The cliffs of Ironbound Island, in Frenchmans's Bay, with the hills of Mt. Desert Island in the background

Maine, thanks to the quality of its remarkable light and scenery, has long had a significant place in American art,  particularly and not surprisingly, landscape painting. From Alvan Fisher in the 1830's, to Fitz Henry Lane, Frederick Church and Thomas Cole in the mid 19th century, to John Marin,  Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, and Thomas Bellows in the 1930's,  to William Kienbusch, Fairfield Porter, and of course, those damned Wyeths, in the 50's and 60's, many of America's best painters have passed through and left a record of our landscape as they saw it.   I have long intended to do a series of posts about the artists who have left their mark up here in our part of Maine, Down East of the Penobscot River, and today I offer the first story, about Dwight Blaney of Ironbound Island, and a few of the friends who visited him there.

Bronze bas relief portrait of Dwight Blaney by Bela Lyon Pratt (American 1867-1917).  In his hands, Blaney holds palette and brush, and in the background are the cliffs of Ironbound Island.

Dwight Blaney was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1865.  After attending the Chauncey Hall School in Boston, he trained as an architect, and worked for a time as a draftsman in the firm of Peabody & Stearns.  Deeply influenced by the impressionists, particularly Monet,  on a European trip, Blaney was one of the earliest of the American painters to use the new style.

 Dwight Blaney.  View from Ironbound Island To Frenchman, Oil on canvas, 1908

After marrying an heiress to the Eastern Steamship fortune, in 1880s, financial constraints were lifted, and Blaney, a convivial man of many interests, was free to pursue these with vigor.   He was one of the earliest collectors of American antiques, beginning in the 1880's, and a founder of the Walpole Society, that most exclusive of collecting clubs, whose ranks were to include Wallace Nutting and later, Henry Francis DuPont.  He was one of the first to buy and restore an early American house as his country home (in Weston, Massachusetts) His fascination with exploring the shell middens left behind by the ancient Native Americans led to one of the finest collections of artifacts of its day, and which later constituted constituted the first bequest to the new Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor when it opened in the 1920's.  After purchasing Ironbound Island, in Frenchman's Bay 3 miles off Bar Harbor as a summer home for his family, he spent the summer of 1904 studying the land snails of the Island.  From 1901-1909 he dredged Frenchman's Bay for marine mollusks, eventually identifying 149 varieties.   Two of these were new varieties, which were named for him:  Tonicella blaneyi (a chiton) and Oenopota blaneyi (a gastropod).  In 1904, he studied the land snails of Ironbound, and in 1916, he and Frederick Loomis Brewster, a palenontologist, extricated 23 varieties of mollusks from pleistocene clays on Mt. Desert.  He sailed.  And, he painted, maintaining a studio on Ironbound in the summer, and the rest of the year at the Fenway Studio in Boston from 1906-1943, a year before his death.  

Dwight Blaney.  Ironbound Island, Oil on canvas, 1910

Although the idea behind Ironbound Island was an idyllic summer life, without the pressures of fashionable resorts, the Blaneys were nevertheless a wealthy couple with position, and Ironbound was only three miles offshore from Bar Harbor, then at its height as one of the country's most fashionable watering places.  The Blaneys partook of the social life there, their presence at parties and as patrons of events duly noted in the Society pages of the New York Times. When the fashionable world came to Bar Harbor, an invitation to Ironbound often followed. and the Blaney's guest book recorded visits by leading society figures, famous writers, a prince (Rainier I of Monaco, who came to see Blaney's famous collection of shells), and most importantly, many of Blaney's fellow artists.  And what artists they were.  Below a few of the paintings of Ironbound created by Blaney's friends on visits to his magical island:

John Leslie Breck, American 1860-99, Cliffs, Ironbound Island.  Oil on canvas, 1898.  Breck, a friend of Monet, and part of the group of painters at Giverny, is considered to have been the first American Impressionist
Childe Hassam, American, 1859-1935.  Sunset, Ironbound Island, Mt. Desert, Maine, 1896
Child Hassam.  Portrait of Edith Blaney, Pastel on paper, 1894.  This portrait shows Mrs. Blaney at rest with the island garden behind her.  The book in her hand, charmingly, is Celia Thaxter's An Island Garden, about Thaxter's own garden on Appledore, illustrated by Hassam, and published that same year.
William McGregor Paxton, American, 1869-1941.  Oil on canvas, 1916.  This portrait shows Blaney's younger daughter in front of the drawing room fireplace of the main house on Ironbound, long since burned, with some of Blaney's antiques collection on display.

And there were others, including, in 1920 and 1922, John Singer Sargent, who was visiting his cousin Mary Hale at her Bar Harbor summer home, and no doubt touching base with his many clients and subjects in the summer colony.  He went out to Ironbound to stay with the Blaneys for a few days and produced seven paintings and sketches while there, of which these two below offer a seldom seen side of Sargent at rest with friends.
John Singer Sargent, American, 1856-1925. The Artist Sketching.  Watercolor on paper, 1922.  This virtuoso portrait is of Dwight Blaney at his easel on the shore at Ironbound Island
 John Singer Sargent painting aboard the Blaney yacht Irona, off Ironbound, 1922.  Notice the umbrella for shade lashed to Sargent's leg.
John Singer Sargent.  On the Verandah (Ironbound Island, Maine).  Watercolor on paper, 1920 or 1922.  This serene view depicts the Blaney family (left to right, daughter Elizabeth, Dwight Blaney, Mrs. Blaney, and daughter Edith) at leisure on the porch of the commodious farmhouse style cottage Blaney designed for Ironbound.

Although the main house burned many years ago, the island remains, with other structures, with conservation restrictions,  in the hands of the Blaney family, and is private.
Personal History:  After Blaney's death, the Dilettante's father, in the market for a boat, happened to go out to Ironbound to look at Blaney's boat,  Irona, a classic 38 footer with cabin, and purchased it.   On one mid-summer afternoon  in 1953, my parents--my mother nine months pregnant---were on that boat when it became clear that perhaps outer Blue Hill Bay was not where they should be.  Fortunately, it was a fast boat, and the local hospital is only a few hundred feet from the town dock, so I was not born on  Irona, after all  Many years later, I chanced to go out to Ironbound twice, once as the guest of a mutual friend of the Blaney's, who had been loaned one of the houses there for a long fall weekend, and again time with another friend who was visiting the Blaney's daughter Elizabeth Cram, then in her 80's.     It was a distinct pleasure to have her show me, in the amazing Ironbound guest book, along with sketches by the many famous artists to visit the island, the photos of my father taking away  Irona some 35 years earlier.  

Yesterday I asked my father about Irona, and he replied, deadpan, 'yes, handsome boat.  We had a lot fun with it, your mother and I.  Probably would still have it if you and your sister hadn't been such expensive children.  Particularly you."


Wallpaper: Adelphi Down East

In Blue Hill, Maine, the graceful house built in by Jeremiah Thorndike Holt, influenced by the designs of Asher Benjamin, has over looked the tiny village square---triangle, really---since 1818.  For the last forty years, it has been the home of the local Historical Society, who display there the artifacts that bring to life the town's past.

Holt House in 1824, detail from Morning View of Blue Hill Village, by Jonathan Fisher

Barely altered since original construction, the house required only minor repairs and redecoration when purchased by the Historical Society.   This decoration reflected the taste of the era in historic interiors.  The showpiece of the Holt's 'mansion house' was the parlor, with wordwork carved with a rope motif, and recessed window embrasures with folding shutters.   Paint scraping at the time indicated a green-ish paint, and a drab dark olive color was chosen.   These scrapings also determined the interesting fact that the skirting boards in the room had been painted with what the restorer referred to as 'cart wheel blue'.  Sadly, it was decided, in the interest of 'good taste', not to replicate this scheme.  A modern commercial wallpaper in a 'colonial' design was used absent resources for a more appropriate paper.

The Holts, shipowners, suffered reverses soon after the house was completed, and a leaded glass fanlight was never installed in the space over the front door.  Instead, the fan is a board, with a spiderweb grid of lathing applied, painted black, with gilt circles, to imitate a glass fanlight---a most charming economy.

Last year, the parlor decoration was showing its age, and the house committee, under the leadership of Susan Gurin, decided to undertake a new interpretation for the room.   A person who had been a member of the original committee 40 years previously remembered the 'cart wheel blue' reference, and a scraping determined that indeed not only was the skirting board originally blue, but also the floor.   New scrapings of the woodwork, with new knowledge of how paint ages, indicated that actually the greenish hue was due to the deterioration of oils in the original pigment, and that the woodwork was likelier a 'stone' color, fashionable in the early 1800's.   The wallpaper was removed, and the room re-painted in this color scheme.  The transformation was remarkable---the blue floor echoed the harbor only a few dozen feet from the parlor, and the off white paint showed the woodwork to best advantage.   Now the question remained:  What to do about the walls?  What would be appropriate?

 The Holt House parlor, in its olive green phase

As it happened, 30 ago, when another house in the village, built in 1803 and occupied by Matthew Ray, a toolmaker, was being re-wired, it was discovered that hidden behind the later Greek Revival woodwork and walls installed in during an 1840's remodeling, the original Federal parlor and original decorative scheme were intact, down to woodwork wallpaper and paint colors.  The wallpaper appeared to date from around 1815, and was probably manufactured in Boston.  It was a boldly designed neo-classical stripe, with an elaborate floral border. The paper was probably printed in Boston, and was made from large square sheets rather than rolls, as modern paper is.  The border, more finely printed, appears to be of French manufacture, a reminder that expensive and fashionable goods were available up here even at that early date for those who could afford them.  Although it was impractical to completely uncover this time capsule, samples of the wallpaper were rescued and saved.

After viewing commercially available period designs, the Historical Society decided to reproduce this wallpaper, a surviving example of the the taste and goods available in the town in the early 1800's.   But how to reproduce it?  Enter the amazing firm of Adelphi Paper Hangings, makers of authentic block printed wallpapers.  Steve Larson of Adelphi was contacted, estimates were made, and the Historical Society decided to take the bold step.   Fundraising was undertaken, with rolls available for adoption at the exact figure of $378.00 per, and they were snapped up by generous members of the community.

A Sample of the original paper, printed on square sheets of paper, above, and a section of the border, probably French, below
The original paper was block printed, probably in Boston, on square sheets of paper.  The design was very unusual, with an overall foliate scroll rendered in three colors in stripes of varying width.  The border, which economics prevents from reproduction at this time, was a multicolor floral of French manufacture, showing the stylish goods that were available on the Eastern Frontier even at that early date.  

A workman at Adelphi pulls a strike-off of the reproduced paper from one of the three carved blocks used to produce the design

The sample has remarkable fidelity to the original

Printing blocks were hand-carved by Adelphi's craftsmen, colors were matched (one section of the  original paper retained particularly clean and bright samples), and only a few days ago, the samples were pulled and approved, and within weeks the paper was complete.   The first sample was taped up a few days ago and approved, and within the next weeks, the parlor will greet visitors for the summer, with its original blue & white paint scheme enhanced by a handmade reproduction wallpaper in a pattern familiar to earlier residents of the town.
The parlor, restored to 'stone' colored woodwork, bare plaster walls awaiting the new wallpaper.  Notice the blue floor and skirting boards, the original color scheme

The sample is hung on the wall. The paper will be hung above the dado onlyThe two gilt framed lithographs of Italian Ports were brought back as mementoes by a Blue Hill sea captain in the1840's.

Adelphi will be adding the design to their catalog, tentatively called 'Blue Hill Fancy Stripe'.  While the Dilettante makes the disclaimer that he in no way has commercial affiliation with the wonderful company, he would be delighted to see the paper sell well so the Historical Society can benefit from royalties.

The Holt House is located on Water Street in Blue Hill Village, a National Register Historic District, and is open to the public during the summer:  Tuesdays and Fridays: 1-4 PM; Saturdays 11 AM to 2 PM

And for those who cannot get enough Dilettante, or even those who get a little too much, I can be found in print, not once, but twice in the July issue of Portland Magazine, holding forth on a famous modernist house on Mt. Desert (click HERE) , and  about scenic wallpapers in Maine houses (click HERE).

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some dry wall to prime, or my new store will never be ready.


'What God Would Have Done if He'd Only Had the Money'

I'm having a senior moment.  I forget who said the above, and about what building, but the title phrase did come to mind on last Sunday's hike (well, okay, this one was a walk), where I got to combine nature with architecture (and food).  What else does one need?  And if my posts seem a little Mt. Desert Island-centric over the next couple of weeks, it's because my two hikes on the island in June resulted in over 300 photographs.   A digital camera is a dangerous thing in the hands of the chronically over-stimulated.

 A view across little long pond toward boathouse and mountains, Rockefeller estate, Seal Harbor

Mt. Desert Island, one of the most spectacular spots along the entire East Coast, has been particularly blessed with a combination of dramatic natural scenery, a wealthy summer community that is also civic minded and philanthropically enlightened, and their good advisors, including landscape architects Charles Eliot, Beatrix Farrand, Joseph Curtis and Frederick Law Olmstead, all fervent advocates of site friendly, low intervention landscape, and last, but not least, Charles F. Dorr, the founder of what became Acadia National Park.   This tradition continues today, with many of the beauties of the island preserved forever wild yet with ample public access---too much perhaps, as anyone who has strolled the streets of Bar Harbor in August would argue.
Sinously curved stone arms extend from either side of the main gate designed by Grosvenor Atterbury

Across from the main gate are the Atlantic Ocean and the Cranberry Islands.
The 800 pound Gorilla among Island philanthropists for the last 100 years has been the Rockefeller family.  John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich first visited the Island in 1908, renting the Sears cottage at Bar Harbor, and three years later purchased a large shingled summer house on 60 acres in Seal Harbor.   They rapidly expanded both their house and their lands, eventually owning about 1200 acres.  Contiguous to the Rockefeller property are lands purchased and donated to Acadia National Park by Junior, as has been much of the estate acreage in recent decades.  Autos were first allowed on Mt. Desert in 1914 after lengthy battles, and Mr. Rockefeller, desiring both a quiet place to ride, and wishing to make the beautiful scenery of the island interior available for public enjoyment, embarked on a program of building carriage roads through his estate and park property, all available for public use.   In this venture, he proceeded with his usual deliberate method, weighing pros and cons, researching materials and construction methods, and getting personally involved with the laying out of the roads, to capture, but not interrupt, special views.  The roads are masterpieces of their type. In this venture, he had the advice of, among others, Beatrix Farrand and the Olmstead Brothers.   For those interested in more about the building of these roads, I recommend the highly interesting Mr. Rockefeller's Roads, by his granddaughter, Anne Rockefeller Roberts.

 The carriage drives are a beautiful example of  nature combined with the subtle hand of the landscaper's art, in this case Beatrix Farrand's, and beautiful maintenance.

The rocks along steeper edges are known locally as 'Rockefeller Teeth'.  Although the plantings appear completely wild, the original roadsides were helped along by Beatrix Farrand with carefully chosen accents of wild native shrubs.  Horse poop ahead attests to the road's continued equestrian use.

Today the carriage roads are widely used for strolls, dog walking, and riding and coaching---it is not unusual to see Martha Stewart, in her best imitation yet of old money ways, riding her coach and team along these trails.

 A couple riding their carriage, as intended, on one of the trails (photo by Stage, Town & Country May 1985

The section of trail I chose was the loop around Little Long Pond, a park-like landscape at the base of the home grounds of the long demolished Rockefeller cottage, The Eyrie.   Here Beatrix Farrand advised on  a combination of sloping meadows punctuated by clumps of trees adjoining the pond, mediating between the steeper slopes of the rocky hillsides, all carefully designed to  frame mountain and ocean scenery.

The discontinued drive up to the main house, The Eyrie, demolished in the early 1960's

Along the way, one passes a boathouse, one of many buildings to survive from the original estate.  This charming building was designed by Mrs. Rockefeller's favorite architect, the very social Duncan Candler, married to a member of another Seal Harbor family.  Candler designed the remodeling of the main house, and also other outbuildings, including wonderful Tudor style Tennis Court/Bowling/Alley Playhouses for both the Seal Harbor and Pocantico estates, as well as an art gallery for the Rockefellers nine story townhouse in New York, now site of the Museum of Modern Art sculpture garden.  He was also the architect of Skylands, the Edsel Ford estate now owned by Martha Stewart, on the next hilltop from The Eyrie.

The boathouse is a delightful structure.  From a distance, it appears almost as a Japanese pavilion at the edge of the shore.  Closer up, it is a classic shingle style building, with Colonial Revival detailing. Verandas on either side of the large doors opening into the pond made a pleasant spot for afternoon picnics.  

And since this is, after all, a blog concerned with architecture, some of you will be asking what the demolished house looked like:

I'll post about the house----and its superb Beatrix Farrand garden---another day.  The pair of mountains in the background rise above the shore of Jordan Pond and are known as the Bubbles---although local lore has always been that they were originally known as the Bubbies, the name having been changed for the tourist trade.....


Down East Tear Down

As my youth took place pretty much between the two gilded ages, both of which produced lavish summer architecture in this part of Maine--for the millionaires of the first, and the billionaires of the second---I've had a front row seat for the decline of the first age, and the rise of the second.

Blueberry Ledge, Entrance Front

Forty years ago, many of the large houses on the strip of coast from Camden to Winter Harbor were being reduced or demolished, in favor of something less taxable, and easier to paint.  Many fine buildings, even some seminal works by great architects of a hundred years ago, were lost, or became institutions.  New construction was almost inevitably modest and tactful, even when expensive.  In those years there was also very little innovation.  All this changed, as taxes were lowered, and deregulation of financial industries enabled very large fortunes to be made very fast, and old fortunes suddenly gained new life.  Handsome old cottages were no longer being torn down or reduced because they were too large, but rather, were being torn down because they were too small.  It's been startling to watch, as billionaires start to outnumber lobstermen along the coast, as old shingled bungalows on splendid sites give way to McMansions or orgiastic arts and crafts fantasies, all stone and tiresomely earnest joinery by craftsmen imported from unpronounceable countries---the new equivalent of Lord Duveen providing his clients with 18th century boiseries.

Blueberry Ledge, water front.

One example of the new trend is this house, Blueberry Ledge, in Northeast Harbor.  Designed in the 1880's by the important firm of Peabody & Stearns for President Charles Eliot of Harvard, not a masterpiece, it was relatively small by the standards  time and place, and was the setting for a simple, high minded summer life.  Roomy, unpretentious, full of pleasant crannies and old fashioned porches, it was spectacularly sited on a rocky bluff at the Eastern Way entrance to the Harbor, overlooking the islands offshore.

  Later the house was acquired by Mrs. Peter Jay, who had given up 'Breakwater', her enormous Tudorbethan pile in Bar Harbor, left to her late husband by an Astor aunt.  Mrs. Jay in turn left it to her daughter, the noted Washington hostess and writer Susan Mary Alsop, one of the glittering figures of her day, and possessor of one of the finest cases of lock jaw to ever grace the East Coast (I actually do not intend that remark unkindly.  Her diction was remarkable to the ear, redolent of another time, another world).  Here, in the summer, she gathered and entertained many of the most prominent figures of arts, politics and society.  After Mrs. Alsop's death, her heirs placed the house on the market.   It was snapped up for $5,500,000, a pittance by Hamptons standards, but substantial in our part of the world, by a billionaire whose privacy I'll respect, and almost immediately razed, with plans for a new complex, covering far more of the site, designed by Hamptons favorite  Gwathmey & Siegel.   The building permit, issued three months after last year's economic crash, was for $22,000,000.

Views of two of the buildings by Gwathmey Siegel that are replacing Blueberry Ledge (and yes, the Dilettante obeyed the 'Keep Out' signs.  They seemed very sincere.

And by the way, about Mrs. Jay's pile in Bar Harbor?  After years of benign neglect by the next owner, a dissolute oil heir given to importing beautiful German boys for parties in the seventies, it was sold again, and in the spirit of the new gilded age, restored to a splendor far beyond its original, with hundreds of feet of gilt spike iron fencing surrounding it.

  Breakwater, Susan Mary Alsop's childhood summer home at Bar Harbor, designed for her great aunt, Mrs. John Innes Kane (Annie Schermerhorn) by Fred Savage

 I'll let my gentle readers draw their own conclusions from here.


Intermission: Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun, With Double Porticos

Typical Dilettante, I've got half a dozen posts in some stage of completion, but am very busy for the next few days, so until I get there here is quick post from the files.

A few months ago, this architectural rendering, of a proposed house by Daniel Romualdez for fashion designer Tory Burch, to be built in one or another of the many Hamptons, was doing the internet rounds.  I saved it because I was interested in the design, of two wings terminated by porticos, forming a courtyard.  It was a popular motif in houses many years ago.  The plan offered plenty of light and air, with  3 exposures possible in many rooms, many balconies and porches for a summer afternoon, and worked well for hierarchical separation of public, family, and service areas.   Here are  a few other examples:

The granddaddy of them all appears to be 'Beacon Rock' in Newport, RI, designed in 1887 by McKim Mead & White for E.D. Morgan.  A very large house, with 3 floors, it was designed to appear as a one story ancient Roman villa, and was quite radical for an era still in thrall to turrets and verandas.

 Beacon Rock, Newport Watercolor by Vernon Howe Bailey, 1887 (Vareika Fine Arts, Newport)

 (Dilettante Tangent: Even great architecture can extract a cost.  Before its top was blasted to provide a site for the house, Beacon Rock was one of the most beloved subjects for 19th century painters visiting Newport, including luminist John Frederick Kensett who painted this sublime view in 1857)

This house on the Down East coast of Maine seems to be next up in the chronology.  It was designed in 1911 as a summer cottage (seen here on an early postcard) for F.B. Richards, vice president of the M.A. Hanna Company in Cleveland, by Frank Chouteau Brown, one of the leaders of the Colonial Revival.  Here the porticos have grown to two stories, with square columns inspired by Mt. Vernon, on a house otherwise inspired, on blown-up scale, by classic New England Federals. The courtyard formed by the two wings contained a 'colonial' garden designed by Beatrix Farrand

Architect Howard Major, later known for his suave tropical houses in Palm Beach, designed this Glen Cove, Long Island house in 1918 for William Beard.  Looking at this picture, one is tempted to speculate that Major had seen at least the postcard published of the Richards cottage, as his design includes not only the double porticoes with square columns, but nearly identical fretwork railings at second floor level.

In 1919, Tobacco and Utilities magnate James B. Duke, wishing his daughter Doris to be better acquainted with her home state, as well as the Newport whirl that her mother preferred, purchased a Colonial Revival house in Charlotte, North Carolina.  He had local architect C.C. Hook triple it in size, to the present configuration.   He named the place Lynnewood, and here Doris sometimes attended local schools.  Not a man to do things by halves, Duke took the design idea to the limit, with two facades featuring the twin porticos, as it also appears does Burch's proposed house, where this ramble started.  Despite his hope that the house would foster an affection for North Carolina in young Doris, the house was sold upon his death, the only one of his four homes not retained by his widow and daughter.

Last up, below, is a country house in Minnesota designed by the great David Adler in the 1920's for the Egil Boeckmans, she the daughter of railroad tycoon James J. Hill.  The house is pleasant, although lacking in the usual elan of Adler's work