Quirky, easily annoyed, boisterous and with hands like suitcases. Each term describes various facets that together form an incomplete picture of ceramist Frans Wildenhain.
At mid-century, Frans and Marjorie McIlroy moved from the city of Rochester to the country. Though it wasn’t exactly a big step up.
They moved from an apartment on cosmopolitan Strathallan Street, just off ritzy East Avenue, to Bushnell’s Basin, on the Pittsford-Perinton border. There, on the sleepy meadowland populated by considerable forest, Wildenhain had purchased property from an equally quirky Mrs. Selden.
Her family included George Selden, who had first patented the four-wheel gas-powered automobile and had once offered legal representation to none other than George Eastman.
Flannel-attired and corncob pipe smoking, Mrs. Selden was also an amateur preservationist. Or scavenger.
Several sources reported her scrounging through dilapidated structures in Rochester’s old Third Ward (today, “Corn Hill”), and hauling timbers, windows and related architectural remnants out to the eastern suburb then populated by a herd of sheep.
Frans and Marjorie lived in what four people independently described as a converted chicken coop that Mrs. Selden had cobbed together from one Third Ward structure or another.
The street address for the Wildenhains’ coop was 6 Laird Lane.
Laird. Who or what is Laird?
A pretty important woman is who.
As it turns out, Mary Laird was a woman of considerable achievement and significance. And she and McIlroy shared a common nationality: each was Canadian.
A native of Quebec, Laird graduated in 1909 from Rochester City (General) Hospital’s nursing program. (McIlroy hailed from Toronto.) Mary Laird volunteered at a medical field station in France during World War I. And she created the Rochester Visiting Nurse Service in 1918.
Completing her professional career, Mary Laird was head of Rochester’s Council of Social Agencies beginning in 1926. She died in 1985.
In one very concentrated spot at Bushnell’s Basin, it appears, was a mid-century magnet for impressively off-beat individuals of great accomplishment.