Visit the Florence Griswold Museum

Front of the House

The Florence Griswold Museum is located at 96 Lyme Street, in Old Lyme, Connecticut.  Although there are several buildings that make up the museum, the Griswold house is the first thing you see upon entering the property. Florence’s father built the house, and left it to Florence, who never married.  Later in life, she took in borders in order to pay for the upkeep of the house.  By happy chance, the borders she took in were all American Impressionist artists, and the house became a summer art colony in the early 1900′s.  The artists painted just about every blank space in the house, and much of it is preserved for our viewing pleasure.  Here’s the dining room with artwork painted on the panel under the mantle, and around the silver service:

 Dining Room

The upper floor of the house includes galleries of the work of the artists who summered in the house.  Here’s one of my personal favorites by Allen Talcott.  It’s the Farmington River Valley in 1896.

Art Upstairs

 In addition to the house, the Kemble Gallery includes rotating exhibits.  It also has a small theater, where you can view a 19 minute film called “Once Upon a Time in Old Lyme: The Story of an American Colony”.  The film is worth watching.  When we visited, the rotating collections included folk art from the Fenimore Art Museum plus a collection of painted chests.  This building also includes a café.

The grounds in summer are simply wonderful.

House GardenFlower in the Garden (1)

Also on the grounds, which border the Lieutenant River, is an outdoor sculpture by Matthew Geller called “Anticpator”, perhaps because it periodically steams and moves in the wind, and you can’t really anticipate what it will do next.

Anticpator 2

The museum costs $9 for seniors.  Here is the link to the web page for the museum:

Quilts and Color

The “Quilts and Color” exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has left.  If you didn’t get the chance to see it, you missed a unique chance to view quilts as art.  If you were expecting the classic wedding ring quilts, or for that matter, pretty quilts, you would have been disappointed. These were not the “lets see what we can make with leftover scraps” quilts that I had heard about as a child.  The artists who made these quilts put a lot of thought and fine materials into them.  All are hand stiched.  The exhibit featured 60 American quilts from the Pilgrim/Roy collection.  Gerald Roy grew up in Worcester, MA and was trained as an artist.  He, and his late partner, Paul Pilgrim, collected late 19th Century and early 20th Century quilts that they felt made statements about art.  The first part of the exhibit seemed to be quilts that featured color as the major statement.  Many were truly eye popping, like this one.

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 Later on in the exhibit, we moved to quilts with more pattern work.  The audience when I was there (a weekday) seemed to be full of quilters, who were taking a close look at the construction of the quilts.  You could, however, just let the designs wash over you, and appreciate the planning and artistry that would be required to produce these works of art.  I was particularly intrigued by the basket quilt, which seemed to change colors, depending on which direction you looked at it from.

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Roy’s labels helped the viewer to understand just what attracted Roy and Pilgrim to each quilt, and why they added it to their collection.  Although many of these quilts are 100 years old, they are remarkably contemporary in their use of color.  Even though I went during one of the last days of the exhibit, I was delighted to see the galleries full of people interested in this art form.

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The exhibition catalog ($45.00) is well worth acquiring if you missed this exhibit.  Here’s the link to the MFA shop:


Visit the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA

Why are we still so interested in a religion and a way of life that has only three practitioners left in the United States?  I think the complexities of our lives these days makes us yearn for a time when life was simpler.  Not only was it simpler, but in some ways it was more real.  At the end of the workday, you could look back at the Shaker boxes, brooms, furniture, laundry, preserves, etc. that you had made during the day with a sense of satisfaction that you had spent your time that day doing something of use.  Many of us with office jobs today wonder if we are of any real use to anyone.

Whatever your motivation, you will enjoy visiting the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield.  Unlike Sabbathday Lake, there are no Shakers left here.   But the guides are interesting and well informed.  During our day at Hancock, we watched the introductory movie at the visitor’s center, went over to the brick dormitory to hear about the daily life of the Shakers, got to pick up chicks, showed up for a demonstration of the water turbine in the “factory” shop, got to help make a “double” rolling pin, and participated in a Shaker music program.  In addition, we had a nice lunch at the Village Harvest Café.

The village is a great place to bring kids.  They have stocked the barns with baby animals that kids can pet.  They have gardens so city kids can learn how vegetables are grown.  There’s also a barn for kids with Shaker costumes they can try on, a large plastic cow to milk, and other things that appeal to children.

Here is the iconic round barn at the village:


 Here is an interpreter using the “double” rolling pin that made rolling out a crust faster.  It was a critical item in a kitchen that fed 100 people three times a day.  Behind the interpreter, and to the right, you see a cupboard that is really a dumbwaiter used to transport all that food up to the dining room directly above the kitchen.


Learning to make a “double” rolling pin.


As Shakers were celibate, women and men lived in a building that was divided in half, with women on one side and men on the other.  There was no mixing at worship or dinner, which was eaten in silence.  Even work was segregated by sex.  Also, casual gossip was discouraged to promote harmony.  At the height of their numbers, people were house five to a pretty stark room.


 We wondered why people were drawn to living in such close quarters, and then came upon this account of Hannah Cohoon, the woman who designed the Shaker “Tree of Life”.  It turns out that the Shaker village was a refuge for women with children whose husbands had deserted them.  Shakers continually rotated jobs, so people became skilled in many types of work.  This proved to be a downfall for the Shakers after the Civil War, when the manpower shortage in the country drew a lot of the male Shakers out of the Shaker villages.  The religion never recovered.


Tickets to the village cost $18.  Here’s the link to the Village’s web site:



Take the Essex Steam Train Gillette Castle Connection


Last August I did a post about riding the Essex steam train.  Last weekend I went back to try the all day steam train, hike, ferry, hike, tour Gillette Castle, hike, ferry, steam train, riverboat and steam train option.   It was a glorious day, and although the schedule sounds rushed, it isn’t.  You have adequate time to do everything, but you do have to keep on schedule.  If you take this option, the schedule goes something like this:

  • 11 a.m.       Board the steam train at the Essex station
  • 11:30          Get off the train and walk 1100 feet down the road to the ferry which crosses the Connecticut river.  The ferry runs continuously, so you just wait until it gets over to your side and hop on.  It costs $2 for walkers.  The ferry lets you off at a trail that takes you up to Gillette Castle (the walk is 3/8 of a mile.)  The trail is pretty much uphill all the way, and involves a lot of stairs created with timbers.  The ferry ride and the walk to the castle will take about 40 minutes.  You then have an hour and 35 minutes to tour the castle (more on that later.)
  • 1:45 p.m.    Leave the castle for the hike back down to the ferry and the trip across the river.  The ferry doesn’t charge a fee in this direction.
  • 2:25 p.m.    The steam train picks you up where it dropped you off earlier.
  • 2:40 p.m.    Board the riverboat for the trip on the Connecticut River
  • 4 p.m.         The riverboat arrives back at Deep River, and you get back on the steam train.
  • 4:35 p.m.    You return to Essex station.

Gillette Castle was the home of William Gillette, a stage superstar in the early 1900’s.  His decorating taste was like no one else’s that you will ever encounter.  He also had an eye for a great view.  It is clear he liked stone and wood.  All of the 46 wood doors in the house were designed by him. There are two Tiffany lights in the house.  The walls are covered with what looks like woven rope.   His biography mentions that he lived on a boat for many years before he built his home, and you can see the boating influence in the design of the house. 

It costs $6 for an adult to tour the house.  The tours are self guiding, but there were guides in every room to answer questions and point out the interesting features, like the bar that has a secret to opening it.  Gillette would tell his guests to help themselves to the bar while he was gone, and then spy on them when they tried to open it.  Miss Manners would not approve.

Here is a picture of William Gillette, by anyone’s estimation a handsome man:


The photo at the top of this blog is of the outside of his home.  He wanted it to the have the “unfinished” look of the castle ruins in France. 

Here’s William’s bedroom.  You can see the “boating” influence.  There is a place for everything.  The luxurious aspect of what looks like humble bedrooms is that each bedroom has its own bathroom en suite.

045Here’s a cozy nook in the great room.


At one time there was a model train with three miles of track that you could ride on at Gillette castle.  It now appears that even the track has been removed.

 There’s a nice orientation movie to the castle at the visitor’s center.  You have time to see the film, visit the castle, and have a quick picnic lunch on the grounds, all within the Essex schedule.  Both the steam train ride and the riverboat ride were enjoyable.  Put them together with the ferry ride across the Connecticut River and Gillette castle, and you have an outstanding package for $28.  Be sure to make reservations in advance for this trip.

Here’s the link to the Gillette Castle webpage:


Visit the Site of the First Iron Works in America

Before there was steel, iron was in high demand for making weapons, nails, farming tools and even sewing pins.  The first iron works in this country was located in New England, near the Saugus River.  It had a limited life span (approximately 1646-1670) due to its failure to generate operating profits.  How is it possible to not make money when you are the only source of forged iron in the country, and the nearest competitor is Spain?  Puritan business failures aside, the National Park Service has done a remarkable job of reconstructing the original iron works, and it’s worth a visit.

So, what is there to do?  First, stop in the visitors’ center and get a map.  The park brochures were ruined by a flood this winter, but they do have paper maps.  Then go to the museum and see the 12 minute movie that will orient you to the site.  It’s very well done, and gives you a good idea of the dangers of working in an iron works in the 1600’s.  It also clearly explains how the iron ore was processed, and why the Saugus site was selected by the Puritans.

Once you’ve taken in the museum, walk down to the restoration of the works.  First, you’ll come to the blast furnace, where raw iron ore was combined with gabbro (both of which could be mined locally).  These were then fired up by charcoal, created from logging the local trees.  The resulting molten iron ore was allowed to flow into sand molds, to make bars of iron.

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Bottom of the blast furnace

That iron was then processed further in the forge, where it was made into useful products, such as plows.  The forge was located to take advantage of river water to turn the water wheels that powered the forge.  In addition, keep an eye out for the gigantic bellows (twice the height of a person) that added air to the fire, making it hotter.

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The Forge bellows

Then the slitting mill was used to cut iron into useful thin rods, subsequently used to make nails and pins.

The site itself was lovely on the beautiful  spring day we visited.  Canada geese have come for the summer, and one had a nest on what was once the slag pile.  You could bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it while watching the river glide by.  This is probably not an ideal trip for unpleasant days, as much of the experience is out of doors.

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It will take about an hour and a half to see this site.  Here is the address of the park’s web site:

Knights at the Worcester Art Museum

I couldn’t resist going to see what the Worcester Art Museum had done with the Higgins collection.  Like many people I was saddened to see the collection move out of the Armory.  However, I certainly understand the costs of maintaining a building that size.  When I visited the Higgins Armory just before it closed, you could see that the collection had become a bit dusty.  I suppose you can’t just take a feather duster and a can of Endust to an armory collection.

The good news from the move is that much of the armor has been cleaned, and is looking brighter than ever.

Newly Cleaned Armor

Another piece of good news is that the Worcester Art Museum had taken some of their paintings from the “courtly” era, and combined them with the armor, making for a more comprehensive exhibit.

Paintings from the courtly era

Some of the collection was sold to raise money to maintain the core collection, but what remains is so vast that we will probably never see it all on display at once.

The poster for the Knights exhibit has an especially lovely Wedgewood sword in it – Who knew that Wedgewood made swords?  They would certainly have been my “go to” provider for my sword if I needed one.

Wedgewood Sword

Much of the collection is still being cleaned and/or restored, so we can look forward to changing exhibits as this project goes forward.

My one reservation about the exhibit is what they did to the suit of armor that was displayed on a horse at the Higgins.  Here is a photo of the old exhibit and the new.  Why paint a horse Pepto-Bismol pink if you already have a perfectly acceptable realistic horse to use?

iphonephotos 044Knight on Horse

All in all, the Worcester Art Museum is off to a good start being stewards of the Higgins collection.  They should remember, however, that Worcester is watching them.

Visit the Rose Art Gallery at Brandeis University

Brandeis is a “young” university (the first class graduated in 1951), and in line with this, has a youthful art gallery.  You won’t find old masters here.  Nearly all the art on display is modern and/or contemporary art.  The museum is free, but has limited hours, so check before you go at:  The museum gets points for having a wonderful parking system.  You stop at the front gate to the campus, and get a hanging tag that lets you park in museum spaces, which are right in front of the museum.

I have to admit that I was confused by most of what I saw at the Rose.  The main floor had one exhibit that didn’t puzzle me:  bridges and a building made out of erector sets by Chris Burden.  The building made from erector pieces goes down to the ground floor, so you are only seeing half of it in this photo.

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That was my last solid contact with reality.  We stopped in a little theater to see a film of performance art that seemed to relate somehow to the Illiad and World War I.  It consisted of a black and white painted person reading a long poem that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  There were scripts of the poem outside the door, but it was difficult to see how it related to the Illiad.  Anyway, here’s a shot of the narrator – pretty scary.

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On the lower level, we saw a rectangle of garbage that looked like it had just come from a trash compactor, and then saw a movie that somehow related to the trash, as I could see things in the movie that were included in the cube of trash.  The entire project was called Squeeze, and I’m still baffled by it.

The Rose does have some works by artists no longer living.  On the ground floor we also saw The Blue Woman by Fernand Leger, and The Ciphon by Juan Gris, coupled with a contemporary work by Thomas Scheibitz called Nebenwerte.  Here’s a photo of that installation:

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The Rose museum is not for the faint of heart.  I found its works either baffling or disturbing.  Then I remember that they said the same thing about the Impressionists when they first started showing their work.  Go and decide for yourself.

Go See the Russian Icon Museum

This museum, located in Clinton, MA, truly is an undiscovered gem in central Massachusetts.  Gordon B. Lankton, industrialist, started collecting Russian icons, got carried away with his collecting, and eventually opened this museum in 2006 to house them all.  You’ll hear the history of his collecting in the audio headsets available at the front desk.  They are free, and even if you take a formal tour, say yes to the audio headset.  It is narrated by Mr. Lankton, and it is excellent.  If you take the official tour, the guide will show you the collections’s highlights.  The audio headset has more in depth coverage of the collection.  Admission to the museum for seniors is $5.

If, like me, you were wondering why anyone would be interested in icons, which seem to be rather primitive art work, this museum will enlighten you.  Icons were critical to Russian Orthodox churches, and were even found in homes.  They were used to explain stories from the bible to illiterate worshippers, and to separate the worshippers from the clergy.  From photos of churches in the collection, the church in this era subscribed to the “let no space go undecorated” theory and icons were generously distributed throughout the churches.

Many of the icons include incredible detail, which can be appreciated by use of the magnifying glasses thoughtfully hanging throughout the collection.

This icon of John the Baptist is the oldest one in the museum:

 Oldest Icon in the colletcion  John the Baptist

This row of iconostatsis, called a festival row, is from the 16th century:

 Iconostatsis, Festival Row

These icons would have been used in churches.

 Icons from Churches

I didn’t know (until I visited this museum) that icons are still being created today.  On the lower level of the museum, you can see a modern icon, and view a quick film about how an icon is made.

Right now through May 24th you have the additional treat of an exhibit called “The Tsars’ Cabinet”, two hundred years of decorative arts under the Romanovs.  It consists mainly of china from the tsars that ruled during this time span.  Apparently, every new tsar got his own china, and of course, every palace had to have its own pattern.  Even the royal yachts had their own china.

In addition to the collection, the museum has a calendar of ongoing events that include movies, concerts, and at Easter time, classes in decorating Ukranian Easter eggs.  There’s even traditional Russian teas.

I have to say that this museum was thoughtfully designed with an eye to showing the collection to its best advantage and providing comfort to the museum visitor.  The gift shop is also a delight.  When we were there, they were considering stocking coffee grinders in the shape of Russian dolls.  I think they’ll be a hit.

You can visit the museum’s web site at this address:



Worship with the Last Remaining Shaker Colony

New England is home to the last active Shaker community in America, located in New Gloucester, Maine, at 707 Shaker Road.  Their Sunday service is open to all, and in early April, a group of us went to Maine to participate in the service.  During the summer months, the Shakers worship in the Meeting House shown below:

Summer Worship Center

However, in the winter, they worship in the Chapel in the Dwelling House, as the Dwelling House is heated in the winter.  Here is the Chapel where we worshipped:

Winter Worship Hall

Sunday meeting is held at 10 a.m.  We arrived around 9:30 to settle in and prepare for the service.  The hymn book that they passed out contained only Shaker written hymns, so they were all unfamiliar to me.  In the Shaker tradition, men sit on one side of the chapel and women sit on the other.  Although there is some structure to the service, in the form of readings from the Bible and hymns, much of the service is giving over to personal testimony, where participants speak about what the readings meant to them, or anything else of a spiritual nature that is on their minds.  Sometimes we get too comfortable with the format of our “home” services, and I found this service shook me up and made me pay attention to what people were saying.  Men and women are equal participants in the service.

After the service, coffee and delicious donuts were served down the in dining room.  We enjoyed them, followed by a brief tour of the farm.  One of our group is a frequent volunteer at the farm, and so she took us around.  In the summer season, there are official tours of the farm.  However, there was still snow on the ground when we were there, and a sharp wind was blowing, so our tour was necessarily brief.  On the farm they raise Scottish Highland cattle.  One of them, named Fiona, had a horn growing in the wrong direction, and it looked like it was growing into her cheek.  Brother Arnold assured us that he periodically cuts the horn back so that Fiona is comfortable, and even gave one of our party a piece of her horn.  Here is Fiona with a friend.

Fiona and Friend

They also raise sheep at the farm, and then sell items made from the wool.

Sheep 2

In addition to all this, they have an orchard in production, tend vegetable gardens and a commercial herb garden, hay the fields and manufacture goods for the gift shop. Since the remaining Shakers total three people, two women and one man, they hire local help to keep these enterprises going.  Their motto, from their founder, Mother Ann, is to “put our hands to work and hearts to God”.  I could see, even in the early spring, that running this huge enterprise, even with help, must be overwhelming in the winter.  There are definitely many opportunities to put hands to work.

Because of our “special” status as friends of a volunteer, we were invited to stay for lunch, and it was delicious.  Again, the women sit at separate tables from the men, and even had their own entrance to the dining room.  Shakers do not marry, and are celibate, which may be part of the reason that their numbers have dwindled down to these last three people.

You can find out more about the Shaker community at their website:, Although I notice that they haven’t yet posted the calendar of events for 2014, the 2013 calendar shows that they open on Memorial Day, and have events going throughout the summer months.

Get Ready for the Academy Awards

Feeling like winter will never end?  That is the downside of retiring in New England, unless you make the winter pilgrimage to Florida.  However, if you’re wondering what you can do to entertain yourself while you’re waiting for spring, here’s an idea – get ready for the upcoming Academy Awards show on March 2nd.  I’ve been spending my time seeing the nine movies that were nominated for best picture this year.   Now I don’t know what the criteria are for “best picture”, but in my mind it has to include a compelling story line in addition to strong performances.  The strongest of this year’s nominations are based on real life experiences.   Here’s a quick opinionated summary of my viewing:

American Hustle:  I have no idea how this picture got into the nominations.  There are some very fine performances here, one in particular by Jennifer Lawrence, but the story line is simply absurd, in spite of the opening assurance that “some of this story really happened”.  It’s not a high choice for winning, in my opinion, but see it anyway and watch carefully for shots done in Worcester.  I saw the Worcester Art Museum, Union Station, some Worcester street scenes, and the Worcester airport (I think).

Captain Phillips:  This is a wonderful picture about the capture of a Maersk container ship by Somali pirates.  Tom Hanks gives a gripping performance as the captain kidnapped by the pirates.  Even though I knew he got out OK (it is based on the 2009 actual event), I was on the edge of my seat throughout the film.  Not only that, but you get to see the inside workings of the container ship business, which are really quite interesting.  The film is so balanced that you come away with some sympathy for the plight of the pirates.  A very strong bet for “best picture”.

Dallas Buyers Club:  I had no interest in seeing this film, but it turned out to be much better than I would have thought a movie about the early years of the AIDs epidemic would be.  Be warned that there’s lots of nudity, bad language, and drugs, but this memoir effectively plays with the viewer’s emotions.  Matthew McCaughney plays a fairly unlikable person who turns into someone that you are rooting for by the end of the film.  An interesting story, but not a “best picture” contender in my opinion.

Gravity:  I just loved this movie.  Sandra Bullock is compelling as an astronaut stranded in space and trying to get back to earth alive.  It is so rare to have a movie that relies almost totally on a single performer, and even rarer to have that performer be female.  Hollywood should take note that there is a place for strong female roles in the movies!  This movie grabs you and won’t let go until the end.  My strongest vote for “best movie” goes to Gravity.

Her:  If you’re a Star Trek fan, you’ve seen this plot before – one of the crew members gets just a little bit too attached to a character on the holodeck.  Although this time a real person gets too attached to a personality inside the computer, the idea is similar – it will all end in tears.  Not a contender in my opinion, but an interesting movie nevertheless.

Nebraska:  This movie is really different, something rare in Hollywood these days.  Bruce Dern (aged 77) plays a man convinced that he’s won a million dollars in a publishing lottery, and that he has to travel from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his winnings.  Under duress, his son, played by Will Forte, agrees to drive him.  Although this sounds like a set up for a typical road trip movie, it isn’t just that. The black and white photography is unforgettable, as are some of the family scenes.  I think I lived through the awkward scene where all the brothers are reunited, and can’t find anything to say to each other, so they watch television.  I don’t think it will win the Oscar, but it is well worth seeing.

Philomena:  Such riches – another film starring a woman.  Judi Dench stars as an aged Irish Catholic woman searching for a son born out of wedlock and taken from her by nuns to be adopted.  The trail leads to the U.S., and then back to Ireland again.  The wronged party turns out to be more forgiving than the religious involved in this story.  Well worth seeing, and a strong contender for the Oscar.

12 Years a Slave:  The title tells it all:  Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as a free black man captured and sold into slavery in Louisiana for 12 years.  It’s another movie based on a memoir.  If you saw “Roots”, you’ve seen this movie.  It’s hard to watch, but probably news to the current generation, who has not seen anything like this before.  It is a strong contender for best picture.

The Wolf of Wall Street:  If there is any justification for a three hour movie, this isn’t it.  If they took all the “f” words out of this movie, it would only be two hours.  Again, there’s lots of nudity, sex, bad language, and drugs.  I didn’t expect to like this movie, but I did.  There’s a scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio has taken too many drugs, and has driven out to a local country club to make a phone call, as the feds have tapped his home phone.  By the time he reaches the phone, he can no longer speak coherently.  And then he can’t even walk or crawl.  Although this sounds ugly, it was so funny that I haven’t laughed so hard since Woody Allen got out of the comedy business.  Put your scruples on hold, and go see the movie.  It probably won’t get best picture, and doesn’t deserve it, but it’s well worth seeing.

Once you have taken in all of these movies, plan a party for March 2nd, and see how close you came to picking “best picture”.