An Artist’s Paradise
An artist drew inspiration from her family’s forest, then helped protect it.
Eleven-year-old Anne Weary rides her horse Patches along the banks of the creek that runs through her woods in the North Texas town of Garland. She halts Patches when she ses a large colony of rabbits playing near the water just ahead. Anne smiles. Patches leans down to take a drink from the creek.
It’s summertime in the Spring Creek Forest. For most of the year, Anne lives with her family in Highland Park, in the middle of Dallas, but their summer residence is the family ranch, Casa del Sol. The ranch straddles Spring Creek and boasts several structures, including a main house, a guest house, a chicken coop and a tornado shelter. There’s also a fishing pond, an authentic Old West chuckwagon and an enchanting little chapel in the woods.
Anne looks around at the limestone cliffs bounding the creek, then turns to take in the yellow violets, trout lilies and huge trees all around her. Anne, a budding artist, has been drawing the trees and animals in the Spring Creek Forest since she was 5 or 6. She selects the tree that will be the subject of her next sketch and names it “The Wizard of Oz.” Anne will return later with pencils and sketchpad to capture its essence on paper.
THE SPRING CREEK FOREST encompasses around 200 acres of old-growth forest, standing along the banks of Spring Creek. It’s home to over 650 plant and animal species, not counting the dragonflies, spiders, ants and mosquitos. Anne’s childhood refuge is now protected as a one-of-a-kind nature preserve.
Anne Weary, now 71, is a professional artist, having graduated from the oldest art school in the United States, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Her entire life is a perpetual love affair with the trees and creatures of her forest.
“When I was 2, I would sit quietly on a horse with my dad out behind our house and we would just listen to the whip-poor-wills,” she says. “As it got dark, we would watch the lightning bugs and listen for the sound of the frogs to come up. Eventually the moon would rise and we could hear the howls of coyotes somewhere in the woods.”
Anne remembers riding the forest trails by herself on her horse at about the same age she started drawing.
“I would ride my horse Reddy up and down the creek and rural pasture lands around our ranch,” Anne says. “It was so beautiful — pristine woods untouched by development. It was my paradise.”
Even now, Anne marvels at the fact that her mom would let her ride by herself at such a young age.
“But nothing ever happened. I didn’t fall once,” she says. She remembers her mother telling the neighbors, “Reddy will take care of Anne.”
The Wearys lived in the main house on the Casa del Sol ranch each summer. The house was built in the late 1930s by T.C. Brown, a mogul with Procter & Gamble. It was modeled after a ranch Brown had seen in Mexico.
During construction of the main house, a tragic accident took the life of a young boy when fell off one of the trucks and was run over.
“My brother and I believed that little boy’s ghost was still in our house,” Anne says.
She reports many strange occurrences such as doors opening and closing by themselves, and people’s toes being tweaked while they slept.
By the early 1970s, Anne had moved from her family’s home in Highland Park to live at Casa del Sol year-round.
“With the development in the area and my love for the woods, it just made sense for me to move to our ranch full time,” she says. “I could do my art. And I could keep an eye on the area and protect our land. And the forest.”
The forest needed her protection. For more than a decade, a construction company called Chambers Brothers had operated a rock quarry in the forest across the road from Casa del Sol. Chambers provided rock and gravel for Garland's burgeoning development. When Chambers set off dynamite charges to break up the rock, it caused damage to Anne's family home and threatened visitors to the forest area.
The quarry wasn’t the only intruder on Anne’s attempt at a peaceful existence.
“A chop-shop was being operated in the forest,” she says, with a sigh. “They would strip cars for parts and push what was left into the creek.”
TO PROTECT AND TO PRESERVE
ANNE AND HER parents decided something must be done. Anne’s father, a well-known and well-connected brain surgeon, reached out to family friend Ned Fritz. Fritz was a prominent environmental attorney who had helped build numerous agencies such as the Dallas Audubon Society and the Texas Nature Conservancy.
Fritz visited the area and immediately recognized it as a Texas treasure. One of the most interesting features of the area was the presence of chinquapin, bur and Shumard oaks, which together form the uppermost layer of foliage in the forest. This combination is not known to exist anywhere else in the world. It is rare to find such old-growth forests in North and East Texas. Development as far back as the 1800s usually meant that such areas were cleared for farming and the wood used for construction.
Convinced of the uniqueness of the forest, Fritz reached out to his friend, Andrew Sansom. Sansom was executive director of The Nature Conservancy from 1982 until 1987 and, later, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“Initially, the forest area didn’t fit with what the Conservancy wanted to be involved with, mainly because we couldn’t find any endangered plant or animal species living there,” Sansom says. “We couldn’t justify spending the money needed to create a preserve.”
But with prodding from Fritz and others (such as Garland resident Bobby C. Scott, a self-taught botanist who was reported to have a spiritual connection to the forest, much like Anne), studies were done on the area by William Mahler of the Southern Methodist University Herbarium, botany professor Elray Nixon of Stephen F. Austin State University and John White of The Nature Conservancy, among others. The studies confirmed the one-of-a-kind nature of the forest.
Throughout the effort to create a preserve, Anne continued her art, spending five to eight hours a day in the forest, drawing the trees, the cliffs and the wildlife. Her art, with its incredible layers of detail, gained attention from the media and galleries.
SECRETS OF THE PARK
THERE ARE HIDDEN treasures in the preserve. Geocachers are welcome in the park, although the city is working to enact certain rules on geocache placement in order to protect the more fragile species such as trout lily and native grasses.
Another secret that can be found in the woods is “the Bonnie and Clyde car,” possibly a Chevy Bel-Air, riddled with bullet holes like the Ford V-8 that the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow used as a getaway car in 1934.
The Bonnie and Clyde car has its own history. The Bel-Air is the only car left over from the forest’s chop-shop operation; when a new high school opened nearby, teens spray-painted the car when they ventured into the forest for parties. They also used it for target practice.
“I love how they painted it,” Anne says. “It was beautiful with all the colors they used. I just wish they hadn’t left dozens of paint cans in the forest.”
And, of course, there is a geocache associated with the car — number GCH9T4 is titled “Did Bonnie and Clyde Drive a Bel-Air?” if you want to look it up.
A NEW PARADISE
ANNE IS KNOWN as a plein air artist (an artist who works on-site rather than in a cozy art studio).
“The forest is my studio,” she says.
Anne is also an art teacher in the Dallas Independent School District. She no longer lives in the Spring Creek Forest, having moved away in 1994.
Today Anne has a new paradise in Italy, Texas.
“I found an almost-exact lookalike forest to what I had in Garland,” she says. “There’s a beautiful creek, lots of wildlife and some of the most beautiful trees in Texas.”
The only thing missing, she says, is the chinquapins. But the Shumard and bur oaks are there, and so are the trout lilies and many other flowers and grasses she remembers from her years at Casa del Sol.
As in her Garland forest, Anne has her favorite trees in Italy. On any given day she will get up in the morning and, if she’s not teaching that day, grab her pencils and sketchpads. Then she’ll head into the woods where she already has metal folding chairs in place in all the best spots.
There’s another thing that Anne’s new place has in common with her childhood home in Garland: development. When we spoke to Anne, she was arguing with a power company over its plans to extend overhead power lines across her land.
“Some things never change,” Anne says.
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