Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vignettes from Vermont: From Vietnam to Rose Vines

Edward Fortune
(Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- Come flower season you'll find colored cups of tulips everywhere in town, but not roses. Where are the roses? I mean, sure, this ain't Lompoc or Pasadena, but why doesn't anyone in the Benningtons grow roses? It became such a thorn in one man's side that he buried himself in the garage all day a few months ago and built roses from scratch.

And by scratch we mean steel. Forty-gauge. The good stuff.

The man behind the steel works of floral art is a 66-year-old who dropped out of Benn-Hi to serve 3 tours in Vietnam before coming home to work in the steel business for 40 years.

"It came to me. I wanted to make my wife roses but they had to last all year long," Edward Fortune, who has lived in the same Park Street house for 62 years, said during a phone call. "I could see the bush as clear as day so I spent 10 hours in the garage. It took a few days to figure out."

Fortune makes steel roses, bends 'em by hand and pliers, and presents them as silver singles on a stem, single red roses in a small planter and 6-rose bushes that rise from large planters filled with sand, clay and faux greenery -- they come in all-silver or green stems and red petals.

Fiddlehead at Four Corners art gallery in downtown Bennington will sell the Fortune Roses exclusively. Singles cost $36, small planters cost $50 and 6-rose vine bushes cost $250.

It's peculiar to see an imposing fella like Edward Fortune, Navy SEAL who followed his older brother the Marine to 'Nam, crafting pretty things such as roses as these decades later. "Anyone who knows me knows they better not kid around," he said when I mentioned how friends might be apt to tease him because of the unique nature of his endeavors. "They know where the ball falls."

Don't worry, Ed's really not that mean.

"I wanted to bring something out there that takes a little meanness out of the world," he said, "and to be able to say there are some nice things in the world."

Meathooks for hands served him well in the steel business. He started as a welder when Bennington Ironworks opened in '68 or '69 then joined the team at L&G Fabricators and spent the next 35 years with them "building buildings." He also built motorcycles for 35 years -- and just finished a 2-year job building his wife a Harley-Davidson Softail Custom. He's done with bikes because "You can only tear apart so many engines before it gets old."

The silver single is my favorite Fortune Rose. It's sturdy and rugged and there's something pure about the silver petals that makes you appreciate the delicate folds of the bloom. Ed's craftsmanship is stunning. You know how roses get after a few days, when aging outer petals begin to wilt and curl backward, and that's what's happening to front petal on the single silver above. His attention to detail is second to none.

Ed has a different take. The warrior who saw his share of horrors in the leaves of 'Nam wants to craft something so pretty and poetic for your personal gardens. He loves the 6-vine bush with red petals because, again, "you don't see a lot of roses growing around here."

Now you can "plant" them and steel her heart year-round.

Single red, small planter
Ed and Karen Fortune have been married
19 years. She paints the petals red.
She was in the Army 28 years and
served in Afghanistan and Kuwait.