Monthly Archives: September 2015

In the week ahead

Looking ahead through the coming weekend, fall events catch my eye … First Fridays Artswalk —  Art shows will open throughout downtown Pittsfield from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, including “South,” an exhibit of Clemens Kalischer’s photography at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, 28 Renne Ave. Kalischer took these photographs while traveling through the…

Great Barrington history under foot

I didn’t know a walk around town would link me to the Mississippi flood of 1927, George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison’s battle over electric current and a Major from King Phillip’s War who captured Algonqian troops and sold the men as slaves. It was a sunny morning, a real early summer day, and I had…

James Baldwin on home ground

“There were people on the café terraces, boys and girls on the boulevards, bicycles racing by on their fantastically urgent errands. Everyone and everything wore a cheerful aspect, even the houses of Paris, which did not show their age. Those who were unable to pay the steep rents of the houses were enabled, by the…

James Baldwin on film

On a September day in Paris, James Baldwin described a bright, warm morning, as he waited at the Sorbonne for the Conference of Negro-African Writers and Artists to begin. “There were people on the cafe terraces, boys and girls on the boulevards, bicycles racing by The boys and girls and old men and women who…

Sculpture OMI

In August I wandered one afternoon through the Field Sculpture Park at ArtOMI — the OMI International Arts Center in Ghent, N.Y. I’ve known of ArtOMI for many years and never seen it until this hot, still, quiet noonday. Some of the work seems to come organically out of the woods and fields, and some draws a deliberate contrast to them with all the subtletly of a chrome yellow buzz saw.

One contrast has stayed with me. I had just come from Little Ghent Farm, where Jesse Tolz, a young farmer growing flowers and vegetables, explained to me why he had seeded his field insteand of transplanting seedlings. He sewed seeds directly into the field, rather than starting them in seed trays or small pots, because a plant that grows in the ground can establish a taproot and keep it intact, he said.

Here in the sculpture park I saw Robert Montgomery’s work, with its the signlike legend: “And the trees are sentinels of something, standing there between the buildings and breathing like horses all night.” He made trees watchful, alive, warm-blooded and running with sap. And nearby in the same field a sapling tree stood encased in what looked like thick rubber. Fresh from that farm conversation, I saw that rubber enclosing the tree’s rootball so that it too could not send down a taproot — cutting it off from water on this hot, dry day.

Norman Rockwell and the news

Imagine what it would be like if newspapers today commissioned paintings to run on their color pages? In honor of throwback Thursday, I offer a question I first asked in a column on Jan. 8, 2009. I have visited the Norman Rockwell Museum many times since then, often on the track of a story. But then it…

Where’s Whistler?

When James Whistler was larking about town with a sketch pad, drawing caricatures, sketching a fire in the rectory roof, skating and coasting with friends, where did the Whistlers live in Pomfret, Conn.?

For a short few years in high school the boys, James and his youner brother William, went to the Christ Church Hall School, run by Dr. Roswell Park, then the Rector of Christ Church, and the Whistlers lived nearby —  on that much every source seems to agree. Biographers tend to put the family in part of an old and drafty farmhouse and leave it at that.

Among Pomfret locals and historians, consensus has the Whistlers downtown on “the Street,” the town’s strip of grand old buildings downtown, among churches and estates.

In “Folklore and Firesides of Pomfret,” Susan Jewett Griggs writes in 1950 that the Whistlers lived in “the house used today as the Catholic Rectory.” The Rev. David M. Carter, rector of Christ Church today, told me that though the Catholic Church has moved since Whistler’s day, he believes today’s rectory may be the same.

My uncle believes the Whistlers lived in one of two houses across the street from it, and the librarian at the Pomfret library believes the Whistlers’ house is now one of the buildings at the Rectory School, which covers a long sweep of the Street across from Christ Church.

The church itself is newer than the Whistlers’ time, and they would not have seen this old stone building, its Tiffany windows or the woodcarving by Charles Wiggins, who made a “Walrus and the Carpenter” coffee table for my grandparents. But they would have seen the cemetery. The burial ground goes back to the early days of the church.

I first saw that cemetery, to remember it, when I was eight years old, leaving a service to the ringing sound of When the Saints Go Marching In, a striding top-of-the-lungs tribute that managed to sound glad and grieving, Protestant and mischievious all at once.

My Abbott grandparents are buried here. In my search for the Whistlers, I came here to see them, and I thought of that day and what I remember of my father’s father’s memorial.

Whistler’s Mother in New England

Anna McNeill Whistler sits in profile, composed in all senses. She leans back slightly, her hands on her lap, her hair smooth under her cap. And up close, seeing the painting clearly, not a reproduction in a book — her eyes are bright. “Whistler’s Mother” has become one of the most recognized (and copied and…

Whistler at WCMA and the Clark

Whistler’s Mother has come to visit. Rembrandt-like, her face shines clear against a dark and grey background, said Jay A. Clarke, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. Whistler painted her in 1871 and kept her portrait for 20 years before he sold it to the French…