Archives for category: Rockport

motif-number-1This post is part of a continuing series about Cape Ann artists, their studios and work.

When Cape Ann was a budding art colony attracting artists from near and far, the buildings that became art studios were as varied as the artists themselves. Barns, fishing shacks, and storage sheds were pressed into use as studios.

Even the most iconic building in Rockport, Motif #1, was once a studio for a painter. Built as a fish shack in about 1884 (records are a bit fuzzy on the actual date), cod, pollock, hake, mackerel, herring and lobster made their way through its portals on their way to market. For a time, the small gabled second floor was used as an office to pay the fisherman. Unfortunately, large-scale commercial fishing in Rockport began a slow death in the late 1920s. The depression finished it off.

As the fish industry faded and Rockport’s reputation as an art colony grew, Motif #1’s function changed. The fish shack was leased to artist John Buckley in 1931 and then purchased by him in 1933. Buckley had come to Rockport a decade earlier. After being wounded in World War I and being recommended for a Medal of Honor, Buckley attended the Massachusetts Normal School of Art (now known as Massachusetts College of Art and Design) under an early precursor to the GI bill. In his school summer vacation in 1920, he came to Rockport as part of the first classes of summer students to study under Aldro Hibbard. He became a full time resident of Rockport after graduation and marriage. Buckley dove into community affairs in the town, becoming the elected secretary of the Rockport Art Association, performing in fund raisers as an actor for both the March of Dimes and the Rockport Art Association, and opening an artists supply store on Dock Square. Prior to acquiring Motif #1, Buckley did most of his painting and teaching outside. After purchasing the iconic building he made some-oh-so modern improvements like installing a toilet, a kerosene stove, and a window in the dormer to let in the Northern light. From the wharfage fees for the tip of Bradley Wharf (often waived in exchange for fish), Buckley was able to put dinner on his family’s dinner table through the Depression.

Artist John D. Buckley

Artist John D. Buckley

By 1945, Buckley had put Motif #1 up for sale. During the 1930s, he had taken on a position as a middle school art teacher in Natick, Massachusetts and was in Rockport only on weekends. The red fishing shack had become a financial lodestone. In the town meeting of March 6, 1945, the town residents voted to purchase it as a war memorial, the only way the selectman and the town attorney could see their way to purchasing it. A series of convoluted financial snafus involving taxes and the needed state legislature approval for purchasing delayed the purchase for almost a year. The sentiment at town meeting was that the building should be used for fishing purposes. Three lobstermen then leased the shack from the town. The townspeople had their way.

The story of Motif #1 reflects the history of Rockport as both a fishing village and a mecca for artists. For only 14 years during the height of the art colony era, the shack which has been painted in countless styles, was used as an artist’s studio. Since then, it it has been used on and off for activities related to fishing, or as it is currently being used, for the gathering of friends of Captain Billy Lee, the current lessee, to talk about fishing.

Art class, circa 1961, postcard courtesy of the  blog vintagerockport.com

Art class, circa 1961, postcard courtesy of the blog vintagerockport.com

For more on the history of Motif #1, check out L.M. Vincent’s In Search of Motif No. 1.  Vintagerockport.com  also has a great assortment of photographs and stories about Rockport’s past. 

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IMG_7817 final nightYears ago, my interest in homes led to getting a real estate license. I ended up not using it much. But in recent months, to my surprise, I have found myself hip deep in the real estate business as a stager.

Staging houses for sale is a recent phenomenon. In years past, a house was put on the market and it was left to the imagination of the buyer to see its potential. I recall hearing my mother, who was a real estate agent in the 1960s, say to a client, “now . . .  you have to imagine all of your own beautiful pieces in these rooms.” Sellers are no longer simply hoping that potential buyers make that leap of imagination. Staging gives buyers visual references to allow them to see what their lives might be like if they lived in the house. Staged houses sell quicker.Roch7376

William Rochford, a real estate agent at Sotheby’s By The Sea on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, asked me to stage a circa 1866 large proud Victorian complete with swimming pool, tennis court, guest cottage and six car garage. I gulped quickly and said, “Oh, that sounds like fun.” Having staged a few of his listings in the past that sold quickly thereafter, I thought I knew what was in store when I agreed.Roch7392

In the 1980s, I lived around the corner from this same Victorian and had always admired it. The house has a courtly visage from the street. As it sits up on a hill, the view from the street makes the home appear even larger. Once inside, the rooms are tall and elegant. The pool, tennis court and accessory buildings open up to the rear of the property, lending the feeling you are on an estate. All of this is within easy walking distance from town, a beach and commuter rail station. Wandering about the landscaped grounds, it is easy to imagine pool parties and tennis matches straight from the society pages of newspapers.IMG_8513 crop

The current owners have purchased another home in town and had moved most of their furniture out. Large, mostly empty rooms awaited me as I began the assessment of what was needed to stage the house for sale. We drew upon a combination of rental furniture, pieces from my own inventory, items from the owners, and antiques borrowed from a shop in Essex, Massachusetts. Roch7451 fireLuckily, some very handsome oriental carpets were still in the house and I used those as a foundation on which to build the rooms around. As the house is so large, we decided to stage only the main rooms. The family room, formal parlor, dining room, sitting room, office, kitchen, morning room and master bedroom and bath were given the royal treatment.

Years ago, what drew me to real estate was not making the deal, it was the homes themselves. Turns out, what I really wanted to do was make them look better. Fortunately, the staging concept in the real estate industry has caught up to my desire.

All photographs are by Michael Rixon, professional photographer. Click on any photo to enlarge.

IMG_7787 cropRoch7425 libraryIMG_7769 ocean view

During a recent kitchen renovation of a 172 year-old structure that was a barn in its former life, an odiferous discovery was made. As the carpenters sawed through the joists and beams, a strong cow urine smell wafted up. The powerful aroma had been trapped inside the wood fibers all these years, just waiting to be released and remind us that cows once lived here.

In 1840, Ezra Eames built this barn to house the cows at the farm that marched up Pigeon Hill in Rockport, Massachusetts. An enormous hayloft on the top floor stored the hay for the bovines in the winter. The farm existed for a bit less than a century. At some point, the farm house, field worker house, apple pressing house and barn were all sold off separately.

Sometime in the late 1930s, Justine D. Ferris, a retired business woman and artist from Boston, came upon the barn and had the extraordinary vision to realize the barn could become her home and studio. She drew up the plans for the transformation herself. Justine had previously worked at both Harvard University and the Office of Public Welfare in Boston, but now was looking to immerse herself in art. In 1957, The Boston Globe featured an article about Justine and her remodel of the barn into artist studio and living spaces. From the dusty cow barn, she created a duplex, splitting the building in half, one side for her studio and living space and the other for rental.

The space Justine created for her studio is two stories with exposed beams throughout. She bumped out the existing space seven feet complete with gambrel roof lines. She also put in a huge northern facing skylight. Northern light for studio space is thought to be best as it casts no direct sun shadows. Unfortunately, old studio skylights are notoriously leaky and lose heat in the winter. The skylight was removed during a later owner’s renovation, leaving behind visible ghost marks on the wall where the skylight used to be. But despite the subsequent alterations, the studio’s character remains intact. The room is still flooded with light from both North, West and East.

Exposed beams from the 1840 post and beam construction were painted olive green at some point by a later owner. The paint has been recently stripped and the warm wood beams now catch your eye as they run through the white rough plaster walls. The dowels used to pin the barn together during its 1840 construction are still visible. The soaring two story interior remains dramatic, unlike many of the old cavernous studios in Rockport that have had second floors inserted after the buildings ceased to be used as studio spaces. The exterior stone curving staircase entrance that Justine had built for her clients’ visits still graces the northern side of the building. While Justine’s paintings are difficult to find, a good friend did recently find a portrait of an unknown woman signed by Justine D. Ferris.

Two fellow artists penned a two-part poem about Justine’s life entitled “A Medley of Melody to Justine Ferris,” dated September 16,1947. In the ode to Justine by fellow artist Ruth Berry, she references the studio and barn, “. . . The studio still a magnet is / That draws us all together / From days of yore to Rockport shore / In rainy and fair weather.” The other author of the poem Mariam Tibbetts speaks about Justine’s renovation of the barn: “Soon out of beam and loft and rubbish pile / The barn uprise into stately hall / With Lady Elm sweetly straight beckoning at the garden gate / And the star-set skylight welcoming all.” The elm is now long gone, probably a victim of Dutch Elm disease, but the beams and loft remain. Although the two-storied studio ceiling and living room do indeed rise upwards to eighteen feet, some poetic license was taken with the “stately hall” line.

This old barn near the bay has transitioned from bovine shelter to artist studio and now re-purposed home. This old artist-colony studio may yet have another budding artist in its future. Cows, probably not so.

Click on any photo to enlarge.

 

Growing up we always had dogs. When they would dig holes in the garden or yard, my father would egg them on by saying, “dig for the Chinaman!” The first time he said it, I raced inside to check his geography on our globe. He was off by quite a bit, but it made for entertaining — if not a bit xenophobic — play for the dogs.

This remembrance kept cropping up as we hauled buckets of mud up and out of a quarry behind Howlets. This small quarry, actually called a “motion” (the term for a one- or two-man quarrying site), had begun to fill up with muck and debris over the years. It felt like we were digging for China.

Shovel in hand

This summer’s drought-like conditions dried up the motion to the point that the bottom was visible. How clean and tidy it would look from the kitchen windows if only we could remove the gook! The entire Rabin/Atwood family was pressed into service over the course of a week’s time. Buckets and wheelbarrows were filled and hauled up and out again and again. Picture the Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence from Fantasia, except rather than carrying buckets of water we had buckets of muck. In an attempt to be encouraging, Heather offered that the gardens would love this rich compost being removed from the seemingly bottomless pit. It was a bit of a cold comfort for our aching backs. As the wide granite steps left by the quarrymen began to reappear from under the detritus, the original shape of the motion came into view. The stone removed from this motion was used to build Howlets in 1911. As we contemplated the men carrying the stone from the earth instead of mud, we stopped whining about our labors.

Mucking about

When the snow melts and then the Spring rains come, this small quarry will fill up again and provide tidy eye candy from the kitchen’s french doors. After the back breaking labor, it had better. . . . The price we pay for beauty.

From quarry to home

Portrait of a young girl.

Elana

For many children and teenagers growing up on Cape Ann, Art was not something that resided far away, in museums in Boston and New York. Great art was being made in studios down the street or across the cove. Many youths were asked to pose by the great artists that created their art in Rockport and Gloucester. Elana Brink, nee Pistenmaa, was such a teenager.

On a recent August afternoon, Elana generously shared her memories of when, at age 17, her portrait was drawn by Lilian Westcott Hale. Lilian Wescott Hale was thought to be one of the best portrait painters of her time. She met her husband Philip Leslie Hale while taking classes at the School of Fine Arts in Boston. He was her teacher and seventeen years her senior. While Philip studied under Monet at Giverny, Lilian was recognized as the better painter of the two. When viewers admired Philip’s paintings, as he peered over his glasses, his usual reply was, “Wait until you see Mrs. Hale’s paintings.” Lilian’s paintings can be seen at the Harvard University Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.

Lilian sketching in 1902

Elana’s portrait was executed in the stone studio at Howlets, the Hale family summer studio in Folly Cove. She posed four mornings a week for a two week time span during August of 1959. This pencil sketch was one of the last works that Lilian produced before passing away in 1963. Elana did not see her portrait in progress during the sittings and when she finally did see it upon its completion, she felt as if she had been portrayed in such a saddened state that she told both Lilian and her daughter Nancy that she looked like “she should have tears running down my face.” Upon hearing this, Nancy replied, “Oh no darling, you look dramatic ! ”

Hale family studio

Elana’s family was no stranger to great artists. Elana’s father, when he was a teen, was immortalized as “The Diver” by the sculptor Walker Hancock.

Elana visited the studio again this month and graciously brought the portrait for Heather, one of the current owners of the studio, and myself to see. Nancy Hale was correct in her assessment of the portrait of Elana:  she does look dramatic in it, wonderfully so. It captures the beauty and slightly self-possessed air that only a 17 year old can carry off successfully. Elana had made the dress in which she posed. When sitting for the portrait, Elana recalled that Lilian, aged 78, kept asking Elana, aged 17, if she was tired and needed a rest from posing. Nancy Hale said of her mother during that time period, “In her early eighties, my mother produced some of her best portrait drawings, working as ever, with arms outstretched at full length without a tremor for hours, although by that time she could not hold a cup and saucer without rattling it.” Elana remembers both Lilian and her daughter Nancy as being “so elegant with their styled white hair.”

For Elana, growing up among artists was nothing remarkable. She remembers meeting “so many artists” and only later recognized that quite a few of them were famous. Elana and her father are part of a long legacy of artists drawing their inspiration from not only Cape Ann’s landscape, but from its people.

Elana and her portrait in the studio

Hardscrabble

This post is part of a continuing series on Cape Ann artists, their studios and work.

Scattered throughout the old village of Rockport, Massachusetts are studios of famous and not-so-famous artists. Richard Recchia and Kitty Parsons Recchia had a home and studio there. Richard was a sculptor and Kitty was a watercolorist and poetess. Kitty was a founding member of the Rockport Art Association in 1920. You may recognize some of Richard’s work that are on public display in New England.

Poised to dive

His friezes, depicting “Art” and “Architecture,” done in a Greek style, adorn the Fenway side of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A joyfully whimsical boy riding a frog is in a pocket park beside the Rockport Art Association and a woman executed in bronze, on the verge of diving, is in the inner courtyard of the Association. The diver was originally placed near their studio under a magnolia tree. When the blossoms began to fall, they created a pool of petals below, creating the illusion that she was diving into a pond of pink petals. Recchia’s statue of the Revolutionary War General John Stark astride a fiery steed graces Stark Park in Manchester, New Hampshire near the equestrian’s burial site. The Association and the Museum of Fine Arts have permission to reproduce some of his smaller pieces and they are occasionally available for sale.

Joyride

Self-satisfied feline

At peace

Kitty’s watercolors are more difficult to find on public display. However, I have included two examples from a private collection below.

Something to crow about

Summer in a vase

Richard and Kitty’s house and studio are Dutch Colonial in style with sweeping end gables, which give it a flair. Dutch Colonial architecture was not widely used on Cape Ann so the house stands out. The house, grounds and studio, although in a neighborhood setting, have a mini estate feel, complete with gazebo. They named the house and studio, Hardscrabble. Their early years of the struggling artists’ life were perhaps the inspiration for the name. The old artists-colony-style studio’s large metal framed windows that are inset into the Dutch style gable of the roof give clues to what lies within. The studio ceiling is two stories high with a huge arched doorway to the outside to accommodate the large sculptures that Richard executed in the space. Thankfully, both structures remain intact, although the studio was converted to a living space and both the house and studio were sold out of the family after their deaths.

Richard, sculptures, & studio

Richard, Kitty, & collie

Richard had the foresight to design his own tombstone before his demise, a large bronze headstone depicting Richard as a figure leaping in an upward rush heavenward. It is entitled “Flight of the Soul” and is located in a Rockport cemetery. Although not widely known, both of these individuals made up a group of artists that lived worked and created art in a town at the end of a cape.

Flight of the soul

Click on any photo to enlarge.

Party in the snow

Rockport, Massachusetts has an ordinance allowing liquor to be served only with a sit down meal. Despite this town law, Rockport has a very wild night life which begins at dusk and carries on with reckless abandon into the wee hours of the morning. A party animal was recently spotted, complete with a red fur coat, drinking out of our stone watering trough. Several days later, the remains of a late night feast were scattered on the front lawn. The reveler was at least following the town policy of having a meal with a drink when out on the town. While I was unable to get a photo of the foxy lady drinking from the trough at dusk, recent paw prints in the snow confirmed it was not just a hallucination. The squirrel that she had dined upon was left in furry bits across the lawn, like beer cans dumped from a car of underage drinkers. Who says Rockport closes up at night?

Can I check your ID?

Red fox eat mostly rodents and there is a plethora of them in our circa 1840 barn-converted-to-house. Generations of mice have been happily coming into the barn when the weather turns cold in the fall. Our cat is totally uninterested in performing his duties, so our hopes are now pinned on the red fox. From her paw prints in the snow we can see she has searched next to the foundation for her next meal. Would it be wrong to invite her inside for a mouse smorgasbord?  To further entice, perhaps a local microbrewery ale pumped through the stone trough spouts. We want to remain compliant with the town’s “drink with a meal” policy, even for the wild night life crowd.

Beer bong for wild life

                                      Click on any photo to enlarge

A photo phantasmagoria from Rockport, Massachusetts and Palm Springs, California.

Click on any photo to enlarge.

Happy Holidays,

Tom