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.

Fear and Newburyport’s Local Historic District (LHD)

I walk down the street and I see her sweeping in front of her Newburyport home.  I call her name, but not until I call out, “Hey beautiful, what you do’n,” does my friend turn her head. She’s one of the first people I ever knew when I moved here 31 years ago.

My neighbor, way back then, was a crusty old guy, and my friend was the sister of his very longtime girl friend, Ollie.

“What’s go’n on Mary?”

“I don’t know, what’s go’n on?”

My friend shrugs.

Me, “The LHD.”

“You for it or against it?”

“Advocating for it.”

“That’s the one where they want to tell you what to do with your home.”

Not the first time I’ve heard this by a long shot. “It’s mainly to prevent people from tearing down old homes.”

“That’s not such a bad thing, is it.”

“Nope,” I say “And no one’s going to come into anyone’s home. And no one is going to tell anyone what color they can paint their house.”

A little tension goes out of my friend’s shoulders, and we change the subject.

She tells me she turned 87, and we reminisce about her sister and my crusty old neighbor Jim.

Tomato Plant
Tomato Plant

Jim and Ollie used to have a huge garden (a real old time neighborhood garden) up on Johnson Street, on the land on the left as you’re walking down the hill towards the Nock Middle School.  All built up now.  I always wish that I had painted the portrait, or at least taken pictures to paint a portrait one day, of Ollie and Jim, sitting on the side of his old beat up dark green van, the side where the door slid open, in the middle of the huge vegetable field.  They were a great, almost iconic Newburyport pair.

Cutworm damage
Cutworm damage

So Jim knew a lot about gardening, and laughed and laughed at me when my little tomato plants in my tiny Newburyport backyard were felled by cutworms. (I’m from New York City, who knew from cut worms?).

And Jim came over and told me how to put a ring of paper around the stems of my little tomato plants, and push the the ring of paper down into the earth so the little critters couldn’t snip and destroy.

Jim's cutworm prevention recipe
Jim's cutworm prevention recipe

And Jim was as delighted as I was with my eventual tomato triumph.

“He used to laugh and laugh at you.”

“He sure did.”

“I don’t ever look at a tomato plant without thinking of you and Jim.”

We talked about her children and her grandchildren and folks that are no longer around.

And as I turned to go on with my walk, I winked at her.

“You’d give anybody a lift, Mary.”  And that made my day.

Spring in Newburyport’s South End

Spring in Newburyport's South End
Spring in Newburyport's South End

I love walking through Newburyport’s South End. And spring is my favorite time of year in this gorgeous city.

Spring in Newburyport's South End
Spring in Newburyport's South End

I wait every year for this particular tree to bloom in Newburyport’s South End.

Spring in Newburyport's South End
Spring in Newburyport's South End

So many treasures to find walking around this gorgeous city of Newburyport, MA.  I found this jewel on my walking tour this morning in Newburyport’s beautiful and charming South End.

Newburyport Original Art

I’ve written a lot about why original art work is so important to people’s daily lives and our culture at large (disclaimer: I am an artist). Original art enlivens an environment and enriches lives. A more crass reason is that the very wealthy may often buy original art because it is a “status symbol,” it indicates that whoever it may be, has “class.”

To steal from myself: Having a Ferrari (yes, I know, tough to have such an item in a lousy economic times) may be a status symbol, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person has “class.”

“Having art is unique in imparting to others that you are of value. Art is something that people pass on from generation to generation. Art defines civilizations. Art tells people that you are not only educated, but also that you appreciate history and beauty. It is why when the early American tycoons built their fortunes, they went out and bought art, because it gave them “class.” Thank goodness they did, because today we can see Van Goghs, Monets, Renoirs in the great art museums all over the world.” (Quoting from myself.)

In Newburyport, MA we have original art on our waterfront at the Newburyport’s Sculpture Park at Somerby’s Landing near the Black Cow restaurant. Ergo, this makes us “classy.”

There is some chit chat, that hopefully would go nowhere, that the little ticket booth (which again I love right where it is) could be put in the sculpture park.

My recollection is that when the sculpture park was being discussed, one of the absolute musts (and quite rightly so) was that it would not block the view of the water. The little ticket booth would ironically block the view to the water (much less destroying the actual sculpture park).. a demonstration.

motes_sculptureThis sculpture by Robert Motes, “An Imagined Place” (which is now a permanent installation at Somerby’s Landing Sculpture Park, made possible in 2006 by the generous donation of the Newburyport Art Association) has a window with a “view” that is Newburyport’s waterfront– the corner of the sculpture park where the ticket booth would go. So if the ticket booth went there, the window would be looking at the side of the ticket booth.

At the moment the “view” from the window is of the granite corner where all kinds of folks come to sit under the shade of the delightful tree that is pictured, to read, to contemplate, to talk to one another, or to watch their children climb on that delightful tree and listen to their laughter as they enjoy this unique experience. That’s pretty much gone if the ticket booth goes in that particular community space.

And that’s only one example. And again, it is this blogger’s hope that it is merely chit chat that the ticket booth could be moved to this gem like community space, that is part of a jeweled environment in Newburyport, MA.

(The photo of the sculpture by Robert Motes, “An Imagined Place” is copyrighted by Artfluence, and is used with permission.)

Newburyport’s Sculpture Park

Elk sculptureOne of my favorite walks in my beloved hometown of Newburyport, MA is to walk to downtown Newburyport, go to Market Square, cross Merrimac Street at the Firehouse Center for the Arts, walk down the grassy area towards the board walk that runs along the mouth of the mighty Merrimac River.

There I take a left and walk around the indent of the boardwalk, go past the ticket booth, which I love (such sentiment of enjoying the ticket booth on Newburyport’s boardwalk I gather is now a sentiment of abomination, maybe something on that later, but I still love it, for a myriad of reasons) to the little gem, right before the restaurant, the Black Cow–Newburyport’s Sculpture Park, or more correctly, Somerby’s Landing Sculpture Park, Newburyport, Massachusetts.

A picture framer (disclaimer: I am an artist) once told me that a good frame on a painting was like jewelry on a beautiful woman. And I have the same sentiment about Newburyport’s Sculpture Park–jewelry on a beautiful woman.

I remember going to Newburyport Sculpture Park’s “inauguration” in 2003. The City of Newburyport and the Newburyport Waterfront Trust had such pride and such delight at creating this gem on an already jeweled setting. And low and behold it has managed to have its own curator all these years with a roughly yearly exhibition, for all and sundry to enjoy, 24/7, 365 days out of the year, for those who are blessed to find and enjoy it.

And one of the things that I found out years ago, was that way back when, one of the kids that hung out on Inn Street, when so many people were worried about the kids on Inn Street, would go down to the sculpture park for inspiration, because she loved art, and here was art in Newburyport, MA. She later went on to work on Christo’s blockbuster exhibition, in New York City’s Central Park, The Gates–not bad for inspiration, as inspiration goes.

And now I hear about a whole lot of local political taffy–the Newburyport’s sculpture park is slightly being considered as a destination for the poor ticket booth by the Newburyport Waterfront Trust (email discussion can be read here). This blogger hopes that this might only be conjecture on the part of the current Newburyport Waterfront Trust, and this gem in the middle of the jewels that they are in trust of, will remain in its gem-like and inspiring state.

(The photo of the sculpture by Wendy Klemperer, “Elk” is copyrighted by Artfluence, and is used with permission. “Elk” is a now a permanent installation at Somerby’s Landing Sculpture Park. Funding was raised in 2005 by Jesse Vining (age 7) to purchase the Elk sculpture for the general public. Thanks for principal donations goes to the Lilliput Foundation, Five Cents Savings Bank, Institution for Savings, Newburyport Rotary Club, Hall & Moskow, the Newburyport Elks Lodge, and many other individuals, friends and family, children and adults.)

Rhododendron Weather Predicting Qualities

I don’t need to turn on the weather channel or peer at my web weather channel bookmark setting on my computer, to know in the morning when it’s New England cold outside.

When I wake up and my hands feel all crinkly and dry, I know it’s one of two thing. A) I’ve developed some mysterious fatal disease over the last 8 hours, or B) the humidity in the house has dropped because it’s freezing outside.

Since so far it has never been A) I usually figure it must be B).

After a few sips of coffee, I shuffle into my studio (where I’m also trying to madly expand Mary Baker Art by obsessively designing websites to be sent out into the world via the World Wide Web) and peer out my window at my trusty outdoor thermometer. And sure enough, it’s B), the wretched thing reads below 10 degrees, and it’s freezing outside.

I also learned to tell whether it was cold outside, without looking at an outdoor thermometer, by my Dad. As a young girl, by father would take me to the dinning room window, point at the loan rhododendron in the small yard next door, and point out that the leaves on the loan rhododendron were not perky, but shriveled and pointing straight down to the ground. Ergo, my father would point out, it was freezing outside and I better “bundle up.” Sure enough he was always right.

I’ve always been fond of rhododendrons. Maybe it’s the vast array of rhododendrons at Maudslay State Park here in Newburyport, that at one point were subjects of lots of paintings by me. Or, it could be the fond memories of my father’s rhododendron weather science predictions. Or it could be multi-determined.

I’ve planted all sorts of rhododendrons in my small Newburyport garden, and I peer at them on winter mornings, trying to guess the New England temperature, before I shuffle in and peer at my trusty outdoor weather thermometer. My rhododendrons, weather predicting wise, are always right on the money.

However, I’ve noticed that rhododendrons, landscaping wise, in Newburyport, Massachusetts, appear to be going out of fashion.

As I keep squeezing yet one more rhododendron plant in my now rhododendron filled small garden, I notice that huge, literally century old, magnificent and stately rhododendron plants are being hacked out of century old High Street magnificent gardens, not to mention lesser century old rhododendrons in “lesser” Newburyport destinations.

So, either I’m out of touch with new landscaping designs (which is highly probable), or the owners of the dwelling in which these gorgeous rhododendrons are being hacked down, don’t know about their weather predicting qualities. Or maybe they do know about their weather predicting qualities, but figure since they now live in the 21st century, they can watch the weather channel instead.

Fall Gardening Heresy

During one of those winter’s from hell a few years ago where people lost all sorts of stuff from their gardens, I made a startling discovery. A lot of the bushes, plants, green stuff that I had so meticulously raked leaves off of during the fall, croaked. The green stuff that had collected fall leaves around them, not only made it, but seemed to flourish.

So, voila, my fall raking habits took a turn for the “un-recommended.”

I now don’t rake leaves under any of the green stuff, bushes, plants, whatever, but instead, I not only leave the leaves, but actually heap extra leaves on top. I figure it’s worked for Mother Nature for millions of years, why shouldn’t it work for moi, even though everything I’ve ever read says that that would be “gardening heresy”.

And I figure all those leaves that are taken to the Newburyport City dump turn to “compost,” which, in the spring, people then go and get and put in their yards. Why not save a trip to the Newburyport City compost heap, and just have the process take place where I happen to live?

I also stopped cutting stuff back. More possible gardening heresy.

Nothing so far has croaked as a result of this highly “un-recommended” gardening strategy of mine. Instead I save hours not doing stuff that would drive me crazy. Little birds seem to like pecking at the dried up seeds that are left. And in the spring, depending on the green stuff, there are these little stick flags, sticking up, reminding me, that, “Oh yes, something grew there last spring. Let’s clear whatever may be on there now, and find out whatever it could be.”

And a lot of times, by April, the leaves that were left and heaped on all the green stuff, have disintegrated into nice, yummy dirt. Whatever hasn’t, then gets flopped onto various “decorative” mulch piles sitting about here and there.

And my late fall garden has a “relaxed,” Mother Nature look. Unlike the yards of my neighbors (obviously my “wayward” gardening habits have not spread) which have tidy yard appearances.

And I also have a ruthless, survival of the fittest, “gardening” style. My gardening procedure is that if the green stuff survives and spreads then, “eureka” the stuff stays and gets put other places around my dwelling. Of course this does limit things to select hardy selection. But it still looks Ok to moi. And I’m getting to the point where hassle less, low maintenance gardening stuff, is really working for me.

Mary Eaton

Backyard and the Drought Thing

I thought the “drought” thing was over. But no, apparently it’s not.

I figured the rain we just had took care of everything and no more watering for moi. Whew.

But I looked out my window late yesterday afternoon as I was cooking, and the green stuff out there, like the shrubs, looked like they were all wilty and parched looking again.

So I said, “Wait a minute,” to the broccoli that I was cooking and I ran outside to take a look.

Sure enough my back yard is crunchy and like the Sahara one more time. And if shrubs could wail, they would wail, “Could you please get out the darn hose and give us a good long drink. We are literally die’n here.”

Ok, so I’m listening to my darn shrubs do the “shrub wail” thing.

Since it had gotten “chilly” lately, I figured the water would be freezing. But it wasn’t. The water to water the shrubs and stuff was actually warm.

I guess this could tell me something, but I’m not sure exactly what.

So it turned out to be Ok to stand out there and water the stuff with the warm water coming out of the hose and with the sun going down and the late afternoon to evening becoming cool to chilly.

And my self-sustaining pets (see earlier entries), “my” finches, I don’t think any of them showed up yesterday. And only a couple of them showed up two days ago. I think it’s getting to be that time when all of a sudden they disappear, like to fly south.

Bye-bye self-sustaining pets.

Mary Eaton

Rain and Drought and Green Stuff

Who knew that I would love the rain so much.

I would water my yard, helping out the Newburyport Water Department marvelously during our “drought” and the “stuff” back there would perk up a little bit, but basically, no matter what I did, things looked “wilty” and “parched.”

My grey/green lawn turned brown and proceeded to become dust.

My green “lawn” turned grey/green except for a small piece around my dwelling that retained a kelly green color. (What this says about my dwelling, I’m not entirely sure.)

In the middle of our drought, when not a lawn mower could be heard, I actually got out my lawnmower and mowed my green morsel of grass.

(I wanted to go up to my neighbors and assure them that no, I was not abusing water restrictions by wildly watering my lawn. I just had this odd green scrap.)

And my finch feeders were swarming with finches still.

I think some of them were “baby finches.” A) Because there were so many. And B) because they were smaller and thinner than the other finches.

They also flew funny.

As I’ve watched “my” finches over the years, I’ve found that they have a wonderful long-wave flight. These poor little finches looked like little fluttery helicopters that might crash at any moment. I think that’s a give-away.

Ah, but there is nothing quite like the cooperation of Mother Nature. All that green stuff began to look perky and relieved. And the brown lawn is starting to actually turn green again. And I might be able to mow my lawn now without resident “drought guilt.”

I’d rather mow than water, or not water and worry.

Mary Eaton

(Editor’s Note: The Primary to vote for Mayor of Newburyport, MA is this Tuesday, September 18, 2007. Don’t forget to VOTE.)

Helping Newburyport’s Water Woes

I’ve been distracted lately. The finches (my self-sustaining pets) have not been getting their finch feeders replenished in a timely fashion. Bird baths haven’t been refreshed (see earlier entries).

(Bird baths that haven’t been refreshed get “gross”– “gross” dates me big time. Who says “gross” anymore? Nobody.)

I looked at my garden/backyard/green stuff and realized that it was dehydrated, if not crispy, because I hadn’t noticed that the darn thing need watering.

I went out and contributed mightily to the Newburyport Water bill woes and spent a whopping two hours pouring water on some very wilted, withering looking green stuff.

(Apparently, water-wise, we may well be paying more because we, the citizens of Newburyport, MA, aren’t using enough water… the Water Department has to pay its bills, so the price of water goes up… I am now using more water thereby helping out my city, my state and my country… go figure.)

My neighbors (and now the readers of the Newburyport Blog) must think I’m totally nuts (actually they might think that already). I was wandering around the yard drenching stuff here and there going, “Don’t die on me yet, we’ve come so far together.” (Which of course, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever… Can you try and inspire wilty, withering plants? I don’t think so.)

I think the plants may have been paying attention, because they don’t look quite as withery as they did before.

I’ve given up on the grass. It’s a nice shade of brown/grey. And it’s crunchy. Everything, that I haven’t gotten around to watering yet is crunchy (lots of crunchy stuff)…

And I’m beginning to see BIG merits in crabgrass. It’s green, it’s fearless, it’s not crunchy. (Why does crabgrass get such a bad rap? It’s August, there’s been NO rain for what seems like weeks, and the crabgrass is green and not withery… I’m beginning to have “crabgrass admiration”… is this “lawn heresy”??)

Crunch, crunch, crunch… crispy, crispy–except for the crabgrass. Hope the finches keep chowing down. Don’t leave my back yard just yet, Ok? Eat up big time to feed those babies (if there are still finch babies) and to get lots of strength for that long flight south.

Mary Eaton

Nostalgic Historic Newburyport Gardens

The photographs of historic Newburyport Garden plans and photographs of historic Newburyport gardens, stir up both a deep sense of nostalgia for something that beautiful, that cared for and that loved, as well as a certain practical impatience, that it could be very difficult, short of being part of a museum or a full time gardener, to have such a wondrous oasis in the year 2007.

Anyway, here are two more photographs that I discovered that are in the public domain. One is a photograph of an historic garden and one is of an historic garden plan.


89-91 High Street, Garden

Courtesy of the Newburyport Archival Center
at the Newburyport Public Library

Old Mosely Garden, plan of garden,
182 High Street, Newburyport, MA

Estate of Col. Ebenezer Mosely

Courtesy of the Library of Congress
The Frances Loeb Library
Graduate School of Design
Harvard University

Mary Eaton

Historic Gardens, Newburyport

My practical and down to earth friend, who loves historic gardens, wrote me an email concerning the previous post.

As a professional Landscape Designer she did take a class in historic preservation and to quote my friend, “There are tons of good questions, and not nearly as many good answers,” (about how to integrate an historic garden into the lives of people in the 21st Century.)

Oh, well. But not entirely surprising.

Because these photographs are so delightful, I thought I would put them on the Newburyport Blog for readers to enjoy on this Newburyport New England summer day.

Brockway Estate, Garden
83-85 High Street, Newburyport, MA

Courtesy of the Library of Congress
The Frances Loeb Library
Graduate School of Design,
Harvard University

Abraham Wheelwright House & Garden,
77 High Street, Newburyport, Essex County, MA

Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints and Photograph Division,
Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Historic American Buildings Survey
Frank O. Branzetti, Photographer
Aug. 14, 1940
View of Garden, Looking East

Mary Eaton

Newburyport’s Historic Gardens and the 21st Century

I went and talked to a delightful friend of mine who loves and appreciates historic gardens and who is very down to earth, to get a reality check.

The subject was/is how to live with historic preservation, only this time outside.

As I said in an earlier post, I went on a hunt for historic garden photos and historic garden designs in Newburyport, MA.

And one of the things that struck me, was that it would be A) very expensive to maintain these gardens in the year 2007 and B) like so many other things, life has changed, and the gardens might not fit in with the life style of your average family in the 21 st Century.

As my friend (again, who loves historic gardens) pointed out that kitchens are different now, bathrooms are different now, and houses have open concepts and people just plain live differently.

So I would think that one of the issues that a family might think about, if they were thoughtful, and bought an historic home, that had an historic garden, would be how does one integrate an historic landscape with lets say a family with young children and a dog?

I am quite sure that there are PhD programs (there have got to be) that address this issue, so I feel a little foolish contemplating this question on the Newburyport Blog.

But, here are two photos. One is an historic garden and one is an historic garden plan. And I ask myself how a family of four with let’s say 2 dogs, would think about being stewards of such a property and also play and enjoy their backyard?

Joseph Moulton House & Garden

Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints and Photograph Division, Washington, D.C.
Historic American Buildings Survey
Frank O. Branzetti, Photographer Oct. 29, 1940

Please press here for larger photo

Newburyport Gardens, Plan, Newburyport, MA

Courtesy of the Frances Loeb Library
Graduate School of Design, Harvard University.
Library of Congress
Prints and Photograph Division
Washington, D.C.

Please press here for larger photo

Mary Eaton

Memory and Newburyport’s Historic Gardens

I started thinking about “memory” (see earlier entry) again and what it means to a sense of place and historic preservation, because I started to think about historic gardens, mainly along High Street, how beautiful they are, but whether or not they make sense in day to day living in the year 2007.

All of this came into my head as I watched the work on 87 High Street take place.

Again, when is it appropriate to impinge on the past, and when is it appropriate to preserve it? And again, for me, there is often no easy answer.

And historic High Street gardens are not exactly a new topic.

“Gardens of the New Republic: Fashioning the Landscapes of High Street, Newburyport, Massachusett” is all about the significance of gardens in Newburyport, MA. The book is available at the Newburyport library and bookstores. It can also be obtained through the website

And in 2006 Preservation Massachusetts named the Wheelwright Gardens as one of Massachusetts’ “10 Most Endangered Resources.”

This is from the Newburyport Current , Tuesday, September 26, 2006, by Ulrika Gerth:

“The fact that this extremely rare Federal style garden has remained intact for over 120 years is amazing,” said Jim Igoe, president of Preservation Massachusetts. “This horticultural gem shares the same historic significance as the main house on this property and should benefit from the same type of protection granted to it.”

All of this had me scurrying to find old photographs and garden plans of gardens in Newburyport, MA to share with readers of the Newburyport Blog.

This is a an old photograph of the Wheelwright Garden at 75 High Street.

And I’ve been told, and I haven’t verified this, that there is a replica of Old South Church at the top of that wonderful wooden structure at the end of the garden.

The Garden at 75 High Street,
The Wheelwright House,
Courtesy of the Newburyport Archival Center
at the Newburyport Public Library

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, MA, Decorated Down to the Pets

Ok, I’m still on the subject of 87 High Street.

In the Newburyport Planning Board minutes, May 2, 2007, there is mention of a “hedge that had to be removed because of excavation” that “will be replaced and will also be extended further along property than it did originally.”

Which reminds me of a story I haven’t thought about for a long, long time.

Many years ago two delightful gentleman gave me a (art/painting) one person show in the “Hamptons.”

Since I knew nothing about the Hamptons and they knew a whole lot, they drove me around, showing me “the sights.” “The sights” consisted of homes owned by celebrities that used the Hamptons as a second (or third or fourth or whatever) home.

One of the homes that was pointed out to me was owned, I believe, by a film producer.

We drove by the newly acquired home by the gentleman in question. And the second day it had a huge 16 foot hedge, swarming with folks pruning it, which was NOT there the day before.

So, I said, “say what?” And these two lovely gentleman explained to me that this happened in the Hamptons. In fact, as I recall, they said a house and a guest house could be completely furnished by professionals without input from the owners. Everything, right down to the pets.

The pets??

So the owners could just walk right in and feel at home and not even have to think about it.

The pets??

So when it comes to the hedge at 87 High Street that will be “replaced” and “extended,” I’m wondering if it will be replaced by a small hedge that grows, or would it be replaced by one of these 16 foot hedges that I saw, lo those many years ago, that magically appears in one day.

How the hedge is replaced, I imagine, would tell us all quite a bit. Like whether or not this place could be furnished right down to the pets.

And believe you me, for this Newburyport blogger, the fact that that possibility could even remotely exist in Newburyport, Massachusetts is really, really beyond way weirder than fiction.

Mary Eaton