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Alert thrift store employee salvages rare book

LIVINGSTON (AP) — Thanks to an eye for vintage items and a little Internet sleuthing, the Community Closet's Heather Heath has made museum staff in Michigan very happy.

A limited-edition book, published in 1923, will soon be on its way to the Leslie Area Museum, in Leslie, Mich., a small town of about 2,000 located 25 miles south of Lansing, the state capital.

Caron Cooper, the Community Closet's executive director, asked the store's board for permission to donate the book to the Michigan museum. It's the store's policy to share things with other nonprofits, Cooper said.

"It's like if someone in Michigan had come across an original copy of a Doris Whithorn book that the museum didn't have a copy of," Cooper said Tuesday, referring to the local historian, author and Yellowstone Gateway Museum founder.

Heath checked the online auction site eBay and estimated the book's value at about $235.

The book, titled "Sun and Smoke: A Book of New Mexico Verse," was written and hand-illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling, an artist who as a young man lived in Leslie, Mich.

Holling may be best known today for his children's book, "Paddle-to-the-Sea," which is still in print and was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1942.

The winning Caldecott title that year was a children's book still in print today, "Make Way for Ducklings," by Robert McCloskey.

The Caldecott Medal is awarded each year by the American Library Association to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Heath noticed the book last month in an assortment of items she had recently set aside for further examination.

The book's preface said it was one of 50 copies printed. A handwritten inscription by the author further intrigued Heath.

The inscription reads, "To Florence and Dan, in memory of the 711 Ranch."

Did Holling visit the area? Was the 711 Ranch in Park County? Or even in Montana?

Heath wasn't able to find anything about a 711 Ranch, but she did learn Holling had visited Montana at some point in his life.

She doesn't know how the book came to the Community Closet, or even exactly when.

Heath found a brief on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, about Holling, which mentioned Leslie, Mich., as the town where he graduated from high school.

Heath tracked down Steve Hainstock, a past president and co-founder of the all-volunteer Leslie Area Museum. Hainstock told her the book, "Sun and Smoke" was the only book of Holling's of which the museum did not own a copy.

"I thought Heather really went to great lengths to track me down and find a home for this book," Hainstock said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "We are thrilled to find this."

"It was exciting to get this gentleman on the phone and hear him say 'Wow!'" Heath said.

Hainstock said he doubts that of a print run of only 50 copies that more than 10 may even exist anymore. For that reason, he said the museum probably will not display the book in its general collection.

Hainstock provided additional information about Holling, who died at age 73 in 1973 in Pasadena, Calif. The author attended the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked as a young man at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. He did some of the taxidermy on a well-known display, "Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo."

At some point, Holling traveled to Montana to paint murals for a ranch. Hainstock didn't know where in Montana or for which ranch he might have worked.

During World War II, Holling worked for Disney on the war training films the company made. After the war, Holling helped design the Indian Village in Frontierland at Disneyland. Holling was offered a share in Disneyland, but he turned it down.

"He thought it wouldn't go anywhere," Hainstock laughed. "And I think he was more interested in having the freedom to work on children's books."

Hainstock said the Leslie Area Museum is very small, housed in an older building and run entirely by volunteers on a shoestring budget. Most of its visitors, maybe a couple of hundred a year, are locals, with a few tourists now and then.

He said the little museum's collection on Holling may be the largest public display of his work in the world. California universities have some material, too, but it's not readily accessible to the public, he said.

And what about getting a phone call out of the blue from Montana?

"That's one of the fun parts of museum work — the little discoveries like the phone call that came from Heather," Hainstock said. "It's the fuel that keeps me going."


Information from: Livingston Enterprise,


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