PICASSO AND PIE DOWN EAST: Mid-Century Arrives in Maine

I live in a typical little coastal village in eastern Maine — although 'typical' depends on one's perspective. We live here amidst achingly beautiful scenery, made only more beautiful by the clear light refracted from the ocean. We have little white houses, and we have big white houses.  We have people and institutions: Lobstermen. Carpenters. Internet tycoons. Media personalities. Doctors. Lawyers. And maybe even Indian Chiefs. Our inhabitants include a woman who has legally changed her name to Jesus A. Christ. There is music, often performed by world famous musicians, as well as Saturday night contra dances at the Town Hall (in an auditorium named for my father, who does not contra dance). A Pentecostal Church, an Episcopal Church, and everything in between. We have an extraordinary library whose shelves hold the works of scores of writers who have lived here. We have boats: Shabby dorys. Fishing boats (fewer every year). Sleek yachts (more every year).

Main Street, as it appeared before Thompson & Heywood---and before Dutch Elm Disease
 I could go on, but you get the idea. We may look typical, but we're not. Fashion is usually secondary---We dress in L.L. Bean drag against the harsh realities of our weather, and though the dress at summer parties up here might not make the Sartorialist, at a dinner party you are as likely to be seated next to someone back from a diplomatic mission to Istanbul, or an editor at a renowned literary magazine as that lobsterman — who in turn might be the son of a famous poet, or the carpenter, who might also be a Juilliard trained musician. You might even sit next to me.

We also have artists, and world class cooks. Over the next few months, I'm going to mention a few of each. Today's post is a tale that combines the two.

The Arnold Wolfers House, 1947, by Walter Gropius & TAC
 In the 1940s, architect Benjamin Thompson, as a young member of The Architect's Collaborative, was in the area working with Walter Gropius on a project for international affairs specialist Arnold Wolfers (for more about that project, click HERE). Thompson's mother Lynne, a Midwesterner gone New York, was looking for a quiet place to write and came up to have a look, and stayed.  

Maine Street after Thompson & Heywood, with Pavilion at center.  For the story of the blacksmith shop at right, click HERE
Soon, she and her partner Dorothy Heywood, heiress to the Chester Shoe Company, had purchased a traditional French style manor house along the shore, at happily depressed post-war prices. They had Thompson’s son Ben, not yet the famous architect he would become, remodel the house, until it was no longer traditional or French. Mrs. Heywood had worked for the Betty Parsons gallery, and she and Mrs. Thompson had assembled a fine collection of modern art, including works by Picasso, Rothko, Motherwell, and Klee. 

The two women had big ideas, and a desire to do good in the community. Mrs. Heywood invested in Rowantrees Pottery, a well known crafts organization that had been started by Adelaide Pearson during the Depression to boost the local economy. Thinking beyond our borders, Mrs. Heywood opened a Rowantrees showroom in New York, also probably designed by Mrs. Thompson’s architect son.

Thompson & Heywood, as they were known in town, offered to show their collection of modern art at the library as a fundraiser the likes of which the town had never seen. To temper the radical art, home-baked blueberry pies were offered as refreshment, lest the sight of all that modern art offend too many. Mrs. Thompson was an enterprising sort, and decided that it would be jolly if she were to air-freight one of the pies to Picasso ('a rising Spanish artist who is becoming well known') in France, that he might partake of it even as one of his works was being unveiled in little Blue Hill, Maine.  History doesn't record if he did so (and trust me, idle curiosity has led me to check the index of more than one Picasso biography), or if the pie, more likely, arrived smashed and runny, but one is amused to ponder Picasso's reaction.
The show was controversial — our little equivalent of the 1913 Armory Show (there tends to be a time lag up here) — and a huge success. So were the pies. Emboldened by their adventure, Thompson and Heywood decided to start a business — the Rowantrees venture in New York had already folded — one that would combine art and food, as their fund raising exhibit had.

Architectural Drawing for the Pavilion, shows the complexity of Cooper Milliken's design (Courtesy Maine Historical Society, Eaton Tarbell Collection)
The pair purchased an old storefront on the village Main street, and added to it one of the most radical buildings of its day in Maine. The effect on the village was electric.  People either loved, or (mostly) hated it.  The architect was Cooper Milliken of Eaton Tarbell and Associates and The Pavilion, as it was called, gave yet another aesthetic jolt to a village hitherto known best for its simple 19th century white houses. Neither woman cooked, but Thompson learned, and took to it as a duck to water. 

The Pavilion under construction.  The frame was entirely mortised, Japanese style
At their first opening, all was gala, and even Betty Parsons and Robert Motherwell attended.

Whether they made money, ever, is doubtful, but their restaurant was a critical success, and everyone came, even the New York Times. I remember the place well from childhood — it was like catnip to me, so exotic and unlike anything else in our world.

Interior view under construction
I remember the scent of the exposed wooden rafters, cool slate floors, a wall of glass overlooking the harbor, the wildly distorted slopes of the walls, the smells of good food, the paper shades hanging from the ceiling the big handmade jewelry worn by the owners.

1950 newspaper photo of the recently-opened Pavilion. 
Only later did I learn that those shades were by Noguchi, and came from Design Research, the famous home design business started in 1955 by Lynn's architect son, or that the very plates on which one took afternoon tea of lemon cakes were from Denmark. The art was modern, consigned from the Metropolitan Gallery in New York, the sleek home furnishings for sale were consigned from Design Research, and all of it was unlike anything sold up here before.

A letter from Lynne Thompson to her architect, announcing the arrival of new goods (from son Ben Thompson's new Design Research store in Cambridge.
All good things come to an end, and by the 1960s Thompson and Heywood, exhausted, wound down the business, and in their seventies, moved to Cambridge, leaving only one local restaurant, the TA-CO (after Theodore, Alton, Cynthia, and Olive, the owners) with its baked bean Saturdays, the Drugstore lunch counter, and the Barnacle lobster shack as dining venues. All three are still missed by those old enough to remember.  As for the Pavilion, the building that many considered 'just too New York', it was demolished in 1966.
The story would end here, except that in 1965, Thompson penned a slender cookbook and memoir of the adventure, a marvelous little slice of mid-century style, Picasso & Pie.
In it she chronicled their times in the restaurant trade, their big adventure in bringing the new to Down East Maine, and most of all their recipes, many now delightedly dated, and adapted for the limited and simple ingredients.

They are based on many sources from old Maine & mid-western favorites to then modern cuisine and range accordingly from simple to sophisticated, and are still delicious. It is impossible for me to be objective — maybe it's a terrible cookbook (I don't think so) — but it's a slice of my childhood preserved, and I love it. Copies often show up on eBay, and to my surprise, one was on Amazon recently for $90.00. 
There's much more to this tale, including the amazing building and the Design Research connection, and you can read about it here in an article I wrote for the Portland Magazine. Should it be inexplicably unavailable at the local news stands in Kansas, the article can be accessed online by clicking HERE.

We'll go out with a some recipes from Picasso & Pie (c) 1969, (Price Stern, Sloan, Publishers). Remember, they’re from the fifties. I take no responsibility for reactions from food snobs:

2.5 quarts water
Thin cut peel of one lemon
Small amount of tangerine rind
Small stick cinnamon
½ cup sugar
4 cups blueberries
2 tbs. cornstarch

Simmer the blueberries, lemon rind and tangerine rind in the 2 ½ quarts of water until the berries are soft.

Strain and put the berries through a sieve or puree them finely in a blender. Return to strained juice. Mix the 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in about 1/2 cup of water and add to mixture.

Simmer 5 minutes.

Chill to iciness and serve with whipped cream which has been sweetened to taste. Dust the cream lightly with cinnamon.

Note: This Ambrosia belongs to the scandinavian Fruit-Soup family and can be made from several varieties of fresh, canned or frozen berries. Naturally the amount of sugar added will depend whether or not the fruit base has been pre-sweetened. Freezes and keeps.

Serves 20 — when served from a punch bowl in small cups. As cold soup, serves. 20.


1 lb. mushroom caps
6 tbs. butter
1 cup sherry
2 tbs. brandy (or a little more)
¼ cup heavy cream (a little more)

Season carefully, washed and trimmed mushrooms, with plenty of salt.

Saute in a chafing dish in butter until brown.

Pour in Sherry and simmer until nearly dry.

Pour brandy over mushrooms and light.

When flame has gone out, stir in cream.

Serve with a green salad.

Note: If sherry does not cook down fast enough, pour off, and add again after brandy has burned off. Serves four.


(Recipe from Mrs. Lawrence Pickering, Deer Isle, Maine). To our way of thinking, the best and most satisfactory cake we have ever tasted IN OUR WHOLE LIVES!)

1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup shortening (1/2 cup better and ½ cup vegetable shortening A MUST1)
3 eggs
2 ¾ cups cake flour
2 ¾ tsp. baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
½ teaspoon lemon extract (more if your extract is old)

Cream shortening.
Add sugar slowly, and beat until light.
Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk starting with flour and ending with flour. (the hard and fast rule here is that you add one-third of your dry or your liquid each time, mixing just enough to moisten before the next addition).

Mix as little as possible.

Bake in a tube pan for about an hour.

Oven set at 350 degrees.

Or, this recipe fills two ½ lb. pans.
Cool on rack, and powder with powdered sugar.

NOTE:  This article originally appeared in New York Social Diary (www.newyorksocialdiary.com)



Since writing last week about Hepzibah Swan's French-inspired pavilion in Dorchester, Massachusetts, I've been thinking about curves and ovals in Federal architecture.

The 1772 version of Monticello is outlined in bold.
Although American architecture had started breaking out of the square box as early as 1772, when Thomas Jefferson designed an octagonal bayed pavilion as the first house at Monticello, the movement toward more innovative room shapes did not begin in earnest until after the Revolution.

 In 1788, William Hamilton built a house in Philadelphia with the earliest known surviving oval rooms in America, in a complex plan probably derived from an English pattern book. The curve and the octagon did not fully enter the American design vocabulary until 1792, when James Hoban won the competition to design the new President's house in Washington, with its garden room centered on an oval bay fronting three oval rooms, each above the other.  

James Hoban's plan for the President's House, the beginning of a vogue for houses with oval bays at center, after the English fashion.
 The new fashion traveled quickly through the major cities, but nowhere did it gain foothold than the Boston area, where many country houses, beginning with Charles Bulfinch's Joseph Barrell mansion in Charlestown, in 1792. 

Charles Bulfinch's drawing for the Joseph Barrell house in Charlestown, with portico above and oval salon. (For a 1920's adaptation of this design in the Stotesbury cottage at Bar Harbor, click HERE)
 These houses were built by the city's new plutocracy, the men and women who had come to prominence during the revolution, and the early years of the Republic.  Their portraits were painted by Gilbert Stuart, their houses were often designed by Charles Bulfinch, and they led the stylish aspirations of their day.

The Jonathan Mason house on Beacon Hill, designed by Bulfinch, and likely the first of the hundreds of bow front townhouses that defined domestic building in Boston for the next century.  This house survived only a few years after construction, torn down when Beacon Hill was lowered.
 Within the next decade, at least a dozen houses with garden facades centered on a curved or octagonal bay were built in the countryside around the city, and in town, the bow front brick town house, first introduced by Bulfinch, became the most enduring architectural symbol of the city.
Perez Morton, by Saint-Memin
Mrs. Perez Morton (1759-1846) by Gilbert Stuart, 1802 (MFA, Boston)
It was against this background that Mr. & Mrs. Perez Morton, he a lawyer, she a descendant of one of Boston's most distinguished families, the Apthorps, built their country house in Dorchester, practically across the street from the Swan's fashionable concoction.

 Although under construction at the same time as the Swan house, the Morton house was less fashion forward than the former, its facade centered on pairs of engaged pilasters supporting a traditional pediment.  

The Perez Morton house, Dorchester, MA, 1796
The Stable complex
 To the side was an extraordinary complex of stables and outbuildings, all adjoining---the ultimate example of the famous New England paradigm of 'big house, little house, back house, and barn', in which all services are connected under cover, from main house to privy to stable to wood house, that one might not have to brave snows and drifts to attend to the various functions of life.  In this, the New England houses may be thought to have a direct link to the Italian farm villas.  

Morton house, garden facade prior to demolition
At the rear, an octagonal bay projected from the house, containing both an oval salon with a chimney piece imported from France, and an upper veranda, a simpler echo of the upper portico at the Barrell house.

Another portrait of Mrs. Morton by Gilbert Stuart (Worcester Art Museum

The Morton house is sometimes attributed to Charles Bufinch, who was Mrs. Morton's cousin, and he may well have advised, but Mrs. Morton herself wrote that the house was designed to her own 'whimsical plan'.   Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton was a woman of considerable talents.  Well educated, she wrote verse as a child, and in 1789, at the age of 30, she began contributing to the 'Seat of Muses' in Massachusetts Magazine.  Her books of verses came to include Ouâbi: or the Virtues of Nature. An Indian Tale in Four Cantos, 1790, and The Virtues of Society. A Tale Founded on Fact, 1799, as well as an anti-slavery poem, The African Chief.  Mr. Morton, like his exiled neighbor across the street, appears to have had a caddish streak, and had an affair with his sister-in-law, which did not end well.

Stair hall in the Morton house.  The placement of the stair in a side hall off a long main hall was less usual in New England than the mid-Atlantic or Southern States. 
The interiors of the Morton house featured elaborate Adamesque plasterwork ceilings, a relative rarity in the United States.  The slightly awkward oval room featured a coved ceiling, also unusual, and a less sophisticated echo of the Swan's domed circular room across the street.  According to early accounts, the friezes over the doors featured swags centered by American eagles and shields, a first floor room in the octagonal bay had Zuber scenic wallpaper, and the 'sky parlor' in the attic monitor was a room about 10 x 16 feet, with corner fireplace with delft tiles, and windows on four sides looking out to the gilded dome of the State House Boston and the harbor and bay beyond, all now gone.

The oval salon in the Morton house. (From Some Old Dorchester Houses, 1890, via Dorchester Athenaeum)
The drawing room was on the second floor, unusual for a New England country house.  It is seen here prior to demolition in the late 1800s.
A French window, also unusual in America in the 18th century, opened from drawing room onto the upper veranda. (Some Old Dorchester Houses)
 As he did with the Swan's house, Ogden Codman later mined the Perez Morton house for inspiration for one of his designs in Newport, this time for his cousin, Miss Martha Codman.  Miss Codman's house, Berkeley Villa, was an amalgam of several iconic American houses around Roxbury and Dorchester.  The entrance facade was based on the Crafts house designed by Peter Banner in Roxbury.  

Berkeley Villa, Newport Rhode Island, designed by Ogden Codman, 1910 (NYSD)
The Crafts house, Roxbury, Massachussets, 1807, as drawn by Ogden Codman, 1892
Shirley Place, Roxbury, Massachusetts, as it appeared in the 19th century.  Notice dormer configuration later adapted at Berkeley Villa. (Boston Public Library, Department of Prints & Drawings)
 As Berkeley villa was much larger than its model, and required an attic story for servant's rooms, a steeper roof line was based on Shirley Place, the surviving Royal governor's mansion, also in Roxbury, both drawn by Codman as part of his study of early American houses in the 1890s. 

Garden facade of Berkeley Villa, inspired by the Morton House
 For the garden facade of Miss Codman's house, the octagonal bay and porch of the Morton house were copied.  Charming though the 'authentic' Federal style facade might have been, this house was in Newport, after all, and for the interiors, Codman abandoned the simplicity of late 18th century America in favor of Robert Adam's England, inserting a rotunda stair hall in the center of the house.

Stair Hall at Berkeley Villa (Andy Ryan, New York Times)
 In 1928 Miss Codman married Maxim Karolik a Russian opera singer, and together they formed one of the finest collections of American furniture, with which they furnished Berkeley Villa.  That collection is now a cornerstone of the American decorative arts collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where of course, also resides the French furniture brought back by James Swan years earlier.

Sofa by Samuel McIntire and painted side chair once belonging to Elias Hasket Derby, both from the collection of M&M Karolik, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
These blog posts are, as much as anything, just me thinking out loud about things that intrigue me, and making connections.  I could go on and mention the garden house (click HERE) designed by Fiske Kimball in 1922 in the grounds of Berkeley villa, that copied one designed by McIntire at Elias Hasket Derby's country estate, and that Kimball in turn was the man who first wrote about Thomas Jefferson's architectural life, as author of the seminal book on McIntire, and that Kimball in turn lived for a time, as director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Lemon Hill, a house built in 1800, with central bow and oval rooms, or I could just go make lunch.




Daniel Burnham of Burnham & Root, urban planner, visionary architect, one of the creators of the skyscraper, designed only three buildings in New England---Filene's Department Store in Boston, the Kent Memorial Library in Suffolk, Connecticut, and this shingle style summer cottage in Bar Harbor, designed in 1885 for Miss Violet Whitaker.

'The Moorings', entrance facade

'The Moorings' ocean facade
The cottage, located on Eden Street, did not have a long life.  In the early 1900's, It was purchased by the Honarable Mrs. Alfred Anson, formerly Mrs. J.J. Emery, whose own much grander cottage, 'The Turrets' (click Here for more), designed by Bruce Price in 1895, was immediately adjacent to the North.  Mrs. Anson had the Whitaker cottage demolished, and in its stone foundation built a sunken garden, with pool and fountain in center, balustrades manufactured by E.E. Soderholtz (click Here for more about Soderholtz).  The curved foundation of the stair bay on the entrance front became a niche with curved stone bench.   After Mrs. Anson's death in 1953, 'The Turrets' was abandoned for many years, and the garden became overgrown and ruinous.  After the estate was purchased as part of the College of the Atlantic campus, the garden was excavated and semi-restored.  Unfortunately, in recent years, the foundation became unstable, and rather than being rebuilt to design, has been replaced by terraced retaining walls.

A fuzzy polaroid, taken in 1969, of the abandoned garden built in the foundation of 'The Moorings'



i wonder why 'Mizzentop', a grand Bar Harbor summer cottage built in 1883 for Louisa Hunt, widow of artist William Hunt, was not designed by her brother-in-law, Richard Morris Hunt, but rather by H.L. Putnam of Boston.

A sketch of the newly built 'Mizzentop' by A.W. Brunner,  Building 1884.
 There is much more to write about Mizzentop, which went on to have a distinguished list of tenants and owners, and when I do, I will tie it to the invention of the reaper, to one of the finest metalworkers of the early 1900's, the Titanic,  the decorating firm of Sills and Huniford (no, they did not do interiors of this house, which burned before they were born), and even the TV show Law & Order, but not right now.  I was just wondering out loud for the moment.  I wish I were closer to the AIA Library, which houses the Hunt papers.   One would love to imagine that maybe there is a letter from Hunt to his sister-in-law, regretting that he was unable to take time off from the Vanderbilts, but recommending Mr. Putnam.  More likely however, Mr. Putnam was part of Mrs. Hunt's social circle in Boston.

Porte cochere at Mizzentop
After the Bar Harbor fire of 1947, Mizzentop's ruins were a landmark on Eden St.  Now a large hotel occupies the foundations
Another curiousity is that there is a little cottage in Bar Harbor, know as 'Mizzentop Cottage'.  It is claimed to be the laundry cottage of Mizzentop, moved from the site to an intown location and converted to residential use in the 1930s.  Yet, it is almost identical to the laundry cottage at 'Blair Eyrie', further up the hill from Mizzentop, and in a 1940s real estate ad, the laundry building at Mizzentop is still listed as on site and containing six additional staff bedrooms.  As it happens, 'Blair Eyrie' was demolished in, you guessed it, the 1930s, and its laundry house was trucked off to a new location.  Research is a constant struggle to separate truth and conflicting, often romantic or apocryphal fiction.  Which is why real estate brokers are able to sell so many houses designed by Stanford White years after his death, and why so many families own sideboards made in the 1830s, but with a firm family story of having been given to an ancestor by George Washington, despite his having died years before.  

Mizzentop Cottage
The laundry cottage at 'Blair Eyrie', designed by Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul
Blair Eyrie was built at the highest elevation of any cottage in Bar Harbor, with 360 degree views, and never was a laundry building more prettily situated.  Below are the stairs that led to garden level from the laundry cottage.  Picturesque though these steps are, one does not envy the laundry staff making the trek from the house, down the service drive at left, and then down these steps with full baskets of laundry.



Growing up on the coast of Maine, the romance of the sea, and our amazing maritime history were never far from my thoughts.  The old seaport of Wiscasset, at the mouth of the Sheepscot River in the mid-coast region of Maine is a town of  many architectural wonders that bear witness to that past, when sailing ships built in the region were tied up at the docks between journeys from our small towns to ports around the world.

Photograph by Cervan Robinson, Historic American Buildings Survey
On a side street amongst several larger and grander neighbors, sits this small brick house was built for one Samuel Page in 1837.  For the first 109 years of its existence, it was a typical tidy brick house, symmetrical, well proportioned, and plain, the sort of house that was done so well all over New England in the early 19th century.  That changed in 1946 when the enchanting porch 19th century entry porch was added by the then owner, Mrs. Cunningham.

Cervan Robinson, HABS
At first glance, this porch appears to be classic cast iron, with a grapevine motif---but look again---it is carved wood.  It came from the home of Edbury Hatch, the last of a distinguished tradition of men who carved figureheads and ornaments for the hundreds of ships built in the region in the 19th century.  Born in Newcastle, a few miles up the coast from Wiscasset, in 1849, Hatch apprenticed in the carving shop of William Southworth, and later worked for Col. Sampson of Bath.  By the 1880s, wooden ship building was drawing to a close, and Hatch, a lifelong bachelor, moved for a time to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where he worked as a night watchman.  By 1890, he had returned to the family home in Newcastle, where he spent the rest of his life carving fantastical items to ornament the exterior of the house.  The Wiscasset porch was from Hatch's front door.  Unseen in the photo (and unfortunately no photo is available to me at this moment) are the side panels, described by Jean Lipman as 'a hunting dog stalking unseen prey with a bird, bee and butterfly buzzing overhead' and 'the other a bear foraging for nuts, accompanied by an enormous dragonfly'.  The porch was but one of a veritable cornucopia of carved ornament on Hatch's house, including this bas relief of the State of Maine seal. 

From American Folk Art in Wood, Metal and Stone, by Jean Lipman

 The two side porches from the Hatch house, equally fantastical, with serpents and tassels carved in high relief, were purchased by authors Henry Beston and his wife Elisabeth Coatsworth, who took them to 'Chimney Farm', their house in neighboring Nobleboro.  

Another of the porticos from the Hatch house can be seen at Chimney Farm (henrybeston.org)
Hatch died in 1935.  Bits of his work still survive on houses around Newcastle, but many are dispersed to private collections, or have been lost to time and the elements.

The following about Hatch appeared in Time magazine for Dec. 13, 1948, and tantalizes the imagination:

'This is to certify that Edbury Hatch has served a regular apprenticeship of more than four years with me in the carving business, that he is honest, temperate and industrious . . . A lack of business is the only reason that I do not employ him.'

Young Edbury Hatch had just picked the wrong trade. When he was a boy in Newcastle, Me., the town had supported ten busy shipyards and every new vessel needed a carved figurehead. But by 1870, when William Southworth discharged Hatch, business was starting to fall off.

Hatch, armed with his letter of recommendation, stuck with it to the last, then got a job as a night watchman in a hotel. For old times' sake, he whittled while he worked. In the 1890s, he got a notion to carve decorations for his own house and barn. He did them for fun until he died in 1935, lavishing on the job all his training and skill, and using his hundred woodworking tools.

Because his house stayed put and never suffered the hazards of the sea, its ebulliently baroque decorations are among the handful of surviving monuments to maritime woodcarving in the U.S.

According to Art Expert Samuel M. Green (who describes them in the current Magazine of Art), they are also some of the best. A Hatch cannon surmounted by two eagles, a near-life-size horse, and a tree full of carved cats have all disappeared, but a wooden treasure remains. Among the highlights: a gutter spout representing a sea monster and reminiscent of medieval gargoyles (though Hatch never saw any); a side entrance adorned with lion heads, snakes and stars.

Chimney Farm, home of two of New England's most revered writers, has been preserved and is now a National Literary Landmark.  For an interview with the Beston's daughter Kate, click HERE

Sometimes, when I venture off on these posts, I am stunned anew by what I know so well---that Maine is a rich, strange, and wonderful place.