Drawing a Crowd
by Cate Murway
Conventionally, a napkin is a rectangle of cloth
used at the table for wiping the mouth while eating.
The word comes from the French nappe—
a cloth covering for a table—and adding -kin,
the diminutive suffix.
Every detail counts when entertaining and napkins
are no exception.
Some napkins are made to wipe a grin
right onto your face, especially those personalized
by Spec.3 Robert Walter Brode,
dubbed the “Napkin Bandit”.
Beauty with intelligence is a masterpiece
even when sketched on a napkin.
Humble napkins provide an elegant neutral backdrop for his handiwork that leaves a lasting impression.
Bob is truly the perfect napkin holder, endowed with incredible visual thinking!
Bob and his brother, chemist George Lewis Brode, II Ph.D, an inventor, who proudly owns many patents, grew up in Philadelphia. Their father, George Lewis Brode, Sr. passed away when they were in their early teens. There was not much time for sports, but Boy Scouting afforded guidance and inspiration.
Their dad was an Architect at the Frankford Arsenal plant, the center of U.S. military small-arms ammunition design and development, adjacent to the Bridesburg neighborhood of NE Philadelphia. It was left up their mother, Anna Marie to raise them. She worked at Stetson Mills, the mark of quality, durability, innovation and beauty in Fishtown, the heart of Philadelphia's industrial heyday. The John B. Stetson Company was established with just $100.00 in 1865 when John B. decided to mass-produce a hat like one he had fashioned for himself out of necessity during a lengthy Western expedition.
Bob made an early introduction to the working world when he accepted his first job at a plumbing and heating company to assist his family.
He enlisted in the Army as soon as he turned eighteen and served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airbourne Division making $50.00 a month. He served for 3 years.
This largest parachute force in the free world was trained to deploy anywhere, at any time, to fight upon arrival and to win.
Even to today, no other military unit can respond more rapidly and effectively to conflict anywhere in the world. Known as "America’s Guard of Honor," the 82nd is widely recognized as one of the most powerful forces in America’s military arsenal.
Bob is one of the thousands of unnamed paratroopers in jump boots, baggy pants and maroon berets, who have always been ready and willing to jump into danger and then drive on until the mission was accomplished.
At the age of 20, during a drill, he was last man out. His chute wouldn’t open. He shook it. Still nothing.
“I hit the ground like a ton of bricks but I was able to walk away.”
This was his first miracle.
From temperatures ranging from 45-70 ° average in Fort Bragg, NC to –40 ° temperatures in Greenland, he had sometimes lived entombed under eight feet of snow.
He was welcomed back from his Army hitch, attended “Fire College” and began his quarter of a century career as a fire fighter with the Philadelphia Fire Department Engine #43 and #71 and Ladder #21. He retired after 25 years of service in Engine, Ladder and Rescue Companies.
Bob courageously ran into buildings as terrified people ran out.
He saw hangings, drownings and shootings. Some he could help and some unfortunately were lost.
He suffers from asbestosis, a chronic inflammatory and fibrotic medical condition affecting the lung tissue, an occupational lung disease.
To this day, he carries his injuries with himself.
He and his wife, pre-school teacher, Virginia “Ginny” met through their Church. They have two daughters, RN Christine “Chris” Andrews, Kathleen “Kathy” Convery and a son, Robert Brode, a most acclaimed luthier, a contemporary violinmaker.
Joanna Marie Frandel, Concert Artist of Violin and Viola, who has been praised for "aesthetic intelligence" (The New York Sun), and for "powerhouse performances" (The Post and Courier, Charleston) performs on a Robert Brode viola, custom-made for her in 2001.
Bob, Jr. served an apprenticeship under the tutelage of the late Clifford Roberts, a master craftsman who created beautiful violins, violas, and cellos. Mr. Roberts' instruments are owned by members of the Juilliard and Mendelssohn String Quartets, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and several other ensembles.
Bob, Sr. is very proud. He calls his son’s instruments “BRODEivarius”, a play on word for the Stradivarius violins.
His son shared, “He always had time for us kids. We took many bike rides through the neighborhood.”
Their children have blessed them with 7 grandchildren.
Often after retiring from the Fire Department, Bob contemplated new careers. Once while waiting for his wife to finish shopping at the Neshaminy Mall, he sat and wondered “What can I do to help others in any way and make someone smile every day?”
He often drew leaves on a calendar at home as he marked the daily pages. One day, his hand slipped so he made that “mistake” into a fish and then he made a boat.
There are no true accidents; success is the result of doing the right thing, in the right way, over and over.
“I’m a doodler, they call me an artist.”
One morning when he and friends had stopped for breakfast on their way to a favorite hunting ground cabin, he spilled coffee on his placement. His original doodles were made on placemats. So the napkin became the canvas for the left-handed artist. His friend, Jack Muntz called him the “Napkin Bandit” and that name stuck.
“This is not an ordinary restaurant, the Radcliffe Café. They have helped me out incredibly.”
Just a napkin from Vinnie and a pen, and a picture is created.
He visits the café on an average of twice a week for his favorite breakfast of bacon and eggs.
“I meet famous people here. I met the local singer, Jerry Maurio, Sr., and the Mayor Joe Saxton and his first lady!”
Once he had his breakfast paid for by members of the famous Mario Andretti family. They raced out before he could say thanks!
Accolades from online reviews for the Radcliffe Café include mention of his artistry.
“Other unique features of this fine establishment is the artist who draws/sketches there frequently. They have articles on the wall describing the gentleman's doodles and sketches. I've never seen him there, but I'm told he goes there frequently.”
This self-taught artist is the brains, creativity and ink behind his handiwork created in his home and any portable studio all hours of the day, every day.
There are decorated napkins everywhere: Australia, India, Germany, over 15,000 have been given away all over America.
America's identity has always been wrapped in entrepreneurial creations, things we manufactured that we were extremely proud to make. It’s been lost somewhere down the line but fortunately Bob Brode is one of the many on a mission to restore that pride.
Life is a choice, and we each have the ability to take or leave anything we desire from the smorgasbord of life.
His daughter, Christine and son-in-law, Tim created the “Napkin Bandit” web page for him. He obviously has fashioned unbelievable memories for his family.
“….talks and listens to each child to find out what is going on in their lives, whether the grandchild is 22 or 2, he gives them his time and makes each one feel special in these busy times.”
He is so very imaginative in his quest for artistic presentation. He has the ability to communicate as well as inspire others and raise the spirits of those around himself.
“I’m thankful I can do what I can do to make people happy,” Bob shared.
He secretly believes there is more to life than we can know or prove.
Each and every day he works is his best day.
On rare rest days, Bob and Ginny enjoy the musicals at the Bristol Riverside Theatre.
“Keith Baker is the treasure of Bristol. He can sing. He can act. He can arrange.”
Bob shares his birthday with Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg [1398 –1468], who introduced modern book printing for communication.
Bob uses his modern napkin printing for communication.
“This is folk art in its truest form”, stated Kathleen Ann “Kathy” DiBlassio, photography artist and a member of the Artists of Bristol on the Delaware.
“Live life simple- have less baggage.”
His drawings or paintings on the napkins vary in complexity from a basic sketch to multi-hued pieces reminiscent of the greats. His favorite color is iris blue, “match my eyes”.
He shares his work with everyone. He gives them to the servers or leaves them behind on the table.
Some are a nod to the artist’s personal life.
Along with fellow members of the Artists of Bristol on the Delaware,
Bob had his work displayed at the Playmaster Theater in Bensalem,
Feb 19 - March 7.
He generously created the program cover design for the
18th annual Pond Tour hosted by the Silver Lake Nature Center.
He doesn’t really sketch people but he draws them in other ways.
He has marketed his napkins to raise money for tsunami victim/survivors.
The multi-talented self-taught artisan also sings at Harmony House and various senior citizen homes, along to music tracks created by keyboardist/vocalist, Fran Carango.
He also has lead the sing-along and art sessions at Rainbow House, a psychiatric rehabilitation program in Bristol Township.
"I believe an individual, a friend, can do more for them and get them to open up more than any other connection. I want to be a part of that," Brode has been quoted.
Bob recited his creed, “To reach the unreachable. To cure the incurable. To free those in bondage. To make someone smile. Smile every day. To give something away every day.”
He aspires to be known as the poorest artist that ever lived.
“A thank you is more important than money.”
He dramatically improves his ability to share his insights as the napkin unfolds.
Don’t want to interrupt him, so back to the drawing table………
Recommend a “Spotlight”. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org