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Culture

A World War II Officer's Love Letters To His Wife Become A Work Of Art

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L. Ferster
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Lucian "Luke" Ferster and his father, Maj. Samuel Ferster, September 1943

The art installation features audio of Lucian Ferster reading his father's letters.

For decades, the letters had been kept in a sealed banker's box, placed there by Lucian "Luke" Ferster's mother.

Last spring, 79-year-old Ferster broke the seal, spilled the contents out on the floor, put them in chronological order and read them all.

There were hundreds of letters written during World War II by his father — an Army officer — to his mother. Or "Sugar Plum," as his Dad called her.

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While Ferster, who lives in Coconut Grove, spent the ensuing six months of COVID isolation reading and transcribing the letters, he had no inkling some them and their encasing envelopes would eventually become a work of art.

"I printed up a couple of copies [of the letters], one for my daughter and one to keep," says Ferster. "And that was the end of it, I thought. And along came Yanira . . ."

That would be Miami-Dade artist Yanira Collado. She and Ferster's wife, Sylvia Jordan, work together at The Barnyard, a Coconut Grove community center.

Knowing how much Collado likes to work antique paper and other old material into her art, Ferster's wife offered up the envelopes. When Collado learned their history, she was stunned.

"And I could not bring myself to — in any way, shape or form — alter what I thought were relics," says Collado. "And so I said, 'Please, can I contact Luke immediately?' And then Luke shared with me his experience. And then I wanted to share his experience with the world."

The result is Collado's "My Dearest Sugar Plum," an interactive, mixed-media installation. The piece is part of an exhibition titled "Diverse Networks," showing at Miami's Oolite Arts through July 4th.

In a corner of the gallery, Collado cut an L-shaped hole in the wall and covered it with plexiglass. Behind the marred, stained and stratched plexi, one can barely make out a few of the letters, envelopes and postcards Major Samuel Ferster sent to "Sugar Plum," his wife Rosella.

The installation includes a large QR code printed on one wall. Scan it with your mobile device and you'll hear a recording of Ferster reading a few of his father's letters.

In one, the elder Ferster, an Ordnance Battalion Commander in the European Theater, reassures his young wife:

“We hear the rumble of guns, but we're safe. We are billeted in the field and I'm quite snug."

And further on, the Major allows himself a moment of levity:

"Haven't bathed in a week. But any day now!"

The letters are a revelation for Ferster, who said he was not close with his father, who died when he was 18.

"I got to see sides of him I really didn't know, didn't imagine," says Ferster.

"I had a certain picture of my father. It was brought into three dimensions. That was a gift."

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Pedro Wazzan
Yanira Collado's "My Dearest Sugar Plum," an interactive, mixed-media installation on display at Miami's Oolite Arts through July 4.

"My Dearest Sugar Plum" by Yanira Collado

Collado's piece is part of "Diverse Networks," a group exhibition that explores contemporary "mail art" collaborations between Miami-based artists and their colleagues.

Oolite Arts, 924 Lincoln Rd., 2nd Floor, Miami Beach. 305-674-8278. To schedule your visit, oolitearts.org.

This interview is part of “Intermission,” WLRN’s series looking at how South Florida’s arts community is coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve also been hearing from people who are NOT artists by trade, but who have been tapping into their creative side during COVID isolation.

If you’ve got a story for us, please send an email to talktous@wlrnnews.org, with the word “Intermission” in the subject line.