Jane B. Armstrong
Jane B. Armstrong
MANCHESTER — Jane B. Armstrong, born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1921, adopted and raised by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel B. Botsford, died quietly on November 1, 2012. She is survived by two sons, John McTaggart of Wallingford, Vt., and Forest Munger of Bandon, Ore, and was predeceased by her son, Sheridan Munger, who tragically passed at age 14, and her husband, Dr. Robert T. Armstrong. A memorial service will be held at Equinox Village at 2 p.m. on Thursday, December 6, 2012.
One of her earliest memories was as an infant being out of doors in Vermont and watching the clouds moving through the shimmering maple leaves in the tree over her when she was supposed to be taking a nap. And throughout her life, some of her favorite things would continue to be the trees and cloud shapes, as well as music, swimming, horses and cats. During her early life, drawing, painting and writing made visible her insuppressible artistic nature. It was clear from even a very early age that Jane’s creative and impulsive disposition led her life in many interesting directions, but that it also often got her into mischief and trouble with authority. Following grade school, Jane attended The Buffalo Seminary, an all-girls school still rated today as one of the top schools in the country. At commencement ceremonies, the head mistress of the school compared each student to a particular flower in her garden. When Jane’s name came up last, she referred to her as “a flower on the edge of the garden leaning out.” Jane’s adventures and misadventures in the following years at Middlebury College proved just how intuitive this woman had been. Jane was unhappy at Middlebury College, solely for the reason that, at the time, they had no art department. The dean of women and Jane were in constant conflict over petty issues. A few years later, she and her former dean met accidentally on the street. They began to converse and became instant friends, continuing to correspond until the dean’s death a few years later.
The following year, Jane chose to attend Pratt Institute, followed by her career as a teacher of art and music in one-room schools in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. Her second year in the school district, when there wasn’t enough money to pay for her teaching position, her fellow teachers paid her out of their own salaries.
Her next career began when she was hired by the Rutland Herald in Vermont as a reporter. Following this, she moved to Burlington, Vt., to work for The Burlington Free Press as a reporter and feature writer. A few years later, she became one of the first three women in New York City fortunate to be hired to write by-lined articles on business for the Journal of Commerce and at McGraw Hill’s third largest magazine, Chemical Week. It was her responsibility to interview business executives and to report on new developments, which took her on travels to Italy, Germany and England.
It was during this time that Jane met Dr. Robert T. Armstrong. He was then the director of research for Celanese Corp. Their first meeting was an ill-fated one, as each was so struck speechless by the other that the interview soon fell apart. Some time later, Jane received a call from the public relations director at Celanese inviting her to the company’s annual Christmas party for the New York business press at the Twenty-One Club. When Jane hesitated, the gentleman told her “Dr. Armstrong will be there.” With this, she accepted without hesitation. When Jane arrived at the party, she jostled her way through the sea of tuxedoed executives and dark-suited pressmen and found him. She fondly remembered standing there directly in front of him, looking up into the depth of his brown eyes, and saying, “I’m here!” By the next day, the two of them were talking about getting married. It took them two years to untangle their own lives and finally, in 1960, they married in Acapulco, Mexico.
Shortly after they were married, Bob told her he had invited the president of Dupont Corp. for dinner at their New York apartment. Jane, of course, was the hostess for the evening. The following morning, Bob gently asked Jane if she would consider a career as something other than a reporter, as he had found it impossible for either of them to discuss business matters in front of a business and science reporter. Jane agreed.
Although Jane had no idea what she might want to do, one day she wandered into The Art Students’ League, and out of curiosity followed the sound of strange, loud noises coming from the basement level. To her amazement, she came upon a number of students chopping and chipping away at stone. It was in that instant that Jane discovered what she wanted to do for the rest of her life – sculpture. After three months of study there and winning a prize for her very first piece of sculpture, she found a suitable workplace on Madison Avenue and 91st Street, right around the corner from the church where she sang in the choir. One of the first pieces of sculpture she sold was a pink alabaster fawn, purchased by Steven Rockefeller. She placed it in a carton and he carried it away with its head poking out the top of the box.
Jane soon began selling her sculptures regularly, but needed a larger space in which to do her work. Both she and her husband had always loved Vermont. They found a wonderful barn and remodeled farmhouse on High Meadows Way in Manchester, Vt., and moved there in 1964. People often were curious when they saw her working away at her sculpture outdoors, rain or shine. She was so committed to her work that at one point the renowned Spanish sculptor, Jose de Creeft, cautioned Jane’s husband, “The girl, she works too hard.” A well-known, local, taxi cab driver stopped by one day with a piece of stone, hoping Jane could use it for her scultpture. Another time, a woman stopped to buy a suitable sculpture for a friend who was in the hospital, so she could have it by her bed to touch and stroke, as she was no longer able to speak. The friend died while stroking and holding it in her hands. Experiences such as this occurred all through her career, and it was what she most loved about her work.
In 1974, Bob took early retirement so he could help her with her sculpture business, and they thrived in this partnership. Jane said Bob was the only person who was able to take such fine photographs of her sculptures, but, after completing more than 600 sculptures during her career, one can imagine both the joy — and frustration — they experienced in collaborating. During one of their frequent, heated exchanges, Bob said laughingly, “The best thing about our marriage is the misery we’ve saved two other people.”
After Bob’s death in 1991, Jane managed to continue her work, but with much greater difficulty. She changed her medium from stone to bronze and, despite great difficulty with sculpture in later years due to failing eyesight, continued to work, casting her last sculpture shortly before her death. Jane always said she preferred to be called “plain Jane” and did not expect it when she was included in the Who’s Who publications, including Who’s Who in the World, for her achievements in sculpture. Of all her sculpture awards, Jane was most proud that in 2004 The National Sculpture Society honored her with a gold medal for “the entire body of her work.”
Jane had long been a lover of the poetry of Robert Frost, even sculpting a head of Frost for Middlebury College in Vermont. It is fitting that the path of her life was mirrored by the closing words from his poem, The Road Not Taken:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
To send the family personal email condolences, please visit www.sheafuneralhomes.com.
The family has entrusted arrangements to the care of Brewster and Shea Funeral Home, 34 Park Place, Manchester Center, Vermont.