Clyde Phillip Wachsberger, called “Skip” by most of his friends, died quietly in his Orient home on November 20, 2011, of cancer.
Skip was an accomplished writer, artist, and gardener. He considered his Orient garden of beauty and wild abandon, 28 years in the making, to be his masterpiece. Skip’s policy was to keep the garden gate open. He had a genius for friendship and invariably invited everyone to visit his garden. They came in droves. So many devoted friends visited him near the end of his life that he lovingly said that the comings and goings made his room seem as busy as “a Chinese cafeteria.”
Skip was born on January 3, 1945, to Helen (Dreher) and Robert Wachsberger in Manhattan. Skip was an innate artist and brought his artistic sensibility to every aspect of his life. After graduating from Horace Mann School, Skip attended Columbia University, where he majored in art history. He then studied set design at New York University and at London University’s Central School of Speech and Drama. Skip painted sets for the Metropolitan Opera, as well as for a wide variety of television and stage productions. Trompe l’oeil became his specialty. With a partner, he started Tromploy, a decorative-mural painting company that received commissions from around the country and as far away as Tokyo.
Skip was an opera fan who began attending performances at the old Metropolitan Opera House as a teenager. He was a devotee of the Yugoslavian soprano Zinka Milanov. Neighbors knew Skip’s car by its license plate, ZINKA. He became a dear and lasting friend of the American soprano Martile Rowland, traveling the world to attend her performances.
In 1983, Skip purchased his 300-year-old home on Village Lane, Orient. Within a few years he sold his Manhattan apartment to live full time in Orient. He became the greenhouse manager at Ornamental Plantings in Southold, the gardening columnist for North Fork Country, and, as his reputation grew, the designer of many of the fine gardens of Orient.
At the age of 51, he finally met the love of his lifetime, Charles Dean. They completed their family in 2007 with Rover, a Havanese puppy. During their almost 16 years together, they fulfilled all their dreams. On August 19, 2011, they were married at Southold Town Hall.
In the late 1990s, Skip began painting watercolors inspired by the Orient landscape. His painting projects expanded to include portraits of people and dogs. His work in watercolors culminated in a series of 120 autobiographical paintings inspired by old family photographs, including scenes such as Skip astride a camel at the Egyptian pyramids and another of him, as a young man, washing his hands in a fountain at the Villa d’Este gardens. This series was exhibited at Art Sites gallery, Riverhead, in 2008 and reviewed in Art in America.
Skip’s artistic sensibility was also reflected in the original way he dressed. His outfits were colorful and distinctive. For example, at his wedding he wore a suit that he designed himself, of turquoise linen fabric; a purple, pink and green silk tie that he had bought in Italy almost fifty years earlier; and chartreuse suede shoes. He never threw away his clothes. When they became shredded and holey, he wore them for gardening.
As a writer, Skip co-edited, with Charles, Of Leaf and Flower: Stories and Poems for Gardeners (2001). He wrote Rose and Daffodil (both 2004) and an illustrated memoir, Into the Garden with Charles, which will be published in April 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. For more than a decade, Skip was an active member of Karen Braziller’s Red House Writers Workshop in Orient. At his death, he was working on a biography of his beloved Rover.
Skip loved the quiet solitude of Orient, often declaring that he lived in the most beautiful place on Earth. The view as he approached Orient on the causeway thrilled him, no matter what the weather. But he worried about the fragile rural character of Orient. Skip cared deeply about the environment, never using pesticides in his garden. As a result it teemed with insects, bees and birds. It pained him to see or hear of cruelty to animals.
Skip is survived by his spouse, Charles Randall Dean; his sister, Fredrica, and his sister-in-law Sylvia Newman; his brother, William, and his sister-in-law Phyllis; his two nieces, Jennifer Halladay and Robin Wachsberger; and his many, many friends. Interment will be private. A memorial gathering to celebrate Skip’s life will be announced.
Donations in Skip’s name can be made to the Southold Animal Shelter, the Peconic Land Trust, or the Oysterponds Historical Society.
This is a paid notice.