Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Painting Class

I have taken up painting again. I haven't really done "easel painting" since the early 1980's, so I decided to take some painting classes at the Worcester Art Museum (

Right now I am working in acrylics, due to the convenience of cleanup and travel back and forth, and will get back into watercolor as well. Here is one I did, a fall scene of High Street in Wiscasset, Maine.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rooms for Tourists

The Historic New England ( newsletter had an article about the family at Tucker Castle, in Wiscasset, taking in summer guests in order to make ends meet. By coincidence, I just found on eBay some Wiscasset photos, including one of our own house. Hard to see in the scanned image, but there is a sign attached to a tree pointing to a place of lodging that also accomodates auto parties, and I then noticed a sign attached to our house, "Tourists". So, in the economic down times apparently a number of people had to make do by opening their houses to visitors, and we now know another piece of our house's history.

You can see pictures of the house today at:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Gloucester Museums

With the dogs in for all-day grooming, we had the chance to take a day trip. The earlier visit to Historic New England's warehouse reminded us that it had been a while since we last went to the Sleeper-McCann house (Beauport) in Gloucester, MA.

The house is built on the rocks at the edge of Gloucester harbor, in a neighborhood of summer homes for the affluent. What makes the house so appealing is that it displays the creative decorating techniques of its original owner, Henry Sleeper, of Boston. During the early 20th century he collected architural fragments and paneling from old homes, in addition to varied collections of decorative arts such as tole, silhouettes, colored glass, folk art, etc. He took these items and arranged and displayed them for their visual effect, using themes of based on color, design, and origin. It is a combination of personal expression and "show house", which he used to demonstrate his skills for clients. His specialty was recreating "early American rooms" for people such as Henry DuPont.

We also had the chance to visit a museum new to us, the Cape Ann Museum in downtown Gloucester

A real gem, the focus is on works by Cape Ann area artists (and those who painted there at least part time), some historical items related to the area, and some good early American furniture. The centerpiece is a collection of work by the 19th century marine artist Fitz Henry Lane.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bar Harbor and Acadia

Mount Desert Island, on the coast of Maine, became popular in the nineteenth century, first for its scenic beauty, then as a social center for the elite. A large number of summer mansions filled the Bar Harbor area, but when the depression arrived, the lifestyle virtually disappeared, and the great fire of 1947 wiped out many of them.

The area is most visited today due to Acadia National Park, and many of the homes of the affluent are secluded, shorefront sites (very private properties). The tony areas are now Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor, and the Bar Harbor business area is primarily filled with tourist-oriented shopping and eateries.

Still, as you can see in the background of my picture taken on top of Cadillac Mountain, the views of the coast are still pretty much unspoiled.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ellsworth, Maine

Since we had to put the dogs in the kennel anyway, we took advantage of the freedom to make a trip to the Bar Harbor, Maine area. After Bangor, our first stop was in Ellsworth, to see Woodlawn Museum, the family home of a wealthy Maine family. The last descendent to use the house, Colonel Black, left the grounds, plus the house intact and furnished, as a public space and museum.

A beautiful brick house with a white portico, it is vaguely reminiscent of Monticello. It is primarily furnished in 19th century pieces, with some earlier family furnishings. These "time capsule" museums are so rare, it is always a pleasure to see them.

Looking in "New England's Attic"

On Wednesday, we went to a members' tour of Historic New England's storage building and conservation facility in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

In addition to the collections displayed in their historic house museums, they have a large collection of artifacts relating to New England domestic life. Visiting this facility is like seeing the biggest attic in New England - furniture, ceramics, paintings, etc., from the time of the Pilgrims to almost the present day. Some items wonderful and rare, others more valuable for their context or the glimpse they give us of the past.

If you have a chance, visit some of their house museums this summer.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Skolfield-Whittier House, Brunswick, Maine

One of my favorite recreational activities is visiting house museums. I have seen some beautiful restorations and interpretations of historic homes, and some notable for their architectural features or collections of decorative arts. My favorites, however, are those that simply still exist, as untouched as possible, from the day the original occupants left (either to other locations or the great beyond).

This past weekend we revisited the Skolfield Whittier house in Brunswick, Maine (a part of the Pejepscot Historical Society). The house museum section is one half of the property built as "twin" houses in the 1850s.

It was enlarged by the family in the 1880s, and had many Victorian alterations and redecoration. It was used only in summers from the mid 1920s, until it was turned over for use as a museum. What makes visiting this house so wonderful is that it has virtually no restoration, and everything (and I mean everything) is still there, from the major furnishings down to boxes of laundry soap. A highlight of the house is a Victorian double parlor that was probably on ly barely used since its 1880s refurbishment. Other rooms show the accretions of time, as new items were added over the years (but they apparently were reluctant to dispose of the old items). There is no other term I can use other than "time capsule".

If you are an old house type person, or just visiting Maine, check it out: