Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Jack Fogarty and John MacDonald served with the Army’s 98th Evacuation Hospital in World War II’s Pacific Theater from 1944 to 1945, where they spent “many an hour sitting around in a jungle clearing,” according to Fogarty, who is now 92 and living in Teaneck, New Jersey. The two soldiers developed a tight friendship as they worked and relaxed together.

While stationed in the Pacific Theater in the 1940s, Jack Fogarty wrote letters to his best friend’s wife in Queens, NY, and illustrated the envelopes. All photos courtesy of the National Postal Museum

Fogarty became close friends, too, with John’s wife, Mary MacDonald, who remained home in Queens, New York. Fogarty had met her before he and John shipped out, and he struck up a correspondence with her that lasted until he and John returned home. An amateur artist, Fogarty illustrated his envelopes to show Mary daily life around the camp—jungle hikes, beach swims, evenings in tents under gaslight.
“My drawings were an expression of love for the MacDonalds,” says Fogarty. “I loved them and they loved me in the best of terms.”
The letters sealed a lifelong friendship between Fogarty and the MacDonald family. Mary MacDonald died in 2003; her husband in 2007.
Meg MacDonald, one of the couple’s four daughters, recently donated 33 illustrated envelopes, eight letters and a watercolor made by Fogarty to the National Postal Museum, which is currently exhibiting them online.

Many of Fogarty’s illustrations depict daily life around the evacuation hospital.

We spoke with Fogarty recently about his time in the War, his art and his enduring friendship. An excerpt of our conversation follows.

When did you first meet Mary?
I met Mary in 1943 when John and I were stationed in an evacuation hospital in the Yuma, Arizona desert. She came to visit John in the first few months we were there. All the soldiers went into town whenever we had time off, so I bumped into John with Mary in town one day. John introduced us and that began our friendship. I started corresponding with her after we went overseas, and she was very loyal, a very good friend. Since I was so close with her husband, she liked hearing about my relationship with him and our time in the service.
What made you decide to illustrate the envelopes you sent her?
I’ve always drawn—all my life I’ve had a talent to paint. I had another dear friend from high school, a cartoonist, and he and I exchanged letters when we both joined the service. He would illustrate his envelopes, so I would do the same. That started it. Then when I was in the South Pacific Islands in World War II, John started a weekly bulletin just for the 217 men in the evacuation hospital. He did the editorials, and I did the artwork on a mimeograph machine. That got me doing more illustrations, so I started drawing on the envelopes to Mary.


Tell us about the illustrations.
They illustrated what was happening at the time. They showed the places we were at, the fantasies we had. They were an outlet, and I had the talent to make them. And they meant so much to Mary, because they showed her husband’s life while they were separated, and she loved him so much. It’s funny, too, because a lot of the drawings would be considered chauvinistic now—you know, jokes about women and so forth.
What was your relationship like with the MacDonalds back then?
It’s difficult to describe, because it’s such an important part of my life. It’s a love relationship. John and Mary were just wonderful, wonderful people. They were friends, and friendship is very important to me. We had the same values, as far as our faith and our family. And John was a mentor to me. I’m a little slow in my growing up, shall we say—I’m still a little naïve. John was a married man, and worldly. He had been a reporter before he joined the service. We would just discuss everything, discuss all the topics that young men would discuss at the time. It was an exchange of values and thoughts and experiences.

A few years ago, Meg MacDonald told you she had found your letters and illustrations among Mary’s things. What was it like to be reunited with them?
I was completely flabbergasted that Mary kept them. But I was flattered. It was a very warm feeling to know that Mary had kept them all these years. It’s strange reading the letters now, looking back on the past. It happened, and yet it’s incredible that it did happen.
Many young people who see your illustrations online will never have known a world without e-mail. What do you hope younger viewers take away from your letters?
My niece is a teacher, and a while ago she has a fellow teacher who invited me in to talk about World War II. I brought souvenirs from the war, my patch, and cap, and pictures, and things from Japan. It was the most rewarding experience. The children were so attentive and interested. They have no idea of the world as I knew it, and yet they were so excited to realize a world they didn’t know. They were learning about something other than Lady Gaga or all these things they need to have today, iPads and so forth. I hope these letters do the same for others.

A Memorial Day Memory: Love From the Pacific Theater

A 92-year-old WWII vet who recently donated his wartime letters to the National Postal Museum reflects on a friendship that lasted a lifetime



Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Renaissance of Stationery

The write stuff: The renaissance of stationery

DESPITE the digital age, stationery is once again flying off the shelves in the UK. Ruby Millington looks at why the pen is mightier that the email...

On Valentine’s Day a few years ago my friend Sally received a card. She was pretty sure it was from the man she’d been dating for six months or so but she couldn’t be certain because, she realised, in all that time she’d never actually seen his handwriting.

Their communication had all been technological and, she now reflected, less than romantic on account of that. Instead of a bundle of love letters, she had nothing but an intangible collection of texts on her iPhone and a few (entirely lower case) emails. By sending the Valentine card the boyfriend confirmed how remiss he’d been.

Mind you, Sally wasn’t quite Virginia Woolf herself. Searching for writing implements at home she found just a stubby pencil that had fallen into her pocket on a trip to Ikea. “The only thing I actually write by hand now is my shopping list,” she lamented. “When I had to write a really long list at Christmas I practically got RSI from the strain of it.”

Sally resolved to re-engage with the joys of putting pen to paper instead of fingers to keypad. And she’s not alone. It’s a welcome irony of the digital age that as technology advances many seem to be reverting to more old-fashioned methods of communication and record-keeping.

We’re rediscovering the joys of stationery in particular – simple paper and writing products we can touch and smell and keep.

Shopping for stationery is a relatively guilt-free retail therapy.
This renaissance made the UK stationery and drawing materials market worth almost £430m in 2012 alone. It’s why in 2011 John Lewis reported a 177 per cent rise in sales of premium stationery, why business is booming at Ryman and Paperchase, why Liberty of London opened a dedicated stationery department with packets of pencils apparently flying off the shelves at £16.95 for six.

It’s also why Smythson has reported annual profits of almost £2.5 million. Even costing £200 a pop, that adds up to an awful lot of calf leather-bound Portobello diaries they’re selling.

The reason? Perhaps it’s relatively guilt-free retail therapy we get from buying things that are actually useful. Perhaps it’s the primitive sensory pleasure induced by choosing and using beautiful things. Or maybe it’s more the potential that new stationery seems to hold – the new Moleskine notebook, which promises to inspire the great novel within us, the empty box files that we tell ourselves will turn us into an organisational genius, the deckle-edged writing paper that will make our letters read more like poetry.

The power we invest in these creative tools can border on the superstitious. “For some reason, I much prefer writing with a black pen than a blue one, and in a perfect world I’d always use ‘narrow feint’ writing paper,” says JK Rowling.

And let’s face it, it seems to work for her.

Perhaps it’s also the fact that so much of our personal history is evident in our stationery. My father died 10 years ago but I still feel moved when I see his address book – the leather cover, pages filled with his backward-slanting italics and crossings out where friends predeceased him.

My introduction to correspondence was the thank-you letter. These were written on my mum’s watermarked Azure Basildon Bond. This came in A5 pads with a ruled sheet to place beneath each page as a guideline. The spacing of the lines was mercifully wide so it was easy to cover a couple of pages which, once folded into their matching envelopes, made a satisfyingly thick missive.

My career as a writer continued when I secured a couple of pen friends via the ads in magazines such as Jackie. Both of my pen friends lived within driving distance, but that wasn’t the point. I’d discovered a range of stationery called Hunkydory with paper in a mouthwatering range of suitably 70s colours – tangerine, crème de menthe, banana yellow – so vibrant that its brightness made up for what I wrote.

I remember the stationery at school better than most of what I learnt there. The shelves in the art room filled with sugar paper that set one’s teeth on edge and which we cut using the enormous guillotine. The ink station where the girls who used proper Parker fountain (as opposed to Paper Mate cartridge) pens filled them up with Quink.

Thirty years on I still receive Christmas cards from a particularly classy school friend, who still uses the latter. Her envelopes are immediately recognisable and it’s become a Christmas highlight when “Emma’s card” arrives. Which is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Being tweeted is never going to make us feel like a million dollars.

We’re unlikely ever to flick back through the pages of our online iCalendars and reminisce about years gone by. So maybe it’s time to invest in that personalised writing set. Smythson here I come.