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Bone Appetit

Hobbies: David Wolfson of Anaheim Hills, a retired window dresser, turns table scraps into works of art. He is proud of this talent, and, surprisingly, takes very little ribbing for his skeletal refrains.

November 26, 1996|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

David Wolfson is the first to admit it.

"I'm a very unusual guy," he says. "I make things out of chicken bones."

And turkey bones. And steak bones. And lamb shank bones. And whatever else he finds around the house.

He's got sailboats with chicken breastbone sails. Scottie dogs made of T-bones with string and hemp fur. And his piece de resistance: an 18-inch-tall model of a human skeleton made of chicken bones.

The chicken-bone skeleton is displayed on a shelf in his small one-bedroom apartment in a retirement complex in Anaheim Hills.

Wolfson, a former window dresser from the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, moved west last year after his wife, Mae, died. It was the second time he had been widowed. He and his son, Mark, of Villa Park, agreed it would be best if he lived nearby.

Wolfson is 89. Or, as he says, "I'll be 90 in June and I'm full of vinegar.

"Do you drive a car?" he asks, picking up a bony object from the shelf next to the couch. It's an upright arm made of three chicken drumsticks with a bony-fingered hand shaped out of wood . . . and a single extended digit.

"Ever get this? I call it 'The Finger.' It can have bad connotations. Some people take offense." He laughs. "Especially the ones you do it to."

He picks up an odd-looking papier-ma^che bird covered with painted string for feathers and a T-bone for the head. He grins. "People think I'm nuts."

Making the rounds of tabletops, shelves and bookcases in his living room, he points out a Dr. Seuss-like animal with a head made from a split walnut shell. There's a camel made of little stones. And a more traditional figure of a reclining old man with a long white beard made of hemp--with a bird nest in the beard made of small pieces of wood and two carved baby birds.

He shrugs. "It's Rip Van Winkle; I don't know."

He's been making things out of bones for about 10 years, using a glue gun to connect the pieces.

"I've always done something with something," he says.

Back in Chicago, he says, friends would say, "Don't throw anything away. Give it to David. He'll make a lamp."

But why bones?

"Well, it's my crazy ideas, I guess. I'm very imaginative. . . . I can see things in a crushed up napkin."

*

Wolfson has been dabbling in art since he was 6.

Born in Manchester, England, in 1907, Wolfson came to the United States with his mother aboard the ill-fated British passenger liner Lusitania in 1915. German U-boats were lurking in the Atlantic during their passage. "It took us seven days, zigzagging," he says. "No lights, locked in our cabins and people praying in 20 different languages."

The Lusitania was sunk on its return trip to England.

Wolfson's father, a tailor, had made the crossing 18 months earlier to establish his business, then sent for rest the family. They lived in Louisville, Ky., then St. Louis and Columbia, Mo., before settling in Chicago.

He went to work straight out of high school "to bring in some money." He lived with his parents until he was 28, moving out when he married his first wife, Jeannette.

After working a variety of jobs--"you name it"--he found a job dressing windows in a Chicago department store. Eventually, he began working for himself. "I didn't care for bosses."

He dressed windows for about 35 years.

He also made things: End tables. Coffee tables. An upright cabinet for the TV. Frames for his paintings.

He moves on to the next shelf.

"Ever see my rock concert?" he says, picking up an assembly of small rocks with black-and-white googily eyes he bought from a crafts shop.

He made the wooden clock on the shelf too, he says. "My wife sees one for $350, and I said, 'Hell, I can make it.' " It cost him $60 for all the components, he says.

"Now this is a wishbone," he says of two papier-ma^che characters pulling on a large turkey wishbone: "It's two guys making a wish."

"Ever eat lamb shanks?" he asks.

He picks up a strange animal made of lamb shanks.

"This is 'No Such Animal,' " he says, then laughs. "You need an imagination; that's all it is."

He has given some of his bone creations to his son. He's given others to friends, and he's sold a dozen of them at craft shows in Chicago. "I've gotten as much as $100 to $150 for stuff like this."

When he first moved to the retirement home, he was showing a different piece of bone art each week down in the lobby.

He's not thrilled living in a retirement home. But, as he says, "I'm here. Where else are you going to go when you're almost 90 years old?"

There's a lull in the tour of his apartment.

"I'm also a poet," he says suddenly. "I'm going to show you something."

He disappears into the bedroom, then returns with a piece of white paper on which he has handwritten a poem, "An Ode to Mae."

At the top of the paper are two dates--Oct. 12, 1968, and June 23, 1995--the date he met his second wife and the date she died. Both of his wives died of cancer, his first after 31 years of marriage, Mae after 26 years of marriage.

"You know, when you've got two of them die from the damn cancer . . . it's tough," he says.

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