While strolling East Fourth Street in a column a few weeks ago, I promised a story about the great big black widow spider atop the old Morrill Avenue fire station. Well, for openers, it’s not a black widow nor a beetle, but a scarab – we should have known, since it’s made from an old VW, and it only has six legs (a spider has three more.) How did it get there? Away we go, all together on a Saturday morning.
In 1977, an artist named David Fambrough operated a business with his family – his mother is Jill Fambrough, who like many others was a stripper before she was a Realtor (with Prudential Nevada Realty) – but not what you’re thinking. The Fambrough business was The Stripper; it stripped furniture for refinishing and was located in a Quonset hut ‘way out on South Virginia Street (it’s still there), where if it blew high as a kite, as furniture stripping businesses all eventually do, it wouldn’t vaporize anyone but the Fambrough family.
David, an accomplished artist in bronze, marble and steel as well as restoration and maintenance of fine art (he was curator of the extensive Wilbur May collection and has cared for Picassos and Modiglianis), was also somewhat of an Egyptologist. One day while sketching a scarab, the national bug of Egypt, he noticed it’s similarity of silhouette to a VW Beetle. He looked out of his window at the carcass of a Veedub sitting alongside a pile of irrigation pipe in a field on the Double Diamond ranch where his business was located. He looked at his drawing, and back at the VW. Voila! The cowboys at the ranch told Dave he’d be doing them a favor to get rid of the stuff, so the scarab was born and built, to sit alongside the Quonset barn for several years. (He later made several others, a duplicate of our Reno scarab that was placed in Mound House east of Carson City, and third we’ll learn of in a moment.)
Enter now George Benny, who gained color of title to the Double Diamond Ranch and the River Inn on the old Lawton’s site west of Reno. Before earning himself a stay in a federal gated community for several real estate transgressions gone wrong, George kicked The Stripper, David Fambrough, and all his bugs off the Double Diamond spread. The third beetle was loaded in a trailer when some miscreant stole the dismantled beetle, trailer and all. So – should you see a black ’28 Dodge coupe atop six irrigation-pipe legs somewhere in Homefinder country, David would like it back. Or at the very least, his trailer.
The beetle received national attention, as the focus of innumerable magazine and API wire service stories, even a mighty National Geographic network inclusion in The Volkswagen as Art. Bill Harrah, in what must have been the last few months of his life, was negotiating to acquire the scarab. David eventually gave the City of Reno the original bug, now resting on the fire station [more to follow]. For the edification of the goat-ropers out in the middle of the state who seem to enjoy this column, I’ll try to put an image of it up on my website. [I did]
Is David done building scarabs? Not on your life – he’d love to increase the collection. Leave us not forget that a certain percentage of the cost of a public building must now be spent on durable art – David would like to try a Fiat “Spyder” and a Hudson “Hornet” with a giant pin through their backs like a true insect collection. Maybe a DeHavilland “Gypsy Moth” airplane.
A word to the wise to David: a Caterpillar would also enhance the collection, but that big ol’ yellow D8 bulldozer may need more than irrigation pipe for legs.
And readers: A spider has eight legs – just testing you…
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Subsequent e-mail from David Fambrough: Thanks for the great write-up, enjoyed it much! especially how mom [Jill] like many others, was a stripper before becoming a Realtor. P.S. almost forgot, Jill is talking to her legal staff, for defamation of character!
[More of David’s work can seen on the southeast corner of Moana and Baker Lane – the iron dragonflies. Jill’s kidding. I think.]