Don Eastman, metal artist and friend to many, 1948–2011

09/15/2011

Don Eastman, a prolific craftsman and metalworker whose small backyard shop in Point Reyes Station for decades served as a nexus for fledgling artisans and utterly baffled do-it-yourselfers, died at his home on August 26, from cancer. He was 63.

A compassionate, soft-spoken family man and water enthusiast, Don spent much of his life in the hills and inlets of West Marin, working, playing and incessantly creating. His affection for his surroundings ran deep, and was expressed through the elegant, organic sculptures that continue to pervade its homes and businesses, and through an endearingly magnanimous inability to say no.

“The way it usually worked was you’d just stop off at Don’s shop and start describing what you were having trouble with,” said friend and local contractor Axel Nelson. “And he would just listen and listen and nod and say things like, “Uh huh, uh huh,” until eventually you would see this spark begin to form in his eye.”

Don Calvin Eastman was born in Oakland on March 27, 1948, to Bill and Barbara Eastman. Bill had grown up in Inverness; his father, Latham, worked as a manager of the Shafter Ranch until moving on to start his own industrial supply company in the East Bay, which Bill eventually took over.

Barbara was a revered environmentalist who played an instrumental role in early movements to conserve San Francisco Bay.

The family, including Don’s two older brothers Bob and John, spent every summer at Bill’s childhood home, in Inverness. The boys befriended a group of similar youth who vacationed in the area. Don loved to sail and swim, and was a force to be reckoned with on a tennis court.

The family eventually moved to Los Altos Hills, where, as a junior in high school, Don fell in love with Barbara. The two were inseparable from the beginning, and could often be seen careening through town on Don’s BSA motorcycle, which he had restored himself.

Don’s interest in auto mechanics evolved in time to include cars, many of which he owned and restored. As he grew older, his affection turned to a certain 1939 Ford pickup, which he maneuvered with adept precision.

“Ask anyone with a sports car if they could stay with Don, and they probably couldn’t,” said close family friend Tom Kent. “He wasn’t necessarily fast, just really skilled.”

Don’s interest in Barbara never waned. The two maintained their relationship after high school, and would see each other on weekends while Don attended College of Marin, where he toyed briefly with the notion of becoming an art teacher.

They moved to Point Reyes Station permanently in 1968, and five years later, on a bit of a whim, were married. “It was in Carson City, Nevada, in the dead of winter,” Barbara said. “We stopped off at the Fairfax Variety store on the way over and bought a ring for $1.49.”

At the time, Don was working with Tom for the local contractor Joe Gomez. Tom spent most of his time in tree work, which he later turned into a business, but Don did a little of everything, from masonry to carpentry and metalwork.

Tom and Don were part of a larger circle of friends who had grown up together and stayed in West Marin. They spent much of their free time at each other’s homes or swimming and sailing on Tomales Bay.

One weekend, while crabbing near Hog Island, Don took out a sailboat on his own and was caught in heavy wind. “Its motor just crapped out,” Tom said. “The tide and everything was pushing him out and he ended up having to tack back and forth all by himself all night long, until the wind finally died down.”

Don remained physically active as an adult, rowing and cycling on his own, playing tennis with Barbara and leading off as center fielder for the Pacific Slope softball team. Many a spectator will remember his signature blue sweatpants and tendency to “tomahawk” the first hittable pitch.

When Joe Gomez passed away in 1977, Don struck out on his own professionally, working out of his shop, a rehabilitated single-car garage, on various jobs for local contractors. There, in the company of his machines, his metalworking became a creative outlet.

“Don was a study in evolution,” Tom said. “He went from being a laborer to a craftsman and eventually an artist. It got to be where you didn’t see him out in the world as much. If you wanted to see Don you went to his place.”

Many, including even relative strangers, did just that. Prior to his wedding, Inverness Park resident Matt Gallagher approached Don for his expertise in finishing an elaborate iron arbor for his wife.

“He really didn’t know me very well, but he put down this much more demanding, paying gig to help me finish,” Matt said. “It was just this really, incredibly generous act, and was really amazing to me.”

When the West Marin Youth Soccer League lacked adequate goals, Don welded new ones “out of the kindness of his heart,” said former coach, Burton Eubank. “Don did anything he was asked,” Tom said. “He wasn’t in it for the rewards. He just wanted to help out.” 

But Don’s generosity was not limited to the community. “He was always around for his kids [Ben and Greg], always, and for me too,” Barbara said. “Whenever we needed anything we just walked right on into that shop.”

Don’s artwork began to gain a following, particularly with area businesses. When the acclaimed Italian restaurant, Osteria Stellina, opened in 2009 in downtown Point Reyes Station, he was commissioned to create its large, street-front sign. The beautiful iron handrails that emboss the entrance to the new Blackbird café, in Inverness, are also his.

“The epitome of Don was that, in iron, he could create a rose,” Axel said.

This spring, while working on a home in Inverness, Don began having intense headaches, which doctors quickly linked to a number of small tumors that had developed in his brain. They determined that the cancer had already progressed to an untreatable stage. Don spent his last few months at home, surrounded by his family and friends. 

“He never lost his dignity,” Tom said. “He would look you in the eye and shake your hand until the very end.”

 

Don is survived by his wife, Barbara; sons, Ben and Greg; brothers, Bob and John; sister-in-law, Laurie; nephew, Evan Eastman; and loving friends. A memorial service will be announced.