Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Costantino Proietto Masterpiece Passes to a New Generation

A Costantino Proietto original oil painting of Bad Kreuznach, Germany now owned by the Jenkins Family in Orlando, Florida, USA - Click for larger image (

A Costantino Proietto Masterpiece Passes to a New Generation

In November 2012, Mrs. Shelly Jenkins of Orlando, Florida wrote to me about a Costantino Proietto painting that she had recently inherited. Her great, great aunt, Ms. Marian J. Fortune of Brevard, North Carolina had died in May 2012 at age seventy-nine. In her will and bequeathed to Shelly Jenkins was one of only two known Costantino Proietto original oil paintings of Bad Kreuznach, Germany. The other features the medieval and marvelous bridge houses, built over the Nahe River.

For eight years during the 1950’s and 1960’s, Ms. Fortune was a Physical Education Teacher for the U.S. Department of Defense School for American Dependents, in Bad Kreuznach. After World War II, the artist exhibited his paintings at Allied bases and later at NATO base post exchanges. On the back of this painting reads, a “DM 360.” pencil marking might represent a price of 360 Deutschmark.

Detail from the C.Proietto oil painting of Bad Kreuznach, Germany, ca 1964 - Click for larger image ( to cousin, Nunzio LoCastro, as early as 1951, a Costantino Proietto’s painting could command a price of 200 Deutschmark. If Marian Fortune was in Bad Kreuznach in 1964, the “Pro 11364” pencil marking on the back might represent a purchase date of November 3, 1964. With inflation and ongoing recognition of the artist’s work, DM 360 would be a reasonable price for a 40” X 20” C.Proietto original oil painting at that time.

If such was the case, it is likely that Costantino Proietto himself sold this painting to Ms. Fortune. After all, Bad Kreuznach and the artist’s studio in Stuttgart were little more than two hours away from each other. The tag and wax seal affixed to the back of the painting are consistent with his other 1960’s works. The 40” X 20” (a 4:2 aspect ratio) is similar to other Tino Proietto 1960’s “CinemaScope” style paintings. Most of his earlier works had a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is similar 35-mm film. The flattened horizontal lines within the artist’s signature are consistent with his later works, when his signature became more stylized.

Signature of the artist "C.Proietto", on the Jenkins' family painting - Click for larger image ( many C.Proietto landscapes display a romantic or timeless quality, to my knowledge the artist painted only real places. Although I am not aware of its exact location, the painting probably depicts a river scene in Bad Kreuznach. Since the artist worked from both photographs and sketches, this painting may have originated from either or both of those sources.

Even when darkened with dust or soot, Tino Proietto’s paintings age with grace. Although there is some darkening in the sky and several small chips or spills on the canvas, a good technician could remove those without damaging the overall piece. Older canvases may be dry and brittle, so avoiding impacts to their surfaces is especially important. By mixing cigarette ashes into his pigments, Costantino Proietto often “pre-aged” his paintings. For that reason, I would not suggest a full-scale restoration of the painting. Doing so may destroy more value than it creates.

Detail from the Tino Proietto painting of Bad Kreuznach, Germany - Click for larger image ( at the back, frame construction appears to be of particleboard, which was inexpensive at the time. In order to bring out the full beauty of the painting, I suggest a professional re-framing. The framer should use extreme caution while separating the canvas from the frame. Upon separation from the frame, some long-dried paint may lift from the canvas.

This painting of Bad Kreuznach exhibits Proietto’s penchant for foreground (water grasses), middle ground (various buildings) and then a fade into the background (mountains/sky). The two red-tiled buildings in the upper-right and the blue-roofed building on the left received a heavier dose of impasto (palate knife) technique. Note the red flowers on the balconies and walls. Almost every C.Proietto landscape features red flowers somewhere in the canvas. Also, note the realistic appearance of the buildings in the center of the painting. Close inspection shows that the artist used very few strokes to create the effect. To see a C.Proietto painting in all of its glory, I suggest good natural light and a viewing distance of about ten feet.

This heavily watermarked image is of a C.Proietto original oil painting of Besigheim am Neckar, Germany sold at auction several years ago ( with each C.Proietto I have ever seen, this is a timeless and beautiful painting. As a collector of the artist’s work, I pictured it hanging on my wall. After I made an offer to purchase the Jenkins Family C.Proietto, Shelly Jenkins wrote back, saying, “We were so thrilled when we heard that Marian Fortune willed the painting to us. We did not get much opportunity to visit with her during her lifetime and her thought was memorable”. Although Shelly Jenkins would not sell her C.Proietto mid-century masterpiece, I thank her for offering to share her painting with the world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When Seawater Laps at The Steps of The New York Stock Exchange...

The author at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico - Click for larger image (

This article originally appeared on September 17, 2008 at

Lately, have you had difficulty keeping track of time?  Do you have to stop and ask yourself whether it is spring or fall?  If so, do not be alarmed.  It is simply your first step on a path towards spiritual enlightenment.  It is not so much that your “forgetting” is good.  The good is that you are loosening the insidious bonds of time from your life.  If we are slaves to the clock or the calendar, we remove serendipity from our lives.

When we finally do “let go”, either at death or sooner, if we so choose, the resulting energy shift may be traumatic or sublime.  That depends on how far we have come along our spiritual path before unforeseen events take us rapidly to a new-energy place.  All that is required is a smile and a heady whiff from the smelling salts of gnost before we take the plunge or ascend to dimensions unknown.

If fear and old energy concerns hold you back, that is OK.  It may not be time for you to step forward and consciously intersect with all that this life and our universe have to offer.  In the U.S., even the fear mongers have taken up the mantra of hope and change.  They may recognize the power of the rhetoric, but embracing the reality of change is too great a stretch for the unaware or the unenlightened.  Old-energy power does not prevail in the new-energy world.
When galactic clusters collide - Click for larger image ( 
If you have followed what we call the “spiritual movement” over the past several years, or if you are an Oprah fan, you have heard many new terms, such as New Earth, Spirit, New Energy, God Within, Source Energy and Quantum Leap.  If you recognize even three or four of these terms, you are shifting your awareness and awakening to your own spiritual path.

None of this need be a problem for you or your loved ones.  The situation stems from an agreement that you made with yourself, prior to birth.  Simply put, you decided to forget your divine origins and to plunge deeply into the “reality” of the physical world in which we live.  For quite a while, that was fine.  However, deep inside you there was always a mixture of yearning and love that you could not gulp back down into its place, to again forget.  All energy seeks resolution and the yearning, love energy within you is no exception.

If you question the validity or truth of your own divinity, why are you reading this information?  You came here for a reason.  That reason involves your own personal spiritual quest.  It is your adventure on Earth and the meaning of your life is there for you to discover.
 Albert Einstein portrait - Click for larger image (
Many, having taken this path before you, are waiting to help you along the way.  All you need do is relinquish control and allow your fears to drift away, into the mist.  If fear or doubts persist, verbalize your request for help.  Help well be summoned and delivered to you in a form that you can easily accept and understand.  All you need to do is open up your heart and allow that help into your life.

How does this, your life, all turn out?  Do not ask me.  It is your life and you are free to create your own positive outcomes.  I am only here to point out that it is your choice to accept or ignore the many signs around you.  If you look with fresh eyes, listen with fresh ears and open your heart to All that Is, wisdom and truth will follow you everywhere.
One year ago this week, at midnight on September 17, 2007, the earth quietly transformed her energy state.  On that date, over three hundred Shaumbra attended the Quantum Leap Celebration in Taos, New Mexico.  Skeptics will say that scientific instruments recorded nothing and therefore nothing happened.  Some people enjoy saying that if you cannot directly measure something, it cannot be real or true. 
2007 Quantum Leap Celebration Welcome Sign - Click for larger image ( 
Admittedly, three hundred and twenty-five sounds like a small number of people to effect a quantum change in the earth’s energy state.  However, there were far more attendees than the intrepid few mortals who found their way to Taos last fall.  Listening in for three days of live internet broadcasts, thousands more humans received tidings of a new-energy.  Beyond that, there were untold numbers of non-physical beings in attendance.  Slipping into Taos from their home dimensions, they felt what was going on and added their love and wisdom to the mix.

Other than a fireworks display and a thunderstorm that visited overnight, there was not much to prove that there had been a worldwide quantum leap in energy.  Some felt it.  Others did not.  Some were skeptical and others were true believers.  There was no correct or incorrect response.  At that time, I was somewhere between the two poles.  If you are unfamiliar with the Quantum Leap Celebration, read the two articles I wrote about it one year ago, at "The Quantum Leap" and "Hasta la vista, Taos, New Mexico". 
Shaumbra Logo - The Monarch Butterfly - Click for larger image ( 
The moment of the Quantum Leap was September 17, 2007 at midnight Taos, New Mexico time.  I did not stay in the auditorium that night.  Instead, I went out to dinner with friends.  By not staying in the room until midnight, I demonstrated to myself that the new, “quantumized” energy was available in all places, not just at its point of inception.  Tobias, as channeled by Geoffrey Hoppe, had said that September 17, 2007 would feel like any other day.  For me, that was true.

So much has happened since then, for each of us.  Now there is a tremendous change in energy across the land.  No one knows whether fear or hope will win the day.  Even if fear wins, we can still have hope.  Hope is not dependent on the election of any one candidate.  Old-energy, as exemplified by the greed and corruption in our financial markets may soon lose power on Wall Street and in Washington, DC.  Interestingly, under the most conservative administration in memory, the U.S. is rapidly becoming a socialist state.  The U.S. government now owns the two largest corporations in the world, Fannie May and Freddie Mac, as well as AIG Insurance. Nowadays, small fry like Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. barely warrant mention.  As we went to press with this document, the U.S. government had just injected $180 billion into the international money markets.  Just whose money was that?

This week, after twenty-eight confused and violent years, Robert Mugabe gave up power in Zimbabwe.  Zimbabwe is the Heart of Africa.  Its spiritual journey towards hope and freedom, although not guaranteed, has at last begun.  Their new Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai will not prosecute Mugabe for his crimes against the state or humanity.  Mugabe’s new task is to reflect on his prior actions and their consequences for his fellow citizens and all of humanity.  From the shadows of war-torn Africa, a ray of hope now shines brightly, to All that Is.  As we encounter that ray, it penetrates our hearts and allows compassion, for Robert Mugabe, for Africa and for all of humanity.  This is true, for we are one.
Old-energy, military power symbols - Click for larger image ( 
As recently stated by Deepak Chopra, we have our own shadows to deal with here in America.  Although there are no guaranteed outcomes, the tide is turning.  Regardless of who become the next president and vice president of the United States, the winds and tides of change are now rising to storm-surge levels.  If you need further proof, view post-hurricane pictures of beachfront real estate along the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

Such events are not God’s retribution for poorly lived lives.  The cause is Gaia, our own Mother Earth cleaning up her energy before she turns the whole planet over to us – the human beings.  Whether humans caused global warming or not is immaterial.  What does matter is dealing with this energy shift in such a way that we do not knowingly put millions of people back in the path of fiscal or physical disaster.  When seawater laps at the steps of the New York Stock Exchange, will the old-energy players still be ignoring the real issues of our day?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Superstorm Sandy Dictates a New Approach to Atlantic Coastal Development

Remnants of Atlantis? Costantino Proietto painted Italy's "Capri Marina Piccolo", with its classic ruins - Click for larger image (

Superstorm Sandy Dictates a New Approach to Atlantic Coastal Development

In March 2011, I wrote a four-part article on the implications of Atlantis on our current culture. Using my vortexual theory of history, I compared the concept of Atlantean-elite thinking to our treatment of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Without repeating all that I said about New Orleans being the new Atlantis, I can now update those concepts with new information. When Superstorm Sandy barreled up the East Coast of the The lighthouse and keeper's cottage at Cape Lookout, North Carolina show the storm vulnerability of Atlantic coastal development - Click for larger image ( States, she trailed a banner reading, “Here I come. Are you ready for the New Atlantis?”

The myth of Atlantis is a cautionary tale. It is about a proud, arrogant elite dominating a culture and denying the changes to its own climate and its own mortality. As the Atlantean culture sank beneath the ocean waves, the elites denied their problem until it was too late. Like Atlantis, the lessons of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans remain obscure. Now, with Superstorm Sandy fresh on our minds, we have another chance to learn from disaster. If we learn our lessons, we may chart a better course for the future of the Mid-Atlantic region.

Caretaker cottages at the Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina demonstrate the vulnerability of building next to a rising ocean - Click for larger image ( now, I will leave it to others to judge whether the initial search, recovery and disaster relief efforts were well planned and executed. Here in the West, the impact of Superstorm Sandy has been minimal. Media reports only hint at the deprivation and discomfort that many still feel. While writing this article, I stopped to send the text message “Redcross” to 90999. With that action, I donated $10 to relief efforts in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

In the aftermath of Katrina, disorganization, waste, fraud, graft and corruption drained away assets and energy from legitimate hurricane relief. Although it was obvious to many that New Orleans would never return to its pre-Katrina size, shape and population, our collective consciousness demanded otherwise. In the ensuing years, we saw formaldehyde-laced trailers brought in for displaced families. Actor Brad Pitt's architectural In hurricane prone coastal planes, overhead electrical wires should be replaced with underground cables - Click for larger image ( attempted to create homes that could withstand Katrina type flooding. Like monuments to old energy thinking, a few Brad Pitt Houses now stand, waiting for their test in the next big hurricane.

When Hurricane Katrina led to collapse of levees around New Orleans, the flooding was quick and deep. Residents caught in the flood either found their way to attics and roofs, or drowned in their own homes. Wind did not cause most of the damage, but rather it was the onslaught of deep water. Now, over seven years later, we hear of people trapped in their homes on Staten Island and other low-lying places near the shore. This time, wind-driven storm surge multiplied the effects of an astronomical high tide. Unlike New Orleans under Katrina, huge Class-A motorhomes, like this Brassfield Estate Winery Prevost/Liberty Coach model could provide rapid evacuation in the event of wind or storm surge - Click for larger image ( pummeled the mid-Atlantic shoreline.

After Katrina, roofs of intact houses poked above the floodwater. Along the beaches of New Jersey, wave action and tidal surge ripped homes off their foundations. Water and wind sent them inland, battering against their defenseless neighbors. After Sandy, near the shoreline, many houses no longer exist. Soon enough, the focus will turn to “rebuilding” homes and neighborhoods. To that, I ask the question, “Rebuilding what, where and how?”

Many yearn for the nostalgia of the old coastline, with its cottages, piers and amusement parks. Sentimental people will want to rebuild the old communities exactly as they were. Politicians will pander to those desires. With sufficient With the proper hitch-receiver, an over-the-road tractor like Kevin Rutherford's Freightliner Coronado could pull any fifth wheel RV or park model manufactured home away from potential storm damage - Click for larger image ( pressure, Congress will authorize billions of dollars to rebuild shoreline housing. Climate Change deniers will deem Superstorm Sandy an anomaly, unrelated to human-caused degradation of the Earth’s atmosphere. With reconstruction funds available, the profit motive will once again try to dominate legitimate environmental concerns.

In my 2011 Atlantis articles, I advocated for an apolitical, environment-first approach to disaster recovery. By then, it was too late to bring rational thinking to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Soon after Superstorm Sandy is the best time to discuss our long-term response and recovery plans. Stakeholders include homeowners, local, state and federal governments, plus all U.S. citizens. After all, we the taxpayers will ultimately pay most of the bill for both cleanup Older mobile homes, like this one in Moab, Utah were not built for high winds or current energy efficiency standards - Click for larger image ( rebuilding. Here I propose a new solution for rebuilding residential properties most vulnerable to mid-Atlantic storm surge.

First, we need a complete review of the federal flood insurance program for the affected area. No one in the new floodplain should rebuild under existing flood insurance programs. The flood maps were inadequate and the potential for future destruction in those areas is high. If anyone rebuilds in a Sandy-flooded area, it should be at his or her own expense and risk, not at the risk of all.

Second, new flood maps must include more than the area flooded by Superstorm Sandy. In 2012, most of what remained of the Greenland ice cap melted away. In the next few years, both polar ice caps may be gone. New
Newer park model manufactured homes could remain on their axles and wheels, allowing rapid evacuation of both residents and their homes - Click for larger image ( maps for the mid-Atlantic region should include the consequent sea level rise. With a realistic flood map, we can begin the redevelopment of residential properties not deemed in imminent peril.

Third, we need to demand new structures that make sense to build and insure. As the beaches of New Jersey now show us, rebuilding with wood-frame houses is out of the question. Built on piles, a Brad Pitt House is still vulnerable to high winds. The best way to rebuild would be with rapidly relocatable or mobile housing. Although new standards for durability, insulation and storm worthiness would be necessary, the following is what I propose.

As in Paris under Napoleon, authorities would need to cut new access roads National and regional trucking firms could caravan their over-the-road tractors, like these Peterbilt models to storm-threatened relocatable housing sites at the coast - Click for larger image ( enough for manufactured homes to travel inland. Similar to those in an RV A residential lot would feature a concrete pad to support the home and utility service connections. The utilities would need to withstand wind, rain and salt-water immersion. To avoid the threat of fire, both natural gas and electrical services should have smart meters that feature remote shut-off capabilities. The actual housing could be of several different types.

For the most vulnerable lots, housing should be highly mobile. In most cases, a Class-A motorhome would suffice. Likewise, a fifth-wheel motorhome would work on vulnerable lots, but a pickup truck capable of towing the fifth wheel would have to be on scene. Monthly road tests should be required. If a storm appeared, the owner could disconnect from the water, gas and electric in Even an aerodynamic, well constructed travel trailer could provide a mobile summer cottage along vulnerable mid-Atlantic coastal planes - Click for larger image ( than an hour. Within two hours, the mobile summer cottage could be well inland and out of harm’s way.

For those who want a more substantial dwelling, an axle and wheel-mounted manufactured home would suffice. The recreational vehicle (RV) industry designates many such dwellings as “park models”. Since these dwellings would move only in the event of an emergency, attention to hitch-type and wheel/tire durability would be essential. If planned properly, any over-the-road tractor could tow these manufactured homes to safety. For these larger units, turning radius, ground clearance and inland storage locations would be important. In case of emergency, regional plans for towing these larger units to safety would need to be in place.

President Obama delivers his 2012 State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress - Politicians of both parties need to agree on a realistic approach to coastal flooding and relocatable housing stock - Click for larger image ( The alternative to creating mobile seaside villages would be to rebuild with vulnerable permanent structures or forgo rebuilding entirely. During the recent presidential campaign, both sides talked about bringing manufacturing jobs back to America. The best way to do so is by upgrading the factory-built home and RV industries. In the U.S., RV's and manufactured homes have no foreign competition. To redevelop mid-Atlantic shoreline housing with anything but relocatable dwellings and weather-resistant infrastructure would be sheer folly.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lost Mosaic Mural of the late Artist Denis O'Connor

Artist, Dennis O'Connor (1934 - 2008) in front of a self-titled mosaic nameplate, at home in Anza, California (

The Lost Mosaic Mural of the late Artist Denis O'Connor hides at JPMorgan Chase Bank, Burbank, California

According to an obituary in the February 21, 2008 edition of the Los Angeles Times, the famed muralist Denis O’Connor died on December 26, 2007, although his family did not announce his death until last week.
By clicking on the word obituary, here or above, you can read the interesting story of his life and art.  For anyone living in Los Angeles in the 1960s or 1970s, Denis’s public art was the visible mainstay of the often-ornate Home Savings & Loan buildings constructed at that time.
As the chief architect for Home Savings, Millard Sheets name appeared on each mosaic tile mural, despite the fact that Denis O'Connor executed each of them - Click for larger image of the former Santa Monica branch ( Home Savings sold out to Washington Mutual (WAMU) in 1998, during the heyday of the 1960’s, H.F. Ahmanson & Co., then headed by Howard F. Ahmanson, Sr. (1906-1968) was Home Saving’s owner.  Ahmanson made his fortune during the Great Depression selling fire insurance for property under foreclosure and in the post-war home construction and real estate boom around Los Angeles.
The Home Savings branches built during that time featured gold leaf trim and Italian marble fascia, supplied by Ahmanson’s own marble quarry.  Eat your heart out Getty Trust.
With his recent death, there is new interest in the nearly eighty murals that O’Connor created for the company.  As time passed, and the company changed hands, several of the murals disappeared during renovation or the destruction of old Home Savings buildings.  The lost mural of Denis O'Connor, depicting a fanciful Los Angeles Zoo now lies hidden behind a false wall inside the Chase Bank in Burbank, California - Click for a larger image of this lost artistic masterpiece (
Since only in death does an artist receive full appreciation for his or her work, it behooves us all to find, catalog and preserve the amazing public legacy that Denis O’Connor left to us.  I hereby challenge WAMU (JP Morgan Chace) to step away from their idiotic television and print ad campaigns in favor of discovering, preserving and promoting their own under-appreciated public art collection.
I will start the ball rolling by telling everyone that one of Denis O’Connor’s best works lies intact, but long hidden behind a false wall in the main room of Chase Bank's Burbank, California branch, located at the corner of Burbank Blvd. and San Fernando Road.
Let’s get serious about the JPMorgan Art Collection.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Rare Beech 1954 B-45 (AKA T-34A) Arrives at Moab, Utah

Looking much like a Beech T-34A Mentor Trainer, this Beech B-45 export model recently landed at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah Click for larger image (

A Rare 1954 Beech B-45 (AKA T-34A) Arrives at Moab, Utah

On October 2, 2012, I was at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah fixing the webcam at Redtail Aviation. For unknown reasons, the webcam had gone dark just a few weeks before. Although it would take several more trips to fix the webcam, I decided to stop work when an unusual airplane arrived on the tarmac. Over the roar of an engine, one of the mechanics said, “It’s a T-34A”.

By the time I had walked to the transient tie-down area, the engine had stopped and the pilot was on the ground, retrieving his tie-down equipment. Pilot of a Beech B-45 (T-34A) military training aircraft maneuvers it into place on the tarmac at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (“That was fast”, I said as he and his companion continued their work. I told him that I was always looking for another unusual aircraft to photograph and that this was a good candidate. Without stopping his work for more than a moment, he consented to my request.

With flawless gray paint, the number “021” and the words “U.S. Air Force” on the airplane’s narrow fuselage, I felt like I had stepped back into the early 1950’s. The Air Force banded-star logo and a diagonal checkerboard pattern on the tail looked authentic to me. Only the discreetly painted “N-134FA” painted on low, near the tail indicated that this was a private, not a military aircraft.

Designated as Serial Number 021, This Beech B-45 military trainer inches into place at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image ( no motorized tug available, the pilot hooked a handle to the nose wheel and pushed. With a slight uphill grade before him, I was surprised how quickly he got the heavy airplane moving. When he came almost to a halt, he asked his companion for some help. Soon, the couple had the plane positioned in its place on the tarmac. As I mentioned the unpredictable and erratic winds that sometimes visit Canyonlands Field, the pilot quickly chained each wing to a metal loop, cast into a concrete pad below.

As they worked, I noticed more details on the airplane. There was a robust, retractable tricycle landing gear. On each wingtip, there was a small, aerodynamic tank, which added to on-board fuel reserves. Built for strength more than speed, most of the rivets on the fuselage featured round heads, which protruded from the metal skin. In various places, especially on the wings, more aerodynamic flush-rivets had replaced the old round-headed ones. Earlier, it appeared, this plane had received an overhaul of its airframe. The three-point prop and its shiny spinner bespoke of a recent engine overhaul or replacement.

A good tie-down system is essential at the occasionally gusty Canyonlands Field at Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (, the canopy cover was on, special cushions sealed the engine air intakes and the crew of two was ready to depart. As if on cue, a van pulled up and an adventure outfitter chauffeured them to their next destination. In about twenty minutes, this couple had landed, tied down their airplane and departed. As if the airplane flight was not enough for this adventurous couple, they had an afternoon hike planned in the Canyonlands near Moab.

If you see an airplane and wonder, “Who owns that?” copy down the “N-Number”, which is found on or near the tail. Access the internet and go to the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) Search Page. Type in the N-Number and then click “Submit”. In a moment or two, you will receive a summary of the airplane in question, including its type, age and ownership. Although I had given a business card to the pilot, Moab can be a distracting place, so perhaps he lost my card or forgot to write.

Pilot of a Beech B-45 (T-34A) places a sun-cover over the canopy of his aircraft - Click for larger image ( When I conducted a FAA search on “N-134FA”, I found many interesting details about the supposed T-34A aircraft. Although similar to the Air Force designated Beech Model T-34A Mentor that its markings indicated, this aircraft was actually a Beech Model B-45, manufactured in 1954. As a Beech B-45 of that particular vintage, it was a U. S. manufactured military trainer intended for sale to the export market. Current registration for the airplane is by Fast Aircraft, Inc. in Scottsdale, Arizona. Beyond that, I will have to wait for the pilot or his crew to see this posting and provide new or better information.

After publication of this article, we heard from owner and pilot Todd McCutchan. Following are his comments:

Hi Jim,

So it is a 1954 Beech T-34A (B-45). The B-45 was the export version of the T-34A which was built for the USAF. My particular aircraft went down to Chile where it was used to train fighter pilots and was outfitted with gun pods / bomb racks to gunnery / bombing training and perhaps some light ground attack.

It was returned to the USA in as a group of 20+ other T-34’s that were negotiated to be purchased by a private USA company in 1990. Since then it has been heavily modified and restored. The original 225 hp engine has been replaced with a 285 hp engine and all of the avionics, wiring, electrical system have been updated and most other systems have been overhauled or replaced.

I am the 2nd owner since its return to the USA and purchased the aircraft in 2009. My wife and I fly it around the USA where we participate in airshows and fly-ins as well as give rides to young people hoping for a career in the air and returning veterans to the air.

I have a written a few articles about the T-34 and its history which you will find here and here.

Kind regards,
Todd McCutchan
Fast Aircraft
T-34A - N134FA

Friday, November 2, 2012

La Jota Vineyards to W.H. Smith Wines, Bill and Joan Smith are Howell Mountain Pioneers

Bill Smith welcomes Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy and Dr. Loron McGillis to his W.H. Smith Winery at Howell Mountain, California - Click for larger image (

From La Jota Vineyards to W.H. Smith Wines, Bill and Joan Smith are Howell Mountain Pioneers

In September 2012, I watched as two old friends greeted each other in the warm California sun. While touring the Napa Valley with my father, Dr. Loron N. (Duke) McGillis * and Carrie McCoy, we decided to visit the W.H. Smith Winery in the Howell Mountain hills east of Angwin. As he shook hands with W.H. (Bill) Smith, my father reminisced, “Bill, I first met you and your wife, Joan in 1978”.

In those days, Bill & Joan Smith lived in a century-old farmhouse at La Jota Vineyards, a few miles down the hill from where we stood. Subdivided from the original Spanish land grant of the same name, La Jota featured an 1898 One of three artificial caves created at W.H. Smith Winery, Howell Mountain AVA in 2003 - Click for larger image (, fieldstone winery. Despite the remaining early infrastructure, Howell Mountain had seen little wine produced or bottled since the Great Depression. Although the history of viticulture in around Howell Mountain was rich, the place was little-known to most wine critics, consumers and historians.

On July 4, 1978, I had the pleasure of attending the first La Jota Vineyards holiday barbecue. This annual event later achieved near cult status among the Smith’s friends and neighbors. Arriving a day early, we slept overnight in sleeping bags out in a small pasture. The next morning, Bill Smith used his new Kubota tractor to dig a pit for slow-roasting crabs or lobsters over the coals.

Dr. Loron McGillis and Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy enter one of the caves at W.H. Smith Winery, Howell Mountain, California AVA in September 2012 - Click for larger image ( years later, during another celebration at the old farmhouse, Bill’s fine new Howell Mountain Estate - La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon flowed freely. Dinner that night was to be poached salmon. My father’s wife, the late Joyce McGillis had what must have been a twenty-pound salmon poaching atop the stove. When we finally wrestled the huge fish onto a cutting board, the first slice told us that the fish was still raw. Somehow, we got that huge fish back into the boiling water. The second time we tried it, the entire fish was poached to perfection. Since fish, wine and miracles go well together, we all broke bread, toasted to our chef and enjoyed the meal.

In his early days of winemaking, Bill Smith was an admitted amateur at the craft. If something was not going well in the old stone winery, he studied it, W.H. Smith Wines Howell Mountain vineyard is ringed by forest - Click for larger image ( then fixed the problem. If the problem was beyond his own expertise, he sought qualified help. Bill's strategy of continuous improvement worked well. Critics and consumers alike enjoyed each new vintage of La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon. Those on the vineyard’s mailing list enjoyed limited releases of exotic varietals such as Viognier and Nebbiolo. While Cabernet Sauvignon remained the basis of La Jota’s fame, respect for the label grew. In 2001, the prestigious Markham Vineyards purchased Bill and Joan Smith’s La Jota Vineyard Company.

Not only critics and consumers loved the flavor concentration and firm structure of a Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Historians, as well looked at the viticultural history of Howell Mountain. On its eroded and forested plateau, Howell Mountain had more vines planted in 1900 than it does today. Based on research by wine historian Charles Sullivan, Howell Mountain The home of winemakers Joan and Bill Smith on Howell Mountain, California AVA - Click for larger image ( the first sub-appellation to the Napa Valley. In 1983, Howell Mountain received recognition as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). Bill and Joan Smith’s leadership in reviving Howell Mountain as a premium winemaking area helped make that prestigious designation possible.

In 2003, my father and I traveled again to Howell Mountain. This time it was to see the Smith’s new home, winery and vineyards. Their new place was only a mile or so up the road from their old La Jota Vineyards. Their beautiful new house featured a permanent barbeque pit large enough for a whole roast pig. On the next July 4, there would no need to dig a hole with a tractor. With its long view to the Napa Valley below, the Smith’s new Piedra Hill Vineyard looked like a sure winner. Later, when the Smiths purchased a Pinot Noir Vineyard in Sonoma County, the Piedra Hill label gave way to the new and current, “W.H. Smith Wines” label.

Logo Signature for W.H. Smith Wines, Howell Mountain, California AVA - Click for larger image ( our 2003 visit, Bill Smith had just begun his most ambitious construction project. Although Napa Valley vintners could build large-scale production facilities on the flatlands, no commercial building on Howell Mountain could protrude above the ridgeline. In order to create the perfect temperatures for finishing and storage of wine, Bill opted to go underground. With help from the experts, Bill Smith drilled three parallel tunnels into a Howell Mountain hillside. Today, the artificial caves house operations, barrel storage and finished inventory for the winery.

Dr. Loron N. McGillis (left) and his son, the author Jim McGillis at the W.H. Smith Winery, September 2012 - Click for larger image ( our September 2012 visit, Joan Smith was in Kauai, conducting business for the winery. After a quick visit to their Spanish style home, we drove a short distance to the caves. After visiting with the office manager, we prepared to leave. Then, in a flash of light, Bill Smith drove up in a new black Chevrolet pickup truck. After greetings all around, Bill admitted in his own humble way, “It is a great vehicle, but I still cannot figure out how all the gadgets work”. Just as he did at La Jota Vineyards thirty-five years ago, I am sure that Bill Smith will figure out how to take full advantage of what his new acquisition has to offer.

* (Author's Note) On February 9, 2013, Dr. Loron N. (Duke) McGillis passed away peacefully, in his sleep, at his home in Berkeley, California.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

How Robert Mondavi's White Smoke Captured the Wine Industry

Designed by architect Cliff May, the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley, California - Click for larger image (

How Robert Mondavi's White Smoke Captured the Wine Industry

In the history of Napa Valley, California, Robert Mondavi (1913 – 2008) holds a special place. In 1965, Robert had a much-publicized split with younger brother Peter Mondavi. The rift precipitated Robert’s leaving the family business at Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena. In what seemed like no time, Robert Mondavi then created the California premium wine business, as we know it today.

Among his first moves was to secure a location in Oakville for his new winery. Mondavi hired architect Cliff May (1909 – 1989) to design his new winery. It also happened to be the first new winery in the Napa Valley since the passing of Prohibition in 1930. Well known for his California ranch style homes, the Mondavi Winery soon became May’s most prominent commission. Even today, the arched entrance arouses both our contemporary esthetic and our search Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy in the rose garden at Robert Mondavi Winery, Napa Valley, California - Click for larger image ( timeless beauty. From his first vintage onward, Mondavi featured the building’s front façade on his label. Experiencing only minor variations in style, the Mondavi premium contemporary label looks much like one from the 1960s. To this day, the Mondavi label is a reliable symbol for quality California wine.

Mondavi was a marketing genius. The first vintage for Robert Mondavi Winery was his 1966 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. Upon its release in 1968, the entire vintage sold out almost immediately. Soon after his Cabernet Sauvignon sold out, Robert Mondavi rechristened an otherwise plebeian Sauvignon Blanc, calling it “Fume Blanc”.

By featuring the “white smoke” designation on the label, Robert Mondavi succeeded in convincing many neophyte wine consumers that he had invented a new varietal wine. Advances in large-scale cold fermentation were still years away, so making a distinguished Sauvignon Blanc was not easy. I will leave it up to others to determine if Mondavi succeeded in making a remarkable Sauvignon Blanc.

Current release of the famed Robert Mondavi Wines Oakville Cabernet in the gift shop at the winery - Click for larger image ( my first visit to Robert Mondavi Winery in 1969, the ubiquitous Fume Blanc was the only wine available for sale to the public. Although I have since consumed many bottles of Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, I have not noticed a bottle of Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc on sale for years. However, there are images of 2007 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc on the internet, so they must still make that wine.

For those who bought land early, like Joseph Heitz, producing the only other 1966 Oakville Cabernet on the market was a natural step. Before Mondavi and Heitz, Beringer, Inglenook and other Napa Valley winemakers saw the place as just another California viticulture area. It was after Mondavi opened his winery that the Napa Valley became one of the hottest real estate markets in the United States. Wealthy individuals and corporations alike rushed to own a part of the California premium wine business.

The iconic tower at the Robert Mondavi Winery, as seen from the interior courtyard - Click for larger image ( Napa Valley real estate prices skyrocketed, Sonoma County and Mendocino County held nearly equal viticultural status to the nearby Napa Valley. After a string of international accolades for its premium wines in the 1970s, Napa Valley rose to preeminence in the minds of most California wine aficionados. To the present day, a Napa Valley "domaine de origin" still holds sway with wine aficionados, both young and old. Regardless of how imperfect a Napa Valley wine may be, most vinophiles will unconsciously give a Napa Valley wine the benefit of the doubt.

For Robert Mondavi, one could say that he happened to be in the right place at the right time. Although he was certainly in the right place, he capitalized on several trends, including the rush to varietal wine labeling. Until ridiculed by Mondavi and others, the term “California Burgundy” was in common usage. Soon thereafter, new laws required winemakers use accurate geographical and varietal wine labeling.

As with the red wine tradition in Bordeaux, France, a blend of California Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot often makes a wine preferable to straight Cabernet Sauvignon. However, Robert Mondavi’s push for varietal labeling won the hearts of both legislators and consumers. Unless a wine could meet the seventy-five percent-of-content threshold, such a An old Aermotor windmill stands at Sullenger Vineyards, across California Highway 29 from the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley - Click for larger image ( might be labeled “Claret” or worse yet, “Red Table Wine”. Out of misplaced deference for Robert Mondavi and his successful push for varietal labeling, we now drink our California Cabernet Sauvignon and even Merlot mostly straight, rather than in more thoughtful blends. For a winemaker to do otherwise, risks having his or her wine languish on the shelf, rather than consumed by the public.

Another reason for the success of Robert Mondavi and his fellow Napa Valley Vintners is the compact geography of the appellation. The valley is only twenty miles long and several miles wide. In the 1970s, a tourist could visit almost every winery in the valley in one day. In the early 1970s, stops at Robert Mondavi, Beaulieu, Louis M. Martini, Beringer, Charles Krug, Inglenook, then newly reformed Freemark Abbey and the new Sterling Vineyards might make for one full day of Napa Valley wine tasting.

Today, a tasting-trip north on the same California Highway 29 might take a week, given the large number of wineries now along that road. From Calistoga, a return trip south along the Silverado Trail yields scores more wineries, all still in the Napa Valley. On a weekend during the crush, the Napa Valley can seem like one giant amusement park for adults. When at Sterling Vineyards, be sure to ride the overhead tram out to the tasting room and back. After a glass of wine, it is a real experience.