Toots & Magoo: Long Live Joie de Vivre in Chapel Hill, NC!

August 2011 update: Toots  & Magoo has MOVED to University Mall and is no longer located on Franklin St. Be sure to check out Toots & Magoo’s beautiful new shop in University Mall! Toots & Magoo is a beautiful shop in Chapel Hill, NC offering the most wondrous works of art, gifts, and lovely things to comfort and delight.  Toots & Magoo is the kind of respite you will love to visit and explore for hours.

I have a very dear and special connection with Toots & Magoo, through my wonderful friend Sarah. I met Sarah one sunny day in a cobblestone courtyard in Aix-en-Provence, France. I was around 19 or 20 years old, playing my flute in plein air, listening to the acoustics and echoes in the sun-drenched courtyard in Provence. … I haven’t done that in a LONG time. (And yes, I WISH I had learned to play the guitar back then, instead of the flute!  Guitar players are de facto cool; not so much the flute.)  But thank goodness I did strange things like playing my flute out and about in France, because if I hadn’t been such a strange bird, Sarah probably wouldn’t have been inspired to come and introduce herself that day.

The Courtyard of the building where I lived in Aix-en-Provence (the famous Place d’Albertas), and my quick sketch from that time – sketched on the back of a little brown paper bag.

Sarah and I spent the rest of the day together, walking and talking along the beautiful paths and streets of Aix-en-Provence. As dusk fell we gathered up a delicious dinner from various markets and fromageries along the cobblestone streets of Aix (probably some LU Bastogne cookies, too). We had dinner together, and talked all night into the early hours of the morning, two American girls in France, one from the East Coast  and one from the West Coast (Sarah).  As it turned out we both were studying at the same university in Aix-en-Provence, and we had the same Art History class the next morning.

After talking with Sarah all through the night, poring over her wonderful childhood photographs and sharing our life stories and adventures, I got home in time for a few hours of sleep before class.  After I arrived in the 17th century building where our Art History class was held, I saw Sarah slink down the classroom aisle into an empty seat. She was still wearing her pajamas. I laughed out loud, and smiled through the rest of the class that morning. The adventures that followed that year in Aix, with Sarah and all of our friends, were wonderful and many.

Billy Pearson (1940’s photo); the Inspiration for Toots & Magoo

Among my favorite memories of conversations with Sarah are the vivid stories she shared with me about her amazing father, Billy Pearson; about his adventures, his joie de vivre, his passion for art, his larger than life personality.  Just to begin with, he was a famous jockey in the 1940’s and 1950’s (he won 826 races around the world, and suffered – and miraculously recovered from – many racetrack injuries as well).  He went on to live LIFE to the fullest, many decades of adventures, all of which are far too numerous and incredible to begin to mention here.

At the time I met Sarah, her father was established as perhaps the foremost collector of American Folk Art and other art treasures from around the world. Sarah had hanging on the wall of her beautiful sunny apartment in France a quilt that was made of antique jockey silks.  It had been a gift made for her father many, many years prior.  It was perfection. (What other students studying in France had rare, beautiful American Folk Art on display in their apartment?) I was fortunate to meet Sarah’s father briefly, and his wife Maggie (“Magoo” of Toots & Magoo) and their charming little daughter (Sarah’s half sister), when they came to visit Sarah in Aix-en-Provence that year.

I was delighted to be reminded of Sarah and her dad Billy Pearson tonight when I visited the Toots & Magoo blog:

There Toots & Magoo have posted fantastic photos of Billy Pearson, along with a wonderful piece crediting Billy Pearson as the inspiration for Toots & Magoo. I hope you will visit the blog, and visit their shop now located in University Mall on 201 S. Estes Drive in Chapel Hill, NC 27514.

I have often thought about how I wish my dad could have met Sarah’s dad; I think they would have hit it off immediately.  My father was a brilliant artist/sculptor/architect with roots in Kentucky; the Kentucky Derby was always a BIG day for us growing up.  Among his many beautiful sculptures, my father sculpted absolutely breathtaking equine statues, including his life-size, welded steel Don Quixote sculpture, located a block from the White House in Washington, DC.

(You can see photos of just a few of my father’s sculptures at – work in progress!)

1964 Washington Post Magazine cover article featuring the work of Miles Stafford Rolph, II (detail from silver chess set shown on cover; silver Greek Warrior chess piece approx. 3 in. tall).

Even though I’m not aware of my dad ever having met Sarah’s dad, somehow I feel a connection that links them together as kindred spirits in my own mind and memories.

My Dad, Artist and Sculptor Miles Stafford Rolph, II with one of his stunning sculptures (Polo Player on Horseback on a Marble Base).

I wanted to include a photo of my Dad here, so I scanned the photo I had on the closest book shelf (shown above): his welded steel sculpture of a Polo player on horseback. Then I scanned the photo next to this one on my book shelf: my Dad posing an artist’s wooden model figurine.  The wooden model reminded me of the ones I had just been looking at a few moments before in a picture of the former Toots & Magoo storefront, shown on the Toots & Magoo blog. I love the wonderful and unexpected juxtaposition and synergy.


Wooden Artist’s Model figures grace the Toots & Magoo shop front (from the Toots & Magoo Blog entitled “Our Lovely Store” (8/11 update: Toots & Magoo moved to University Mall in 2011); Vintage photo of my Dad posing a wooden artist’s model (just happened to be the photograph closest to me on the book shelf – so I scanned it in!)

On a closing note: Oh, Wow! I just found a Bing video of a Perry Mason episode, in which Billy Pearson plays the role of a jilted jockey on trial for a murder that he didn’t commit.

What a rare treasure!  And the stream-of-consciousness continues …

We hope you will visit Toots & Magoo in University Mall to find beautiful treasures and gifts, jewelry and fine paper/stationery (everything lovely!) and visit the Toots & Magoo blog and be enchanted by the photos and stories (!