It can be seen in the Northern Hemisphere with the naked eye or with binoculars on a moonless, clear Autumn night. To find out how visit

Update December 9th, 2014 – I just saw this beautiful night sky video of Banff and Jasper National Parks by Jack Fusco created for Travel Alberta and had to add a link – please take a minute to view…

Happy Birthday Adele

On this day January 18th, in 1926, my mother Adele was born.

Baby Adele with her sisters Joanne (L) and Barbara

Baby Adele with her sisters Joanne (L) and Barbara 1926

She is now 88 years old.

Like her entire generation, my mother Adele lived through the depression, WWII (she made airplane parts in a factory during the war) – the Korean War – the Vietnam War – the Gulf War – the War in Iraq and Afghanistan and every other horrible violent human endeavor perpetrated through most of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st.

She witnessed the discovery of vaccines and antibiotics and the development and use of rockets and nuclear bombs and nuclear power plants. She had one of the first television sets. She saw the first satellite go round the earth and watched the space program and space exploration unfold. She watched all the Star Trek TV shows and movies – but loved the first series best. She watched the development and ubiquitous growth of computers and eventually got one in her 70s.

Adele (L) and her little sister Coline c1937

Adele (L) and her little sister Coline c1937

And don’t forget all the social changes – the fight for women’s rights and the advancement of civil rights – watched the population explosion, the use of genetically modified crops, the move of populations to cities, the building of high rises and sky scrapers, hippies – disco – punk … and on and on.

And through all of this she remained curious and excited by new ideas and new opportunities to learn. Anything and everything she wanted to know about – so she read continuously and watched documentaries and news shows, took classes and joined clubs, and she even took a couple of the Great Courses in her 80’s.

All of this would be enough to fill one life but she did more. She was an artist first and loved to paint in oils – she painted more than a hundred portraits of children alone.

Adele and Hightop

Adele age 18 and Hightop

She was creative beyond painting and art too – she made all of our family’s clothes using Vogue patterns and most often the designer line which can be very challenging in terms of tailoring and sewing technique. She hand pieced quilts and for a time was president of the Jolicure quilting club. She reupholstered furniture and one time not only made a new slipcover for a big old armchair but embroidered the whole thing with sunflowers. She did other needlework too – including designing and producing needlepoint kits with her sister Joanne (also an accomplished needleworker) and made beautiful and elaborately smocked dresses for her children and grandchildren. And as I wrote about earlier – she hand made books with calligraphy and linoleum cuts and used beautiful silks and Japanese papers to bind them.

Adele Safran c 1964

Adele, my beautiful mother, in one of her couturier suits c 1964

When I was little during the 1960s she taught me all about the stars and planets and we would go out at night in our little suburban backyard and gaze at the little patch of visible sky and see all we needed to see.

When the Apollo mission went to the moon I joined the NASA space club and she and I read everything together and made a beautiful scale model of the lunar lander and of course watched all the TV broadcasts of the mission together. And when we moved to the country in Canada, the sky was enormous and we were able to see the Andromeda Galaxy, and star clusters and planets and the northern lights…

The Black Pony by Adele Safran, oil on masonite

The Black Pony by Adele Safran (oil on masonite).
My mother won the blue ribbon for this work at the Calgary Stampede.

She was a great cook, and learned how to decorate cakes with frosting roses and flowers. She ground her own flour and baked her own bread – never ate store bought till she was too old to do it herself about 2 years ago. She grew and pickled and froze and preserved her vegetables (did I say she was also a gardener?). She made her own wine from raisins and bananas. And if anything needed fixing – well you just fixed it – no need to replace it.

She taught me to explore the natural world and learn about it and to love animals and plants and trees and to be free of fear but respectful of all of them.

So in short – after this long blurb, I guess I just want to say that she gave me a wonderful gift – her curiosity of the world and her fearless joy of living every day in it. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Adele Safran with her sisters Coline (center) and Joanne c 1988

Adele with her sisters Coline (center) and Joanne c 1988 in the backyard of the Red Farmhouse in Jolicure, NB, Canada


Please Note: Adele is now ill with advanced Alzheimer’s – this is a tribute to the woman I remember and love.

I will be writing in more detail about her remarkable life in upcoming posts.

The Rose and the Ring

TSS Maasdam

We took the TSS Maasdam home from Europe in the late fall of 1965. We encountered a terrible storm crossing the north Atlantic and a giant wave pushed the ship down onto its side while we were at dinner. All the adults screamed – everything and everyone fell amidst all the broken dishes and food and furniture – a nice waiter picked me up and carried me out of the chaos…
Also I had a passionate fight with a little Dutch girl who insisted there was no Santa, only Sinterklaas.

My family went to Europe on a long tour of art and cities in 1965 when I was 5 years old. My mother was afraid of flying so we crossed the Atlantic to and from Europe on an ocean liner. To entertain my sister and I, my mother brought along the book The Rose and the Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray first published in 1855 as one of Thackeray’s Christmas Stories.

frontpiece for the Rose and the Ring 1855

The story is a delightful fairy tale with a lot of humor in it about the long lost princess and subsequent Queen of Crim Tartery, the beautiful Rosalba, and her eventual discovery and marriage to the handsome Prince Giglio. The story has many funny characters including the First Lord of the Toothpick, the Marquis degli Spinachi, Prince Bulbo and Count Kutasoff Hedzoff.

All the illustrations were done by Thackeray himself and were so delightful I remember making my mother draw them over and over again on a pad of paper to amuse us while we were crossing the ocean and traipsing across Europe. (We also made her read the story over and over again to us too with all the different voices.)Prince Giglio hitting King Valoroso with the bed warming pan

The story runs 147 pages in my little book of Thackeray Christmas Stories published by Oxford University Press (frustratingly my little leather bound book has no date, but given the style of the forward and the binding, I suspect a late 19th century publication date.) As the author of the forward writes The Rose and the Ring  “… is unique and sublime.”Gruffanuff Rose Ring153

So I thought I would share this with you this Holiday Season with a small selection of the funny pictures.

And as Thackeray himself says on the last page of the story, “Merry Christmas Good My Friends”.


Adele Makes a Book: Part II

Adele Safran's book of poems, front page c 1967

Adele Safran’s book of poems, front page c 1967

The first book that my mother made by hand was a book of poems.

My Mom’s work room was in the basement of our house. The stairs down to the basement divided the space in equal parts. On the left was a card table that my mother used to do all her work; on the right by the furnace was where my father had a darkroom set up. The rest of the basement was for drying laundry and storing the usual tools and things.

My mother was very patient with me. I used to go down and hang around her while she did whatever she was doing. And when she was doing calligraphy I must have really tried her patience… one distraction and an entire page could be ruined – and I am sure I was enough of a distraction to destroy many pages…

Mom I'm bored, Betty Safran with little braids and bows

Mom I’m bored…. I’m told that I bounced and danced everywhere, a bad combination when someone is trying to do calligraphy on a shaky card table. It must have been exquisitely hard for my Mom not to yell at me.

… moving the table as she worked, leaning in to see what she was doing (my nose under her nose), playing around with her linoleum tools and calligraphy pens.

She never yelled at me, but would patiently ask me to leave if I was too much. More often she’d give me something to do along side her or in my room so that I would be engaged and quiet(er). She even let me use the super sharp cutting tools to make my own linoleum cuts on small scraps.

Mom used our Betsy McCall Designer light table to do her calligraphy (it was meant for designing paper doll clothes). She’d tape a darkly lined paper onto the area that lit up, and then place her good paper over top so that she could see the lines through it and make her words and sentences straight.

She made three copies of the book all by hand: one for my grandmother, one for my sister and one for me. That meant she had to copy out three exact pages for each poem. (3 times the difficulty of doing it when I was around – no doubt she worked most of the time when I was at school.)


She illustrated every poem with a unique lino cut. I had my favorite pictures when I was a kid, and obviously my favorite poems.


I was less inclined to like the poems about death and sadness – but the book wasn’t meant to be a child’s book – it was meant to be cherished throughout my life.


And I do cherish it.