Heartbroken is what she is.
No, that is not adequate, the way her lower lip quivers when she recounts what happened on Monday afternoon, the way she slaps her kitchen counter, looks to the ceiling and blinks back tears.
It was the first time in at least 60 years that she had taken them outside of her home.
Maybe she was just lonely that day, perhaps wanting to impress the two elderly gentlemen she’d befriended in the park.
Or, if nothing else, the reason was, simply, that artists will break even the most hardened personal rules for anyone asking to view their work.
“It was my youth!” Wenona Casedy says bitterly, over and over.
She is 86 years old.
Ah, but when she talks in her expansive way of her intricately drawn pencil sketches, it is once again late-1930s, Depression-era Denver, and she is a starry-eyed 16-year-old hunting down musicians and celebrities outside the old City Auditorium downtown.
All of her opera and popular music heroes would come to town most every year.
And she would storm the stage door, begging an agent or a manager – anyone – to please have the subject of her portrait autograph it for her.
She remembers the day in ’38 when Nelson Eddy, the singer and movie star, came to town. As president of the Denver Nelson Eddy Fan Club, she’d tracked him to the sixth floor of the Brown Palace.
She gathered her girls and they stormed the sixth floor. His manager met them at the hotel room door. Well, they asked him, would he at least sign their autograph books?
Wenona Casedy handed him the pencil sketch of her idol – she was too poor to afford paints.
“The next thing I know, the manager walks back into the hallway as we are leaving, asking if Wenona Hampson is here,” she recalls.
“Well, Mr. Eddy wants to see you!” she is told. Had she just gone to heaven?
“Here I am, this 16-year-old girl getting to see this great big movie star!” she says, looking away in clear reverie, as if it is happening all over again.
Nelson Eddy walks from a back room as she enters the room, throws his hands up and exults that he had always wanted to meet her, the girl with the sketches.
“He actually hugged me and signed my portrait for me!”
“I liked him because he was such a great singer,” Wenona Casedy says now. “And because he was well, just so beautiful!”
In her basement today are three, professional-quality pencil sketches of Nelson Eddy from years before that time, none of them signed.
At City Auditorium, which evolved into the Denver Performing Arts Center, she became legendary. Every artist, opera star or band member demanded to see the girl with the sketches, to see if they had been included.
Soon, she was often a guest backstage. Managers often asked that she come to every performance. Artists began to feel insulted if they did not have a Wenona Hampson sketch when they arrived in town.
Jeannette MacDonald sat for her three times. She loved it, if only because Nelson Eddy was always right there.
She took a phone company job across the street from the auditorium when she turned 18, and arranged for her work hours to end at curtain time, just so she could see the curtain rise and, later, have artists sign her work.
During the war, she married. She had children. For years she never sketched. She had compiled some 40 pencil sketches of stars that ultimately were all autographed.
And then came Monday.
The two elderly gentlemen she’d befriend over the past six months – both of whom could never keep up with her on her daily walks around Harvey Park in southwest Denver – had finally asked if they could see her drawings.
Oh, she never let them out of the house, she told them.
OK, maybe this once.
They were impressed by the intricacy of the drawings, of learning who the Depression-era stars were. They’d grown up on a farm in western Kansas. They didn’t even know who Nelson Eddy was, she said.
She soon gathered her drawings, all of them in black notebooks, and bid the men adieu. When she arrived back at her West Yale Avenue condominium, she could not find them.
The best she can figure now is she drove off with the notebooks, each containing at least 10 sketches, still on the trunk of her car. She immediately drove back.
She and Tim Todd, the longtime recreation director at the park, searched for hours.
On Thursday, she’d drawn up and was posting $200 reward notices for the drawings around the park. Tim Todd was doing the same thing.
“I feel so bad for her,” he later said. “My mom died last September, and Wenona, she reminds me of her.”
The sketches still have not surfaced.
“No questions asked,” Wenona Casedy says of the reward.
“They were my whole youth,” she says. She paces the floor with her late, beloved husband Selman’s wedding ring swinging on a gold chain around her neck.
“They are everything to me. And I cannot tell you how sick I feel about it.”
If you’ve seen them, just drop them off with Tim Todd at Harvey Park. He will arrange the reward for you.
No questions asked.
NOTE: This story had a happy ending:
Passer-by, brother return sketches, joy to artist
SOURCE: Bill Johnson, Rocky Mountain News
The old woman met the younger one almost before she walked into the backyard through the sliding glass door. She threw her arms open wide, and the two embraced.
“Are you the one who found my sketches?” Wenona Casedy whispered softly, tightly clutching the young woman, who began nodding and hugging her back. “This is such a miracle,” the 86-year-old woman said, looking to the sky. “I never thought I would ever see them…”