Madelyn Averitte Starbuck

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Madelyn Averitte grew up in Miami, Florida and attended Miami Dade Junior College. She met George Mullins in 1968 at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. After she and George graduated from FSU in June 1968 they moved to New York City, rented a house on Staten Island and in 1969 found jobs at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. Two friends from Florida State University, Steve Shatz and Mike Stuckey, lived next door.

In August 1969 she and George drove to Toronto to join George’s parents, his two brothers and Mary Rauton on a camping trip to Arrowhead Provincial Park north of Toronto. On that trip Madelyn met the people at the Ragnarokr leather shop in Toronto for the first time. Shortly after their return to New York, George learned that he had been accepted into graduate school at the University of Oregon in Eugene. He and Madelyn resigned their jobs and drove across country to Oregon, stopping en route to visit with the Ragnarokr commune at the old hotel on Stoney Lake.

After living in Eugene for a few months, George and Madelyn moved to a communal farm near Brownsville, Oregon, called “the Mud Farm”. They sold bread and soap to a co-operative grocery store in Eugene. The following spring Madelyn made tie-dyed clothing that she sold both in Eugene and through the Ragnarokr leather shop in Toronto. She and George received and accepted an invitation from the Ragnarokr commune in Toronto to join their back-to-the-land project. In the fall of 1970 she and George packed up their VW sedan once again and drove back across the Canadian prairies to Toronto where they were welcomed into the Ragnarokr commune. Madelyn and George moved into 33 Baldwin Street and learned how to made and sell leather goods.

Shortly after George and Madelyn arrived in Toronto, George’s parents came from Louisiana for their annual visit. This time the group camped on property near the village of Clarendon Station that belonged to a friend of the leather shop. The owners of the property learned that the leather shop was interested in moving to the country and they invited the Ragnarokr commune to share their property. However the deal fell through and Madelyn and George began searching for property along Highway 11 north of Toronto. In November George and Madelyn located 100 acres of land near North Bay and purchased it jointly for the six members of the Ragnarokr commune.

The lot they had purchased had never been lived on and except for an old logging road and a horse stable had no improvements whatsoever. The next step in the back-to-the-land project was to build a communal house on the property. That winter George and Philip collected building material from vast demolition sites along McCaul and St. Patrick Streets in downtown Toronto and carried whatever they found back to the leather shop on the roof of Madelyn’s VW. In the spring the entire load of building materials, plus a Ford 9N garden tractor, was driven to the property in Machar Township in a large rented truck. After the truck was unloaded, Madelyn and Mary Rauton drove the truck back to Toronto and returned it to the rental agency while George, Philip and Randy Rauton began to dig the basement for the first house at the Frostpocket. Madelyn’s friend from Miami Dade Junior College Tom Bonanno spent a week laying concrete blocks for the basement wall while doing coursework for his classes at the University of Western Ontario. The youngest of the Mullins brothers, Jeff, hitch hiked from Pensacola to help.

During the summer of 1971 George and Madelyn split up and George went to California with Colleen Anderson. Madelyn continued to work on the building at the Frostpocket with Jeff and Philip Mullins. A few weeks after George had left, his parents, George Jr. and Hazel Mullins, arrived for their fourth annual visit. Throughout September 1971 Madelyn, the Mullins family, Dave Humphries, Tom Bonanno, Frank Tettemer, and Randy and Mary Rauton continued to work on the community house at the Frostpocket. By November, when construction halted for the year, the building was unfinished but weather-tight.

After George left Madelyn decided to continue her career as an artist. She befriended Greg Sperry and asked him to sit for her. Over the years she produced dozens of drawings of Greg. For the next eight years most of the Ragnarokr crew devoted most of their time and energy to the settlement at the Frostpocket. Madelyn, however, focused on her art. In June she went to Yonkers, New York to visit friends and upon her return moved to Montreal with Tom Bonanno and Ginny Turcotte to start another leather shop. In October she sold her one-sixth share in Ragnarokr’s rural property to Chris Risk and Skip O’Dell. Philip Mullins and Randy Rauton drove to Montreal to visit Tom and Ginny in December 1972 and purchased an old outsole lockstitch machine from a shoe repair shop that had gone out of business. Madelyn returned to Toronto with them and worked in the Ragnarokr leather shop until she found another job. She continued to work in the leather shop off-and-on until she left Canada in 1977.

In the spring of 1973 Madelyn met Fletcher Starbuck, an American expatriate from California, at the art gallery where she worked as a secretary. Fletcher was a photographer with a growing reputation in Canadian arts circles. In February 1974 she and Fletcher, Ruth Lyons and two Tibetan Buddhists named Linda Gillespie and David Burgart shared the apartments above Pasquale’s Barber Shop at 158 McCaul. According to Madelyn, the Buddhists sat on little black pillows and said, “Trugnpa Rhimapushe”, which meant “Leave the dishes for Madelyn.” Ruth Lyons lived on the second floor where Michael and Patricia Ormsby and then Janice Spellerberg had lived. Madelyn and Fletcher occupied the third floor (where Greg Sperry lived in the 1980s). Some time later Danny Starbuck and Pat Wilson moved into the second and ground floors of the building. The apartment building was on the corner of McCaul and D’Arcy Streets and about a block from Baldwin Street.

Madelyn and Colleen Anderson soon became good friends and she, Fletcher and his son Joshua occasionally visited George and Colleen at their home in the Frostpocket. In 1974 she and Colleen began work on a novel supposedly based upon a true story about events in a hippie commune near Killaloe Station but with characters drawn from the Ragnarokr family. Madelyn and Colleen Anderson continued to work on the novel in their spare time for several years but it was never finished. In the fall of 1974 Madelyn visited her parents at their cabin in the mountains of North Carolina and then accompanied her old college friend Steve Schatz on a tour of Montreal.

In December 1974 Madelyn was living at 158 McCaul Street and working at the Faculty of Law Library at the University of Toronto when she received a short-term grant from the Canada Council to paint watercolors. That fall Fletcher’s photos occupied a whole wall at the opening of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s new building on Dundas Street and he too received a grant from the Canada Council. His grant proposal was to travel to Mexico with his camera.

Madelyn and Fletcher left for a three-month trip to Mexico in January 1975. It so happened that Randy, Mary and Philip of the Ragnarokr leather shop also traveled to Mexico that winter. The three of them drove the shop’s Dodge van to the Yucatan, stopping in Saltillo to visit with Isidro Del Bosque. Philip (traveling as Steve Burdick), Mary and Randy chanced upon Madelyn and Fletcher in a small town called Becal on the Yucatan peninsula. Fletcher and Madelyn were there to photograph weavers at work on hats in their subterranean workshops and Philip and Mary were there to purchase the finished Panama hats. The five of them and another American couple traveled together towards central Mexico for a few days before splitting up around Veracruz and returning to Canada by different routes.

Madelyn and Fletcher continued to live near Baldwin Street and participate in the affairs of the American exile community. Madelyn and Mary Burdick organized a Soul Food Pot Luck dinner involving all of the Ragnarokr community in June 1975. That summer Madelyn worked at the Open Studio, visited Frostpocket with Fletcher, played lots of badminton in the backyard of 33 Baldwin Street and went on picnics to Toronto Island with the Mexican girls. In the fall Mary and Steve Burdick sponsored a Greek Pot Luck dinner at their house on D’Arcy Street. Those invited included Jeff and Debbie Mullins, Paula and Michael Letki, Philip Mullins and Mary Rauton, George Mullins and Colleen Anderson, Randy Rauton, Steve and Simone Spring, Madelyn Averitte and Fletcher Starbuck, Bie Engelen and several children. Thanksgiving Dinner at Ragnarokr concluded the year’s round of dinner parties.

Throughout 1975 Madelyn and Fletcher continued to make art and work full-time. Fletcher was doing carpentry and photography and Madelyn was painting and making leatherwork at Ragnarokr leather shop. Participants at the Christmas dinner at Ragnarokr included Philip Mullins and Mary Rauton, Jeff and Debbie Mullins, George Mullins and Colleen Anderson and their two children Seth and Katie, Madelyn Averitte and Fletcher Starbuck, Brenda Matthias, Randy Rauton and Bie Englen.

Madelyn’s mother visited Madelyn in Toronto in November 1976. Mrs. Averitte mixed well with the Toronto hippies and hosted parties for the Burdocks, Brenda Matthias, Patty Wilson and Janice Spellerberg. She became acquainted with almost everyone in the Baldwin Street village community. That year Madelyn and Fletcher hosted the community’s annual Christmas Party at their apartment at 158 McCaul Street. Madelyn made another of her wonderful posters for the leather shop. This poster was an advertisement for the Christmas tree sale at the leather shop and it was posted on Hydro poles all over the downtown area. It, like another poster advertising Ragnarokr’s sandals, was a commercial and artistic success.

In January 1977 US President Jimmy Carter issued a Proclamation of Pardon that granted unconditional amnesty to all draft dodgers not wanted for other offenses. Charges against Fletcher were dropped and he could travel in the United States without fear of arrest. That summer Madelyn, Fletcher, his son Joshua and their dog Rumi traveled across Canada and down through the American West to California. After some time on the road, they settled in San Antonio, Texas in March 1979. In San Antonio Madelyn found a model and confidant by the name of Diego Vaca and continued to draw. She wrote Colleen that she was “preparing to paint a diptych of Diego and his son in two poses”. Fletcher found work delivering milk and Madelyn found secretarial and clerking jobs.

In the summer of 1980 Madelyn became pregnant and she and Fletcher took Lamaze classes. George and Colleen Mullins were now living in east Texas and they made a trip to San Antonio to renew their friendship with Madelyn and Fletcher. In the spring of 1981 Madelyn and Fletcher moved a few miles up the highway to Austin. Madelyn and Fletcher continued their work as artists. Fletcher turned his attention more and more to ceramics. Their only child, Lucas, was born in Austin in April 1981. After the birth of Lucas, Madelyn developed a series of stretching exercises designed to restore her girlish figure. During the summer of 1982 Madelyn taught these stretching exercises to new mothers at a community center near her home in South Austin. The exercises, called “Stretch and Strength”, emphasized “post-partum fitness”. She said that she had become the “Queen of Post-partum Fitness”.

Madelyn kept in contact with Colleen Mullins and in February 1982 Colleen, her two children Katie, Andrew and her brother-in-law Philip drove over from east Texas for a short visit to Austin. In September Colleen decided to study nursing and she and George moved to Austin where Colleen enrolled in Austin Community College. Fletcher and George began working together as carpenters. Between October 1982 and the end of 1984 George and Fletcher worked as contractors specializing in kitchen renovation. In the summer of 1984 the building boom in Austin came to a halt and the cabinet installation business of George and Fletcher quickly wound down. Fletcher found work in the paint shop at the University of Texas while George continued to work on his own renovating kitchens. Madelyn and Fletcher spit up and Fletcher moved in Denver in the late 1990s.

Madelyn worked as a retail clerk for a number of years before enrolling in the University of Texas at Austin. She participated in an international circle of artists known as ‘mail artists” because they sent art, usually postcards, to each other through the mails. As computer technology developed the artists began to use the Internet instead of the mails. Madelyn attended several Mail Art conferences in Italy as a representative of the University of Texas. She wrote and produced an opera that was the first work of its kind to be broadcast live over the Internet. Madelyn adopted the Internet handle of “Honoria” and is known as such by most of her Austin friends. She earned a Ph.D. degree in media studies by the University of Texas and wrote her thesis on the influence of the Internet on mail art. Madelyn and her son Lucas continue to live and work in Austin, Texas.

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