Category Archives: The Arts

The arts in Newburyport, MA, the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing work to be appreciated for its beauty and emotional power.

Captain John Robinson (maybe of Newburyport) – a Mystery

 

Captain John Robinson of Newburyport, MA, , Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

Captain John Robinson of Newburyport, MA, Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

Captain John Robinson of Newburyport, MA, Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

In my search for Newburyport stories I came across this portrait of Captain John Robinson. It is a gorgeous miniature, now in The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

It is a watercolor on ivory, painted by an unknown, but immensely talented artist of the “American School” sometime around 1800-1825. And it says “Captain John Robinson of Newburyport, Massachusetts.” How excited was I when I found it? Very excited. A portrait of an obviously very wealthy, really good looking, downright handsome captain with a clipper ship in the background. I thought to myself, there has got to be a great story here, right? There probably is an amazing story about this good-looking gentleman, but none that I could find anywhere, and I’ve looked and looked and looked.

Usually our Newburyport historians that I’ve discovered doing this “Newburyport Stories” thing love to brag about wealthy, famous people who have lived in our city. Frankly, our historians are reasonably shameless when it comes to the bragging part, so I figured, no problem, Captain Robinson is going to appear all over the place – but nada, zilch, zero.

I finally came to the conclusion that Captain Robinson probably might not have even lived in Newburyport. The description on the museum’s website says that Newburyport was the “Place of Origin” for the beautiful oval painting.

1937 catalogue which includes the sale of the miniature of Captain John Robinson

1937 catalogue which includes the sale of the miniature of Captain John Robinson

1937 catalogue which includes the sale of the miniature of Captain John Robinson

I was able to trace to origins of a sale back of this object to 1937. I found it in a catalogue of the American Art Association, Anderson Gallery Inc, a public sale of lots of things including rare historical miniatures. The collector was a man by the name of Herbert Lawton, a wealthy woolens merchant from Boston, born in 1868, who collected a ton of very valuable stuff. Almost no information to be found about Mr. Lawton either.  I did find a copy of the catalogue online. 1937 was in the middle of the depression, so the sale of this wonderful miniature may have possibly been part of a liquidation process.  I included a copy of the catalogue because I thought it was so interesting. There is Captain John Robinson, of Newburyport, Mass along with an oval of George Washington.

Who is this mysterious person, if anyone has any clues, please let me know.

Tamsen Donner, 50 Milk Street, a Pioneer Woman, and the Wheelwrights were Actually Carpetbaggers

A couple of people asked me to look into Tamsen Donner, I had never ever heard of her. And along the way I found out a few things about “the Wheelwrights” of Newburyport.

Tamsen was related to the Wheelwrights. Please bear with me.

Jeremiah Wheelwright (born 1732) married Mary Davis (born 1737) (of Gloucester) .

They had a bunch of children including:

Abraham (born 1757) (who is a very big deal in Newburyport, he built 77 High Street.)
Ebenezer  (born 1763) (father of William Wheelwright , who is a very big deal in Newburyport, he owned 75 High Street.)
Tamsen (born 1801)

75 and 77 High Street, Courtesy of Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey,  Frank O. Branzetti, Photographer, Nov. 19, 1940

75 and 77 High Street, Courtesy of Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, Frank O. Branzetti, Photographer, Nov. 19, 1940

75 and 77 High Street, Courtesy of Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, Frank O. Branzetti, Photographer, Nov. 19, 1940

Jeremiah is first a school teacher and then an explorer, he died in 1778 in Gloucester or died of exposure in a campaign in Canada (there are conflicting accounts).*  His widow, Mary, “removed, with her family” from Gloucester to Newburyport. **3*  “The Wheelwrights” who have enhanced our city in so many ways, moved from Gloucester — and they, in today’s Newburyport terms, were carpetbaggers.  Mary died in 1822 at the age of 85.

The daughter, Tamsen, married William Eustis in 1785 and they lived in Newburyport. They had a daughter also named Tamsen born in 1801, who eventually married George Donner in 1839. So Tamsen Eustis Donner is the niece of Abraham Wheelwright and the cousin of William Wheelwright.

There has been some question as to where Tamsen Donner was born. I was told by a friend that she was born on Milk Street. And yup, my friend was right. I was able to trace the deed of 50 Milk Street back to Tamsen’s father, Willimam Eustis. And in the book, “Searching for Tamsen Donner,”** the author Gabrielle Burton mentions that Betsy Woodman had also told her that Tamsen was born at 50 Milk Street. So 50 Milk Street is a pretty significant place.

50 Milk Street, Newburyport

50 Milk Street, Newburyport

50 Milk Street, Newburyport

Tamsen Donner

Who is Tamsen Donner?  Tamsen Donner is a heroine in the infamous “Donner Party,” a group of 87 pioneers who set out for California in a wagon train in 1846 and became trapped in the winter of 1846-1847 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, what is now known as the  Donner Pass, and 39 people died. Some of the pioneers resorted to cannibalism to survive in what has been described as “one of the most bizarre and spectacular tragedies in Californian history and western-US migration.” ***

“In 1836 she (Tamsen) journeyed to the home of her brother in Illinois (after she had lost her first husband and and child in North Carolina to influenza in 1831) to teach his motherless children, remaining with his family for one winter before obtaining a teaching position in a school in Auburn, Ill. The following year she moved to the school at Sugar Creek where she met George Donner, whose home was near Springfield. Donner, a native of Rowan County, N.C., was a wealthy and respected man, twice widowed with young children still in the home. They were married on 24 May 1839, and in the following years Tamsen Donner bore three daughters, Frances (4 July 1840), Georgia (3 Dec. 1841), and Eliza (8 Mar. 1843).

Tamsen Donner was an intelligent woman, proficient in mathematics, geometry, and philosophy; she was fluent in French, an avid botanist, a competent painter, and a writer of prose and poetry. She is described as a small woman, five feet in height with a usual weight of ninety-six pounds, richly but quietly dressed, gracious, and charming. She and her husband were members of the German Prairie Christian Church near Springfield

It is somewhat surprising that the Donner family chose to leave their wealth in Sangamon County, Ill., to undertake a hazardous journey by wagon to California in 1846. George was sixty-two years old; Tamsen was forty-four with three small children and two stepdaughters. In early May George, his brother, Jacob, and their families left Independence, Mo., with a sizable train and traveled west during the summer with little difficulty. Nearing the end of their journey, they were beset by bad judgment and weather and were snowed in near what is now called the Donner Pass. Nearly half of the travelers died from exposure and starvation during the winter of 1846–47. Those who survived resorted to cannibalism.

Although small in stature, Mrs. Donner remained in good health and able to care for her family. Her daughters were rescued by search parties, but she refused to leave her husband who was dying from an infected wound. She was last seen by members of the third rescue party. The fourth and last group found only one person alive in the camps. There was no trace of Tamsen Donner’s body. She is presumed to have died between 26 March and 17 April 1847, approximately one year after leaving her home in Illinois.” ****

Tamsen Donner is the heroine of this story because she chose to send her children on with the last rescue party, and stayed with her husband while he was dying, a choice that meant certain death for Tamsen. **2*

A portrait of Georgia A. Donner, one of the surviving children from “History of the Donner Party: a Tragedy of the Sierra” by Charles Fayette McGlashan, 1880

A portrait of Georgia A. Donner, one of the surviving children from "History of the Donner Party: a Tragedy of the Sierra" by Charles Fayette McGlashan, 1880

A portrait of Georgia A. Donner, one of the surviving children from “History of the Donner Party: a Tragedy of the Sierra” by Charles Fayette McGlashan, 1880

The Donner Memorial State Park, the site of the Donner Camp where the Donner Party was trapped has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, commemorating the greatest mass migration in American history in the 1840s and 1850s, enticed by the California Gold Rush, where over 250,000 gold-seekers and farmers traveled overland for the gold fields and rich farmlands of California — the Emigrant Trail. The park contains the Emigrant Trail Museum.

The plaque for Tamsen and Elizabeth Donner

The plaque for Tamsen and Elizabeth Donner

The plaque for Tamsen and Elizabeth Donner

The plaque for Tamsen and Elizabeth Donner in part reads, Near this site, in the winter of 1846, two pioneer woman gave up their lives for their families. however most of their children survived to carry their mother’s dreams of a new life and new beginning to the valleys of California.

An inspiration to all who followed their footsteps across the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we herein honor the memory and the sacrifices of these two women in opening California to its destiny.

Wagon Train on the Emigrant Trail

Wagon Train on the Emigrant Trail

Wagon Train on the Emigrant Trail

* “The Wheelwright Family Story, by Steve J. Plummer” 2010

** “Searching for Tamsen Donner” by Gabrielle Burton, 2009

*** “History of the Donner Party: a Tragedy of the Sierra” by Charles Fayette McGlashan, 1880

**** “Dictionary of North Carolina Biography” by Martha Nel Hardy, University of North Carolina Press

**2* Tamsen Donner Letters: From dream to Legacy
http://www.thestormking.com/Donner_Party/Tamsen_Donner_Letters/tamsen_donner_letters.html

**3* “Ould Newbury: Historical and Biographical Sketches” by John James Currier

Tamsen Donner, Newburyport

Ethel Reed, 53 Kent Street, A Rediscovered Artist of the 1890s and a Great Beauty

This has got to be another one of my favorite stories. Ethel Reed, born in Newburyport, I had never heard of her, and what an intriguing story.

Ethel was born in Newburyport in 1874, her father was Edgar Eugene Reed who married Mary Elizabeth Mahoney.  Edgar is listed in the Newburyport City Directory as living at 41 Kent Street which today is 53 Kent Street (a big thank you to the Newburyport Assessors Office for helping me figure out the exact location of where Ethel lived).

53 Kent Street, Newburyport

53 Kent Street, Newburyport, Google Maps

53 Kent Street, Newburyport, Google Maps

Her father’s obituary describes him as a “Well Known and Popular Photographer.” Ethel and her family either lived with her father’s family on Kent Street or rented the house.

Very recently Ethel Reed has been “rediscovered.” There is a biography of her now by William Peterson.*  I would disagree with Mr. Peterson’s description of the bleakness of Ethel’s early life in Newburyport and the desolation that he describes of Newburyport in general. I ended up with the opinion that Mr. Peterson understands very little about Newburyport, not much about artists (I am one) and very little about women (I am one of those too).

(One of the things that I have discovered looking into all these Newburyport stories is that people often rented houses. In another hunt, in 1836 I found two advertisements for fancy houses on High Street “To be Let,” i.e. rented, with a mention of the people who were currently renting them. One of the other things that I’ve found in all this research is that multi-generations of families, with their children’s spouses and their children lived in the same house. Lots of people lived in one house, unlike today. “Boarders” who are often listed in the Newburyport City Directories were often family members — Abbie Foster, her husband Daniel, and her sister Helen all lived with her mother at 14 Spring Street, and there are just tons of examples.)

Ethel’s life on Kent Street might not have been quite as horrible as Mr. Peterson speculates. There is a glorious sketch of Ethel by none other than Laura Coombs Hill in 1880 when Ethel was 6 years old. The drawing is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston — the MFA, really!

Ethel Reed, by Laura Coombs Hill, 1880, 10 x 7 3/4 inches Wash and chalk on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Ethel Reed, by Laura Coombs Hill, 1880, 10 x 7 3/4 inches
Wash and chalk on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Ethel Reed, by Laura Coombs Hill, 1880, 10 x 7 3/4 inches
Wash and chalk on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In 1890 Ethel and her mother apparently went to Boston (her father died in 1892). The Smithsonian Art Museum has this description of Ethel Reed (yup, the Smithsonian–the Smithsonian, I’m not kidding!).

Ethel Reed, Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 1897

Ethel Reed, Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 1897

Ethel Reed, Photograph by  Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 1897

“(Ethel) Reed briefly attended art school in Boston but was largely self-trained. Her circle included artists and writers in both Boston and London. She posed for photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnston and F. Holland Day, and she provided illustrations forThe Yellow Book, an avant-garde British periodical. One of the most talented and prolific artists of the 1890s, she made her name during the poster craze of the period. She produced book illustrations, cover designs, and more than 25 posters, mostly in just two years, 1895 and 1896. Her creative burst earned her international recognition and she traveled to Europe and completed a few commissions for British publications through about 1898. Then she disappeared from the historical record.” **

A poster by Ethel Reed, The house of the trees and other poems by Ethelwyn Wetherald Boston : Lamson, Wolffe, 1895, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

A poster by Ethel Reed, The house of the trees and other poems by Ethelwyn Wetherald
Boston : Lamson, Wolffe, 1895, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

A poster by Ethel Reed, The house of the trees and other poems by Ethelwyn Wetherald
Boston : Lamson, Wolffe, 1895, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C 

There was an art show in Washington DC in 1896 mostly containing Ethel’s art work. The Washington Post describes Ethel Reed as “the foremost woman poster maker in America” and “one of the most beautiful women Washington has seen in ages.” *

"The Gainsborough hat" Photograph showing a woman (Ethel Reed), head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, wearing a plumed hat, by F. Holland Day, 1895, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

“The Gainsborough hat” Photograph showing a woman (Ethel Reed), head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, wearing a plumed hat, by F. Holland Day, 1895, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

“The Gainsborough hat”
Photograph showing a woman (Ethel Reed), head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, wearing a plumed hat, by F. Holland Day, 1895, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

Helena Wright, the curator of the Graphic Arts Division at the Smithsonian Art Museum says that the Smithsonian Art Museum has a significant collection of Ethel Reed’s art work, including some of her earliest posters and a few unpublished designs. They were donated by Commander Charlotte Hume, U.S. Navy. The collection descended through Hume’s great-aunts, the Smith sisters of Newburyport, who knew Reed in the 1890s, but they lost touch when she moved to London. Reed presented the Smiths with her first posters soon after they were issued. Many are signed and dated in Reed’s distinctive, bold hand, “Compliments of Ethel Reed.” **

A poster by Ethel Reed, The Boston Sunday Herald, Ladies Want It, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

A poster by Ethel Reed, The Boston Sunday Herald, Ladies Want It, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C

A poster by Ethel Reed, The Boston Sunday Herald, Ladies Want It, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C
(This was  Ethel Reed’s first poster.**)

Ethel ended up getting engaged to Philip Leslie Hale who was from a prominent, very stuffy Boston family. It appears that the family did not approve of the engagement which was broken off.  Philip and Ethel apparently had been planning to go to Paris for their honeymoon and Ethel took off to Paris without him. She ended up living in London, and nothing much is known about her from that time. Apparently she died in 1912 at the age of 36.  Her biographer speculates that opium, alcohol and sleeping medication contributed to her death.*

A photograph of Ethel Reed by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 1896

A photograph of Ethel Reed by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 1896

A photograph of Ethel Reed by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 1896

* “The Beautiful Poster Lady, A Life of Ethel Reed” by William S. Peterson, Oak Knoll Press, 2013

** Biography on the Smithsonian website by Helena E. Wright, the Curator of Graphic Arts in the Division of Culture and the Arts at the Smithsonian Art Museum

Ethel Reed, Newburyport, Art and Beauty

Mobile Phones and Historic Preservation and Losing Newburyport’s Story

I have this theory that mobile phones are changing our culture in ways that its inventor never would have imagined.  And the cell phone has been amazing in many ways, and, I think that they have had some unintended consequences.

The street artist Bansky had something to say about one of those unintended consequences.

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

And I’m wondering what the impact of the culture created around mobile phones has on historic preservation.

With a cellphone culture “immediate and superficial gratification” is taken to a whole new level. It’s a Buzzfeed way of getting information.

What turns up when I search my mobile cell phone for “Newburyport” is Tripadvisor, restaurants and places to shop. The Newburyport Daily News used to be in the top two on a desktop computer.  It’s now more difficult to find the Daily News on a mobile device. It’s hard to find  detailed local content. It’s difficult to find real meaningful, thoughtful content.  Mobile devices are not geared for reading profound and thoughtful knowledge. It’s a Buzzfeed, quick bullet-point, mobile world.

And this has to have some “interesting” effects.

It feels in the new mobile world (which is now global) “new” very suddenly, almost wipes out anything “older.” And sometimes I wonder if  people now look at historic homes with the mindset, as something to be replaced, like an old version of an iphone.

If this is remotely true, and the previous post about HGTV and Newburyport losing its patina, is remotely true, historic preservationist need to rethink their approach. They need to adapt.

This is from Bernice Radle  (now part of HGTV), a preservationist in Buffalo, NY.

“Few people understand the changing nature of preservation, because our reactionary language looks backward and is architecture-centric. We’ve too often allowed ourselves to be framed by others as nostalgic – seeking to return to the past because we can’t cope with the reality of life today.”

There are so many people scrambling to preserve not only Newburyport’s historic homes, but Newburyport’s story as well. And I think for so many people, Newburyport’s story feels as if it’s being lost, it is slipping away, and they are puzzled and sometimes slightly panicked about what to do.

The Newburyport Marsh and Paintings by Martin Johnson Heade

Sunlight and Shadow: The Newbury Marshes (c. 1871-1875), Martin Johnson Heade

Sunlight and Shadow: The Newbury Marshes (c. 1871-1875), Martin Johnson Heade

Sunlight and Shadow: The Newbury Marshes (c. 1871-1875), Martin Johnson Heade, Oil on canvas, Size: 12″ x 26.5″ John Wilmerding Collection (The National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.)  Press image to enlarge.

I always love the Newburyport marshes and Martin Johnson Heade is one of my favorite Newburyport and Newbury marsh painters.  I love them all year round, but especially in the summer and the fall.

 

Martin Johnson Heade, Newburyport Marshes: Approaching Storm, c.1871

Martin Johnson Heade, Newburyport Marshes: Approaching Storm, c.1871

Martin Johnson Heade, Newburyport Marshes: Approaching Storm, c.1871 (Press image to enlarge.)

 

Martin Johnson Heade Sunset Over the Marshes, 1890-1904

Martin Johnson Heade,  Sunset Over the Marshes, 1890-1904

Martin Johnson Heade Sunset Over the Marshes, 1890-1904
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Press image to enlarge.)

 

Martin Johnson Heade, Sudden Showers, Newbury Marshes, c. 1865-1875

Martin Johnson Heade, Sudden Showers, Newbury Marshes, c. 1865-1875

Martin Johnson Heade, Sudden Showers, Newbury Marshes, c. 1865-1875
Yale University of Art (Press image to enlarge)

 

 Newburyport Meadows, ca. 1876–1881 Martin Johnson Heade

Newburyport Meadows, ca. 1876–1881 Martin Johnson Heade, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Martin Johnson Heade, Newburyport Meadows, ca. 1876–1881
Oil on canvas; 10 1/2″  x 22 “
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Street Art, Newburyport

It all started with this beautiful drawing left on my driveway on Easter.

Drawing left on my driveway on Easter day

Drawing left on my driveway on Easter day

It made my day. And it was done by my very lovely young neighbor, Lily.

Lily, came back and did a whole lot more gorgeous street art. I originally thought of her as my very own graffiti artist, but thinking about it, “street artist” seems so much more appropriate.

Lily, making the neighborhood beautiful

Lily, making the neighborhood beautiful with street art

And Lily started a trend. Five more young street artist showed up with their baskets and boxes of chalk, and started decorating our street. Grace, Ella, Brooke, Collin and Roan joined Lily.

Ella, working hard making the neighborhood beautiful with street art

Ella, working hard making the neighborhood beautiful with street art

It almost made me think that our neighborhood could be in the process of getting it’s very own “pop-up” park. How lucky are we!! (A very fun non-professional video on pop-up parks can be seen here.)

Drawing by Roan

Drawing by Roan

Drawing by Lily

Drawing by Lily

Late to the Instagram Planet

I find myself often late to many planets.  Late to the David Sedaris planet (my discovery of David Sedaris, or the “scull guy,” Christmas 2008 here), who has now become probably my most favorite writer, and “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” probably my most favorite book.

Hal-In

(An Instagram portrait of my son, Hal, who always, graciously, seems to acquiesce to his mother’s instinct to create yet another portrait of him.)

In my rebellion about being chained to a cell phone at all times, I was one of the last people on earth to get a “smart phone,” and probably the very, very last person on earth to text (I still do not like texting. I find it to be yet another handy way to avoid human interaction.)

Although, as my son pointed out, I did “tweet,” long before others (including my son) “twittered,” and blogged, low 7+ years now, when people, in general, thought blogging to be a weird and unnatural thing.  So I have actually been on some planets on the early, rather than almost late/last side of the equation.

And Instagram, who knew, not moi. (You have to have a smart phone, or a tablet, or something to Instagram, so, of course I was wildly late-ish to the Instagram planet.)  And along with reading David Sedaris, Instagram, at least for the moment, has become one of my favorite occupations (this is a vast understatement).

And I am so new to the Instagram planet, that it is instantaneously instant, so it may fade after a time. But for this time, I am most definitely “hooked.”

My at the moment, obsessive Instagraming can be found here.

(I am hoping that this is a nice change of pace from the subject of plastic bags — see a lot of earlier posts.)

New Digital Images–A Traditional Painter Aims for the 21st Century

Digital Painting, Plum Island Spring, Mary Baker © 2014

Plum Island Spring, Mary Baker © 2014

Jeff Ives, the husband of Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, did the nicest thing.  He put the first four images of the new digital body of work by yours truly, up on Tumblr. I was very moved.

Way, way, way back in December 2012 I wondered out loud on The Newburyport Blog, if traditional painting was going the way of the buggy whip and the typewriter. And way back then, I decided to learn “digital stuff,” and have come up with, what I hope, is the first 4 images of a new digital body of work.

Although The Newburyport Blog got a recent mobile device friendly facelift, my traditional art website languishes in a less well coded world, soon, one day, to be updated with the new digital images.

For the moment, this new art foray into the 21st century, by moi, a traditional painter for so many decades, I don’t even want to say, is on Facebook, and the new images as they get created can, for the moment, be found on the “New Work “Album here (and if you would “Like” the Facebook page here that would be most awesome!!).

Editor’s Note:  My apologies, my hosting server redirected the blog to another place, it has now been corrected.  Thank you so much for your patience.

Our Neighbors, Stella Mae Culpepper and On Linden Square

On Linden Square by Kate Sullivan, used with permission (press image to enlarge)

On Linden Square by Kate Sullivan, used with permission (press image to enlarge)

After a long, hard, often nasty Newburyport election 2013,  I found this book On Linden Square by Kate Sullivan (and, yes, it’s a children’s book) to be mighty refreshing.

Stella Mae Culpepper is the heroine of this tale, and she has watched her neighbors, but she has never spoken to any of them, and they have never spoken to her (sounds so New England familiar to me). Along comes a New England blizzard, and all that changes (and in the best of cases, is also so New England familiar to me).  And it looks like from the drawings in the book, that Stella lives in an historic city, not Newburyport, but a lot of bricks and stuff and New England homes (and of course I like that a lot).

And the author of On Linden Square, Kate Sullivan, has a wonderful project, the “Who’s Your Neighbor” Project, the “Write to Stella” project, or in my mind, “the neighbors and folks in Newburyport that I am so grateful for” project.

Instead of all the awful things about people, that seemed to come to the surface this election, to think about all the good things about neighbors and the folks around us, and write to Stella about one or more of them. Also anyone could have their child, children’s friends, grandchildren, students, nieces, nephews, neighborhood children write to Stella as well. And in return, Stella will send you, or whoever writes to Stella, a note back, and a postcard signed by of of Stella’s neighbors in the book, On Linden Square, your, or your child’s, grandchild’s, niece’s or nephew’s very own piece of artwork.  And your note to Stella, and a picture of your neighbor, if you draw one, or your child, niece, nephew, grandchild draws one, might also be featured on the book’s website, which is pretty cool.

Stella Mae Culpepper, used with permission (press image to enlarge)

Stella Mae Culpepper, used with permission, © Kate Sullivan 2013  (press image to enlarge)

So I’ve written to Stella about three of my neighbors (really and truly). I sent my notes by email, you or whoever could also send it by snail mail or through the book’s Facebook page.  And I and my neighbors can’t wait to see what we get back. And writing about what my wonderful neighbors do for me, our neighborhood and our city, a great feeling, let me tell you, especially after what often felt like a slimy, unpleasant, noxious, never ending Newburyport election.

You can see the “Write to Stella” about a neighbor project here.

You can see all about the book On Linden Square, by Kate Sullivan here.

And you can see Stella and On Linden Square’s Facebook page here.

PS. Kate Sullivan lives in Newburyport, and I’ve never met her (sort of like what happens in the book). And maybe a snow storm, or some other New England event might change that. And the only thing that I know, at this point, about Kate Sullivan is what I’ve read from her bio. The fact that her last name is “Sullivan” could be coincidence, or maybe just wildly ironic.

Here are the drawings of my neighbors that I got back from Stella!!

My neighbors on the Brown School Playground

My neighbors at the Brown School Playground

My neighbor helping me with my driveway in a blizzard.

My neighbor helping me with my driveway in a blizzard

And here is a drawing of Stella Mae Culpepper getting her hair cut by Newburyport’s very own Esther Sayer at Inn Street Barber.

Stella gets a haircut at Newburyport's Inn Street Barber

Stella gets a haircut at Newburyport’s Inn Street Barber

Both Jabberwocky Books at the Tannery and The Book Rack on State Street in downtown Newburyport, sell On Linden Square.

Plagiarism – Photoshop Take Off

Photoshop Flight

Photoshop Flight

I never, ever would have considered using other people’s images that are in the public domain in my art work, it would be plagiarism for me.  Plagiarism – I would have felt it to be “immoral,” “originality” the only acceptable device. But blogging, doing content for people’s websites, the World Wide Web has radically and slowly changed my whole idea of how to use images. Before starting the Newburyport Blog I never knew about stuff/images that are in the “public domain.”  I now bless the public domain, it makes what I do here and what other people do all across the web a whole lot more interesting. So why not use images that are in the public domain in my own art work? These are images I could never take, either because they are in a geographical location that I would never get to, or with equipment I would never buy.

Photoshop Bird 3 (thanks Bobby)

Photoshop Bird 3 (thanks Bobby)

And photoshop (see earlier entry on fine art, painting in particular, going the way of the buggy whip and typewriter), what one can do in photoshop in a few minutes would take me years to do as a painter. It’s irresistible. So I’ve started experimenting. And how fun!! Like being in a candy store for this artist.  A photoshop take off, a lovely New Year’s present for moi.

Contemporary Art, Gone the Way of the Buggy Whip and the Typewriter?

I wonder to myself if contemporary art, like the stuff being painted today, like today’s fine art, has it, or is it going the way of the buggy whip and the typewriter? This is from a contemporary painter (and a good one!!) no less.

In the movie “Other People’s Money,” Danny DeVito’s character, Larry the Liquidator, a successful corporate raider, sort of, very sort of, like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, compares the company in question to the last buggy whip maker, technology having made buggy whips obsolete. No point in having a buggy whip factory around anymore.

Lots of things have become obsolete. Camera and film stores, Ritz Camera and Infocus in Newburyport, sayonara.

CD stores… adios.  Newspapers, alas, are going goodbye.  Patch-AOL here we come. HuffPost the updated, un-obsolete medium. Books, adios. Kindle, the Nook, IPad, cha-cha-cha.

The United States Post Office, oh dear.

The typewriter – gone with the wind.

Twitter and texting, yup. Complete sentences, TMI.

Starfish, digital photo by 4eyesphoto (used with permission)

"Starfish," digital photo by 4eyesphoto (used with permission)

None of this is bad, it just is. Most of it is really fascinating. But what about the quaint idea of painting.  Photoshop, my love hate relationship with Photoshop, in my mind, has changed painting forever.  And for goodness sakes, any photo can now be put on canvas in an hour by places like CVS.

The thing that make my heart go pity-pat when I walk into a gallery, is really great digital photography. It reminds me of that now quaint painting style, Photorealism, one of the last contemporary art movements, that used to make my brain twirl. And there is some amazing digital photography being made.  The photo by 4eyephoto.com that gave permission to use their incredible photograph “Starfish,” to my son’s theatre company for their poster, a gorgeous example.

The quaint art of painting going the way of the buggy whip – reality??

Newburyport Postcard, Plum Island Haystacks

Newburyport postcard, Plum Island Haystack, press image to enlarge.

Newburyport postcard, Plum Island Haystack, press image to enlarge.

It’s fall in Newburyport, and there are still farmers who in the marshes around  Newburyport and Newbury will create the iconic haystacks.  I know the readers of the Newburyport Blog enjoy old Newburyport postcards, and this one of the Newburyport marsh scene with the haystacks is so wonderful.

Blooming in the Face of Trauma

Rose and Fence © Mary Baker

Rose and Fence © Mary Baker

I remember exactly where I was on 9/11, just like everyone else in America.

It was a bluebird day, much like today, and I was walking on my way to vote, it was voting day, when  I met someone I knew on talking on their cell phone looking perplexed and confused and shaking their head.  And then I remember walking down to the Tannery to pick something up, and everyone in the shop being completely silent, everyone was looking straight ahead and not saying a word.

It wasn’t until I got back home to my studio that I found out what was happening and then watching on TV seeing the unthinkable.  New York City is where I was born and raised, seeing the collapse and the lower part of Manhattan being engulfed. Luckily my family was located.  It was 3 months before I could semi function after that.  The country was utterly traumatized.

I always have thought as an artist, that subconsciously painters and other people in the arts work through traumas, and it wasn’t until after I painted a series of paintings, that I realized that they were about 9/11.  The 2 paintings here are 2 of what turned out to be a series.  2 fence posts, or columns, reminiscent of the twin towers, with life growing between them, showed up over and over in the paintings that I did in the years that followed, as America recovered from the anguish of that day, and started to bloom once more.

Yellow Roses © Mary Baker

Yellow Roses © Mary Baker

These roses and fences were found and can still be found in the South End of Newburyport, in Newburyport’s Historic District.

Hyperventilating

Ever since Governor Romney announced his VP pick, (late Friday night during the Olympics??) Paul Ryan, I’ve been hyperventilating.  Really (unfortunately).

The issue, Medicare.  If Romney/Ryan squeak by in November, I’d squeak by under their Medicare radar before it turns into a voucher payment plan, but I’m still hyperventilating. Why?  I’ve paid my own health care cost as an artist from way back in the dark ages (“in the day,” maybe not quite that long), and to say I don’t trust the healthcare private insurance folks to do anything but look after their bottom line, without state and federal regulation, would be a vast, vast understatement.

(In 1990, I paid $340 a month for my son and myself, for GREAT health insurance. Today, here in Massachusetts, that kind of health insurance that we had, doesn’t exist for any price (that I know of). Something similar, but not really, would go for $2,165 (a month). For a family $3,545 (a month).  In New York State for a parent and child, a similar, but not really, insurance exists for $3,176 (a month). For a family, it’s a whopping $5,294.  How about those apples? And people think Massachusetts is bad!)

As an artist, I’ve been waiting for the day when I am relieved of the onerous burden of crazy individual $1,000 a month and rising health insurance premiums (and that’s cheap compared to a state like New York State, demonstration above), and having an offspring that has fallen right next to the preverbial artistic tree, I’ve always wanted that for him and his family as well – some sort of safety net, you betch’a.

Private Health insurance industry to regulate itself, no, no, no – dream land.

Medicare vouchers to keep up with health insurance cost, please, dream on.

That’s my main hyperventilation.  But the other, Mitt Romney was an old fashion Republican moderate  in Massachusetts (I know, I know, you know).  But with Paul Ryan, darling of the hijacked Tea Party, as his running mate, has he sold his soul? or was he lying way back “in the day?”  Not good either way.  To have someone so ideologically extreme on the ticket, unsettling and telling.

“…the only way for Ryan’s numbers to work would be to effectively eliminate nearly all non-defense discretionary spending, including not just much of the social safety net but infrastructure spending, R. & D. investment, federal support for education, air-traffic control, regulatory and public safety spending, and so on (editor’s note, moi – let’s not forget NPR and The National Endowment for the Arts). This would be, needless to say, a radical remaking of the federal government.  …it would basically return the federal government to something like its nineteenth-century role—and early nineteenth-century at that.” The New Yorker,  August 12, 2012, “Paul Ryan’s Budget Games.”

“More than three-fifths of the cuts proposed by Mr. Ryan, and eagerly accepted by the Tea Party-driven House, come from programs for low-income Americans. That means billions of dollars lost for job training for the displaced, Pell grants for students and food stamps for the hungry. These cuts are so severe that the nation’s Catholic bishops raised their voices in protest at the shredding of the nation’s moral obligations.

Mr. Ryan’s budget “will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment,” the bishops wrote in an April letter to the House. “These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”

It (the federal government) will not be there when the unemployed need job training, or when a struggling student needs help to get into college. It will not be there when a miner needs more than a hardhat for protection, or when a city is unable to replace a crumbling bridge (editor’s note, moi – or sidewalk).

And it will be silent when the elderly cannot keep up with the costs of M.R.I.’s or prescription medicines, or when the poor and uninsured become increasingly sick through lack of preventive care.  New York Times, August 11, 2012, “Mr Ryan’s Cramped Vision.”

So I’m hyperventilating for my offspring and his family’s future, much less my old age, should I get to live that long, should this pair get elected in November.

“..the Ryan budget is a plan that forfeits the future and global leadership to China.” Steve Clemens, The Atlantic, August 13, 2012.

Newburyport’s Local Historic District (LHD) as a Musical

I’m liking this whole Newburyport Local Historic District (LHD) mess as a musical (see previous post).

It could open with a Tom Salemi, one of Newburyport’s esteemed bloggers, character singing a solo, “Keep it Classy” (based on Tom’s great essay, “Take the Bagels, Leave the Petition,”on Newburyport’s LHD in Newburyport Today).

The stage is dark except for Tom’s character,  and then in the background, lights come up come slowly, we have two ladies in front of an establishment handing out fliers.  Their musical number is called “Fines, Fines, the LHD will Bankrupt You.”

And huddled at the front of the stage are preservationists (Newburyport preservationists tend in general to be meek and mild, “fierce” is not an adjective I would give to most Newburyport preservationist. “Fierce” goes good with some of the the anti-LHD folks, but not most preservationists, so that’s why they are huddling).  Lights come up slowly on them, and their musical number is, “It’s not True, It’s not True, It’s a Lie.” (Clearly this will be an ensemble piece.)

So Tom’s character is singing “Keep it Classy,”  while the two anti LHD women are singing “The LHD will Bankrupt You”, and the Newburyport preservationist are singing “It’s not True, It’s a Lie.”  And then everyone freezes, you know the way they do on stage.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

And what I’m picturing here is having someone dressed as Mark Twain, maybe with a sign hanging across their chest so the audience will get it, walks on stage, spot light on him, everyone else is dimmed out.  Doesn’t sing, just looks at the audience and says, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

The Mark Twain character walks off, and the Tom Salemi character sings one last  line of “Keep it Classy?” with a question mark in his voice, and then the lights fade out on all the characters. (Irony here, how elitist!!)

First possible scene of the new possible Broadway hit, “LHD-Bombshell,” (still a working title-the “Smash” thing again, see previous post).

Newburyport Local Historic District (LHD) Theater

My lovely young theater friends in NYC hate the TV program “Smash.” (I am secretly addicted to “Smash,” don’t tell them-truly they will be offended!!)

I suppose for them it’s a little like me watching Bravo’s “Next Great Artist,” The TV show reminds me of an advanced art class in college (not even grad school).  But, whatever quality the art may be, or how “unrealistic” the “reality” process may be, the press and the buzz probably helps whoever like crazy in their career, that’s just the nature of the biz, at least in my world.

So my NYC theater friends may be addicted to Bravo’s art stuff, who knows.

But thinking about “Smash,” I kept wondering, too bad someone couldn’t do something with all this Newburyport Local Historic District (LHD) drama. Historic preservation may be boring (this is certainly the first time in the 31 years I’ve been here that it’s gotten this much attention!!), but my, we’ve got a lot of great characters, on both sides, and mucho drama. A LHD sensation!!

On the pro side we have Jerry Mullins who has outed himself recently as the P.Preservationist.  Jerry is dedicated. All that dedication makes some people just uncomfortable, positively squirm.  But through all of this LHD stuff, one of the great gifts is that I’ve gotten to know Jerry Mullins, and he’s my new bff.

On the anti side, we’ve got great characters.  We got one of the leaders, on tape, accusing the mayor and the Local Historic Study Committee of secretly meeting, and implying that they are engaged in illegal acts. You can’t make this stuff up. What a TV writer wouldn’t give for this!

We’ve got the John Birch Society messed up in this LHD stuff.  If you were a fiction writer, no one would believe you.  It’s yummy.

We’ve got a colorful Bossy Gillis character from Plum Island, telling people, on tape again, that LHD (like it’s some sort of terrible medical disease) will control you. The LHD has nothing to do with Plum Island.  It’s not on Plum Island.  Bossy Gillis is alive and well. How cool is this? Wowza!!

And then you have the somewhat deer stuck in the headlights Local Historic District Committee caught in the shit storm. It’s almost like you can hear them saying, “Say what??” (We’ve got a chorus number here in the making.)

And a newspaper person declaring really, really early on that the LHD is already lost in a messy defeat .. Honey, this is at least a 4 part play.  A little speedy on the getting to the conclusion thing, don’t you think??

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe

It’s a musical in the making.  We could make preservation history in Newburyport.  Can we ramp it up a little more?  Let’s really go at this full throttle. Let’s make history, let’s make this whole LHD mess worthy of a TV sitcom. I’ll take Broadway. Or it could be a TV drama (I’m not fussy here) about Newburyport’s LHD being a Broadway musical-just like “Smash,” only it’s about historic preservation not Marilyn Monroe. TV and Broadway. Is that fun or what? (And I bet my lovely young NYC theater friends would watch it!) Think casting, Newburyport Blog readers, think casting. (I’m sure everyone’s brains, for or against, are turning on the casting thing… now, don’t be mean.)

They did it

Green Theatre Collective at Sylvester Manor, Shelter Island, NY, Season 2011, As You LIke It (press image to enlarge).

Green Theatre Collective at Sylvester Manor, Shelter Island, NY, As You LIke It (press image to enlarge).

They did it. Green Theatre Collective (GTC) raised $10,000 in 4 weeks.  Oh me of little faith.  And that means that this eco-theater company with its roots (pun intended) in Newburyport, can gather the just plain old lovely young men and women who made up the company last year, and go for it again this year, this time with Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, The Tempest.

And GTC had its maiden voyage right here in Newburyport, Massachusetts, sponsored by Theater in the Open, in a gorgeous setting for Shakespeare’s As You Like It at Maudslay State Park last summer.  With a big thank you for a plug by Tom Salemi  at Newburyport Posts and JC Lockwood at Newbuyrport Arts, along with the Newburyport Daily News and the Newburyport Current.

Ok, its personal. The GTC founder and Executive Producer is my son, Hal Fickett, who got his education right here in Newburyport, Massachusetts (yes, we do have great schools that are most worthy of our support).  And the first performance was dedicated to most beloved Newburyport High School theater teacher, Suzanne Bryan and all Newburyport educators (those graduates do appreciate you folks!).

Am I proud and excited for this young eco-theater company.  You betcha!

Green Theatre Collective at Maudslay State Park, Newburyport, MA, Season 2011 (press image to enlarge).

Green Theatre Collective at Maudslay State Park, Newburyport, MA, As You Like It (press image to enlarge).

Newburyport Mill Stream Painting by Alfred Bricher

On the Mill Stream at Newburyport Massachusetts, Alfred Thompson Bricher, press to enlarge.

On the Mill Stream at Newburyport Massachusetts, Alfred Thompson Bricher, press to enlarge.

I found this absolutely gorgeous painting of what must be the mill stream out by Curzon Mill.

The painting is called “On the Mill Stream at Newburyport Massachusetts,” the date is unknown, and it is by Alfred Thompson Bricher, who lived from 1837-1908.

Marsh During a Storm-A Martin Johnson Heade Painting

Salt Marsh Hay by Martin Johnson Heade

Salt Marsh Hay by Martin Johnson Heade

Martin Johns Heade, 1819-1904, Salt Marsh Hay, c.1865, Oil on Canvas, 13″ x 26″, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio

The Newburyport Blog has been on a hunt for marsh paintings by Martin Johnson Heade, who painted the marshes around Newburyport. I love this painting of the marsh during a storm.

One of the remarkable things that we have all around our country is the small and art-rich museums. This particular painting comes from the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown Ohio.  And it’s not just an artist like Heade that is represented, but also painters like Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper.

Not all of us from New England can get to Youngstown, Ohio, but you can vistit the Butler Institute of American Art here.