Office of Dan Kiley: Joe Karr Reflection

Editor's Note: This letter by Grace Kiley, daughter of landscape architect Dan Kiley, is one of many reflections submitted as part of The Office of Dan Kiley: Joe Karr Oral History. Other reflections from friends and colleagues of Joe Karr can be found here.

Joe was one of a cluster of [landscape] architects who worked for my father. My memory of Joe is from the perspective of a wild and wide-eyed girl somewhere between the ages of nine and twelve.

Wings Point was its own kingdom. My seven siblings and I ran wild in this vibrant setting. We lived in an elegant, slightly rundown white-columned, clapboard house overlooking the serene and expansive Lake Champlain.  It was a kind of paradise. It was freedom, creativity, and nature in an exclusive self-contained world.  This setting became my father’s office. It was critical to my father to live inside the nature that inspired his work. Joe speaks to this so beautifully in his description of Wings Point.

My childhood neighbor Sara and I referred to my father’s [landscape] architects as “the office boys.” They were a rascally band of men with accents from various parts of the world, such as New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland descended into our isolated orb. The boys were our first exposure to people outside of the Vermont farming culture. We eventually moved away from the lake and into the farmland because of the growing population of motorboats. I can see my father’s red face coming up the path after a brisk morning swim, naked under a coarse brown serape furious at this violation of noise.

Sketch of "the office boys"
Sketch of "the office boys" - By Grace Kiley

After we moved, the office relocated from the apartment over the garage into the main house. When I’d return to Wings Point to play with Sara, our fascination with the office boys became our greatest form of pleasure and intrigue. On a warm summer night we would sneak along the wooded path from her house to my old house, the “lake house,” and spy on the office boys as they worked through the night to finish one deadline after another, bent over drafting boards and cardboard models. When the office was empty, Sara and I would sneak into the house turning on desk lamps, tiptoeing from table to table to draw caricatures, laughing uncontrollably as we depicted each [landscape] architect, all based on our joy and attraction to this talented and unusual species of men. We would leave their portraits at each desk letting them know we had invaded their territory.

During the summer days the office boys would explode out of the house and sprint, joking and laughing, down the path and onto the pier in their swimming trunks. Sara and I would gaze with intrigue.  Roger [Osbaldeston] was the biggest man we’d ever seen, like a monster with an even bigger head for his body, and this is how we would delightfully draw his portrait. Ian [Tyndall] was small and had an extraordinary amount of thick hair for his small stature, but a twinkle in his eyes that left us smitten. Peter [Ker Walker] was wiry and had a choppy laugh, and there were others. But, Joe was the bear. When Sara and I drew his portrait, we would make swirls and swirls of circles creating the abundance fur on his body, laughing hysterically. He was a bear in body, warm hearted, one of those docile lovely kinds of bears that one wants to hug and snuggle against.

Often on those late nights when the boys were pulling an all-nighter to meet a deadline at the crack of dawn, Sara and I would spy on them through the many windows, their faces lit up by drafting lights as they precisely connected dots and lines. Hiding in the shadows of the house until our need for attention and fun was too much to contain, we would bait them by throwing tiny pebbles at the windows and then run and hide. It would appear that the boys had no awareness that we were out in the dark night, because they showed no disturbance as they huddled over their pressing work. Then suddenly all the lights in the house would go out, and they would come out “to get us” as we ran petrified and filled with glee into the pinewoods.

This is my memory of Joe and the office boys.