I learned today that Stan Westson, the creator of the concept for G.I. Joe, an action figure that is one of the most popular toys ever produced, passed away on May 1, 2017. Although I am sure Westson encouraged the profession and careers of many boys, very few likely went onto become landscape designers because of his military inspired toys.
I don’t know much about Stan Westson, other than what I read in his New York Times Obituary. But what I do know is that his toys are one of my more prominent memories of childhood creativity. It wasn’t a fascination with war and the cruelties that accompany it. Creating elaborate battlefields in an abandoned flowerbed in the back of my parents Victorian home in Plymouth Wisconsin was my first experience of putting my hands in the dirt and using my imagination to mold the earth to my desires.
Thinking back I recall a time of being completely engaged and focused. Hours would be spent on my hands and knees digging in the dirt crafting this 4’ x 10’ space into all that my nine-year old mind could conceive. Completely lost in my ambitions.
Subterranean garages beneath mounds of soil would be constructed to store tanks and other vehicles. Stockade style fences were erected from sticks found in the yard would enclose a G.I Joe base. There were tiny foxholes to shield the 3 ¾” soldiers and rocks set to enhance the terrain. No detail left unconsidered.
This experience not only turned me onto the joy of digging in the dirt, but also taught me about determination and dealing with adversity. Our house was on a corner lot. My G.I. Joe battlefield on the backside of the house was exposed and unprotected from view of passersby. In the evenings neighborhood bullies would ravage my creations.
I would awake in the morning and run to check and see if my forts, tunnels and mountains had survived the night. Many times they did not. I was undeterred and would spend my day recreating what I had built the day before. Sometimes I would pillage pales of concrete mix from my father’s garage in an attempt to solidify my works so they could withstand the nightly attacks.
Often times now after working on a project I will go and check on it first thing the next morning. I wonder if this is a product of running to see if my G.I Joe forts made it until dawn with out coming under fire.
I have since out grown G.I. Joe battlefield creation. My work as landscape designer is firmly reared in creating peace, tranquility and beauty on my client’s properties. But many of the skills I learned and the talent I honed as a nine year old can be contributed to my success today. However, I must admit, I still do play with toys in the garden. But now I’ve moved onto dinosaurs.
Rest in Peace Stan Westson. The flames of your creativity were passed along, igniting my torch.