Framing Space

Talk about getting into the head of an artist.  Go to their home.  Go to their studio.  Three years ago, Donald Judd Foundation completed a $23 million restoration of the cast iron building he bought in 1968.  I got to visit and really get into his head.

At the time, Judd spent a year rehabbing the industrial building in Soho, that he picked up for $68,000–not much for a building, but a clear indicator that the 40-year-old, Minimalist artist was doing well financially.  By the time of his death in 1994, he had created a space here with intentional installations, the way he wanted the space kept and seen. 

Little has changed since that time, other than the rust was removed from the exterior and the interior gleams.  What we can now enter is the artist’s vision for space installed according to Judd’s philosophy and aesthetics.


The two black boxes above are Judd’s work.  He was interested in making us aware of space–framing, capturing, measuring space, using clean lines and simple colors.  He was a theoretician who studied philosophy and carried both over into his work.

Shunning the language of sculpture and architecture, he called his works “objects.”  He wants to make us aware of the space itself as an object.  To make space material.  Are you lost yet?  Being in his living space grounds these ideas out of the theoretical realm.

You can see here the four-ton Judd cube placed in the large open space of his “studio.”  The cube frames a chair facing out toward the windows.  The entire floor is full of contained spaces. 

Judd’s studio was not for making, but rather for thinking, reading, and writing.  I can imagine an idea forming from where we are standing, traveling through the cube, past the reflecting chair, and out into the world.

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The studio wasn’t off limits to his family.  You can make out the children’s desk and chair in the left corner where the children would come do their homework.

In that sense, the house isn’t precious.  It was meant as a family home.  I was delighted to learn that Judd designed furniture, created out of pine and Douglas fir.  His trademark straight lines and straightforward designs transfer to the home.

Here you see the table and chairs of the dining room.  Note that the top of the chairs is flush with the top of the table, creating a pleasing line and another cube-like shape.  Judd himself was very tall, well over 6′, and I wondered how he could tuck himself into the straight-backed, low-to-the-ground chairs.  But they look smashing.

In case you’re curious, you can buy a replica for about $2000 per chair or $10,000 for the table, all still handmade to Judd’s specifications.

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For the same space, Judd designed a banquette on wheels shaped like a cube and a table doubling as a clever storage piece, with hinged doors on top opened to reveal glassware and tableware.

The second floor (of the five we visited) is the most overtly public space with Judd-designed built-ins.  There are two doors flush to the wall, sized according to each child’s height.  They open to closets.  Nearby is another door, again flush, that opens to reveal a puppet theater. 

Judd loved industrial materials and collected gadgets and restaurant equipment for the kitchen.  When they lived in Soho, the area wouldn’t have been full of restaurants.  They would have cooked and entertained in this space, with its huge windows connecting to street life.

He subdivided the spaces with their tall ceilings by designing lofts with ladders for access.  In the bedroom here, he built a loft space for his son, Flavin.  His son was named for Dan Flavin, a good friend and also the artist for the room-long, neon light piece on the right.

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By 1974, Soho had become an artsy area, which for Judd meant the end of its appeal.  He shunned the commercialization of art.  After searching for larger spaces outside of New York, he moved his family to Marfa, Texas.  There he built a compound of buildings that supported his experiments in framing space,  including the vast plains and mountains around the small town.

While his marriage didn’t survive this move, his work and influence grew outside of New York.  Experiencing the space he so carefully crafted, both in Marfa and now in New York, brings his sensibility profoundly alive.

Docomomo in New Haven

Docomomo had its day today.  All over the U.S., preservation groups were leading Docomomo tours.  So what is Docomomo?  “Documentation and conservation of bulidings, sites, and nieghborhoods of the modern movement.”  Read that as modernist architecture from the mid-20th century.

Walter Malley house, 1909, designed by Grosvenor Atterbury

Walter Malley house, 1909, designed by Grosvenor Atterbury

In New Haven, land of great architecture, New Haven Preservation Trust took on the awesome duty of touring us to see modernist residential architecture.  And where better to visit that elegant St. Ronan Street?  Wait?  What?  Yes, among those classic beauties, crafting the first “streetcar suburb” in the area, are emblems of modernity.

2016-10-08-14-21-23After the Civil War, when New Haven became an industrial powerhouse, estates were built in the country outside New Haven on St. Ronan Street.  Yes, St. Ronan is walking distance from much of Yale, but that just shows how small New Haven was at the time.  Eli Whitney was among the notables to build leafy green estates here.

By the 1920s, with a wave of modernism, the estates were broken up into small lots.  Streetcars carried people the easy distance to downtown jobs.





Adolph Mendel house, 1913, designed by R.W. Foote

Adolph Mendel house, 1913, designed by R.W. Foote





By the 1950s and ’60s though, like so much of the country, car culture created real suburbs, and neighborhoods like this one were in radical decline.  Large houses were converted to rooming houses.  Lots were subdivided again with urban renewal and back filled with smaller homes.

Architecture students graduating from Yale were building experimental houses on these small lots.  Established architects, like H.W. Foote, who designed stately homes like the Adolph Mendel house above, shifted to constructing modernist designs.

Jose Delgado house, 1959, designed by Gualtier & Johnson

Jose Delgado house, 1959, designed by Gualtier & Johnson

Houses like the Jose Delgado house applied a California philosophy to the modernism.  Low pitched roof lines overhang garages placed near the street.  Behind the garage, the private part of the house opens onto garden spaces behind, melding the indoor and outdoor spaces.

But having the garage up front “deadens the streetscape,” we were told.  That’s why traditional houses with front porches will hold a place in people’s hearts.

It’s all a tradeoff.



Mrs. E.H. Tuttle house, 1956, designed by E. Carleton Granbery

Mrs. E.H. Tuttle house, 1956, designed by E. Carleton Granbery


You can see an earlier California design again in the Tuttle House from 1956.






Stanley and Margaret Leavy Residence

Stanley/Margaret Leavy house, 1967, designed by Granbery, Cash & Assoc.

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Piet Mondrian, Lozenge Composition, 1921

My favorite was the Leavy house.  I just love the geometric lines and blocks of color, reminiscent of a Mondrian painting, and what must be bright, open interior spaces.

Dr. Leavy saw patients in the home originally.  Now, the patient area is rented out as an Air BnB.  Let me know if you stay here!


Robert/Judith Evenson house, 1979, designed by Kosinski Architecture

Robert/Judith Evenson house, 1979, designed by Kosinski Architecture

By the 1970s, architects were concerned with energy conservation, as we can see in the solar-designed Evenson house.  Skylights allow heat to radiate through the space, heat water, that then circulates through radiator piping to heat the house.  Heavy walls and small windows provide solar gain, too.

The eclectic architecture of the St. Ronan area shows a pattern of architectural history in towns and cities replicated across the country.  The desire to build large homes in traditional, European styles gets intermixed with a robust American modernism.  Eye candy all!

Writing on the Wall

Every historic house has stories to tell, which is why I am continually enchanted with them.  Putnam Elms is distinctive in several ways.

First, Cynthia, who took me through the house, is clearly more interested in the history of the people who lived in the 1790s house than the stuff in it.  She is actively researching the who’s and what’s and that’s what she passionately shared.

My geeky delight was sparked by the connection to a couple I know a little something about and who are included in my “Clothes Make the Country” talk.  Here they are.

John Smibert, Portrait of Francis Brinley, 1729

John Smibert, Portrait of Francis Brinley, 1729

John Smibert, Portrait of Deborah Brinley, 1729

John Smibert, Portrait of Deborah Brinley, 1729











They are wonderfully interesting.  Come to the talk and find out.

Here's Catherine

Here’s Catherine


Of the two marriages in the house, one took place in the parlor.  Cynthia and I figured out that Catharine Putnam married George Brinley, the Roxbury, MA Brinley’s (pictured above) great grandson.

So you see Francis, Jr. in Deborah’s lap.  Francis, Jr.’s grandson married a Putnam (more about them below) in the parlor.  Doesn’t that make the people seem more alive to you?  This baby grew up and, who knows?  Maybe he witnessed the wedding here.


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The other wedding was of an African American couple in the Episcopal chapel, a room in the house, pictured below.

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That brings us to one of the other fascinating people who lived here.  Emily Malbone Brinley Morgan, an independent thinker and progressive doer.

She is a descendant of the first owners and vowed to buy the house if it came on the market.  It did, and in 1906, she bought it.  Not to live in, mind you, but to convert it into a vacation home for women.  Working women.  So if you were a teacher or a clerk or an architect, in one notable case, from New York, Boston, or Providence, you might come here to lounge and have fun in the company of other women.

Cynthia shows me the guest book

Cynthia shows me the guest book

Cynthia shows me Emily's picture

and Emily’s picture

Emily was apparently congenial and funny and set up outings for the women guests.  Like a trip to the metropolis of Putnam!  Imagine how nice it would be to vacation with people who get you and don’t judge you for being a working woman.  A relief, I would think.

So back the wedding #2.  The land was purchased as a farm in the 1740s by slave trader Godfrey Malbone, who left it to his sons.  No doubt, they used slaves to work the land.  In 1791, Daniel Putnam (son of the well-mythologized Israel Putnam, who dropped his plow the moment he heard about the shots fired at Lexington and Concord to fight for the rebel cause) married Malbone’s niece and built this house.

So in this one place, we witness the transition of the state from a slave-holding place to one where African Americans would marry and be celebrated in a white person’s home.

Every house has stories to tell.  Here there’s the writing on the wall.  Literally.  Family members signed the wall.  Who knows how that tradition got started, but there they all are.  The wall throbs with energy and laughter and delight.  A guest might sign the guestbook.  But the family?  They write right on the wall.

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Oops, a mistake. I'll just scribble it out...

Oops, a mistake. I’ll just scribble it out…

Guns to Apartments

I’m still musing on how I feel about two recent tours and guns pervading every aspect of our lives.  During the Hartford Blooms Garden Tours, I went to the top of the onion-domed Colt Armory–the day after the Orlando shootings.

Having passed the notable landmark so often on the highway, I was both curious and a bit repulsed.  No one else on the tour seemed to make the connection to Orlando.  So I decided to just experience and listen, not share my dis-ease.

We took an elevator almost to the top, only having to climb one flight of stairs.  Then we walked through an industrial, attic-like area to the stairs to the cupola.

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Yes, the view was interesting, as our guide told us how Sam Colt needed the nearby Connecticut River for transporting raw materials and manufactured guns.  She explained how important the horse at the top is to people in Hartford, who clamored, when it was removed from the building, for its return.

Still, I felt restless, just wanting to go back down and get out of the building.

The fact that the factory now has been converted into apartments seems weird and ironic to me.

Who would want to let guns so palpably into the space where they nourish, refresh, restore, and relax?  Their home?

My presumptions were challenged again, with today’s tour of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas and its tour with New Haven Preservation Trust of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.  I have been curious about this site and the transition to living spaces, curious enough to overcome my distaste.

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Yes, at its peak, 30,000 people worked here.  Yes, they produced washing machines and sporting equipment, as well as rifles and ammunition.  And yes, the factory buildings are being converted to office and apartment spaces.

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Yes, I support adaptive reuse and get excited when old buildings find new energy.  Yes, the restoration has preserved a historic character combined with modern sensibilities.  Yes, wonderful Susan Clinard has created art from the wood no longer usable, now hanging on the walls and above the old fireplace (as seen above).

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But somehow, I would rather leave the ruins (knowing that’s not good for New Haven).

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A reminder that guns are not so central to every aspect of our lives.  Or leave some of these dilapidated messes as a balance, a reminder that some things are better left in the past.

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I asked one of our guides about bad juju, cleaning the energy.  He didn’t know what I meant.  He commented on how Winchester labor and workmanship are being celebrated with new life in the old building.  They discovered and restored this ceiling mural from a 1904 wing.  Reinforcing the complex’s past.

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The apartments feature original wood with those fashionable industrial finishings.  And the place is 90% occupied.

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Obviously, many people don’t feel the same way I do.  They aren’t put off by the ground water contamination and hot spots, the lead and asbestos (remediated, of course), the years of water accumulating in derelict structures.

They can look beyond whatever history happened here and throughout Connecticut (Remington was manufactured in Bridgeport) that led to guns, guns, guns, everywhere, all the time.

Maybe I should be celebrating the conversion from guns to apartments.   I just don’t know.  What do you think?

‘Tis the Season, the Summer Season Up the Hudson

Since the early 1800s, flocks of painters would leave New York City in the summer, with its sweltering heat, and head for the countryside.  The first bunch to make a name for themselves doing this were the Hudson River School.  Those intrepid artists ventured up the Hudson River to the Catskills and beyond, when traveling was tough.

In my comfortable car, I followed in their tracks, to visit the upstate New York homes of Thomas Cole and Jasper Cropsey.  I can’t tell you how much you will fall in love all over again with their paintings, when you spend time in their homes.  They become, well, real, and you can see what they saw and feel what they felt.

Thomas Cole came first and became the titular head of the (non-physical) Hudson River School.  Although not a teacher, almost everything he painted and the way he created his compositions informed artists for several generations.

Even though Catskill, NY was already crawling with tourists by the time Cole lived at Cedar Grove, he painted its wilderness.  You get a sense of what he saw from his porch.  Those beloved mountains.

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I could look at that view for hours, dreaming.  I could also meditate on the up close and personal, seen from another porch angle.

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What stories this tree can tell, and knowing that trees were hugely symbolic for Cole–a symbol of the nature we must all work to preserve–I can imagine he heard them all.

The house has been a restoration-work-in-progress.  And you can really see the progress now, compared to my first visit several years ago.  Now it includes Cole furniture, like his working desk.  Notice the handles on the side for portability.

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I have a thing for artist studios, and two of Cole’s are so lovingly recreated now.  He designed them, of course, with that wonderfully consistent northern exposure, here through that window high up.

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Can you make out on the easel below the notches on the side?  That’s so Cole could raise and lower that horizontal stabilizer for his canvasses, which were huge.  Then he could work more comfortably on different parts of the canvas.  Clever!

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You can also get a sense of how large the studio is, and this is the small one.

Cole made use of a camera obscura, which I didn’t know.  The device uses mirror-lenses and light to create depictions (albeit upside down) of a targeted scene.  The artist then has a way to create accurate details, by tracing the projected image.  Maybe you can get a sense of it here.

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I don’t know if Jasper Cropsey used a camera obscura for accuracy, but I’m sure the Ever Rest guide Tony would know.  The Cropsey scholar gave me a private tour of the 1830s house that Cropsey and his wife bought later in life, well after the Civil War.

You can probably see why they were so attracted to this Hastings-on-Hudson cottage, despite the town’s industrial dominance.  This picture, the first approach, makes the house look deceptively small.

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This one gives you a better sense of the scale.

Carpenter Gothic style; this is the ‘front’ of the house with the peekaboo view of the Hudson

The inside is a revelation, particularly the studio Cropsey built for himself.  The house has always been with the family and is now run by a foundation, so all the furnishings and art are intact from when Cropsey lived here.  His presence is palpable.

Unlike so many other artists that wanted privacy and quiet in their studio, Cropsey made his workspace part of the house and the flow of activity.  At one time, two pianos filled the room with music and laughter from his daughters’ playing.

Now the room has only one piano, and the walls are filled with his canvasses.  All the paintings had to be repurchased.  When he died, his wife sold off all remaining his paintings to pay off their debts.  Unfortunately, the Hudson River School artists in 1900 were out of fashion, and she sold them for a song.  By the 1970s, descendants began buying their family heritage back, still for depressed prices.  They have recreated the atmosphere of the studio when Cropsey worked there.

Ever Rest Studio of Jasper Cropsey

And boy, is there ever atmosphere.  Every object has a story, and Tony knows them all.  But the space is commodious and certainly doesn’t feel crowded.  He and I could talk for hours in there.  What fun that would be.

So your homework now is to go look up these two quintessentially American artists and plan a trip to see what they saw.  Who knows?  You might want to paint it all, too.

P.S. If you hurry, you can see this marvelously evocative Cole painting “Architect’s Dream” at the newly opened exhibition space on the site of his second studio.  The painting apparently never leaves the Toledo Museum of Art, but Cedar Grove snagged it for this inaugural exhibition featuring Cole’s architectural work.

Thomas Cole. The Architect’s Dream. 1840.

That’s likely Cole lounging in the foreground with his architectural drawings, in this dreamscape of architectural styles.  The patron refused the painting (!), which is why it hung over Cole’s mantle in Cedar Grove through several descendants.  The patron wanted more landscape.

I reveled in this painting, with its Grand Tour of architectural stylings.  It’s truly a must see.  A rare and delightful display of Cole wit and whimsy!

Freedom, Tolerance, Acceptance

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The oldest surviving Colonial American synagogue is in Newport, representing Rhode Island’s commitment to religious, political, and personal freedom.  With the contentiousness and ridiculous attack on civil liberties by the presumed Presidential candidate, how refreshing to reconnect to principle American values.

Even George Washington thought so, writing a letter to the Hebrew congregation of Touro Synagogue stating “To Bigotry, No Sanction.”

With the Spanish Inquisition, specifically the Alhambra decree after their civil war declaring that all Spaniards must be Catholic, some Jews converted (Conversos), others pretended to convert but dangerously still practiced Judaism (Cryptos), and others fled.  This diaspora generally took Jews to Portugal, which soon found the similar need to Catholicize, and then Amsterdam, famously tolerant until the Portuguese took it over.

Fleeing the Portuguese again, the first Jews came to New York in 1654 and were barely tolerated by Peter Stuyvesant who enacted severe restrictions on Jewish involvement in civic life.  The next group decided to test Rhode Island, known for its separation of church and state.  Soon Cryptos were coming out by leaving Spain for Newport.  By 1677, the Newport group had enough demand to buy land for a burial ground.


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By 1763, the Sephardic congregation wanted a Rabbi and couldn’t find one willing to come to the hinterlands from progressive Amsterdam.  Until Isaac Touro, who hadn’t finished his training, came and became the namesake for the newly built synagogue.  The location is not off in some periphery, but adjacent to Newport’s historic center (just as its congregants were central to Newport life).

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What a beauty!  I’m a complete sucker for anything Palladio-inspired, and so was the architect Peter Harrison.  The Italian architect Palladio created pattern books, so his style spread through the European-connected cultures.  The secret was to know how to place the parts from the patterns.  Balance, symmetry, harmony are the principles.  Nice with the freedom, tolerance, and acceptance that Rhode Island embodied.

You can see how lovely the space is, with its dentil molding, arched Palladian windows, the ancient-Greek-inspired pediment, balustrades, and Ionic columns on the men’s level and Corinthian columns on the women’s balcony (yes, this was always and still is an Orthodox congregation).  Each column is a solid tree, smoothed before painted.

Harrison had to work with more than Palladio’s pattern books to design for the needs of the congregation.  He may be turning over in his grave with the asymmetrical placement of the President’s box, where important people including JFK, Eisenhower, and presumably George Washington attended services. When the President of the congregation has been a woman, she, alas, sits upstairs, not in the downstairs box.  Some things just can’t be tolerated apparently.

The raised bemah placed in the center of the space for the Rabbi is a Sephardic tradition.  Opening the ark housing the Torah and bringing it to the Rabbi for the reading involves a short procession.  This synagogue’s Torah was already 200 years old when it was brought from Amsterdam in 1763, and we got a quick glance at its browned pages.

1760s eternal light and candlesticks bought for a bar mitzvah, by the bimah

1760s eternal light and candlesticks bought for a bar mitzvah, by the bimah

Throughout the centuries and today, the pull to America has been about freedom and the chance for a better life.  What a nice reminder that at some points in our history, those ideals were gloriously met, for the greatest good of all involved.

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Old-fashioned soda

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Although I’m not a soda drinker, what a hoot to take the Avery Beverage tour, which includes making your own soda!

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Avery’s has been around since 1904, with founder Sherman Avery starting his operation when hundreds existed in Connecticut, 8 in New Britain alone.  Now the oldest surviving operation, Avery’s is sold around the U.S. and apparently in New Zealand.

2016-01-30 14.11.08The ‘factory’ is a simple one, still set up in the same barn from those early days.  The equipment only dates back to the 1950s, a heyday for soda making.  The method has stayed the same since then, too.

The equipment is jammed into one small room that comprises the factory.  The Bottle Sterilizer gives each bottle a sterilizing bath, which takes about 20 minutes.  Then the Bottling machine drops in 2 ounces of the sweetener, called syrup, with the Syruper.  The Filler machine fills each bottle with carbon dioxide, which makes the bubbles in your soda.  The Capper tops each bottle with a metal cap called the crown.  That’s it.  Not a complex process.  Even we could do it!

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So Will guided us up the steep stairs.




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Here’s where the syrup is made.  700 pounds of sugar added to well water, and you, too, can make 8000 bottles of soda.  A smaller tank is used for making batches of particular flavors, which is then gravity-fed through pipes to the first floor.


And oh what flavors they are.  You wouldn’t want to miss the Zombie Brain Juice, Dog 2016-01-30 14.04.34Drool, or Worm Ooze.  Well, maybe you would.  Those are the instant-cavity fruit drinks from the “Totally Gross Soda”  line.

Like me, you might gravitate more toward the Birch Beer, Root Beer, and Sarsaparilla.  Did you know that natural root of sarsaparilla is a carcinogen?  So artificial flavor is used, enhanced by star anise, just as root beer is flavored with vanilla, cloves, and other spices.

But such delights were literally not on the table for making our own.  Instead we maneuvered around the equipment on the sticky-sugar floor to blend our sodas with fruit flavors.

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One shot equals about an ounce, so each of us calculated the combinations to create up to 2 ounces.  One boy on our tour was proud to have made “Alien Snot”–yes another of those dreaded Totally Gross flavors.  It’s actually a combination of kiwi and blue-raspberry, which doesn’t sound gross at all (excepting the sugar content is about 1000% of the daily value).

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Putting on my Avery’s apron, ready for any spraying syrup





I stuck with the slightly tarter lemon and orange, with low quantites of syrup.  My outcome is more like a flavored seltzer.  The Virginia Darr extracts we used have been an Avery partner since 1905.  By the way, that’s how Cream Soda gets made–with vanilla extract.

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Virginia Darr extracts




So with our two ounces of syrup in the bottom of the bottles, all were crated back downstairs to the bottling machine.


Here’s a video of the filling and capping, after our exuberant countdown.

Then cold off the line:

The color combinations are so festive, aren’t they?  You may notice that in some of the bottles, the colorful syrup is at the bottom of the bottle.  Our last task was to flip the bottles three times to blend, and voila!  We have soda!

We wrapped with what Will calls “quality control testing.”  You got it, a taste test.  It’s a fizz!

The answer is 62,348.  This was calculated by weight, going on 141 caps to the pound!

The answer is 62,348. This was calculated by weight, going on 141 caps to the pound!

Avery's Lost & Found - stuff found in with the returned empties in the last 10 years

Avery’s Lost & Found – stuff  mixed in with the returned empties over the last 10 years

Bottle cap art: A for Avery's

Bottle cap art: A for Avery’s

The hand-mixed sodas back home

The hand-mixed sodas back home

The weight part is off...

Fun, old stuff at Avery’s.  The weight part is off…

...hopefully, the fate part is not!

…hopefully, the fate part is not!

Revolutionary Stuff and Stories

We’re all starting to think early Colonial, big thanks, and bigger turkeys, but today I immersed in the end of the Colonial era, with the behind-the scenes tour of Revolutionary War stuff and stories at the Connecticut Historical Society.

You may have hea2015-11-21 14.10.47rd of Nathan Hale, wishing he had more than one life to give for his country.  He certainly could have used more than one.  This Yalie made a terrible spy, hanged at age 21.  George Washington had recruited Hale to carry messages behind the lines, but he was found out either by the British Major Roberts who pretended to be a patriot or by his cousin Samuel Hale, who exposed him.  I don’t know if this diary gives any clues to his cluelessness, but it’s there to be read.



Who wouldnCHS 1896.9.1‘t love the battle of the red’s?  This red coat belonged to Redcoat Munson Hoyt, a Connecticut loyalist fighting for the British.  The coat, as you can see, is in remarkable condition, given that Munson fought while wearing it.  After the war, he moved to Canada, taking advantage of the reward for his military service of a plot of land.  That didn’t keep him out of the new United States though.  He moved back to Long Island, where he met his wife and settled.

Somehow the bright red cloak of 22-year-old Deborah Champion not only retained its brilliance, but also didn’t get in the way of her spying activities.  Red is a color that catches the eye, a 2015-11-21 14.22.37notoriously bad choice for sneaking around.  But Deborah, who carried messages from her father to George Washington, apparently was all success.  Whenever she felt threatened, she could hide under a calash bonnet, also known as a ‘bashful bonnet’, with its broad hood, disguising herself as an old lady.  Of course, we all know that old ladies couldn’t possibly be spies!

Although Connecticut didn’t see a lot of battle action as the ‘provision state’ (supplying all of George Washington’s armies’ needs), some memorable battles did happen here.  In 1781, Benedict Arnold betrayed his home state and his mentor Washington with his insider knowledge.  He knew that the signal for an enemy ship along the Connecticut River was two cannon shots, with three for a friendly ship.

The hole on the right shows where he was stabbed.

The hole on the right shows where he was stabbed.

When a British ship was sited and two shots were fired, Arnold had the third fired as well, delaying the patriot army’s response.  Also outnumbered, the patriots lost the battle at Fort Griswold at New London.  Even though the patriots surrendered, fighting continued.  Imagine this vest on Colonel William Ledyard, who in the act of surrendering his sword, was bayoneted 14 times by an unnamed British soldier.  Yikes!  So much for a gentlemanly engagement of war.

The vest came to the Historical Society, blood and all, in 1841.  A diligent curator thought the blood stains would upset the ladies and had the vest cleaned.  All curators since have been turning in their graves and sighing, including the two interns leading our tour.  Still you can clearly see where the bayonet penetrated, making this soldier’s unjust fate all the more real..

Imagine the day-to-day life of a patriot soldier.  You had to “grab your gun and go” to war, bringing your squirrel-hunting rifle, or whatever was handy.  Wear any garments you had that might keep you warm and dry.  Not like the British soldiers who were outfitted in red coats and the latest armament technology–the flint-lock rifle.

Imagine marching with a gun as big as you are!

Imagine marching miles and miles with a gun as big as you are!

You would wear your shoes out marching, so that you’d be better off barefoot.  Your clothes would be in tatters.  Why?  Not only are you carrying a 10-pound rifle, but also your bedroll and all your supplies.  With malnutrition and disease limiting growth, the gun might be as big as the man.  That was verified by the tiny red coat on display and the 5’2″ intern with a rifle.

What a life.  It did help to believe in the cause.  In Connecticut, only 50% were patriots, while 20% were loyalists.  30% probably wanted to see who would win.

Phineas Meigs’ broad-brimmed hat

Phineas Meigs would never find out.  Ostensibly the last Connecticut soldier to die in the war, his hat made it to the Historical Society in 1859 and clearly shows the entrance and exit sites of the bullet that killed him.

Age 73, this private fought in the Battle of Madison on May 19, 1782, when the war was winding down.  Meigs left his home to respond to the alarm.  Armed British ships had been chasing a merchant vessel that sailed for cover in Madison.  The resulting skirmish left one British soldier and Meigs dead, the latter close to his own home.  Someone included his hat when returning his body home.  The family clung to if for 75 years.  It’s chilling to see in person, taking the war out of the history books and onto a real guy’s head.

2015-11-21 14.30.23Maybe one of the last things he would have seen would have been his regimental flag.  Here’s a remarkable flag that was “raised 1640” and still flew in the Revolutionary War.  Its red color suggests it was a state militia flag originally, then appropriated later by the patriots.  Betsy Ross didn’t make any kind of flag in time for the war.  That’s all myth, and another story.  But this flag is the real deal.  Its silken tatters are a reminder of the remarkable stories that make the past seem like just a moment ago.



Bonus!  Non-Revolutionary-War gowns being staged for an upcoming Downton Abbey exhibit

Bonus! Non-Revolutionary-War gowns being staged for an upcoming Downton Abbey exhibit

Witches Dungeon

You gotta love these small, niche museums that are filled with passion and focus.  Like the Witches Dungeon Classic Movie Museum in Bristol, CT.

From the age of 13, Cortlandt Hull knew what he was passionate about.  The son of a Hollywood-set-painter father and seamstress mother, Hull made Zenobia, his first wax movie figure, at 13, embellished by a costume stitched by his mother and jewelry from his grandmother.  And the museum of horror movies was born.

Isn’t her movement wonderful?  I think that’s truly the meaning of special effects!

2015-10-10 19.09.48Seeing how committed Hull was to celebrating the classic horror film, he was given and collected the tools of the trade.  This “life mask” of Bella Lugosi was used for the actor’s makeup tests.  Steven Spielberg didn’t realize the value of his original ET, and here it is.

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And this Golem was used in the 1920 movie.  Wonderful!





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Carmilla, glowing in warmth (not), took us through the museum of wax figures, made by Hull throughout his life, his personal tribute to the films he loved.  I’m getting in the Halloween spirit already!




Bella Lugosi as Count Dracula

Bella Lugosi as Count Dracula

The vampire skeleton, safely tucked away in the casket, unless...someone removes the stake through its heart!

The vampire skeleton, safely tucked away in the casket, unless…someone removes the stake through its heart!

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

The science experiment gone terribly awry, with "The Fly"

The science experiment gone terribly awry, with “The Fly”

The original Werewolf.  Hull did have some Hollywood help with the hair.

The original Werewolf. Hull did have some Hollywood help with the hair.



'The Beast" from the French version.  This costume is sumptuous.

‘The Beast” from the French version. This costume is sumptuous.

Phantom of the Opera

Phantom of the Opera

In front of, and behind, the scenes

I’ve long wanted to go to the exquisite Roseland Cottage, but it is a bit out of the way.  In the “quiet corner” of Connecticut, and on a Labor Day Saturday, it took me 90 minutes to get to Woodstock and the house.  Basically, nothing in Connecticut is further away.

Roseland CottageIt is clearly worth the trip though.  What a beauty this house is, with its meticulous care inside and out and its picture-perfect gardens.

Yes, the house is Gothic Revival, not something you see everyday in historic New England.  And like it’s not too distant neighbors in Newport, this house was built as a summer cottage for wealthy New Yorkers.  So why doesn’t Roseland look like a Newport ‘cottage’?

Asymmetrical gardens

One guide today speculated that the association of the Gothic style with cathedrals and religious piety was the driving factor.  Henry Bowen, whose wealth stemmed from silk textiles before turning to insurance, was a Temperance man.  No drinking or smoking for him.  He even had his seven sons sign a Pledge of Temperance before going off to college that they would not only refrain from drinking and smoking, but also avoid gambling, going to the theater and opera, and somewhat peculiarly, boating.  Note, no mention of the fairer sex.  The boys did sign, but were, to the man, known as notorious party-ers.  A bit of rebellion anyone?

Gothic arches.  You can just make out the lincrusta, a textured linoleum made of linseed oil and wood pulp, on the walls. That’s not wallpaper.

Anyhow, the pointed arches of the Gothic style, for the exterior styling and interior windows and doorways, even in the servant areas, suggest that Bowen wanted to remind all householders of aspirational Christian values to inspire each to live a better life.  An intriguing thought.

The stained glass looks like it’s right out of 1960s Pop, but is original to the house’s 1846 origins.

Our guide said that Bowen was an abolitionist, and I asked whether he was bothered by working in textiles and doing business with the South that clearly relied on enslaved labor.  She said he stated, “my goods are for sale, not my conscience.”  Hmmm.  I’m not sure that addresses the issue, if he profited off of the system.

Regardless, the Civil War and the resulting Reconstruction era meant that his Southern clients were unable to pay his bills.  He had to close his business and shifted his energies to insurance, where he built a billion dollar business.  I’m sure that was none too clean either.

But I’m not here to debate the morals of a pious, rich man.  Instead I enjoy his house.

Apparently, it’s always been pink, as you see it, with perhaps a reference to rose color, the rose being his first wife’s favorite flower.  She konked after giving him 10 kids, and he married again, leading to one more son.  By this time, after the Civil War, he was uber-wealthy and attracted U.S. Presidents to visit his hometown of Woodstock and stay with him at the cottage.

Roseland was known for its July 4 celebrations.  Each year, the party was so huge that it spilled out from the house and into the park Bowen built for his entertainments.  Voluminous amounts of bunting decorated the grounds.  Forget the barbecue.  You received your pretty little printed brochure listing all the lectures taking place under the tent and when you could catch the day-time fireworks–a Japanese technology.  You could enjoy a pink lemonade while strolling through what the New York Times called a “fairy garden,” if you were one of the lucky 1000 or so people who began coming, along with the sitting President.  Of course, there were fireworks at night, too.

President Grant, during his 1870 visit also learned a new skill.  Bowling.  The house features a bowling alley completely made of wood.  The ball and pins were made of wood, too.  Grant had never bowled before, and on his first try, he got a strike.  So delighted was he that he broke out a cigar.  Bowen wasn’t having it and shooed the president outside to smoke.

Even the outbuildings (ice house and privies) had Gothic styling

Even the outbuildings (ice house and privies) had Gothic styling


Also outside was a new privy, erected for a presidential visit.  Since you know I’m already familiar with Connecticut’s privies, I can knowledgeably comment that these were pretty high end.  A wall separated the holes, and the president could close the door for some additional, ahem, privy.  These niceties were not available in Roseland’s indoor privies.

Such were the details learned on the behind-the-scenes tour.  We crawled around the cellar, shining our flashlights to see early construction (and a dead mouse) and marveled at the height of the attic rafters and their intricate carpentry.  We slithered down creaky staircases, imagining servants carrying tea trays.  We wondered how the very heavy furniture in the attic got there, other than on the backs of servants up narrow stairways.  We saw how water for baths upstairs had to be pumped up three flights from the cellar cistern.  Sheesh.  Forget “Downton Abbey.” Servant’s lives were impossibly hard.

What they apparently did so well was make the life upstairs beautiful and seemingly effortless.  Perhaps pride (and the privies) were enough reason to stay with the Bowens.  One servant worked for the family for over 50 years!  Imagine…

Growing Old Gracefully

As I’ve been thinking about growing old gracefully, examples pop up everywhere I look.

Today, I visited the historic house where Valerie is on the Board.  The Ward-Heitman House is the oldest in West Haven, built around 1684.  Unlike so many historic homes that find themselves in the way, this one has been allowed to age gracefully in place.  It hasn’t been moved or changed since the early 20th Century.

1 of 5 still-working fireplaces

1 of 5 still-working fireplaces

The house even survived the Revolutionary War when the British attacked West Haven, seemingly because the owners were Loyalists and Church of England.  Ultimately, they were on the losing side, of course,  My guide didn’t comment if that’s why there was a change of ownership.

Original front room, with a Colonial color scheme

Original front room, with a Colonial color scheme

Lydia and her brothers

Louisa and her brothers

The house was built as a stock 2-over-2, two rooms down, two rooms up, until later generations added on for their own purposes.  Louisa Ward married a Heitmann, merging the two families in the house.  While her seafaring brothers (and husband?) were at sea, she decided to build an addition, a proverbial one-room schoolhouse, called a “Dame’s School.”  I don’t have a good explanation for the term, but we can speculate.

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Teacher’s desk complete with a geography book, class bell, hickory switch, and apple

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Every classroom had to have its George Washington picture











At the same time, out of one of the original downstairs rooms from the 2×2 days, the owners ran boutique businesses, first an antiques store, then a tea room.  Not at all uncommon in the early 20th century and through the Depression.

The Ward-Heitmann House seems to have a lot of unanswered questions from its history, but A.R. Gurney wraps up all the questions in his play “Love and Money” quite neatly.  In its current production at the Westport Country Playhouse, the program quotes Gurney, now 84 years old, as thinking this was his last play.  But, he states, the old saying is that Jews say goodbye and then don’t leave, so he’s going to become Jewish and write a couple more.  Power to him!

And this one has legs, moving after tonight’s performance to Signature Theatre Off Broadway, to open with the same cast and set at the end of the month.  Signature is happy to call it their Wold Premier, even as it started here in Connecticut.

“Love and Money” addresses issues Gurney seems to have on him mind–principally, how to be a WASP, as he and his lead character self-define, in an ever-diversifying America.  With his trademark, gentle humor and tight, fast-paced writing, he does it again.  Gives us a smartly-conceived, easy-to-swallow take on a big question.

Cornelia, the character at the heart of this play, has certainly aged with verve, as you’ll see in this video, and the actor Maureen Anderman had a great moment of sharp ad lib.

At one point, the lights went completely off.  The stage was utterly dark.  Anderman said, “I guess we forgot to pay the light bill.”  It was so in character that the audience laughed appreciatively and waited for the play to continue.

Until we learned it wouldn’t.  Some quirk in the lighting board had to be reset, not a new problem at the theater apparently.  The actors had left the stage, and we were entertained by the stage manager with a congenial to-and-fro with the audience, until the lights were back in order.  Then the play picked up just as it left off, not a beat missed, all clearly pros.

Plot-wise, while I was thinking, “uh oh, here comes ‘Six Degrees of Separation’,” Gurney allows Cornelia to out-con the con and have great fun with everyone doing it.  She sums up his apparent philosophy at the end.  She ad libs again, this time in character, about their dinner party for the evening, with a diverse group of guests “who will all do the dishes.”   The play ends as she declares it an opportunity for everyone to get along just fine.

And so she does, and the Ward-Heitmann House does, and we do, too.  Get along just fine, as we age with grace.

Local Passions

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And now for something completely Colonial.  As a belated celebration for Penny’s birthday, we went to the Pardee-Morris House, for a taste of Colonial history…and beer.

The house dates back to 1750, when the Amos Morris family was making its fortune in flax and with their salt works.  Its location was auspicious, on LIghthouse Road on Long Island Sound, convenient for shipping goods.  This house was no rough-and-tumble shack.

Look at the size of this fireplace.  2015-08-02 15.35.24Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lust after such a thing, because, after all, to cook here, you’d have to walk around the fire.  Fireplace cooking was the second leading cause of Colonial women’s deaths, after childbirth.  Cooking was a dangerous activity!

The house didn’t have just one cooking fireplace, but three.

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Here’s a later iteration that’s a tidge safer.  Narrower and with a separate, high bake oven, technology was definitely improving.

This room also features the extra-wide “coffin door,” for bringing your dead in and out.  Cooking and death.  They just seem to be linked, as prevalent companions in Colonial life.

2015-08-02 15.39.28You can tell how spartan the house is now, but in its day, this was one fancy place.  It featured a central hall, creating a larger house and a show-off place for wealth.  And then there’s that third kitchen on the other side of the house.  It was used in the summer, to keep the cooking heat away from the rest of the living space, separated by a breezeway.

In between was the staircase to the ballroom.  Not a fancy staircase, but still besting what anyone else had at the time, I’m sure.  Upstairs, in that big open room we couldn’t access, we could still peek up and see the chandeliers.  Again not elegant, but a step up from oil lamps.

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Our guide was in love with the tea-brick, the way tea was shipped from China.  One brick?  About 200 cups.  Densely packed tea leaves, pressed 2015-08-02 15.37.07in a mold to achieve pretty patterns, and the black tea aroma lingers.

As a tea fan, I loved the brick, but also this lemon press.  I’d like to have that right now to make some lemonade, contemporary or Colonial.

So that’s your well-equipped kitchen in a wealthy New Haven house.  That wealth, and the ability to provide supplies, is what got both Amos Morris Senior and Junior in trouble.

Here comes the Revolutionary War.  The Morris father and son provide the rebel soldiers with supplies.  The British are not going to take this

Prosperous Amos Morris II

Prosperous Amos Morris II

too lightly.  They capture the Morris’ and throw them in jail and burn this house to the ground.

The year–1779.

By 1780, the son had apparently escaped and the father was released, to rebuild the house as we see it today.  The 1750 fireplaces survived, as did some beams.  The rest you can think of as a Colonial renovation.

Remarkably, the Morris family lived in the house until 1915, even doing the late 19th century thing of running a boarding house to make ends meet.  Pardee bought the house with the intention of creating a Colonial museum, but died before pulling it off.  He left it to the New Haven Museum, which has had it for over 100 years.  A caretaker stayed in the house until 15 years ago, and now, it is in the shape as you see it.

First up, save the roof.  I hope they can manage the money to do more with this house that tells such an interesting story.

2015-08-02 15.54.35After the hard work of touring the house, it was time for Penny and me to learn about Connecticut beer, from the Morris period to today.

Author and beer-columnist Will Siss told us all.  New Haven was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony initially, and the English settlers loved their ale.  Of the two kinds of beer, ale and lager, ale was easier to make, faster to ferment, and successfully brewed at warmer temperatures.  Colonial women were the typical brewers, making ale at home.  Ale was necessary at a time when water wasn’t safe to drink.  Boiling the water to brew beer also killed off the bacteria.

In 1659, New Haven had its first “Ordinary” or tavern, a social place to meet, drink the local brew, and exchange news.  By 1885, New Haven had 8 breweries, each with its own personality and neighborhood following.  German immigrants were contributors to the growth of the brewing world here, and they became known for the lagers, which required refrigeration and were crisp, cold, and clear.  Of course, some breweries became huge, like Budweiser.  But others held that local sway.

With drink comes the inevitable backlash.  Lack of responsible drinking fueled the mid- 19th century Temperance movement, of which the Hartford Beechers were key advocates.  Connecticut attempted a state-wide ban on drinking in 1854 (when the Morris house was 100 years old).  Well, that didn’t work.  By 1872, the state tried the “local option” law, where each town could vote ‘wet’ or ‘dry.’  This approach was received pretty well in the country, with one town, Bridgewater, holding out until last year.  But the city dwellers wouldn’t have that law either.

With Prohibition and the rise of speakeasies, crime and public drunkenness actually increased.  Repeal in 1933 brought the slow resurgence of breweries.  Jimmy Carter helped the cause (and Billy Beer brewed by his brother) by passing a law that increased the allowed amount of production that could still be labeled ‘home brewing.’

And so we go full circle.  Back to highly localized, boutique breweries, that can be enjoyed in local restaurants and bars, just like the Colonials did.  We got to taste several samples from two new breweries.  Erector Brewing Collective is just getting started, with an IPA (India Pale Ale) and a lager, both strong and bitter.  Penny called the lager chocolatety.  Now that’s a civilized taste bud for you.

I preferred the four beers by Black Hog Brewing Company from Oxford, CT.  Before you ask, black hogs are a kind of pig you will find in the Berkshires.  There’s this link to your barbecue (of the pig) and beer…  Okay.  Now that we’re past that, Penny and I shared tastes of four kinds of Black Hog beer: one made with rye, another with oatmeal, the third with ginger, and their new beer, with a grapefruit peel finish (not pictured).

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The lesson from this day?  Stick to your passion, whether it’s letting your house be burned down for a cause or blending your brew with fruit.  Do it!

Ingenuity and Als ik Kan

Ingenuity can take so many forms, and I encountered several today in my adventures in New Jersey.  The Canal Day celebration in Historic Waterloo Village gave me the impetus to finally make it to the Stickley and Automaton Museums.  What ingenuity all.

That bell-shaped think is the elk shoulder bone for the hoe

That bell-shaped think is the elk shoulder bone for the hoe

I started by touring the recreated Lenni Lenape village on the same grounds as the Waterloo Village, getting a sense of their ingenuity.  An elk shoulder bone becomes a hoe.  Clay becomes the longhouse.  If you’re looking for a gift for your mother, look no further than a long, flat stone.  It makes a wonderful griddle.  The Three Sisters take care of the Lenni Lenape.  Beans, corn, and squash are the Three Sisters.  Corn grows tall and strong, beans give a hug, and squash can go a long time without water.

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Canal Day turns out to be an opportunity to see the rescue of a mostly intact historic village, left to fall to pieces.  Recent state money gives this place a chance, and I have my fingers crossed.

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Smith mansion needs repair

I arrived early, so didn’t have to fight any crowds at the festival, which included a pontoon boat ride on the canal.  The village is at the midpoint of the 102.5 mile Morris Canal that opened in 1831 and stretched from the Hudson to the Delaware River.  Great shortcut for moving goods through the early Republic, so fortunes were at the ready.

One fellow, Smith, owned the smithy, the hotel, the general store, and the grist and saw mills, so basically the entire village.  He showed off his wealth by building a Victorian-style mansion, see above.

1870s chic modeled by Miss Sharon

1870s chic modeled by Miss Sharon

By the Civil War and its aftermath, the town was booming.  Sharon Kuechelmann told me how the Smith women would want to be seen in the latest fashions.  You can see the gorgeous dress she’s wearing, advertising her seamstress skills.

I didn’t realize that Singer had been around since 1851.  The better story comes with the ingenuity of Elias Howe, Jr., who patented an interlocking stitch accomplished on a machine.  When he didn’t have much luck selling his invention in the US, he went to Europe, and found all kinds of patent infringement, including by Singer, upon his return.  His successful suit resulted in an award of $25 for every sewing machine sold by all the makers, until the patent expired.  There is some justice in the world.

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Miss Sharon at her beloved White Rotary

Singer became the thing because, when sewing machines could cost $100 and the average annual wage was $500, how could anyone afford a machine?  Singer initiated the installment plan, like the first credit card.  Still Sharon prefers her White Rotary, less temperamental.  It sews like “greased glass,” she tells me.  it will sew any weight or thickness, even carpet, compared to a contemporary plastic model.  The vintage works much better.

Note the pin cushion along with the Mary Potts iron

Note the pin cushion along with the Mary Potts iron





And here’s the Mary Potts iron.  New to me, as I don’t believe in ironing, but the Mary Potts makes a lot of sense.  She invented the removable wood handle.  So now, you can heat up your four or five irons on the fire, all at the same time, and attach your cool wooden handle and work right through all the irons you got hot.  Pretty clever time saver, Mary Potts!  Perfect for cotton, not so great for polyester, as you can’t control the heat on a Mary Potts.  Keep that in mind when you’re ironing, but still, pretty ingenious.

Gustav Stickley was clever, too. His simple craftsmen furniture answered a need after a typhoid epidemic.  Turns out, the streamlined furniture was easy to keep clean.  Very appealing.  He had a hit on his hands, and along with clever merchandising–the catalog–he created beautiful and affordable furniture that made him a wealthy man.

2015-07-25 12.24.54Not far from Waterloo Village is the Stickley Museum, the house and 650 acres Stickley intended as a boys school–his way of giving back.  There, students would get general education, yes, but also learn a craft.  They’d never be without a way to earn a living.  Great idea, except tuition was $1000 per student.  Yes, really!  Mr. Stickley was none too clever with money, as evidenced by the outrageous tuition, so he never got the school going.  Instead he moved his family into the house he designed and built, while continuing to commute into Manhattan for his showroom, store, and restaurant.

The formal front entrance

The formal front entrance

Soon his working farm there was generating vegetables, fruit, eggs, and cheese for the restaurant, carted to the city seven days a week.

The house and land were meant as Stickley’s own Utopia, and he did wander in the woods each day after working in New York.  He had a communal dream of a Craftsman Village.  But money literally doesn’t grow on trees, or in fields, and five years after moving in, in 1916, Stickley went bankrupt.  The end of the dream.

The house and land were sold for $100,000, and apparently, oppressed by that dark interior that was so Stickley, the new owners whitewashed the log walls.  It took the restorers five years to remove that whitewash and resurrect Stickley’s vision of bringing the outdoors inside.  Each window is framed like a picture frame, with views that change seasonally.  No art adorns the walls and isn’t needed with the captured nature.  The color palette of brown, gold, and green was deepened by the lighting strategy of using 20 watt bulbs to simulate candlelight.  I can tell you, on this bright day, the current 60 watt bulbs still make for a dim interior.

It is evocative though of the Craftsman style that is Stickley, a man as obsessive about details as Frank Lloyd Wright.  He dictated the color palette, all the furniture, and its placement in his four daughters’ bedroom they shared.  But they must have tolerated it because they had their own private bathroom–a happy luxury!

I liked how each room, long and narrow, was multipurpose.  One featured the library, parlor, and sitting room.  The other the dining room, serving area, and the Inglenook for relaxing, all in one.  The furniture was all available for sale in his catalog or the showroom.  An Eastman Chair went for $58.50 in the catalog.  Today?  Shwew!

I liked the high-backed ‘settle’, which I guess was meant to settle into, in front of the fire, with the high back holding in the heat.  The $3 per year subscription to Craftsman magazine came with a free set of blueprints for a Stickley house.  Seems like a good deal to me!

It was Stickley’s shop mark Als ik Kan, or All I Can, from either the Dutch or Flemish, that spoke most to me.  As good a mantra as I can imagine–to do All I Can.

Als ik Kan is completely in evidence in the Guinness Collection of Automata and music boxes at the Morris Museum.  Call me enchanted.  You know I love old windup toys.  These are the creme de la creme.

2015-07-25 14.07.42Our demonstration started with a bit of chronology.  Although music boxes had been around for centuries, only royalty could afford them.  By the early 1800s, clock and watch shops got into making pipe or barrel organs, so that now a great mass of wealthy people could have music on demand.

Here you see the drum or barrel of the organ, the brass cylinder, that has pin holes meticulously drilled in by hand, generally by women. Hand cranking operates the bellows that rotates the drum over a steel-toothed comb.  Got that?  I can tell you, this London-made music box still sounds great, 200 years later, with its pipes, triangle, and drum.  Take a listen:

The sound can be altered with the stops.  So by “pulling out all the stops” (get it?), you get full sound.

Innovations continued, so that the size decreased, and elements were mass produced bringing the price down some.  By the 1880s, this German disc music box cost $285 at the time.  Still a lot of money.

Still using a windup start, now we have a punched metal disc.  With “all the bells and whistles.”  Guess who got an idea from the removable discs?  Yes, Thomas Edison, and the phonograph goes a long way to putting the music box world out of business.

Not to worry.  By 1900, you could get an organette, widely available by saving your soap box tops or for $3.50 in the Sears Roebuck catalog.  Top of the line?  $15.

2015-07-25 14.41.19The French have a different idea.  They produce one-of-a-kind, competition, living dolls.  Yes, automatons were popular for the elite of Paris from about 1850 to 1900, and collectors vied to get these unique pieces.  The makers were from clock and watch stores, no longer competing with factory-made, music box manufacturers.  Now they vied to top each other with popular motifs like street performers, magicians, animals, ‘exotic’ foreigners, royalty made into monkeys, and fairy tale figures.

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Some had music, some not. But each is a work of art in and of itself.  I was mesmerized by each one.

Here’s a modern automaton that shows a bit of how they work.  For those of you watching “Humans” this summer, you’ll be interested in the fact that these figures, these living dolls are precursors to robots.


Which takes us to the most intricate of robotics.  Here’s an 1890s trapeze artist.  All the ‘energy’ runs up a rung of the ladder to the shoulder.  Pretty incredible.

And the sketch artist, who turns his book to us to show us what he’s done, then proceeds to sketch you.

The tour wrapped with a look at some of the larger Fair Organs and learning how they work by peeking inside.  This Limonaire Brothers organ, with 115 pipes, is only 5′ across.  One in a private Connecticut home is 30′ across.  Yikes.  Still, you can tell how loud this one is.  To work outside, the punch roller is replaced by the sturdier, thick punch card book, featuring only one song.  Now electric, the organ works by feeding the book through to read the punch card.  Now start thinking computer.

I know the video is dark, but hopefully you get a sense of just how fun this and all the other wonders of this day were.  Ingenuity is everywhere.  Als ik Kan.  A call for us to do All We Can to create and bring our genius to the world!


Bridges over placid water

2015-07-17 10.57.28Your intrepid blogger braved the early morning start to walk through the construction battle zone that has raged for years in New Haven:  the confluence of 3 highways (including the evil I95) over a tiny, placid river called the Quinnipiac.  The massive bridge needed to make all this highway havoc come together spaghettis over the Q River, and the construction that started in 2009 to improve the chaos will finally wrap up late next year.

Although this could be interpreted...

Although this could be interpreted…



Given the opportunity to try to understand it all, I joined a meet-up group of hearty souls, some with much better understanding of engineering that I could ever have.  But I reveled in the photo ops.  The detritus.  The equipment.  The patterns.  I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

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I asked about the noise working on site and was informed that the traffic makes worse noise than the equipment.  Regardless, the geese don’t seem to mind a bit.


Surprise Whimsy and Delight

Carolyn and I visited the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments and what a surprise this place is.

Russian Bassoon


Yes, there’s your basic snake-headed, 1820s Russian bassoon and of course, the bell in the shape of a carp.  You can see those, well, just about nowhere else in the world, I imagine.

This carp-shaped bell apparently has an “ugly” sound when rattled

Who wouldn’t be enchanted by this peacock instrument from South India?  You play it by sitting on the floor by the peacock, resting the long tail of the instrument on your shoulder to accompany women’s dances.

You know I love a good connection to Connecticut history.  Today, we learned about the old Connecticut woodworking tradition and its intersection with woodwinds.  Yes, those Colonials and early Nationals loved their fifes, flutes, and clarinets.

Here's your instruction manual, so you can learn to play

Here’s your instruction manual, so you can learn to play

In the 1750s, a German wood turner immigrated to New York and worked in the instrument trade.  By 1800, the first ad for instruments by a professional firm appeared in a Hartford newspaper.  Clockmakers, written about in this blog post, also turned their hands to instrument construction.  Hopkins spent ten years from 1828 to 1838 making woodwinds as well as clocks.

Curator Susan Thompson, herself an oboist, told us that woodwinds were played at home for pleasure, to accompany socials and dances, and in military bands.  The violin was the most popular home instrument, but flutes were right up there.

Elephant calling bell


The bells collection was ear-opening for me.  I hadn’t really thought about this, but surely, we all need a bell to call in our elephants.

And we have the 19th-century Queen Elizabeth I bell.


Queen Elizabeth 1 bell









The anonymous figure bells are just charming, too.  Here’s an English, 19th century bell.  Can’t you just hear the homemaker calling in the hoards for lunch?

And this lovely little Art Nouveau bell by H. Pernot, c1900.  Sweet!


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My favorite was the Devil’s Bell.  I’m not sure if we’re ringing to summon or repel the Devil.  Hmmm.





Now to the category of gorgeous.

What about this 1702 German-made guitar by Joachim Tielke, celebrating love?

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a close look at the side, with its French sayings about love

And this dreamboat of a harp from around 1850.

We called him the dreaming Prince

We called him the dreaming Prince


16th century Italian lute

1785 Lute-Guitar by Jean Charles











2015-05-27 14.09.21We got a wonderful tour of the keyboard collection from mezzo-soprano Kelly Hill, doing a multi-year internship here.

She explained that keyboards make sound from either pipes or strings.

She then demonstrated how this Chamber Organ works.  You either pump the pedal or have an able, likely child, assistant pull on a leather strap on the side to activate the bellows that project the notes.  You can also change the tone of the sound by shifting from “diapaison” or organ sound to “flauta” or flute.  Kelly wasn’t able to demonstrate that, but you can see how it works clearly below


Kelly pulls on the strap to depress the pedal, which operates the bellows

Kelly pulls on the strap to depress the pedal, which operates the bellows

To change the tone

To change the tone











She then took us through the development of the stringed keyboards, from the relatively simple clavichord to the much more complex harpsichord.

The clavichord was home or rehearsal-type instrument, because its sound is muted.  Kelly asked us to imagine Bach with his household full of children.  He could play the clavichord without upsetting sleep patterns.  And it was the flirtatious instrument, as the gentleman caller would have to sit quite close to the lady playing in order to hear properly.

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Kelly pulled out pieces from this ornate and intricate harpsichord, with its double keyboards that generate more sound.  We then examined these pieces, including a plucker made from a crow’s quill.  See it here?

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Plucked stringed instruments first gained popularity because of the love of French and Italian lute music.  The development of the harpsichord then opened up concert-level performances.

By the way, the regular keys are black and the minor keys are in white on many of these early instruments.  Why?  Well, you start with your wood key, and yes, this could warp, which would mess with your playing.  Then you covered it with either ebony or ivory.  If ebony was less expensive, then you used it for the majority of the keys.  Makes sense.  Early on, the number of keys and the color of the keys were not standardized.  What was important was the ’emotion’ of the sound.

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When pianos came in, particularly in Vienna, you get early experiments with the upright piano.  What about this gorgeous swan-headed pyramid?




There are many treasures in this collection, so you’ll have to visit in person or go to the informative website to learn more.  I’ll leave you with my favorite — this 1591 Flemish, ‘mother-and-child’ Virginal.

The oldest instrument in the collection

The keyboard on the left can actually slide out, to play elsewhere or to stack on top of the keyboard on the right for double-keyboard playing.  The mother-and-child keyboards also invite duets.
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The decoration is adorable.  Kelly explained that for artists, decorating an instrument was not a top drawer commission, and the painters remained anonymous.  So often the makers of the instrument would find buddies in the tavern to come work on the decoration in their spare time.  Many hands might decorate one instrument.  Still this one comes together and tells a fun musical story.

The satyr Pan challenges Apollo to a musical duel.  Pan was known for his flute playing, but Apollo was the chief musician of the gods.  This was some challenge.  They needed a fair and wise judge and chose Tmolis, the god of mountains, since mountains were the ultimate of wisdom.

Well, birds sang when Pan played, but ladies swooned with Apollo.  King Midas sides with Pan as the better performer.  Not so wise, as Apollo gave him donkey ears, which you may be able to make out alongside his crown.

Who won the contest?  That hardly matters.  We all do when the music plays on!

Heritage Weekend

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On this crisp spring day, Wethersfield had its local Memorial Day parade, but what’s that?  A fife-and-drum corps and Revolutionary War soldiers marching alongside the Cub Scouts and Rotary?  Just who is Colonel John Chester that his name should appear on these drums?

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These are big questions, and there are no easy answers.  But I can assure you that today in Historic Wethersfield was almost completely about the Revolutionary War, marked through its annual Heritage Weekend.

You’ve seen it all before.  You know, the troops line up opposite and shoot each other like ducks in a carnival game.

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Women write in their diaries with lamp oil for ink.

Your pouch can get repaired by the leatherman, who adroitly works two needles at once.

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The cannon is shot periodically with a woman to help load.



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The apothecary will entice you with his curious tools.

And there are the horses from the Dragoons.



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The day was perfect for spinning outside.

And refreshments over the open field fire.

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All the stuff you encounter all the time.

Before heading off to do my duty at the Hurlbut-Dunham House though, I became entranced with the minuteae of the militia.  That is, the clothes.

I admit I didn’t know the difference between the militia and the Continental Army.  Now, shwew, I do.

A militia men saluting the soldiers on parade

A militia men saluting the soldiers on parade

Membership in the militia was mandatory for all men from age 16 to 60.  Wow.  This wasn’t a draft situation.  You just did it.  Or else.  If your town or village was threatened, your militia did its duty.  Read, Lexington and Concord.

If you really like taking on the enemy, then you made your job the Continental Army.  Like our Army today, participation was a choice, and you got paid to fight.  You marched and marched and marched to wherever the next skirmish or battle took place.  You want to see the world, you join the army.  Defending your home?  That’s when you stay at home and do the militia.

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Now everyone in that period was a farmer.  If you were a lawyer, you were a farmer, too.  So when called, you put on your very best coat to go fight with the militia.  Why?  We don’t know.  But the consensus here was that if you were killed, then you looked good doing it.

A militia officer in his fine blue coat, gaiters, and gorgette

A militia officer in his fine blue coat, gaiters, and gorgette

Most men wore shoes, then added matching-colored leather gaiters over their pants, so they looked like they were wearing boots.  The officers wore boots.  The gaiters helped when wading through mud, too.

Officers got the extras.  Whether in the militia or in the army, officers wore a gorgette.  This metal piece was a remnant from medieval fighting, when knights flung themselves at each other on horseback attacking with spears.  The metal was placed at your throat to protect it from piercing. Yikes!  So it’s a piece of armor.  Here and then, it was honorary and a signifier of status.

Note the red sash and red ribbon on his hat

Note the red sash and red ribbon on his hat

Officers also wore red, like the ribbon on this Adjutant’s hat. What’s an adjutant?  A secretary.  A great way to keep the older officers’ knowledge and experience in military combat.

And the sash.  Oh my.  The sash was red, not for visibility as I guessed, but in case the officer was wounded in battle.  The sash was long enough that his attendants could open it up and carry him away from the action on the sash as a stretcher, and his blood wouldn’t show.  We wouldn’t want to panic the soldiers.

Well, no, but surely, the soldiers could figure out what it meant when the red sash was unfurled, and their officer was carried off the field of battle.,

This officer is part of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).  He’s been doing his genealogy and has traced it back to 600 C.E.  I can go back about 125 years and am delighted to do that.

Anyway, the SAR in Connecticut existed a full year before there was a DAR–Daughters of the American Revolution.  During that year, 88 women were members of the SAR.  I like that idea much better than the segregated groups that have emerged and entrenched.

Now, there’s even a Children of the American Revolution.  These children are also DAR or SAR, but as children learn the how to’s of their ancestors.

Ah, we’ve answered one big, burning question.  Those children marching in today’s parade were CAR, building their skills, so some day, they can shoot muskets and cannons at each other.  Long live the traditions!

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Even the tradition of, yes, the red onion–developed here and traded out of Wethersfield’s working waterfront.

Women’s furniture

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Although I hadn’t really thought of furniture this way before, certain pieces are gendered.  In particular, I want to the Yale University Art Gallery‘s furniture storage area to immerse in women’s furniture–objects that tell us something about women’s lives–from the Colonial period.



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We have often admired painted chests that women built their Hopes on, hopes for marriage that would come from a good dowry (textiles, china, and other movable objects).  The portable stuff in her Hope Chest would stay with her if she was widowed and pass to her daughter, to improve her chances.

You may make out the initials J and P on this chest-with-drawer from the late 17th century.  Joanna Porter was not John Marsh’s first wife when she married him in 1704, and she wasn’t his last.  From inventory, we know the daughter they had together inherited her mother’s clothing, and perhaps this chest.  Known as a stem-and-tulip motif, the carving likely referred back to the maypole festivities in rural England.  All about fertility.

2015-03-25 13.07.31Women’s roles change a bit with the development of niceties like this tea table.  Although made of cherry, a lesser wood to a mahogany that might be found on a Philadelphia piece, this scallop or pie-crust style tea table says so much about the changes in lifestyle.  Now deportment matters.  Personal cleanliness typified the new manners of a more affluent colony, and as the price of tea dropped, more classes could afford it.  So a table like this would set you apart.  Not only would you have the leisure to stop and drink tea, but you knew the right people, including men, to come join you and admire your expensive tea set and table.

And here’s where the trouble starts.  Tea tables represented something naughty in society–the emerging power of women.  Caused by many social factors, some men just couldn’t deal with it.  Unlike the puritan spinning wheel of female virtue and fertility, the tea table allowed not just socializing between the sexes, but also the chance to show off your fashions and flirt.  Oh my!

All virtue!

All virtue!









A Harlot's Progress, British Museum

A Harlot’s Progress, British Museum, oh my!

How much better for your to apply your skills to the domestic arts.  That’s what your education would be all about–how to attract a husband.  Yes, you need to read and write and do basic math to run your household, but perhaps even more important, you need to sing, dance, perform music, and make art.

Plus do your needlework.  And how much better that would look pulled out of this graceful, 1808 2015-03-25 13.19.29kidney-shaped work table from Philadelphia.  This is high style and function combined.  Yes, you could move it easily to catch the light.  But that shape.  Well, that’s more than your average sewing kit.  Here you even see it with its original silk swag.  The shape was meant to complement your lovely figure, as you tee hee with your suitor in the parlor.  Show off all your advantages!

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A stitched cover like this 1753 flame-stitched, horsehair-stuffed seat would also be shown off in the best parlor and to suitors.  Let’s hope Abigail Porter from Wethersfield, CT, who made it, was successful.  She couldn’t earn a living any other way.




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You might also demonstrate your painterly skills on a what-not table like this darling thing.  You could use a pattern book, such as the Ladies Amusement Book, to choose your pattern for painting or needlework.  You would trace the pattern with chalk or graphite (pencil), then paint it in with watercolor or ink.  Voila!



A page from the Ladies Amusement Book

A page from the Ladies Amusement Book

The curators think these bunnies were painted freehand, since they are ‘naive.’  I think they are charming and would certainly be an ’emblem of accomplishment’ if I were able to paint such.  Which I can’t.

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Later in the 19th century, women’s furniture types grew with women’s expanding roles.  A beautiful writing desk like this tambour-door gem provided you a quiet space for writing correspondence or reading, indicative that academic subjects were now part of a girl’s education.  And perhaps most important, the desk locks.  Ah, for some privacy…

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Love letter to a theater

The new HVAC system all lit up

The new HVAC system all lit up

The Shubert Theater in New Haven is 100 years old and is being celebrated in a bunch of ways–pivotally, with a facelift of the facility.  New HVAC, a new black box theater, extension of the front to the curb, and restoring the historic marquee.  Can hardly wait to see that!

Now you know me.  I’m in there partying with the historians and actors.  A few weeks ago, I went to Colin Caplan‘s talk on the history of theater in New Haven.  And it’s rich indeed.  So many stories.  Almost every street had a theater, and they all had a story.
In the 1800s, theatrical events were associated with churches.  Believe it or not, Minstrel shows were pseudo-religious.  Soon, say by the 1840s, public assembly halls became the site for public entertainment like theatricals and dances. My favorite was the Livonia Temple of Music which sold pianos and had a music hall upstairs.  In New Haven, all these assembly halls have been torn down or otherwise lost.
The one where Lincoln spoke in 1860 before becoming President has become a bowling alley.  I don’t know what to say about that.  And Dickens, who visited New Haven in 1868, spoke at the opera house which burned to the ground in the 1920s.  Fire was a major theater killer.  Fire proof construction methods, like using steel, started to make a difference.
With job growth came immigrants and the new development of suburbs.  Theaters were everywhere,  I love the idea of the gas station that became an entertainment space at night.  Halls sprung up that catered to particular groups.  The Germania seated 600 and was an early version, built in 1868, that catered to their particular community.
The Northern Italian immigrant Sylvester Poli, a sculptor by trade, became a theater impresario.  In 1893, he opened his first theater, devoted to vaudeville.  Soon he head theaters all through the northeast.  Talk about immigrant success!  And that was based on making the theater affordable for everyone of any income  level.  He built huge palaces seating 2500, such as Poli’s Palace and Carl’s Opera House, which became the Hyperion Theater that showed movies.  This theater-to-movie-palace conversion became a trend in the early 20th century.
Yale was not to be left out.  Woolsey Hall was built in 1901 for the 200th anniversary of the university and was also home for the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.  It houses the largest organ in the world and in the rotunda, a war memorial.  And apparently, it has a ghost.  Why not?  What ghost wouldn’t want to live there?
When the halls converted to movie palaces, people would go to their community, and later suburban, theater during the week, then on Saturday night, go downtown to Woolsey or the Hyperion or one of the other theaters, like the Shubert.
The Shubert Theater was famous for launching plays and musicals to Broadway.  New Haven was already known for a try-out town before a New York run, but now the stakes escalated.  At the Shubert, the notable flop Away We Go! was rewritten by Rodgers and Hammerstein as Oklahoma!  They went on to launch their big shows out of New Haven.  Marlon Brando was barely a mention on the poster of A Streetcar Named Desire in New Haven.  All the big stars played the Shubert, hoping for success in their show to propel on to Broadway.
The Shubert was started by Eastern European Jewish brothers who went on to operate a thousand theaters.  When it was built in 1914, the Shubert was considered ultra modern.  What made it so was the new concept of vertical seating design.  Everyone could have a good seat, when your row rises slightly over the row in front.  We take this for granted, but at the time, the Shubert became a model for new theater construction.
To further celebrate the Shubert, I went to A Broken Umbrella production.  This group writes original, site-specific shows centered on New Haven history.  I’ve seen fun shows on bicycles, corsets, and the Erector Set.  Of course, I was all over the original musical “Seen Change” about the Shubert.
Seen Change!
The original score is a jazzy upbeat thing, punctuated by some pretty great tap dancing.  The plot, like any good musical, is thin.  A stagehand knocks over the ghost light–that light that is always lit in the theater.  Oh no!  Now strange things start happening, as people from the Shubert’s distant past come to life and together, all try to help a composer-lyricist finish a musical started in 1922.
Taft Hotel with its Tiffany glass dome

Taft Hotel with its Tiffany glass dome

The show moves around, starting in the lobby, then moving to the Taft Hotel next door, with its speakeasy past.  The actors stayed here, using the back passage to get to the Shubert, avoiding adoring crowds.  The show’s final act takes place in the theater.  I was seated for the final act right behind two of the actors.  It was intermission.  We chatted.  I asked, “Are you going to sing?”  The couple, portraying the show’s backers, were equivocal.

Well, of course they sang.  They jumped up and ran up the aisle and continued to be part of the madcap denouement.  It was all silly, good fun.
To think that New Haven was important on the theater landscape for so long.  And even as Broadway tryouts have moved to the Berkshires and the Shubert plays retreads on tour, New Haven still can parlay a show or two to the Great White Way.  A glimmer of the theater’s past glory–its legacy of architectural innovation–lives on, sadly, only in suburban cinemas, in which success is measured by the amount of parking.

A New Nave

2015-01-14 12.13.50Now that I’m at Yale daily, it’s fun to explore.  Today, I wandered over to Sterling Memorial Library, the main library on campus, to see its newly renovated nave.  Nave.  You know.  That entry way in your home…or medieval cathedral.

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When I last wrote about Sterling, the nave was under scaffolding.  Originally constructed in 1930-1, it needed a serious overhaul for technology and systems and a plain ol’, good, general cleaning.  After a year and twenty million dollars, this meticulous restoration and preservation of the original now reflects the needs of contemporary students.

Period touches remain.  The card catalog.  Today’s students don’t really know what that2015-01-14 12.18.56 is.  But the catalog banks are in place (even as the cards have been archived) because of one tradition:  opening the drawers to various degrees to spell out messages, like ‘Yale’.  I can definitely picture that.  Can’t you?

The ends of the card catalog also hide the environmental controls.  So do the carved stone sculptures on the gallery level.  LED lights, including uplighting that reveals the ceiling, are hidden all through the structure.  Clever!

2015-01-14 12.30.09Every surface was gray from grime and cigarette smoke.  The Indiana limestone was cleaned with a latex peel–apply and peel off the schmutz.  The ceiling involved a 2-step process.  First a magic eraser was used, literally erasing about half the dirt.  Then a wash took off the rest.

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Those are painted panels on wood, and they are loose, laid into the wooden lattice.  Librarian Ken Crilly, our tour guide, said he lifted one by hand while standing on the top level of scaffolding, called the ‘dance floor.’  Being up there is not for the faint-of-heart.  The scaffolding was “springy,” said Ken.  Imagine, too, there’s an attic above that painted ceiling, now with a new catwalk.




The more than 3000 windows are a decorative treasure, considered the finest secular 2015-01-14 12.36.42stained glass collection in the world.  All the leaded glass was designed by G. Owen Bonawit, with each portraying what is going on in that room.  Ken relays a great story.  He works in Room 333, which was reserved for the Asian collections in the 1930s.  Although unknown in the US, Ken jokes he is famous in Japan, from the streams of tourists come to photograph the geisha and samurai warriors shown in the windows.

In the nave, the windows teach local history, just as the windows in medieval cathedrals taught religious stories.  New Haven and Yale history are memorialized.  2015-01-14 12.31.48Depicted are the ministers bringing the books from Yale’s original location in Saybrook, CT to New Haven in 1701, while also including the residents sneaking away with the books that fell off the loaded ox carts.  Then there’s the Colonial-dressed men eating at a table.  Apparently, they represent the Yale undergraduates caught stealing chicken from Mrs. So-and-So.

Gloriously, the nave displays 1930s art faculty member Eugene Savage’s painting on canvas of Alma Mater, as if the Virgin Mary.  Yale’s blue and white just happens to correspond to the traditional colors of the painted Mary, and its motto translates into “Light and Truth,” making for the perfect allegorical figures.  There’s Painting in blue, too, palette in hand.  Perhaps a self-portrait of the artist in medieval garb?

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It’s all there, there in the nave, in seriousness and good fun.  Just what college should be.

A nice place to read

A nice place to read

The Story of a House

For a house that started off as two rooms in 1728, the Bush-Holley House has had a remarkable history since.  You know that I’m now a docent at the Florence Griswold House and Museum, which tells the story of the Lyme Art Colony.  Well, this house shows off a concurrent art colony, also of American Impressionists, who gathered in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, only one hour by train from Manhattan.

But the house tells quite a story before then.  The original Bush who bought the house didn’t live in it.  His son David moved in around 1755 with his wife Sarah.  She died in 1776, while the British were running raids in Cos Cob and all around the Bush House.  Most of the settlement was burned, but not this Saltbox house.

2014-12-19 14.06.34You’ve probably guessed why.  Yep, David Bush was a suspected Loyalist and was imprisoned as such.  After all, his trade with the New York Colony centered on imported goods.  The wallpaper in his house was even imported, demonstrating his wealth.  During restoration, the stamp was uncovered.  Paper goods were stamped when the taxes were paid, a result of the reviled Stamp Act that so angered the rebellious colonists.

Bush’s political troubles didn’t stop from marrying another Sarah, and together, they combined a household with 11 children from previous marriages.  Then they added 5 more of their own.  This was one crowded house.

2014-12-19 13.57.37Crowded with slaves, too.  To run the farm, Bush had slaves who lived in the barn and more that lived above the kitchen.  Convenient, perhaps warm, but clearly spartan.  This is a curator’s best guess of how the slaves lived.  Like so many others, their stories are lost to memory.

Greenwich was sometimes part of the New York Colony, the last northern colony to abolish slavery, and sometimes part of Connecticut.  The Connecticut colony had a complex legislative history around slavery.  In 1788, the slave trade was abolished in Connecticut, just after the 1784 Gradual Emancipation Act.  Slaves born after 1784 would be emancipated when they turned 25, later lowered to 21.  Born in 1783, you’re out of luck.  In 1825, Greenwich recorded its last slave.

The Bush family took their slaves to church, and religious beliefs may have informed the decision to emancipate their slaves and support them in buying property.  Yet the 1799 will of David Bush listed the slave property and their worth.  Connecticut had about 2650 slaves and 2175 free blacks.  What a complex of scenarios.

By 1848, bad business decisions forced the Bush descendants to sell the house.  Two families attempted to run a boardinghouse in this convenient location, only two blocks from the New York train.  It must have been tough-going, because the Holley’s rented the house from the bank, later purchasing it.

Fortunately, they valued the heritage in the house and preserved its Colonial quirks.

MacRae paints his family

MacRae paints his family

They also managed to make a successful boarding house for artists, just like Florence Griswold further up the Connecticut coast.  See Elmer McCrae, artist, married a Holley daughter, Constant.  He brings the friends, she becomes the gracious hostess and flower arranger extraordinaire.  Look at the kind of table she set for the holidays.  Nothing like the spartan accommodations of Flo Gris.


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Childe Hassam, The Mantle Piece, 1912; in the Best Room, supposedly painted on a cigar box lid

Childe Hassam summered at, and starred at, both boarding houses.  He got the “Best Room” at the Bush-Holley House, paying a handsome $20 per week for room and board, compared to $4-8 for the other rooms and $7 at the Flo Gris.  The house is full of paintings and etchings he made while staying in the house, of the house and the Best Room.

Alec shows me the Best Room

Alec shows me the Best Room


Childe Hassam, Clarissa (one of the twins) 1912, painted in the entry way of the house

Elmer MacRae, Constance Feeding the Ducks, 1912; exhibited at the Armory Show, 1913




But it’s MacRae’s work that charms many of the walls.  His twin daughters, born in 1904, were the frequent subject.  After helping organize the 1913 Armory Show, which brought European contemporary art to New York, his style started to change.





MacRae's changing style

MacRae’s changing style




Without the commercial success of a Hassam, who was remunerated for repeatedly painting familiar scenes, MacRae had more freedom to experiment.




He worked in pastel and oil, carved wood screens, and the house has a piece of furniture he painted that I wanted to take home.

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The Colonial kitchen



Willa Cather and other literary elites from New York stayed at the house, too.  Cather wrote the Cos Cob section of Song of the Lark, based on her time here.

The Holley family remained in the house until it was turned over to the Greenwich Historical Society in the 1950s, which is why its delights are so intact.  With a history like this, it’s really a must-see among the bounty of evocative historic homes in Connecticut.



As pretty as a picture, out the studio window

As pretty as a picture, out the studio window

MacRae's studio upstairs

MacRae’s studio upstairs