Donation restores Curwood artifact to castle

Local officials celebrate the return of James Oliver Curwood’s plant stand. From left are OHC Board Chairman Dave Acton, Owosso Mayor Chris Eveleth, Roberts, Becky Heck, David Latz, Sue Casler, Kathy Hunt, OHC Head Docent Denice Grace and OHC board member Deb Adams.

OWOSSO — James Oliver Curwood’s plant stand is now back in its familiar confines overlooking the Shiawassee River.

Grand Rapids resident Nancy Roberts returned the piece to the Owosso-born author’s writing studio — Curwood Castle — Saturday, drawing high praise from numerous local dignitaries, including Owosso Mayor Chris Eveleth and Denice Grace, head docent of the Owosso Historical Commission.

“Our goal at the OHC has always been to recreate (the Castle) the best we could, the way Mr. Curwood had it,” Grace said Saturday. “To that extent, it means some pieces are replicas, but occasionally we get lucky and a piece comes back home and that is what we are celebrating today.”

The plant stand was with the Roberts’ family for decades. As a child, Roberts remembered seeing the piece each time she visited her grandmother, Ella Wildermuth. Years later, the stand became a fixture in her mother Catherine Latz’s living room.

Roberts took possession of the stand about 20 years ago, learning from her mother the artifact was a Curwood piece. She didn’t think much of it at the time, that is until about five years ago.

While reading “The Bear and The Castle: The James Oliver Curwood Story” to her grandson, Roberts came upon a photograph of Curwood sitting at his desk, the plant stand — immediately recognizable — stationed right beside it.

The photograph prompted a visit to Owosso where Roberts met with Grace inside the Castle. Roberts initially inquired about the statue of the Owosso-born author stationed outside, a figure constructed by Roberts’ nephews Ryan and Nathan Leslie.

“Luckily I met Nathan when he came and installed it so I could answer her questions,” Grace said. “She walked away for a minute, came back and said, ‘So where’s the plant stand by Curwood’s desk?’ I said, ‘I wish I knew,’ and she says, ‘I think I have it.’”

“You about fell on the floor,” Roberts recalled, laughing. “It was then I said I wanted to donate it back to where it really belongs.”

Upon verifying the plant stand was in fact Curwood’s, Roberts planned to deliver the artifact during the 2020 Curwood Festival. Those plans were subsequently quashed following the cancellation of the 2020 festivities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With her sister Becky Keck visiting from California, Roberts decided Saturday would be the perfect day to return the stand home. Sister Sue Casler, brother David Latz and cousin Kathy Hunt joined Roberts and Keck at the Castle for the presentation.

“We just want to thank you so much for doing this,” said Dave Acton, board chairman of the Owosso Historical Commission. “This means so much to us and when I saw it today and I saw that picture, it is so rare that we get a real artifact, so this is a very special thing and we’re so grateful.

“Now, in perpetuity, every visitor is going to see that, so thank you so much on behalf of the Commission.”

Curwood wrote more than 30 books set in the Canadian Northwest, and many of his books were made into movies.

The castle was the writer’s dream project. It was fashioned after a 17th century French chateau and is built of stucco, slate, copper trim and fieldstone Curwood personally chose from area farm fields.

During Curwood’s lifetime, the castle served as his writing retreat, Hollywood office and the site of fabulous parties.

Today, it is regarded as an architectural treasure and the legacy of an Owosso son’s remarkable life.

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