Residents don't hide support of garden

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SOUTH PARIS, Maine -Wearing nothing but smiles, jewelry, shoes and bug spray, 15 of western Maine's leading citizens have posed as pinups for a 2003 calendar they hope will pay off a $150,000 mortgage and preserve a famous garden here for future generations.

During 7 a.m. early spring photo shoots in the garden, they braved 40-degree temperatures, attacks by black flies and the judgment of their friends and families. And they worried that if their calendar failed, Bernard McLaughlin's jewel of a garden would become a parking lot.

They covered their nudity with shovels, wheelbarrows, hoses, a shopping list (for the garden's gift shop) and a tree.

Now, hot off the presses, the $15.95 calendar, titled, Altogether for the Garden, features - in the altogether - the 12 board members of the nonprofit McLaughlin Foundation, formed six years ago to save the private garden that McLaughlin created in 1936 and generously opened to visitors.

Two years ago, the 3 1/2 -acre formal garden on Route 26, lush with perennials, heirloom lilacs, irises, daylilies, and wildflowers, a mecca for garden lovers and artists, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a cultural landscape.

But that doesn't pay the mortgage. Calendars of ordinary people posing in the nude do, as others who have bared all for a cause have found.

The Ladies of Rylstone in England posed nude to raise $515,000 for leukemia research and surpassed their goal. The Men of Maple Corner, Vt. stripped for another calendar. Instead of the $500 they hoped to raise for some town project, they got $500,000.

Noting that its calendar is the "first coed" one, so far, the McLaughlin Foundation pinups hope to follow suit.

The pinups range in age from 39 to 78 and are retirees, teachers, bankers, businessmen and women, a librarian, and a landscaper.

"They're such pillars of the community," said Paul Tukey, 41, publisher and editor of People, Places & Plants, who appears in the calendar as Mr. August. "I had no qualms, but my 17-year-old daughter laughed nervously."

Some 500 copies of the calendar have been sold since it came out last month and, in South Paris, it is the talk of the town.

Deborah McBride, 53, who with her husband, Robert, 62, are the only couple in the calendar, said she was doing her regular volunteer weeding around the post office recently when some people recognized her, even with her clothes on, and hollered, "Good job!"

The McBrides, ex-bankers from Manhattan, retired to Harrison six years ago for a quieter life. As Mr. and Mrs. July, they struck a pose reminiscent of Grant Wood's American Gothic couple, standing behind a fence with Bob holding a pitchfork.

David Stanley of Paris, retired from a career in finance and now the foundation's volunteer treasurer, had qualms about the calendar. "I knew it was a fairly high-risk thing," he said, "but I think we're in a position where we have to accept the risk. I felt that 100 years from now when people are still enjoying the garden, whether we got there by being in the altogether would be irrelevant."

As Mr. April, Stanley, 64, is cleverly concealed by fly netting and a pith helmet while pruning a tree. His wife, the Rev. Anne Stanley, an Episcopalian priest, observed only that her husband was "very committed to the garden."

So committed, said Lee Dassler, the foundation's executive director, that his vote convinced the others. "I never thought David would go for it. At first, I was concerned about the image, but this board had to take risks all along, to form our group and to raise the $200,000 to purchase and maintain the property. We've been chopping away at the mortgage for five years." The foundation also owns a house and barn on the property.

Dassler, 45, who has a master's degree in historic preservation from Columbia University, is Miss November, hidden by a tablecloth on a clothesline to highlight the garden's tea room.

What people didn't know was that under the props, some pinups opted to use Band- Aids, pasties, jockstraps and flesh-colored undies to cover up.

"Does a Scotsman tell you what's under his kilt?" asked Nancy Hohmann, 55, of Norway, a teacher who proposed the calendar idea. She said the board's first reaction was, "What?"

Andrea Burns, 64, of Waterford, a retired schoolteacher, was concerned what her family and former pupils would think. She liked the idea of the props and under-props enough to consent. "The whole point," she said, "was the illusion of nudity. Morning mimosas and terrycloth robes helped."

As Miss May, Burns, the foundation's first president, is hidden by a tree as she vacuums the ground, a tribute to her ability to "bring order out of chaos."

Propriety was never compromised, she said. Each was photographed with only photographer Skip Churchill, graphic artist Richard McIntosh and a committee member present.

At 78, Sally MacAuslan of Bridgton, the widow of a prominent Maine physician and a part-time librarian who volunteers as such for the foundation, is the oldest pinup, smiling sweetly as Miss March. She is seated on a small tractor, camouflaged by a large book.

"The whole thing was just hilarious and perfectly innocent," she said. She hasn't told her grown children yet, she said. "I want them to be surprised."

For the month of June, Lois Strickland, 46, a Pownal artist, posed nude while painting clothed 68-year-old model Bette Ann Cushman, who was a friend of Bernard McLaughlin's. "It was great to see so many ages and sizes looking so nice in a country where everyone is Botox-ing, lifting and pumping," Strickland said.

When McLaughlin, known as the "Dean of Maine Gardeners" died at age 97 in 1995, he left no provision for the preservation of his garden. A former grocery clerk, he acquired the property when he married the daughter of a wealthy sea captain.

"Bernard would have been pleased that the foundation saved his garden," said Cushman, the only pinup pictured with her clothes on. "He had a wonderful sense of humor." Calendars can be purchasedat www.mclaughlingarden.org.

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