Memorial Day: Scenes from Small Town Life

In a small town, life is lived in close-up.  One runs into family, friends, and not so friends alike in the space of a few blocks.  Everyone knows the latest gossip instantly. And in a small town, the populace  celebrate and mourn together.
 The foundations of this house had just been laid in 1813 when the British invaded our peninsula during the War of 1812, and the house was not finished until after the occupation ended.

A couple of days ago, I happened upon my parents, suddenly in their 80's, suddenly tiny and bent over, leaving for the cemetery to place geraniums at family graves for Memorial Day.  I can remember back fifty years---my great grandparents going to the cemetery on this Spring ritual, then my grandparents, and now  watching my parents walk toward their car with trowels and plants (they cheerfully declined all offers of help), I realized with a start that soon I will be the one taking the geraniums to the cemetery.   Sobered and reflective upon this realization, I walked over to Seaside Cemetery (yes, the dead in our village enjoy ocean frontage), and paid a visit.   Flags were fluttering on the graves of all known soldiers buried there, veterans of all wars since the 1812, when a local militia unsuccessfully defended against British occupation.  The soldiers who served in the Revolution are buried in a yet older cemetery on my street.  

I read that Memorial Day is not celebrated in many places nowadays.  Not true here.  In my lifetime, the veterans of the Spanish American and First World Wars have gone, and now marching in our parade can be seen the veterans of World War II (ever fewer), Korea, Vietnam, Bush War I, Bush War II, and Afghanistan.  Behind the soldiers were cub scouts, and children on tricycles, just excited to be in a parade, not really yet understanding what the day is really about, and sadly,  unless we finally learn from history, all too soon there will be a war for them to remember too....

From a quiet side street, a crowd can be seen gathering for the parade on Main St.

It was a breathtaking day---summer came to Maine early and with great sincerity this year--gone the rains that have dominated the last three years.  The lilacs whose fragrance usually perfumes the parade were long past,  the temperature is in the 70's, and the sensation everywhere is of green leaves and brilliant blue sky and sparkling water. The excellent high school band played with verve, the veterans marched proud, the firetrucks gleamed.   And the stupid Dilettante, not paying attention, snapped dozens of pictures, not realizing that he hadn't changed the camera settings from video, resulting in  snapshots that didn't, hence there are no pictures of the color and pageantry here.  Sorry.
The Dilettante discovered too late that his camera was on video and not taking the snaps thought he was capturing.  This is the tail end of the parade, after the soldiers, the tank, the high school band, the firetrucks and the cub scouts....

Waiting for the parade to return from the cemetery

Old cars have been brought out for the summer, here with flags flying in honor of the day

The parade begins at the Legion Hall, in the original village academy building, where a small and dedicated group struggle to keep alive the memories of those who have served.   The cannon on the lawn was fired in salute.  Across the street, in the meadow in front of a village house, there is another memorial, a very evocative one, thousands of tiny white flags remembering the dead, military and civilian, killed in the current Bush War.  Here each Sunday, a peace vigil is held.   Just up the street lived my grandparents, and their neighbors, the Westcotts.  Each family had two sons in World War II, the boys grew up together.   My father and his brother returned safely---cruelly, the Westcott sons did not. 

After a stop on the bridge overlooking the harbor, where a 21 gun salute honors the dead of all branches of the armed forces, followed by Taps, the parade moves on to the cemetery, where flags flutter on the graves of Veterans of every war since the Revolution, and a wreath is laid at the Civil War Monument in one corner.

The parade then breaks up, and we all leave for our barbecues.

Veterans of three wars on the Town Hall Lawn, 1920's.


So Many Awards, So Little Time, or Once Again I'd Like to Thank All the Little People Watching at Home...

It all started simply enough.

Hibernian Homme, writer of an eclectic, personal, and very entertaining blog, having been nominated for a Beautiful Blogger award, nominated me as one of his seven.  Very kind, very flattering.  I had once before been tagged, and had to perform the required exercise, to tell seven things about myself that my readers might not know (for that list, click here).   Now I had to overcome my natural modesty ( I ask my friends to be quiet here, no chortling) and tell seven more of my most personal secrets.  Okay, needed a couple of days for that.  One does not give up personal details too easily in print.

For Hibernian Homme, a stair worthy of Norma Desmond

But then, whilst I'm noodling over this, wonderful Little Augury, who was deservedly awarded by another blogger, tagged me again, and sneaky lady, she did a twofer and nominated me for both Prolific Blogger, and Beautiful Blogger again.  For these, the required exercises were name seven blogs I love, and seven things that readers might not know about me.  Okay, it can take me four weeks to pick a shade of white paint, now I've got to choose seven favorite bloggers from a list of fifteen favorites?  And can I nominate the people who have already nominated me, as they absolutely make the short list?  Plus seven things not well known about myself.  Combined with Hibernian's award, does that mean I have to come up with fourteen?  I'd better go lie down......

For Little Augury, the urn she so admired, complete with seaside setting
I had little time to ponder this question, for THEN the divine Barbara of It's About Time, and Early American Gardens tagged me, and the essay she wrote for her seven nominations was both so kind and lovely, and her list of what she loves so dazzling, that now the bar had been raised impossibly high. And again the question of math?  Do I do a list for each nomination, or just seven of each for all?  And in nominating Barbara back, do I nominate both blogs or just the blogger?   Hmmmm.......

 For Barbara, early 19th century watercolors by Jonathan Fisher of plants in his garden

 So, just as I'm starting to phrase my thanks, and winnowing down my lists, along comes another nomination, from darling Reggie Darling.  Reggie was another Little Augury double nominee, so now I am again charged with another conundrum.  My  head, swollen to frightening dimensions by all these nominations, is about to explode....All those lists to make!  And which way shall I play it?  If I respond with a separate list for each nomination, no favorite blogger goes unnoticed, BUT, then I have to tell 28 things about myself.  And I, who can barely even make a grocery list (actually I don't make grocery lists, but I'll save that for the seven things not known....)

For Reggie, a little something in basic black

So, how do I handle all this acclaim from my fellows, other than with becoming modesty?  Where are my lists?  Tune in tomorrow for the answers.  Right now, I have to go and finish whitewashing a plank ceiling.  Don't ask what shade....


Concrete Beauty: E.E. Soderholtz

Pay attention, class.  With the advent of summer, I will be posting about several favorite gardens here in  eastern Maine, and this is a name you will need to remember:  Eric Ellis Soderholtz.  He was a pioneer in American garden pottery at the turn of the last century, and as well as in the artistic use of that most humble of mediums, concrete.  His extraordinary garden pots, perfect in the Maine landscape, were among the fascinations of many area gardens in my youth. 

Three examples of Soderholtz at his best, two pots based on ancient forms in re-inforced concrete, and a birdbath (Soderholtz photograph)

Architectural Photographer
Born in Sweden, based in Boston, Soderholtz's first career was as a photographer, specializing in Architecture.  In the late 19th century, on the wave of interest in America's past, he published several groundbreaking books of photographs of early American houses.  His work also appeared in most of the major magazines of the day, from Architectural Record to House Beautiful.  In a review of one of his books, Architectural Review's critic opined that Soderholtz had no peer among architectural photographers.

E.E. Soderholtz at age 91 in 1959, with one of his ancient inspired jars

A similar jar by Soderholtz, originally in the garden at Beatrix Farrand's 'Reef Point' estate in Bar Harbor, now at Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor.

He first discovered Maine on a fishing trip, winding up in the hamlet of West Gouldsboro, near the spectacular scenery of the Schoodic Peninsula, now part of Acadia National Park.  He fell in love with the area, and eventually built a fascinating stone Arts & Crafts bungalow, Boreas Lodge, on a rocky ledge there.  

A deceptively simple turned pot, with Soderholtz's scarab trademark impressed on the side (Soderholtz)

While in Europe photographing ancient works in Spain and the Mediterranean ---a project that required up to three assistants to carry the heavy glass plate negatives used in that time.  He was especially drawn to the simple forms of  ancient utilitarian pots.

The Soderholtz studio in West Gouldsboro, Maine

Garden Potter
Shortly after returning to America, he was commissioned to photograph a garden in New Jersey.  He was stuck by the beauty of a pair of turned concrete pots he saw there.  He measured and copied them for his own doorstep at West Gouldsboro, where the thin rocky Maine soil made gardening on the ground difficult. Landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, visiting from Bar Harbor, was immediately taken with this first effort and asked Soderholtz to make copies for a job that she was working on.  A new career was born, and almost overnight Soderholtz's simple, beautifully textured designs were in such demand that he semi-retired from photography and opened a small factory studio to manufacture these beautiful objects.

Two of Soderholtz's earliest works, in his own garden in Gouldsboro.  He referred to these as 'Arabian' oil jars.

 3-part wooden form used to model the jars above.

He experimented with shapes, techniques, and finishes.  Pieces were manufactured using various techniques, including molding on a form, and pivoting against a template. The finish layers were applied by hand on a turning wheel. Powdered brick dust mixed in the concrete gave a particularly beautiful finish, and various other materials, from coal dust to mica chips were used for various colored and textured surfaces.  Stamps were used to impress designs on some of his pieces, My favorites being inspired by Persian and Greek forms.  Eventually the business grew to encompass architectural elements also---gateposts, columns, friezes and more custom work embellished several of the major Bar Harbor residences of the era, and can be found as far south as Dumbarton Oaks, Farrand's design for the Robert Blisses in Georgetown, D.C. 

Workmen with a copy of the Boboli urn at the studio.  This may have been finished with powdered brick dust tinting the concrete.

In addition to Soderholtz's custom work, he had retail operations on site in Gouldsboro, and at the Malvern Nurseries, adjoining the fashionable Malvern Hotel in Bar Harbor.

Soderholtz wares on sale at the Malvern Nurseries, Malvern Hotel in Background.

With the coming of the great depression, business declined, and the studio was closed.  35 years ago, one could still see the giant wooden forms that had shaped many of his pots, strewn about the grounds of his home in West Gouldsboro.   With a resurgence of interest in landscape design over the last couple of decades, Soderholtz's pots, identified by their distinctive scarab chop mark stamped in the wet concrete, are once again much in demand, and collectors include Martha Stewart, who has several at her Skylands estate in Seal Harbor.   Prices are commensurate with rarity and demand.

 Architectural Elements by Manufactured by Soderholtz

Soderholtz balustrades and urns fronting the driveway at 'Greenway Court' designed by Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul for F. Burton Harrison at Bar Harbor.  In the distance across Frenchman's Bay can be seen Gouldsboro, where Soderholtz lived.  Incidentally, 'Greenway Court' was later owned by the Charles Pikes of Chicago, who also owned a spectacular David Adler villa in Lake Forest.

A pair of obelisks manufactured by Soderholtz on the ocean terrace at 'Greenway Court'.  Soderholtz took both pictures, which appeared in an article in Country Life in America in 1911.

The 1903 Bar Harbor villa of Standard Oil heiress Anne Archbold, designed by Miss Archbold in concert with sculptress Janet Scudder & local architect Fred Savage.  The circular lily pool with dolphin fountain, modeled after a 18th century French original, and all the decorative concrete work were executed by Soderholtz.

Fountain in the garden of 'Hauterive', the Miles B. Carpenter estate at Bar Harbor, photographed by Soderholtz for Country Life in America.  The curved concrete bench embracing the 17th century Italian fountain was fabricated by Soderholtz to the designs of landscape architect I. Howland Jones.  (And just to tantalize you, the house itself, for a future post, also featured a lacquered dining room decorated by Baron de Meyer, and an 18th century French drawing room supplied by Lord Duveen.)

In addition to my own clip files and memory on this subject, I have also relied on information from the following sources:
  1. Soderholtz, E.E.  "Indestructible Home-Made Garden Furniture", Garden Magazine, June 1908, p. 276.   This fascinating article tells in Soderholtz's own words how he created his pots, . It can be viewed on Google Books by clicking here   
  2. Crane, Jonah.  "Garden Potter",  Down East Magazine, _____, 1959, p. 26
  3. Chasse, Patrick.  "Eric Ellis Soderholtz, Maine's Craftsman in the Garden"  essay from " A Place to Take Root:  The History of Garden Pots & Flower Containers in North America", an exhibit presented at the Blum Gallery of the College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, 2004.  Click here for the complete text and photographs of this fascinating exhibit.
Amphora, made & photographed by Soderholtz


I'd live here. Chip Chop

I've been systematically travelling through my clip files in search of a single misplaced file that I need very badly.  Although that thin piece of paper continues to elude me (stranger than you might think, as said files are actually pretty well organized in alphabetized folders), I do find things that still charm and delight more than 20 years after I first saved them.   Such a house is this, pictured in photos from a 1984 article in W, unfortunately yellowed with age.

It is Chip Chop, the Martha's Vineyard summer cottage designed for the great stage actress Katharine Cornell by Eric Gugler in 1937, and for years a gathering place for nearly all the bright luminaries of arts and letters, theatrical division.

And here, not because I'm lazy, but because it so exactly and completely says what I intended to say that anything else would amount to plagiarism, I am sending you to this article  about Chip
Chop by Carol Vogel in the May 31st New York Times ---- for which, maddeningly, the usual 'permissions' link is missing, otherwise I would more conveniently insert it here.

As for the house itself, could it be better?  If I were to build a house, it would probably be much like this---simple shape and materials, perfect on its site,  few rooms organized around one central room---and how perfect is this one with windows on all four sides, and the great sliding doors on axis with each other  on the long walls.   The stucco guest houses are in interesting contrast to the main house, and simple charm itself.  This is a beach house as it should be---owners of overwrought 1990's Hamptons houses, take note.  And notice how gracefully this design has aged.  And look at the driveway, a simple dirt track through the field.  Does anyone know enough to do this anymore?  Nowadays, driveways seem required to make a statement, and no part of the entry is without 'moment'.

Eric Gugler was an artist as well as an architect.  His wide-ranging portfolio includes a remodeling of the West Wing of the White House for Franklin Roosevelt, and Arthurdale, West Virginia, one of Eleanor Roosevelt's many projects, the first New Deal Homestead Community.

1937, as I've mentioned before, seems to have been a particularly good year for simple houses on the water, using vernacular materials.  For another great example, click here for my earlier post about Fortune Rock here in Maine.


Prairie Style on the Rocks

Up here on this part of the Maine Coast, the landscape tends to be rugged---rocky shorelines punctuated by stark pine and spruce trees, landscapes softened by the occasional meadows of a saltwater farm.  Architecturally, the coast is populated by a mix of classic old New England architecture, utilitarian structures, and summer cottages, most of which follow the traditional, fairly organic shingled bungalow or cottage styles.  A few times, genuine grandeur comes into play, and in the early 20th century, quite a number of Italian style villas, stucco with red tile roofs sprang up in the more fashionable locations.   In recent years, a few modernist buildings have made inroads---as I type this, a lavish compound by Gwathmey Siegel, more usually associated with the Hamptons, is going up in nearby Northeast Harbor, replacing a simple old cottage by Peabody & Stearns.   But to the architecturally aware boater along the coast, few sights are more surprising than this house, a prairie style house that has somehow blown in and landed on a rocky ledge amidst the pine and spruce on the harbor shore, a location as far in spirit from the midwestern prairies as can be imagined.

Water front
The house was built for Otis Ward Hinckley, owner of the Hinckley & Schmidt bottling company in Chicago.  Mr. Hinckley had Maine roots, being the great-grandson of Reverend Jonathan Fisher (see last Saturday's post).

 Side view from drive.

O.W. Hinckley's main residence was a roomy traditional house in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, near Oak Park. where Frank Lloyd Wright was developing his distinctive early style.  It is obvious that Hinckley was well aware of the work going on in the Chicago area.  Gossip has always had it that he contacted Wright to design this house, and stern Yankee businessman that he was, found Wright too expensive and uncompromising.  Whatever the true story, in 1911 Hinckley instead contacted his distant cousin, Wallace Hinckley, a recent graduate of Carnegie Tech, who had just started his career (and incidentally was one of my great-grandfather's closest friends), and according to his daughter who later owned the house, basically said, 'here, design me one of these'.   The result was a house loosely modeled on the Ward Willitts house by Wright, but far more simply detailed.  The cost was $15,000.  Inside, there were six rooms centered around a huge living room.  The Prairie influence did not carry over to the interiors, which were in standard issue Maine summer house Arts & Crafts, with a large beach stone fireplace on the interior wall.

Water front.  Trees obscure the balancing right wing

The little estate, including a charming water tower, was inherited by O.W. Hinckley's daughter, Ethelwynne, who, selling her father's company to Schweppes, decamped Chicago for the more convivial Colony Club in the winter, and her Prairie style house in Maine  in the summer.   The house is still in private hands, and is listed in the National Register of Historic places----as a rare example of the Prairie style adapted to the Maine Coast, of course.
 By way of comparison, the actual Willits House by Wright 


Intermission: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd

While I work on a couple of new posts, I present this intermission.

Yes, I know that almost every blogger on the planet has done a lilac post in the last few weeks, but I don't care---they're in bloom here now, and I am in love all over again, and I want to share it.  The poor quality of the photographs will also show why the Dilettante rarely uses his own pictures. Many of the lilacs shown here have been blooming in their spots since the 19th century---and even the younger lilacs pictured at my yard are descendants of older plants at my grandmother's or the farm across the street, built in the 1790s.  (My house is a relative youngster, built in 1814)

Lilacs and an apple tree in bloom along an old stone wall at the Dilettante's.  My weed whacker is broken.

It is always my favorite week of the year, and fresh raspberries are probably the only thing I love as much as I love lilacs (all the better that the raspberries ripen almost exactly on my birthday each year).

However, the lupines that give impressionistic bloom to many fields around here will be in full flower in a few days....they help soften the blow of the lilacs going by....Anyone who tries to tell you that autumn is the most beautiful time of year in Maine has simply never been here in lilac season.

Unlike most of the East Coast, Maine had almost the mildest winter in history, and Spring, usually late, reluctant, and brief, was early and lasted long, including the lilacs, which usually bloom at the end of May, and form a beautiful backdrop for our sweet little Memorial Day parade.

On the Main Street in our village.  Year after year, the most abundant row of lilacs in town.

forming a fragrant buffer between this house and its meadow at the other end of Main Street

But it will be different this year, as already it seems like summer, and my field is coming into blossom with thousands of buttercups....I'm sure it means something awful about the PH balance and maintenance (or lack ) thereof, but sure is pretty....

On another note, in Sunday's post about the orchard restoration at the Jonathan Fisher House, I  mentioned the scourge of Giant Maine Hooved Rats, from which no garden or young tree are safe.  I've even had commenters and emails mentioning what terror I've caused by bringing attention to these frightening predators, and asking to know more.  They indeed are relentless, these giant creatures----they can devastate young trees and gardens, and cause immeasurable loss to life and limb just by standing in the road.  Below is a picture of a mother and young hooved rat, at rest while contemplating their next act of garden carnage.

 And in other news:  Here in Maine, old rowboats never die, they just become dooryard flower planters.  For those who are looking for other ideas for what to do with that leaky old dinghy, check out this post over at If The Lampshade Fits