The Quad-Cities lost a fine artist last month in the death of Caroline England of Davenport. She was 86.

I knew her mainly for her brilliant watercolors of flowers and her cards. Especially her cards. I am a note-sender, and she made small, trademark cards — 4¼ inches by 5½ inches — that were just perfect for a short message.

And each one was a work of art. She'd paste interesting pictures, backed by solid-color mats, on the cover. Then she'd embellish with ginkgo leaves painted gold, or ribbons, or feathers or buttons. One of my favorites had a small seashell pasted on the front, although I was told by the person I sent it to that the shell didn't make it through the Postal Service's sorting machines.

England packaged her cards in cellophane wrappers and slipped in a note explaining that each was a "handmade original created one at a time."

"I hope you enjoy the gift as much as I have enjoyed making it," she wrote, noting that the cards also were suitable for framing.

Her cards really were a gift. I enjoyed shopping for them to see what new things she'd come up with since the last time I'd bought some. Last week, I rifled through every single card on three racks at Bettendorf Office Products.

The store sells her cards for $2.25 each, and my goal was to pick only those that spoke to me. I ended up with 22 conversations. The covers included shells (chambered nautilus), butterflies, birds (meadowlark postage stamp, blue heron), stones, flowers, quilts and baskets. Two real stunners positively shouted out — a scene of sunlight streaming through the trees of a snow-covered forest and a beach with a silvery tide.

To have sat at her studio table making these pretty and useful objects must have been joyful.

England told me once that she began doing art only as an adult. She didn't grow up scribbling precocious doodles. That's inspiring, the idea that one can pick up new things at any time.

GORDON-VAN TINE: As reported recently elsewhere in the Times, construction finally has started on a $32 million historic renovation of the former Gordon-Van Tine office and warehouse at 436 Federal St., Davenport.

The building most recently was known as Harbor View, but in the 1900s, the place now destined to be 115 apartments with some commercial space, was the headquarters for a company that sold ready-cut "kit homes" from about 1916 through the mid-1940s. The company was liquidated in 1946.

A friend recently dropped off a Gordon-Van Tine catalog from 1923 that he'd bought on eBay. The plans — the whole concept of buying homes by mail-order — continues to amaze me.

As one of the headlines in the catalog proclaims: "It sounds impossible — but we do it." My words exactly.

In addition to the Davenport headquarters, the company operated factories in St. Louis, Missouri; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and Chehalis, Washington. Both the Mississippi and Washington locations were close to lumber.

The 1923 catalog offers 130 homes, ranging in price from $256 for a one-room cottage with a porch to $4,087 for "A Distinguished Colonial Home." The downstairs of the colonial included a living room with a fireplace flanked by French doors opening to a porch, a dining room and kitchen with a pantry and ice box. The upstairs had four bedrooms, a bath, a sewing room and a second-story porch.

Wood for the homes was cut to an accuracy of 1/64th of an inch, and the kits came with instructions on how to put the homes together.

The company also sold everything needed for inside —  kitchen cabinets (called cases), bathroom furnishings (tub, toilet, sink, cabinet), light fixtures, doors, windows, flooring, furnaces, electrical wiring, plumbing, shingles and paint.

An order blank and guaranty was signed by the company president and C.M. Waterman, who served as Iowa Supreme Justice from 1898 to 1902 and was the first Waterman in the prominent Davenport law firm of Lane & Waterman.

I've had the pleasure of visiting and writing about Gordon-Van Tine homes in the Quad-Cities and, with the apartment renovations coming up, I'd like to do that again.

I have some homes in mind, but if you live in a Gordon-Van Tine home, I'd love to hear from you. Please send an email to agaul@qctimes.com or a paper letter to Alma Gaul, Newsroom, Quad-City Times, 500 E. 3rd St., Davenport, IA 52801.

I'd like to keep the GVT story in the public memory.

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