Thank you, Art Times Journal

Special thanks to Cornelia Seckel, the publisher of Art Times Journal, for her ongoing and enthusiastic support of “Finding Her Way”–a seven-part essay series on American women artists working from about 1850 to 1950.

Now the essays have been compiled into one booklet.  Please feel free to share “Finding Her Way” with friends and colleagues:

Let’s resuscitate these artists’ careers!

Masonic mysteries

So why all the mystery?  That’s the question I wanted answered today.  Yes, it’s the annual-favorite Open House New York weekend, celebrating architecture.  While I only made one tour, it was a good one.

2015-10-18 10.54.05The Masonic Lodge certainly isn’t hiding, there on W 23rd, with its office building rents contributing to the cause.  The building was built in 1910, but with one thing or another, its friezes and trompe-l’oeil trickery weren’t painted until the 1980s. Apparently, the Lodge is always open for tours, so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
The Egyptian room

The Egyptian room

As kitschy fun as the room decorations are, I am more interested in the history.  Stone masons have been around forever, enjoying a surge in respect in Old Kingdom Egypt.
The Egyptian room; every room has an organ

The Egyptian room; every room has an organ

Freemasons referred to free men (versus slaves or servants to the church), who could cross national lines and were paid wages for their efforts.

They didn’t have a union card, but these men could go to a construction site, and by stating a password or providing a secret handshake, prove themselves a Freemason.  Having completed apprenticeship training (which included moral behavior instruction as well), and achieving ”master mason’ level, the Freemason work quality would be higher and lead to better assignments.

Cathedral-like stained glass in the Renaissance room, depicting mason's tools

Cathedral-like stained glass in the Renaissance room, depicting mason’s tools

After the cathedral-building boom ended, around the Renaissance, membership started to fall.  So the focus shifted from craftsmanship to intellectual and philosophical connection to architecture.  The meeting place called a temple, meaning ‘place of knowledge’, continued the focus on self-improvement.

Secrecy continued, in order to preserve the safety of members sharing their belief systems that might be controversial to the status quo.

I peppered our various tour guides with questions to piece together what I just shared with you.  The story gets murky with the American Colonies.  Why the secrecy about who was a mason?  I kept suggesting it was because George Washington and his colleagues needed a safe place to talk revolutionary politics.  But no, from the beginning, Freemasons didn’t discuss religion or politics–the causes of all wars–when at a lodge or temple.   “That’s what the Sons of Liberty were about,” explained one guide.  I don’t think GW would have wanted to hang out with a bunch of 20-year-old rabble-rousers.

Interesting that on the battlefield (Revolutionary or Civil Wars), a dying soldier on the opposite side would be comforted by an enemy mason.  How would they know, I persisted.  The password or handshake, which of course, no tour guide would share as a matter of ‘character’.

Ornately painted Renaissance room, with its daylight sky overhead and depictions of the Liberal Arts and Virtues

Ornately painted Renaissance room, with its daylight sky overhead and depictions of the Liberal Arts and Virtues

Secrecy continued to be needed as Hitler apparently persecuted free thinking Freemasons.  Interesting that misogynistic Henry Ford and Ty Cobb were masons.  Mozart must have squelched his party-hardy behavior long enough to get voted in.

It’s easy to imagine John Wayne as a mason, but Clark Gable and Red Skelton?  And what about Count Basie?  Patriotic John Philip Sousa was a mason, as were Irving Berlin and Danny Thomas, Jewish celebrities, continuing proof of the mason’s tolerance value.

Today, Freemasons may still be free thinkers, but are mostly known for their philanthropy.  They still hold on to their secrets, too.  I think Shriners (Shrine Masons) could be more circumspect, don’t you?
Pineapples - a symbol of welcome

Pineapples – a symbol of welcome

Want to be one?  You can join the two million American masons, 4 million worldwide.  Women join the Evening Star sorority; boys and girls have their own organizations, too.  You just have to swear to a belief in God (any God).

And it helps to know someone.  That will help prevent being blackballed.  When the Freemasons vote on new members of their union, now fraternity, you drop either a white ball or a black ball into the ballot box. You get it.



The Universe Globe atop a column, near the organ with disconnected pipes (painting the pipes ruined the tone)

The Universe Globe atop a column, near the organ with disconnected pipes (painting the pipes ruined the tone)

If you’re a new member in New York City, you will then enter the door of the Renaissance room, between the columns topped by a globe of earth and a globe of the universe.  These globes remind you of the self-improvement, education-oriented, philanthropically-focused masonry.

It almost makes me want to learn the secret handshake.


Painted Journey

Two colleagues Debbie Hesse and Melanie Carr have curated a new art show at Whitney Center, the neighborhood, artsy CCRC.  Their show “Shared Resources” balances the resident’s show, and today, two residents and two ‘community’ artists spoke at the opening.


Spencer Luckey, calling himself a “kid architect,” talked about these whimsical jungle gyms he creates around the world.  A model is in the show.  Most of what he said was hard for me to track, although this is not unusual for me with contemporary artists and architects.


Of the talks, which covered careers and visions, I was most touched by Georgia Jennings’ presentation.  She loves the “luxuriousness” of working with “creamy” paints.  She plays and experiments with paint and technique, with naturalism and abstraction.

The series she has hung in the gallery focuses on the five-month journey transitioning from her home to living in Whitney Center.  The works are small scale and so large in feeling.

2015-09-19 15.04.47The terror of it all, of realizing she was no longer middle-aged, leaving a home of 25 years and the 3 rambunctious boys next door.

2015-09-19 15.04.52Organizing, Sorting, Packing, Moving

2015-09-19 15.04.58Overwhelmed by stuff, even after giving so much away.

2015-09-19 15.05.14Making connections.  The blanks, the mysteries.

2015-09-19 15.05.11Harmonies, with darks and lights.

We’ve all been there and know the feeling.  This is likely Georgia’s last move.  I think of that, too.  Taking in those feelings in the luxuriousness of her paint brought it all home, in my body and heart.

Time on the River

I highly recommend this experience, so want to give you a heads up.  Last year, I went on the river cruise on the Connecticut River to see the incredible swallow migratory patterns that happen at sunset.  You may remember one of my pictures that is now being used in the promotional materials.

How fun is that?  Not as much fun as going on the cruise yourself.  So here’s the information, in case you can make it.


Boats are available on two dates only. Sunday, September 13 and 20 4:30pm-8:00pm

On the Connecticut River, witness one of the most spectacular avian happenings with the Tree Swallow concentrations that can be found each year. During fall migration, thousands of swallows congregate on the lower Connecticut River and at sunset settle in on a giant communal roost. Birds come from as far away as 25 miles and converge at dusk, often creating a ballet of synchronized flight before settling down to roost.

Join Connecticut Audubon Society naturalists aboard Essex Steam Train and Riverboat’s Becky Thatcher as we journey first by train and then by boat to see the spectacular, awe-inspiring display. Enjoy picturesque scenery on the train ride to the 70-foot Mississippi-style river boat. Food and a full bar are available onboard including ample seating, three decks, and restrooms. Tours are approximately three and a half hours in length. Fee: $40. Eight years and over, please.


July 4th sightings

At the Hindinger’s Farm, strawberry season draws to a close, and the goats have a playpen…

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And the post office got the day off…

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Actually, this first Branford, CT mail delivery vehicle is now retired.  Burt Shepard carried the mail in this horse-drawn wagon, made by Studebaker, from 1902 to 1923.  He then used a truck to deliver the mail until he retired in 1933.  His grandchildren donated the Studebaker to the Branford Historical Society.

After a wonderful potluck dinner, we celebrate with a bang and the fireworks over East Rock…

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Happy Fourth!


Marvelous Sightings

Marvelous sightings everywhere in New York City.  Last night, this window caught my eye.

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Ralph Lee and Casey Compton were obviously advertising their puppets, masks, and costumes, with this hand-lettered, notebook paper sign.

But what came to me for me was Cezanne and any of his card players paintings.

Paul Cézanne, The Card Players, 1890–92, Barnes Foundation

Don’t you think?

Today was bright and lovely for the marvelous Duck Day in Naugatuck.  Money is raised for local charities when people buy a rubber duck for $5.  The  thousands of ducks are then dumped into the Naugatuck River to race.  Forget the Belmont Stakes.  The real champions are yellow and squat.

The tension definitely was mounting as the ducks approached the starting gate.

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And watch and listen for the countdown and launch!

And they’re off…

Except for mine perhaps, probably ending up like so many, mired in the banks.

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Look at ’em go!

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!

Exploding Bath Bombs

2014-12-13 12.13.38‘Tis the season for cheesy crafts, and I love them as much as anyone.  Which is why today, you would have found me making bath bombs.  Mine won’t quite cut it as a gift for anyone else, but that’s through no fault of Erin of Craft Noire, who taught us at the store in New Haven called the Haven Collective.  Check out Erin’s other wonderful craft ideas!






Okay, basically, Erin told us, this is like baking a cake.  Mix your dry ingredients together first.  You take baking soda as your main ingredient.  Add about 1/2 that amount of citric acid (found on the canning aisle of your grocery store).  Citric acid makes the bath bomb explode.  Get it?  The fizz for your tub.  Add about the same again of corn starch.

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Now the artistry sets in.  Mix your wet ingredients separately in a small bowl.  You can use almond oil as a base and add a few drops of essential oils for your fragrance.  Customize it by mixing and matching.  I mixed peppermint and rosemary.  If you want, you can add food coloring for some flair.  Mix your wet and dry ingredients together, adding in epson salts if you like.  I like!

2014-12-13 12.34.29 HDRStir this concoction all together and start adding spritzes of rubbing alcohol.  That’s right.  Put rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle and add 3 or 4 spritzes at a time.  Mix.  More spritzes.  Mix, until you reach the consistency of wet sand.

Essentially, you’re going to make mini sand castles.  You can use any kind of mold or cupcake/muffin pan.  Smush the mixture down firmly, spritz with the rubbing alcohol, then pack more down.  You can also put bits of lavender or more epson salts in first, then add your mixture.  You’ll end up with decoration for the top of your bombs.

When the mixture is firmly in place, wait for it to set.  Maybe about 10 minutes.  It will be firm to the touch.

2014-12-13 12.42.04Pop it out of the mold, let it sit for an hour to fully dry, then load up a jar with the hardened bath bombs for a sweet gift.  The air-tight jar also keeps the moisture out.  Wet will turn the bombs into mush.  Your finished bath bombs will last about 2 months.  Of course, you may use them up long before then!

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Put one in your tub and watch it explode!  With pleasure.  Thank you, Erin!

Erin demonstrates; plop one in water...

Erin demonstrates: plop one in water…

...and bombs away!

…and bombs away!


Quaint Idyll

Just before our first “arctic blast” of the season, we ventured up hills, down dales, and around bends into central Connecticut.  There, we stepped back a century and a half for a wagon ride around Lake  Hayward.  Connecticut is known for its picture-postcard lakes, and this was my first chance to spend time by one.

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Motors (as on boats and jet skis) are prohibited on this lake, so our ride was a placid one.  Plus horses have the right of way, so cars pulled over, often on quite narrow, one lane roads.  Nice.   Nice people, nice place, nice day.  Quite different from how it must have been when a rubber mill, not cottages, dominated the banks of the lake.

2014-11-08 14.01.11The work horses pulling our ten-person wagon were Norwegian Fjords–beautiful dun-colored, stout workers, with distinctive markings.  Can you make out the the beige mane with its black-striped center?  That stripe continues down the horse’s back and into the center of the tail.  Like an artist carefully drew a very straight, black line dividing a tan field.

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Billy and Bobby are brothers, one year apart in age, who work well together, nodding and bobbing their heads, nuzzling each other, as if talking.  After all, they clearly knew the way, so didn’t have to concentrate that hard.

They didn’t seem to be working hard either, taking the up-hills at a perky trot.  Turns out, our driver explained, that they actually push the wagon, via a collar belted across their chests, making their load easier than if they had to pull it.  Physics at work.  I also always wondered why carriage horses wear blinders.  Turns out, the blinders keep horses from seeing the wagon behind them, which would continually startle these ‘flight’ animals with wide peripheral vision.

2014-11-08 15.06.16Along for the ride was Petey, a tiny rescue dog, who looked very much like Toto.  Petey has settled into life at Allegra Farm, even wanting to pitch in and work.  He’s been known to grab the lead rope of the work horses, and they are just fine with it, happily following along.

As cooperative and pliant as they seem, Norwegian Fjords are apparently feisty and have a bit of an attitude.  One time, Billy objected to a farrier (aka the blacksmith) who accidentally slipped while fitting the horse with a new shoe.  In a huff, Billy chased him up the barn stairs.  Plus these horses have a long memory.  So don’t get on their bad side!

We certainly didn’t.  Prepared with apples and carrots, Billy and Bobby got their post-ride rewards.  And for us, the rewards came with the crisp fall air, picturesque scenery, and a slowed-down way to enjoy both.  Good fellowship and residual autumn colors only added to this quaint idyll of a day.

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A Work Horse's Day Off

A Work Horse’s Day Off

Spencer and Holt

As always, I’m thinking about women artists.  I had another article published in Art Times Journal, this time on Lilly Martin Spencer, a remarkable woman and artist.  Check it out here.

And I’m writing for Site Projects about public art works in New Haven for a new digital catalog.  Here’s my essay on Nancy Holt’s work.

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Nancy Holt, 1938-2014

End of the Line/West Rock, 1985

Environmental Sculpture, stone, masonry, steel, 11’ x 28’ x 18’

Location: Southern Connecticut State University, Farnam Avenue, near Brownell Hall, New Haven, CT.

2014-09-09 14.37.41Carefully placed granite boulders snake along as if guiding the viewer to a ritual site. They point to the curving line that now swoops up, rocks piled high. The stones are fitted together, like a Connecticut stone wall, to form a monument—Nancy Holt’s End of the Line/West Rock. The environmental sculpture’s gentle stone curve cups the viewer, drawing attention to the central rings of steel. The manmade and natural meet.

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Stepping into the designated steel circle, the viewer peers through this concentric-ringed viewfinder for a perfectly framed picture of the West Rock outcropping. The view includes the manmade, too, a University building. Holt has again blended nature and the constructed, a frequent juxtaposition in her work.

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Holt was part of the Land Art movement, beginning in the late 1960s, which coincided with environmental awareness activism and the dialogue about what materials and scale constitute fine art. This work demonstrates how the geological formation is transformed into art when the viewer is guided to see it as such, by looking at it in a frame. The gallery is now the land, the picture is the focal point determined by the artist. Holt has altered the place and shaped viewer perception.

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The work is site specific. Holt has engineered the sculpture to take advantage of the available natural and constructed features of the site. The parking lot and buildings were already present. Holt sited her sculpture on a hilltop with a clear view of the New Haven landmark. The 51 boulders march ever closer together along the 355-foot approach. The circular marker has been measured for the best vantage point through the viewfinder, with its 8’ outer ring and 6’ inner ring.

The sculpture makes the viewer aware of the often-overlooked, preserving and celebrating it.  Holt’s love of photography is evident in the picture-framing device she uses. With End of the Line/West Rock, Holt asks viewers to be mindful of their impact on nature and to take responsibility for it. She said, “I am giving back to people through art what they already have in them.”

Commissioned: The State of Connecticut’s Percent-for-Art Public Art Program

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What I don’t write is that Nancy would be turning over in her newly dug grave, she passed in February, to see the site as it is now.  Weeds are growing over the site marker.  Discarded water bottles, Coke cups, broken pens, human detritus are tossed all over.  Sigh.

Essence and Repartee


A movie.  A play.  Each trying to get at the essence and pull of art forms, creating passion, pleasure, and power for those beyond the creator.  Is it possible to do such lofty things  and still have a plot?  Apparently not.  Still…

The film “Words and Pictures” sets up an arbitrary ‘war’ over which is more important, a more essential form of expression.  No surprise that the conclusion is that both are needed.

The fun comes in the arguments between the artist and the poet–both tortured souls, of course, suffering for their expression.  I happily went along for the ride for their moments of repartee.  And to think about the debate for myself.  If you’d enjoy watching two beautiful people argue about ideas, I recommend this film.

Nathan Lane in "It's Only a Play."

Nathan Lane in “It’s Only a Play.”

I’m not so sure about Terrance McNally‘s postmodern play about theater called “It’s Only a Play.”  The celebrity cast acts out the aftermath of a Broadway bomb that involves writing a play about the aftermath of a Broadway bomb.  Get it?

Well, it doesn’t matter a bit.  You go for the cast’s witticisms.  Biting, absolutely of-the-moment topicality they are, coming off as more snark than valentine.

The play is essentially plotless, and what little there is mimics “Words and Pictures” for being completely predictable.  Here it matters more.  With no plot and over-the-top caricatured characters, the show-must-go-on spirit is its own bust.

But don’t listen to me.  The audiences howled with delight, gave a standing ovation when cued by an actor, and had a great time.  I sorta did, too, admiring the rapid fire repartee of Nathan Lane with anyone and everyone else on stage.  He is truly a wonder.  And it does feel good to just laugh.

08_Selfie_183_TY-v2-WT_Thinner_BlurSince the characters were so snarky, I feel like I can be, too.  Matthew Broderick has phoned in his third wooden performance in a row, in my books.  His youthful charm and nebbishy ways don’t play cute anymore.  I keep wanting to tell him he can both bend and turn at the waist and move his arms.  A nutcracker is more animated.

And Stockard Channing, as much as I love her and found her funny here, is so stretched and mauled from her facial plastic surgery, that it’s a wonder she can move her lips.  Really, plastic surgery should have died with Joan Rivers.

Good.  Now that I have that out of my system, I will say I want more from McNally.  A theater pro like him?  Make me care!

“Shakespeare in Love”–now that’s a show that’s a love song to theater, with beautiful people, ideas, humor, and a plot.  Maybe just skip both of these newer shows and see that movie again.  Or, if you dare, wait for the British stage version to come to Broadway.

Now it was McNally today who bemoans all the talent from London dominating the stage here, arguing all the more reason why there are no more great American playwrights on Disneyfied Broadway.

What do you think?

They Called Me Lizzy

The library brought East Haddam Stage Company actor Stephanie Jackson for a one-woman show about Elizabeth Keckley.  Jackson has been performing the role around the US and Canada for about 8 years, but nothing about her today seemed like a performance.  She embodied the soul of this historical figure and mesmerized the packed house.

Keckley was a slave, who through her industriousness, bought her son’s and her freedom.  But not before suffering the violence and indignities we’ve come to associate with woman slaves. The audience was so still during this part of the show, it seemed like we were chained to the actor.  Then through the re-telling of her emancipation, the audience noticeably relaxed, chuckling and talking back to her.

Through Keckley’s smarts and hard work, she networked her way to becoming the dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln throughout her White House years. Their growing friendship and Mrs. Lincoln’s emotional reliance on Keckley were challenged after Lincoln’s assassination.

Keckley documented their relationship, which she hoped would be a justification of the First Lady’s behavior, in a book published in 1868.  Instead, the book brought Keckley derision, cost her the friendship of Mrs. Lincoln, and essentially ruined her dressmaking business.

This remarkable life was also documented in a historical novel called Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, by Jennifer Chiaverini, published last year, which focuses just on the Keckley-First Lady relationship.  The source for this show is Keckley’s work Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House, her memoir.

In a timely and related note, tomorrow’s New York Times Book Review features a new historical novel that takes place inside Lincoln’s mind, primarily during the Civil War years, called I am Abraham, by Jerome Charyn.

I hope you can catch a performance of “Call Me Lizzy,” but if not, check out one of these intriguing books.

Chocolate warms the heart

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On this cold, blustery day, I walked over to the Chocolate Festival fundraiser for the New Haven Montessori School.  It warmed my heart.

Upon check-in, we were given small tokens-a red glass heart and a pink glass heart.  These tokens served as a  vote for my favorite professionally-made chocolate goodie (red) and my favorite amateur-made chocolate goodie (pink).



So…you get to vote:  which is amateur and which is professional?  The answers are at the bottom of this blog.

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1. Amateur or Professional?







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2. Amateur or Professional?







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3. Amateur or Professional?







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4. Amateur or Professional







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5. Amateur or Professional?







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6. Amateur or Professional?







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7. Amateur or Professional







Okay.  How’d you do?

1. Professional                                                                                                                    2. Amateur                                                                                                                         3. Professional                                                                                                                    4. Professional                                                                                                                    5. Professional                                                                                                                    6. Amateur                                                                                                                         7. Professional

1-3 correct – eat more chocolate!                                                                                       4-5 correct – know your stuff                                                                                               6+  correct – chocolatey guru!


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Happy almost February!


Unportentious gem

On a quiet winter day–no snow squalls, no howling winds–I went to Hill-stead Museum in Farmington.  A lover of house museums of all types, I was quickly taken in by this one, because it really feels like the family is just in the next room.  Unlike Winterthur, so self-consciously gorgeous, this place has worn carpets and tchotchkes scattered over every level surface, just like you and I might have.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a showplace.

Self-taught architect Theodate Pope designed the house, completed in 1901, for her parents for their retirement.  Pope is well known enough to attract me, but I didn’t realize the art I would be seeing.  Purchased by her father, who clearly had an eye, the collection features several Manet, Whistler, and Monet paintings, as well as three Degas pieces, including this top-notch work.

As you can see, The Tub is clearly major-museum-worthy, part of a series of Degas’s experiments with the depiction of space.  See how he tilts the background forward, unnaturally flattening the scene.  This compression technique would go on to influence Matisse, and well, 20th century art in general.

Degas and Mary Cassatt, also well-represented in the house, learned this method from studying Japanese prints.  One room nearby is filled with the Asian prints Pope’s father collected, so that the house provides a mini art history lesson as well as beautiful pleasures.



Among his Monets are two of the Grainstack paintings, positioned opposite each other in one of the parlors.  Here is White Frost from 1889.




What makes these familiar works appear fresh is seeing them hanging above a settee, in a room comfortably furnished.  Of course, these rooms are loaded with invaluables–porcelains, silver, clocks, intricately carved knick-knacks, gorgeous inlay on what-not furniture.

I love the souvenirs Pope’s parents bought on their Grand Tour.  The pieces of this chess set are a charmer and also familiar, like something my mother had in her house.

The unportentiousness of the place is what makes it remarkable.  You and I could have a sit with a cup of hot tea and catch up.


Artists and the New York Coop

Charles Fourier
by Jean Francois Gigoux

Putting the word ‘artist’ and ‘coop’ together may evoke lots of possibilities, but real estate developer probably isn’t among them.  The walking tour I did today demonstrated how artists were essential to the New York real estate cooperative.

Charles Fourier’s ideas  influenced artists in a lot of ways, but the Fourier lifestyle ideas are what’s relevant to today’s exploration.  He believed that marriage trapped women and encouraged them to take seven lovers.  I didn’t ask why seven, but my fantasy is a different lover for each day of the week.

Fourier also developed an assessment of personality types and encouraged those of similar types to live together, which would foster the most creativity.  An architect Huber brought these ideas to New York, when the Rembrandt opened on 57th Street in about 1880.  While that project was apparently a bust, the cooperative style of living wouldn’t be.

Victorian mores discouraged living in close proximity to people you don’t know, which made the craze for single family homes.  On 5th Avenue, this meant mansions.  On the other side of the park, the cooperative reemerged in the early 1900s, when artists were desperate for affordable housing.

A group of artists became real estate developers by building five buildings on W. 67th Street.

File:Hotel des Artistes jeh.JPGHotel des Artistes

These artists were innovators, too.  They developed the studio apartment–one room where the artist could live and work in a studio.  Meals were prepared in a cooperative kitchen and provided in a common dining room, which is why each apartment’s kitchen is lousy.  The idea was to create collective space where ideas could be shared.  And the artist wouldn’t be burdened with the mundanities of life.

The Atelier

The Atelier





The buildings still suggest their historic roots, named for example, Central Park Studios and Hotel des Artistes. Of course, today these buildings are wildly expensive coops, with that New York exclusivity.  Pretty far removed from the original egalitarian vision.

Those original groups of artists glamorized the idea of unrelated people living together under one roof.  Soon buildings were springing to life all over this new neighborhood west of the park, borrowing that cooperative idea.

The Presada

The Presada

But apartments grew into 7000 square feet.  Elegant lobbies were used as marketing tools to attract the upper echelon.  New York real estate was growing into the miasma it is today.  All started by a bunch of artists.

The Presada

The Presada

Winter Garden

The garden has been coming together. The rhododendrons were so overgrown as to be growing into the foundation.  Matt, the garden genius, moved all of them successfully.  Look at what was involved.

Landscape, moving big rhodie

Backing one out of the driveway.

Then around to the side of the house.





Here is a slide show of the construction, when fall foliage was still around.

Today’s addition, the wind sculpture by Lyman Whitaker.

The sidewalk had to be redone.  Here’s how it’s looking as of today.

Connecticut Bluestone

And here’s a slide show of how the garden looks at the moment, in winter, almost complete.  We’re still missing a few trees and shrubs not available until spring.


Steps Away to Step Back in Time

The Orcheftra of New England performed tonight just steps away from home.  But from the moment we entered the United Church, one of three historic churches on the New Haven Green, my neighbor Penny and I entered a time machine.

ImageMr. James Sinclair, the director, was born in Cambridge, Mafsachufetts in 1724 and prides himself on bringing the latest music from overseas to the colonies and now new country.  This night was the premier of the new ‘Hayden” Sinfony in D.  And it was a charmer.

But the former-war-correspondents-turned-entertainment-critics sitting in the balcony couldn’t resist a heckle or two.  They were especially hard on the organ meister from Leipzig Mr. Hall, as they complained that Bach “has too many notes.”  They adored the soprano Mifs Alison2013-11-30 20.23.22 King, even as they chastised Mozart, the younger, whose works she excerpted.  “An upstart,” one declared.  Mr. Sinclair replied, that he is young, but has “some worthy music.”

They were not following the expressly written rules:

“Silence is requefted during the performance of the several Pieces.  No laughing, talking very loud, or squawling.  No overturning of the Benches, &c.”

My friend was concerned that “the Dogs being employ’d as Footwarmers be walked periodically, outfide the Meeting-houfe.”  We hoped we could comply.

The familiarity of several of the pieces made this particular rule difficult for me:  “That there be no whiftling during the playing of familiar Tunes…”  You know me, I’m a whiftler.

In addition to glorious music that sounded exquisite in the church, the banter and character of the performance was unforgettable.  Hope you get a sense from this slide show:

Balm for the Soul

Carel Fabritius
The Goldfinch

Last year, it was Bernini.  When do we see Bernini in the United States?  This year, it’s Fabritius.  Despite The Goldfinch painting being supposedly located at the Met in the hot novel by Donna Tartt, Fabritius’s precious work lives at the Mauritshius.  It’s currently on holiday at the Frick, along with about a dozen other paintings from that museum.

Why the Bernini comparison?  Not just because these are also Baroque masterworks, this time from Holland.  But because of the effect on the soul.  In an art world that rewards shock, violence, ugliness, and noise, these works, with a key exception, are quiet, intimate, even full of solitude.  As old-fashioned as I am, I find that a balm.


There’s the beauty of the Coorte still life of four apricots, so evocative to the senses of taste and smell, and the Ruisdael panorama of Haarlem, with its bleaching fields–where linens were bleached in the sun.  The four Rembrandt paintings include his delicate, sensitive version of Susanna from 1656.  From the year before, The Old Lacemaker by Maes glorifies the industrious woman making bobbin lace — its tiny patterns had such universal appeal that they contributed to Dutch wealth.  The figure’s meditative focus is painted with religious reverence, calling for us to respect her virtues.

Nicolaes Maes
Old Lacemaker














For some, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer will be the highlight.  What’s useful to know, the painting is a tronie–a head study of a fictional character or type, innovated by Rembrandt.  It is not a portrait, no matter what the wonderful novel by Tracy Chevalier would have you believe.  Sorry to burst your bubble.

Of course, the Fabritius pulled my heart.  Disappointingly, Tartt’s novel has virtually nothing to do with the painting.  But who cares?  The elegant, spare Goldfinch is waiting for you now at the Frick.

Don’t miss the tiny chain attaching the bird’s foot to a mysterious box.  This chain has been interpreted variously as a way to keep the popular Dutch pet from flying away to a moralizing commentary on domesticity and flight.  My favorite interpretation suggests it’s a pet trick, where the bird was taught to pull the chain to release a thimble-full of water in a tiny cup, otherwise hidden in the box.

I first met the painting as a feat of trompe l’oeil, or trick the eye, painting.  In person, I didn’t really experience it as trompe l’oeil.  But it has its own magical draw.

Jan Steen
Girl Eating Oysters

Even Jan Steen displays an eloquent beauty in his diminutive Girl Eating Oysters.  Of course, Steen being Steen, its detail, exquisite coloration, and dainty sensibility are subsumed by the girl’s provocative glance at us.  Oysters, after all, were thought to be an aphrodisiac, and she invites us to partake with her.  Ooh la la.

The exception to the exhibit’s quiet comes with Steen, too.  Now with his largest work, we get this rare opportunity to see one version of As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young in noisy-person.  I use the painting in my thesis as a prime example of a messy household.  And boy is it.  You just have to go see it.  Its exuberance and abandon are so joyous, so contemporary, so archetypal, so fresh.  The moral lesson may be there, but with a wink and a nod.  Steen places himself at center, looking knowingly at us, as he teaches a boy to smoke a pipe.  Yes, the red parrot in the corner tells us that children will parrot their elders.  So serious.

Jan Steen
As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young
see the artist on the right in the hat grinning at us

But, as stated above, who cares?  How much more important are the joy, the beauty, the quiet of these moments with great art and the worlds they reveal.