Ben Nelson’s Curiosity Shop

Photos © Bing

by Bing McGilvray

On Main Street, shops come and go, as do buildings over time. Time on Middle St. has tried, somewhat successfully, to stand still. It still evokes the days of Schooners, Sargent, Hopper, Blackburn and Olson. Past, present and future dance here.

Center Street connects Main and Middle and in the middle of Center Street, at #6, you’ll discover the Post Historic Studio. The brainchild of Ben Nelson, PHS is a holistic experience, his and ours. You would not be wrong in calling it an artsy retro-chic antique boutique but it is so much more.

Ben, a friendly young man with a creative, nimble mind and a pet rabbit named Mr. Rabbit, happily answered my questions without ever putting down his brush. He may just be the coolest new kid on the block.

Ben Nelson

Bing: OK. Sitting here with Ben Nelson, proprietor of the Post Historic Studio. How long have you been open?

Ben:  I opened on May 27th of this year. It was a really cool start. I had a special artist, a performer from California, Joe Louis (Salami Rose) come in and play for the opening.

Bing: PHS is so enchanting, there’s some magic happening here. Everything’s going well? You’ve said people enjoy coming and hanging out.

Ben:  Oh yeah. It’s a really fun place to hang out.

 

 

 

 

 

Bing: Every time I come in you are painting. You’re working on this beautiful fish at the moment.

Ben:  I paint friend’s pets on commission. This one is just for fun.

Pet Portraits

Bing: Tell me about you. You’re young, 20 right?

Ben:  Yes, I am. Well, I originally convinced myself I was going to go to college for pharmacology. I was committed to that. When I got to college I was disappointed. Not what I expected. Kind of like high school all over again. Especially with the college I picked.

Bing:   (laughs)

Ben:  I think I learned and changed a lot after that experience.

Bing: Absolutely, yeah.

Mr Rabbit

Ben:  Pharmacy wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want it anymore. I would have been $200,000 in debt.

Bing: Right. Instead …

Ben:  I opened this studio in Gloucester. I grew up in Rockport, lived here 17 years. So, I know the area. Came back looking for a place. This one popped up at just the right time.

Bing: Perfect. It’s a wonderful mish-mash of an artist’s studio and gallery, curiosity shop and as you said, a place for like-minded minds to intermingle. I don’t think there’s anything on Cape Ann quite like it.

Ben:  It’s a very fun, creative environment.

Motif © Ben Nelson

 

Bing: Indeed. Tell me how you came up with the name Post Historic Studio.

Post History © Ben Nelson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben:  The title took a really long time. We had group chats to brainstorm names. I asked my English teachers and all my friends. At first, it was going to be The Gloucester Gallery. But I wanted something more interesting. I’m in the process of making a giant T-Rex skull, still working on it. So I was thinking pre-historic and then came Post Historic.

Bing: Yeah, it’s really good. Strangely, it does describe the place. Whimsical, future nostalgia. Poetic, ironic and iconic, a paradox of space and time. You’re doing a daily, extended performance piece.

Ben:  Wow. You’re right. Thanks.

Bing: Thank you, Ben. I’m going to walk around and take some photos. You are really doing something special.

VCR Tapes Available!

Ben at Work

Tune In, Turn On, Drop By …

To Soothe the Savage Beast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bing McGilvray is an artist, flaneur, raconteur and bon vivant living in Gloucester.

Bing

Kathleen Burke and the Towering Victorian

Kathleen Burke

by Bing McGilvray

From her 5th floor window, Kathleen Burke can see just the top of the Victorian house she once bought and restored, at least during the winter months when the trees are bare. The house, with its unmistakable tower, is one of my favorites in Gloucester, rising improbably above all others like something from a fairy tale.

I live on the 2nd floor and I met my neighbor Kathleen when I helped her carry a large box to her apartment. That’s when I saw the paintings of the Loring B. Haskell house, named after the eccentric fellow who originally built it.

Prudence Fish wrote about this Queen Anne wonder in her book Antique Houses of Gloucester, now out of print. But I wanted to hear Kathleen’s story of how she happened to acquire the place. Graciously, she agreed to this interview.

The Loring B. Haskell House, Gloucester.

Bing: OK, we’re recording. I’m sitting here with Kathleen Burke, my upstairs neighbor. Let’s see. We first met at the mailboxes, I think.

KB: Yes, I think so.

Bing: Eventually I learned your name was Burke and you were originally from Quincy. I wondered if you were related to Patricia Burke from Quincy who married my uncle Charles McDermott.

KB: I grew up in Quincy but no, no relation.

B: The most fascinating thing I found out about you is that you once owned and renovated, brought back to life really, one of my favorite buildings in … well, anywhere.

KB: You have excellent taste.

B: Thank you. So tell me about this towering Victorian – the Loring B. Haskell House. On the corner of Marchand and Spring.

KB: Yes. We were living in Ipswich at the time …

B: We?

KB: My significant other, Lou. We were driving around Cape Ann. We drove by the tower and I just fell in love with it. Such a shame that it had fallen into disrepair. Such a beautiful building. It had been on the market for a year and no one had made an offer on it. To make a long story short, I was with Pru Fish, who wrote that fabulous book.

B: Antique Houses of Gloucester. Yes, it’s out of print and selling for big bucks on Amazon.

KB: I hope it will be reprinted.

B: Me too.

KB: After talking to Pru, I made an offer of $95,000 and they accepted it.

B: Wow.

KB: We were all so stunned we went out for a pizza.

B: So now you have this house and it’s in pretty tough shape.

KB: No, that’s the surprise, the unknown quantity. Structurally it was very sound.

B: All you really had to do was decorate?

KB: Well, there was a lot of scraping, painting and scrubbing.

Gloucester Victorian.    Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

B: You have an article, full page from the Gloucester Daily Times dated April 22, 1985 … “High Tech Meets Victorian Gingerbread ~ Consultants translate computer argot into English in old Gloucester home”.  So you were working with computers way back in 1985?

KB: What we were doing was advertising new products. Back when parts that are now tiny chips were as big as refrigerators. I had a knack for understanding the tech talk. For example, when I was helping them sell the latest controller …

B: You had to understand the controller and translate that into laypersons language. That’s very interesting.

KB: Yes, it was. This is something I never get tired of saying, the engineers are the unsung heroes of women’s lib. They didn’t care about male or female, you just had to understand the product. Wonderful people to work with.  I had been doing this technical work before I bought the house. But I could justify buying it because I wouldn’t need to rent office space.

B: Perfect.

KB: And then I got into throwing wonderful parties. It was a house just made for it. People would come and get lost in the upper stories.

B: Do you know who owns it now?

KB: I don’t but they’ve done a wonderful job keeping it up.

B: Yes, still beautiful. I’d love to get up inside there sometime.  When we met, I knew nothing about you and the house but I did know you lived for awhile in Haiti. That’s fascinating. Of course, this was long before the hurricanes from which they have yet to recover. Your time there was rather enchanted, right?

KB: Fabulous. They had cleared up the political mess. Someone decent was in the White House. Americans flocked to the Oloffson, a gorgeous old hotel, run by an imam whose mother was a Haitian dancer and father was a Yankee college professor. He put his hand to restoring the murals. Those were happy days.

Dambala

B: Your cat even has a Haitian name.

KB: Dambala is named after the Haitian voodoo god of motion and dance. I went with a friend to adopt a cat. We decided pick a name once we saw him. Well, he danced right out of the cage! That was it. Dambala!

B: Tell me about these three paintings behind you.

KB: The one to the far left is by Ward Mann, a noted Gloucester artist whose studio was on Rocky Neck. Through someone I knew, I got a message from him. He wanted permission to paint Main Street from the tower.

B: Very cool.

KB: When we saw the painting, it was so lovely we bought it.

B: Terrific painting.

Gloucester Main St. and Harbor.       Ward Mann (1921-2005)

KB: Isn’t it? It has the spirit of Gloucester.   The one in the middle is by Edward Hopper. In his time it was in the same lousy condition that I bought it.

B: So, when you bought it, it was boarded up like that?

KB: No, it wasn’t boarded up because there was a nice couple living there. But it was shabby.

B: That’s a Hopper print, right?

KB: They said if I sent them a picture of the house, they’d send a print.

B: Who?

KB: Oh, sorry, the Whitney Museum.

B: Aha. A very nice print indeed.

KB: They were very kind.

B: Now, this third picture shows the full height of the house… which you can’t really see anymore because the trees are now so large.

KB: That’s also by Ward Mann. We became great friends.

Kathleen’s House, Gloucester. Ward Mann (1921-2005)

B: There were also people who thought it was folly to fix up the place. Lots of graffiti along the sidewalk walls. You’d fix it up and the vandals would return soon after.

KB: There were two opposing philosophies on that. I had the broken window theory, if you fix something others will follow your lead. And that’s what happened. No more graffiti. This happened with the ‘Painted Lady’ Victorians in San Francisco too. The pessimists were wrong.

B: Thanks so much for sharing a bit of your life, Kathleen.

KB: Thank you, Bing, for the attention.

 

 

Bing McGilvray is an artist, flaneur, raconteur and bon vivant living in Gloucester.

 

Jeff Marshall: On The Waterfront

Jeff Marshall at the Cape Ann Museum until November 25th.

By Ken Riaf 

The Wharf

Jeff Marshall’s studio sits above the tide on Smith Cove and overlooks a truck corral down at the Morse Sibley Wharf. It’s where fisherman hitch their workhorses for however long it takes to get the fish from out there to back here. The ancient pilings driven deep into clay centuries ago and sistered to newer stringers form a solid structure. But it’s akin to the old utility knife that over time acquired two new blades and three new handles.

The wharf’s beaverized timbers and moaning spiles hover above a dank cavern of wooden stalagmites and yet, despite its picturesque decay, it’s still a place to go fishing from.

Morse Sibley Wharf

Comings and Goings.   © Jeff Marshall

The Lot

Pickup trucks rest on a scrapple of broken asphalt penned-in by rusting cargo containers and dredges laced with Tansy gone to seed. There’s a hogged wooden hull up against a battered wharfhouse whose padlock gets shielded from the weather by a leather flap above the hasp. Decomposing memories of fisheries past – a Gillnet dries on a wooden spool and a stone-age winch is ready to start a new life as a mooring stone.

In earlier times a telephone pole spiked with store bought and makeshift signs warned unwary interlopers:

We’ve Seen Your Approach Now Let’s See Your Departure and No Trespassing means Go Away, Go Away Means You or the ever popular I Gave At The Office.

Process Sequence of Monster Truck #3.   © Jeff Marshall

An Old Horse Knows the Way

The classic wharf truck hauled and dragged whatever needed hauling or dragging from A to B and sometimes as far as C.  In a time when working folks understood one another’s burdens and the beasts that carried them, a yellowed inspection sticker or expired plate were often overlooked with a friendly nod as good as a wink. In a world of rust and midnight doings the waterfront code of live and let live was the grease that made the dockyard’s hum.

A point of pride was seeing just how long one could keep the heap. Could you coax it to expire at the junkyard gate? The Morse Sibley corollary to Murphy’s Law “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” was – “I know it’s broken but it works all the same”.

Ronnie’s a Bulldog.   © Jeff Marshall

Outside of a dog, a pickup truck is mans best friend – inside of a dog, it’s too dark to drive.

Everything has at least two sides to it from dishes that need washing to the great philosophies. The wharf truck probably has at least four sides, those being inside & out and top & bottom.

The cab is a place to get out of the weather while your vessel idles awake. It’s a smokey, fishy, coal-tar pitch museum of the trade. Retired oilskins fused with fish scales and the mending needles in the glove box are always close at hand. There’s a candy dish of melted bon-bons on the dashboard and bits of old lunch wedged in the visor.

Patches of red lead filler and gray primer hide the scars. She lists to starboard on a balding tire squared from sitting. Those are its topsides and keel. A land scow that the family dubbed “Our Shame.” And what of lost mariners who never return to claim their mounts? Keys dangle in the ignition because who would want to thieve this? The newspaper splayed to the sports page beside a bottle of Moxie and a half-eaten lobster roll. These things happen.

In Fishtown, one might refer to someone not entirely tethered to his mental moorings by genteelly suggesting that the poor fellow’s wharf “doesn’t go all the way down to the water”. Well, the Morse Sibley wharf does go down there and has been doing so since the age of sail. Future fishers will shelter in the lee of their steeds to talk weather, the price of fish and about that new electric pick-up truck, they’re gonna get someday.

So now comes Marshall to set himself, easel, paints and tools at the hub of this sometimes milling sometimes solitary station where fishers hitch their warhorses, cast the lines and slip to the fog. He knows the situation and the terrain down the old pier and his subjects know how to hold a pose.

Gone … Fishing, a special exhibition of recent work by Jeffrey Marshall, is on now until November 25th at the Cape Ann Museum.

 

Ken Riaf is a lawyer, artist, author, educator, playwright, activist and all around great guy who owns and operates the Law & Water Gallery on Pleasant Street in Gloucester.

 

 

~ Coming Out of the Woodwork ~

West End of Main Street.          J. Jeffrey Grant (1883 – 1960)

I’ve been asked, “When are you going to write again?”  I guess there isn’t a proper answer to that or too many excuses, plus, I don’t consider myself a writer, but when one of my favorite authors says my stories are wonderful, it boosts my confidence enough to think about it.

Thinking about it hasn’t helped much.  I guess one needs to be passionate about something before they can put it into words.  I’m passionate most every day and often share my feelings on social media with my photographs.  I call it my “Therapy.”  Do I need therapy?  Yes.  Don’t we all?  In this day and age of horrendous news, insatiable cancer, pollution, (unfortunately the list is long) a person needs a tranquil escape.

Often when I write, it’s because something is really bothering me, and I feel the need to share my feelings to see if I’m alone in them. At the same time, I don’t want it to just become a rant, where the reaction is, “Oh no, here she goes again.”  Sometimes those rants raise awareness and bring people together in a positive way, like my last entry, “Pimping Out Gloucester.”  I was thrilled with the support I received from like-minded people that wanted to leave Ten Pound Island alone.  It wasn’t written very well, but the results were heartwarming.

So, why am I coming out of the woodwork now?  What’s got my goat?  Different things, but all Gloucester related.  You can choose to stop reading now or go on and tell me if I’m being tedious. I’m a big girl, I can take it.

A few months back, it was decided by someone that Main Street’s draw would be enhanced by lighting up the trees from the West End to the East.  Shop owners would keep their stores open later because of the pretty lights and possibility of more foot traffic.  Volunteers were sought and found to help in this project, but no public input was sought.  No one was able to say, “I don’t want this, nor do I want the maintenance fees to come out of my taxes.”  No concerns of how artificial light could affect photosynthesis or night pollinators.  The project just went full steam ahead and now we have, I don’t know how many yards of wire hanging from trees, plugged into lamps that have underground wiring.  To me, it kind of defeats the original downtown beautification of having underground wiring for our handsome lamp posts in the first place.

I’m sure you can tell, I’m not a fan of the year-round Christmas lights on Main Street, but I’m less of a fan of the “just go ahead and do it,” approach to things that happen in this town.  We have Ward Councilors and Councilors at Large, but I’ve always felt Ward 2 belongs to all residents, just as our beaches and woods do. Surely these councilors can bring awareness to all of us, as to what is going on before the “going on” happens.   Which leads me to my next subject of “no input fear.”

While driving down Washington Street last week, I saw a big yellow sign that reads, “Let Sleeping Dogtown Lie.”  My first thought was “Ut Oh, what now?”  So, I asked on Social Media and was given some answers which lead me to a little more detail.

Excuse me, I just ran out for coffee and the paper, I had to grin when I read the headline, “Dogtown designation divides residents,” further captioned “Proponents tout better management; foes don’t want it to become a park.”  That’s an entirely different rant.  Seems the Gloucester Daily Times likes to label anyone with a difference of opinion as a “Foe.”  Oh, how I remember it well, being a “Hotel Foe and Obstructionist,” during that time period.  “Me thinks, someone is trying to tell us how to think.”

So, back to it.  I’ve come to the knowledge, as many have by now, that the Historical Commission is seeking nomination for Dogtown to become part of the National Register of Historic Districts.  This is pretty cool, right?  Well, there’s also a lot of “buts,” that need to be addressed and not brushed aside before that “full steam ahead,” approach is taken.  I imagine, once the application is sent into the state for their approval, that there will be no turning back.  Someone asked me, “Why are you trying to prevent this?  It’s no different from being nominated for an academy award.”  … that’s where I get nervous.  We all know with fame comes invasion of privacy.  Can Dogtown handle the spotlight?

I’m told the deadline is October 26, 2018, for the nomination to go to the state.  I’ve also been told, there will be public input before the end of the year.  Isn’t that a bit too late?  A lot too late?

Shouldn’t public input have been sought at the “idea” stage?  In the …We’re thinking of this for Dogtown folks, what do you think?… stage.

Remember when the “Sawyer Free Library Expansion Plans,” came out in the Gloucester Daily Times?  I believe it was a couple years ago.  I think it came as a shock to most of us.  I do remember an uproar from many when the artist rendition of the (already hired and paid for) architectural plans hit the front page.  Another example of putting the cart before the horse.  And who’s forgotten the funds being sought to erect a David Black sculpture in Solomon Jacobs Park?

My mind was blown once when a mayor (I won’t name names) said, and this is not verbatim, but pretty gosh darn close, “I’m supporting this and pushing this through because some citizens of Gloucester don’t know what’s best for them.”  I could not believe my ears.  It’s this kind of attitude that has soured many from getting involved, sadly, it should have done the opposite – rile folks up so much that they come out of the woodwork to have their voices heard.

How do we keep people informed about what’s happening in City Hall?  I don’t know the answer to that.  I do have an idea, not through the Times or our government’s website, because not everyone reads the Times or has a computer.  I think City Hall needs a “Coffee Talk” publication once a week.  Do you know what I mean?  Ever go have breakfast somewhere and there are these placemat size flyers with whimsical facts, jokes, and puzzles on them?  I’d always grab one for their entertainment value while waiting for my pancakes to arrive, Jimmy would always get more answers right than I did on the quizzes.  Anyway, my point is, what a great way to get the “goings on,” of Gloucester and stimulate conversation around town.  Did I just create a job for someone?  Maybe the High School could get involved.  We need to know what’s up and coming before it’s gone by.  Gloucester Coffee Talk, straight out of City Hall…   what do you think folks?

In the meantime, can we please find out more information before any decisions are made for Dogtown?  Please.

 

Laurel Tarantino, is happy to live in her hometown, Gloucester, with her husband, James, “Jimmy T,” daughter Marina Bella, and the family dog, Sport. She is known for “stopping to smell the roses” and loves to photograph and write about her beloved waterfront community.

 

Jazz

Peter Anastas

Tom and Peter © Bing McGilvray

             One day during my junior year in high school, a short kid with slicked down black hair and a flashy yellow linen sport jacket stopped me in the corridor between classes.  His name was Eddie Silva and his father was a fishing captain.  Eddie told me he was starting a nine-piece orchestra to play for weddings and dances and he needed a pianist.

             At our first rehearsal, we named ourselves the Modernaires, after the Glenn Miller vocal group.  The saxophone section consisted of Eddie himself and Bob Brayman on alto sax with Pat Maranhas and Jimmy Call on tenors.  Jimmy, who had a trained voice and sang in all the high school glee club operettas, doubled on vocals.  Gil Brown and Frank Domingos, who was in my class, played trumpet, and Ron Brown, who not only looked like Glenn Miller but played like him, was the trombonist.  I played piano, with Bud April, who lived in Essex, on drums.

             During the years in which the Modernaires came into being, Gloucester was a town full of musicians and music lovers.  There was the high school marching band, two American Legion bands, a swing band called The Starlighters, and a host of small dance and jazz bands that played everything from general business gigs, like weddings and parties, to dances in the many bars on Main and Rogers streets.  Dives like the Paramount Café, became storied venues, where Jerry “Pack ‘em in” Quinn presided over the drums, and a slew of great trumpeters like “Babe” McCrae and Herb Pomeroy, with Vern Niemi on sax and “Cap” Thomas on bass, blew the roof off every Saturday night.

             Musicians like Herb, trumpeter Bud Irving, Ray Bentley, who played sax and clarinet, drummers Ron Gilson and Danny Bloomfield, and trombonist Shorty Perry became role models for my brother Tom and me, along with our piano teacher Don Oakes.  We sneaked into the bars to hear them play and we pestered them with questions between sets—What chord changes were they using?  Who were they listening to?

             Our place of rehearsal was the Gloucester Fraternity Club on Webster Street.  With Eddie leading the band we got off to a promising start.  There was no piece of music the Brown brothers couldn’t sight read.  Together we created a library of stock arrangements, which Eddie picked up at the Boston Music Company—“Blue Velvet,” for slow dancing, Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” for up-tempos.  We had thick, corrugated cardboard music stands made with our name stenciled across the front in contemporary script, and for uniforms, we all ordered blue-gray gabardine suits from Robert Hall.

             What we played was not strictly jazz, unless we were covering Ellington or Basie tunes.  Nevertheless, once we started playing on our own, music became a way of life for Tom and me.  As soon as we got home from school, we tuned into Bob “The Robin” Martin’s early evening radio jazz program on WBZ Boston.  During nights and long summer afternoons we listened to “Symphony Sid” Torin, on whose program we first heard Bird and Diz’s breathless “Bloomdido,” Bud Powell racing through “Boplicity,” or Fats Navarro’s plangent “Ladybird.”  The intricacies of bebop came to excite us more than the Dixieland and Chicago jazz we had first cut our teeth on.  Who on piano could compare to Lenny Tristano or Oscar Peterson, except, years later, for Bill Evans?  Sid’s taste was for New York style bop, while Bob “The Robin” favored West Coast “cool” jazz—Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers.  But we listened to it all.

             Our piano teacher Don Oakes, a young and newly married local musician, taught both classical and jazz. Don was an amazing pianist.  His hands fairly flew over the keyboard, whether he was playing Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” or “Prelude in C# Minor,” both of which he insisted all of his students master or a straight-ahead version of “Foggy Day.”  After he decided we had a feel for the basics, it was boogie-woogie, then blues and jazz improvisation.

“What do you hear in the melody that you’d like to build on?” he’d ask, keeping time with the bass chords and lightly single fingering an improvisation as he sang it to us.

             Working with Don we began to understand more fully how the jazz we heard on radio was constructed, not only in terms of the melodic lines but also in the ways the musicians interpreted those melodies.  Instead of the chaos, our parents claimed to hear—“All that noise!”—we heard and apprehended form, infinitely complex and subtle at times, or direct and strong and emotional: “I didn’t know what time it was, till I met you!”

             It was jazz that taught us how to feel—truly to inhabit our emotions.    We were both sensitive kids, who had been read to during our childhood.   But it was the songs themselves, heard on the radio, often in the dark of night, emanating from the vast spaces of America, songs about highways (“Get your kicks on Route 66”), about relationships gone awry (“Detour, there’s a muddy road ahead”); songs like “Midnight Sun,” certain phrases of which have the polish of a poem by Wallace Stevens; Billy Strayhorn’s haunting “Lush Life,” or, much later, Michel Legrand and Alan Berman’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life,” as sung by Frank Sinatra, that still entrance me.

             Once the Modernaires got off the ground, our parents worried that we might be neglecting our studies; but they were also proud of our accomplishment in having created an orchestra together, one that paid its own way, allowing us to get out of debt pretty quickly for our equipment and to earn twenty-five or thirty dollars apiece per gig (after we joined the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians, we could demand union scale).  Our parents were also relieved that while rehearsing once or twice a week and playing at least another night, we could “keep out of trouble.”  Which we did, for the most part.

             When Bob Brayman went away to college the next year, Tom came on the band playing clarinet and tenor sax, both of which he’d studied with Andy Jacobson, one of Gloucester’s legendary musicians, who’d played with the John Philip Sousa band.  Practicing a couple of hours a day, Tom learned quickly how to improvise, beginning with a Lester Young pre-bop style and progressing rapidly through Stan Getz and Richie Camuca, the great tenor soloist on the Kenton band.

             After Eddie Silva entered the Maine Maritime Academy to begin training for a career in the merchant services, the Modernaires broke up into small groups.    For the remainder of my high school career, Tom and I usually played in a small group with Ron and Gil Brown and Bob Shoares on drums—high school parties, weddings on Portuguese Hill, dances at the Annisquam and Eastern Point Yacht clubs: whatever general business came our way.

             By then I had stopped studying piano to concentrate on preparing for college; but Tom continued working on the reeds, and he commuted to Boston every Saturday for a piano lesson at the New England Conservatory of Music with classical pianist Miklos Schwalb.  After I’d left for college, Tom, who had two more years in high school, formed another big band, one for which he did a lot of the arranging himself.  When I came home on summer break, I played piano with this band and with the smaller groups.  I also played in college at parties and dances at the fraternity house, and weekends in the bars of Lewiston and at the officers’ club at the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

             For several summers, between 1957 and 1959, we performed weekends at the Hawthorne Inn Casino on Eastern Point Road.  Tom would be playing tenor sax or vibes, with me on piano and Joe Moceri on drums.  Tom had taken up the vibraphone at Berklee and, like every other instrument he tried, he had soon mastered it, playing in the manner of Milt Jackson of The Modern Jazz Quartet.

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             During the summer before my senior year, I found myself torn between music and writing.  I’d become editor of the Quill, the Bowdoin literary magazine, and I spent two summers editing the Cape Ann Summer Sun, a seasonal supplement to the Gloucester Daily Times that appeared as an eight-page weekly.  I threw myself into journalism, writing feature articles, book reviews and art criticism with the abandonment I’d never experienced on piano.

             Tom brought his own group into the Hawthorne that last summer of 1959 before I sailed for Italy.  It was a wonderful hard-bop influenced group with Boston’s Phil Welch on trumpet, Tom on piano, vibes and baritone, Dave Schrier, who was breaking out of hard bop to follow in the footsteps of John Coltrane and Archie Shepp on tenor, and Joe Moceri, as always, on drums.

Tom Anastas orchestra, summer 1958, Cape Ann Festival of the Arts. Tom solos on tenor, Peter leads the band

             Tom and I worked on the waterfront during the day, lugging fresh fish to the cutters, running loads of trash to the city dump, even doing some carpentry.  At the Hawthorne Casino, the excitement generated by Tom’s new band created a large following.  There were parties after the gig, where we met new people, most of them students like ourselves working in Gloucester for the summer.  On the Saturday night after Labor Day weekend, just before the casino shut down for the summer, the band played better than ever.  That night the Hawthorne Inn, which had closed for the summer immediately after Labor Day, burned to the ground, taking with it the casino and the deli in a conflagration that was described by the state fire marshall as having a “suspicious origin.”

             By then my brief career as a jazz and cocktail pianist had ended.  Tom’s life in music was just beginning.  Shortly after I left for Italy, Tom enlisted in the army in order to attend the U. S. Navy School of Music, in Washington, which was considered one of the finest in the country.  For two years in Hawaii, when not playing with or co-directing the Fort Shafter marching band, he formed his own fifteen-piece jazz and dance orchestra, writing the entire book himself.  He also played baritone sax and piano in several Honolulu clubs.  After his discharge, in December of 1962, Tom returned to Boston, where he joined a group of Berklee classmates to play in the city and at several clubs in Essex County.

             I was teaching high school English, having come back from Italy to avoid the draft.  For most of the winter and early spring, we spent every weekend on the road together, while Tom performed in Newburyport, Lowell, Hampton Beach and Haverhill.  Before leaving for the service, Tom had purchased one of the early Karmann Ghias.  After he returned, “the Ghia,” as we called it, was our transport as we drove from city to city, in rain or snow, on icy roads, always aiming to end the night (or morning) with breakfast at the Agawam Diner on Route 1 in Rowley, which remains today one of the last of the great old diners, open day and night.  There we’d sit, together or with some of the other musicians, quarterbacking the gig—who played “good,” who needed more work on what tunes—and swapping stories of the road.  It was then that Tom and I felt closest to each other and to the writer who meant so much to both of us, especially if we found ourselves in Kerouac’s town of an early morning, tasting one last Johnny Walker Red on the rocks (Jack’s drink), or a wake-up coffee with our breakfast of two eggs over easy and homefries.

             After a stint in Denver with the Bud Poindexter Quartet, Tom flew East to New York, where he set out on the road with the Elgart band, led by brothers Les and Larry, who had merged their separate orchestras.  By then Tom was mostly playing baritone and reeds (he’d learned flute at the Navy School of Music and he soon added soprano saxophone and bass clarinet to his repertoire).  The Elgart stint ended when Tom got the call he had been waiting for from Woody Herman to join him in Toronto.  Nick Brignola, Woody’s baritonist, wanted to leave the band, and two of Tom’s Berklee classmates, Bill Chase, Woody’s lead trumpeter, and trombonist Phil Wilson, recommended Tom to Woody.  Tom would remain with Woody for ten years, filling the baritone seat of his idol Serge Chaloff and touring with the band through Central and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Africa and, naturally, the length and breadth of America.  The band played at the Palladium in London, at the Montreux and Monterey jazz festivals, at Newport and at Birdland—once opposite Miles’s sextet and another time with Bill Evans opening.  In 1954, we had listened raptly to Woody’s Third Herd on Symphony Sid, the band with Stan Getz and Serge Chaloff soloing on “Four Brothers.”  Ten years later Tom was recording the same chart with Serge’s name still on the baritone part.

Tom, far left on baritone sax, on the road with the Woody Herman band, 1965

             During those years on the road, Tom and Woody became close, Tom driving Woody from gig to gig in Woody’s classic Corvette.  Life was hard on the road.  There were no vacations and most of one’s salary would be spent paying for hotel accommodations and eating out, often late at night. During those itinerant years, Tom had no permanent home, though for short periods of time he sublet apartments in LA and San Francisco.

             Finally, Tom himself had come to the end of the road.  It was hardly exciting to play before audiences who no longer knew the band’s book, its history, or the musicians who played their hearts out each night, whether it was at one of the diminishing number of jazz clubs or a county fair, where the band was in competition with hog calling and prize cattle contests, often coming out on the bottom.  Reluctantly, he gave Woody his notice during a week of performances in Las Vegas.  Tom stayed in Las Vegas for two years, playing for entertainers as varied as Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Elvis Presley.  He even went on the road briefly with Elvis, shaking his head as he recounted the sad story of “The King’s” own demise.

             While in Las Vegas, Tom managed to save some money.  But he missed the jazz life.   When he got an invitation to return to Berklee College to teach full-time, he accepted it.  The college also offered Tom a home for his own music, a place to rehearse the big band he had dreamed of forming during his years with Woody, along with the musicians and teachers to play in that band.

             As soon as Tom moved back to the city he called home, he put the band together, writing most of the music himself.  He began a regular schedule of teaching saxophone, arranging, and small group and ensemble playing.  Settling into a spacious apartment on Boylston Street, along the Fenway, Tom taught by day and played by night, driving between gigs in a bright yellow Volkswagen bug.  We saw a lot of each other in Gloucester and Boston, just like in the old days when we’d shared Tom’s pads on Newbury and Marlborough streets.  Tom became a gourmet cook and he found time to read, as he hadn’t on the road, putting together a library on the Second World War, the history of which had fascinated him since high school.   He also resumed his favorite non-musical pastime of walking all over the city, especially at night after a gig, when he felt Boston was at its quiet best.

             On May 21, 1976, after Tom had been back in Boston for a little more than a year, he invited our mother and me and my friend Emily to a benefit concert he was playing at Masconomet Regional High School, in Topsfield, MA.  It was to be the band’s debut, and it was a special event because Herb Pomeroy, Tom’s old teacher and current colleague at Berklee, would also be appearing with Tom and the band.  The audience consisted mostly of old jazz buffs, so Tom knew that he could do no wrong in pulling out all the stops to great applause.

             The next year was a busy one for Tom, whose energy seemed limitless.  Along with teaching, he rehearsed the band one night a week, adding several new arrangements, including a ballad he’d written in memory of his old friend Bill Chase, who had lost his life in an airplane crash, and “City Sweet,” a composition for jazz orchestra, incorporating some of the dissonances and syncopations of Charles Ives, whose music Tom loved, while paying tribute to the city Tom had so happily come home to.

             Tom even found time for love, having met a talented young singer who’d been a piano and vocal student at Berklee and was now making her way in the jazz world.  Tom and Adrianna performed together, and they would often come to Gloucester for dinner with Emily and me, after which we’d listen to the latest jazz records while smoking some of the good dope Tom was always able to cop.

             On April 26, 1977, Emily and I had just arrived home from work and were starting to prepare dinner, when Adrianna called:

             “It’s Tom,” she cried into the phone, “Something’s happened to him.  You’ve got to come!”

             Emily and I jumped into my VW bug, Emily driving.  We raced into Boston, parking illegally in front of Tom’s apartment building.  There was an ambulance already there and two police cruisers.  When I rushed up the stairs, an officer was comforting a sobbing Adrianna.  Another officer took me gently aside, asking if I were the brother.  When I said yes, he told me Tom had died, apparently of a heart attack.  He asked me if I would identify the body.  And he accompanied me into Tom’s bedroom, where Tom lay face up on his queen size bed.  He looked as if he were asleep.

             “It’s my brother,” I said, while the officer explained to me that Adrianna, returning to the apartment from a vocal class, had found Tom unresponsive on the bed and called the police.

             The coroner arrived.  He was an older man with a neatly trimmed beard and topcoat, even though it was a mild April day. Inviting me to remain in the room, he said he wanted to ask me some questions once he had examined Tom’s body.

             “He has all the signs of having had a massive coronary,” the doctor said, indicating a series of livid purple marks extending from Tom’s underarm on the heart side down below his abdomen.

             As I looked at Tom, still believing that he was only asleep, I saw that next to him on the bed was a new Charles Mingus big band album, alongside of which lay its cellophane wrapper.  Tom had obviously picked it up on the way home from school.  He’d unwrapped it and was doubtless reading the liner notes before he dropped off to sleep.  From years on the road, there was nothing Tom liked better than an afternoon nap.

             When the doctor asked me if there was a history of heart disease in the family, I told him that after several heart attacks, beginning at the age of thirty-seven, our father had died two years before of an acute coronary.  Tom was exactly thirty-seven.

             Everyone left the room so I could say goodbye to my brother.  I stood at the foot of the bed, still unable to believe that Tom wouldn’t wake up smiling lazily, as he often did, from those brief naps of his.  I looked around at Tom’s meticulously clean and neat room.  On the bedside table was a copy of On the Road, along with Liddell Hart’s history of the Second World War.  His yellow Oxford cloth shirt and knife-pressed black slacks were neatly arranged on the chair, his black soft leather Italian shoes, side by side under the chair.  Tom had folded down the beige comforter on the bed just below the pillow, but he hadn’t gotten under the covers, so you had a sense that he was just napping, his head on a clean pillow, black silk socks still on his feet.

             Whispering goodbye, I kissed Tom on his cold forehead and turned to leave.  I felt that I was leaving behind everything we had shared, not only the jazz but the nighttime confidences over the telephone from wherever Tom found himself on the road; talks about the music he was playing or the “cats,” as he called the other players, the humorous or dour things they often said.  I felt suddenly and deeply alone, as I prepared to return home to tell my mother that her son, my brother, was dead.

(“Jazz” is a chapter from Peter Anastas’ recently completed memoir From Gloucester Out).

 

Peter Anastas, editorial director of Enduring Gloucesteris a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.

Ruth Mordecai, Eponymous.

by Bing McGilvray

Ruth Mordecai’s new, eponymous book is cause for celebration. A visual feast and a triumphant testament, it is a summation of her life’s work at age 80. She had just left Torah class at Temple Ahavat Achim when we sat down for a light lunch at the Sandpiper Bakery on Middle Street. In person, Ruth radiates the same confidence and compassion that can been seen in her paintings and sculpture. We talked about her art, living and working in Gloucester and much more. You are invited to listen in.

B. First of all, this book is magnificent. A great achievement. Where can folks get a copy?

R. Trident Gallery and The Bookstore, both on Main Street in Gloucester, are selling it. Or, just get one from me, the artist.

B. The cost is $125 because of the abundance of high-quality reproductions and a very limited run. How many copies did you print?

R. Only 125.

B. Run me through the process you took, looking back over a lifetime of work and editing it down.

R. In about 2014, I did a series called The Container Series. They were big paintings and I threw into them a lot of the symbols that I have used over time. Maybe it was a ladder relating to the story of Jacob’s Ladder. Horizon lines from some of the landscapes I’ve done. Or apples from earlier paintings. I threw it all in and I felt I was beginning to summarize what I’ve done. But the thing that was missing for me was, how do people know what motivated me to do these containers – what are the origins?

B. I see.

R. The biggest thing I wanted from this book was to have something for my children and grandchildren. I also wanted to make it for the museums and individuals that collected my work and my community.

At the same time, at Temple, there was a group that met around creating an ‘ethical will’ – and what is an ‘ethical will’? It is what you leave to tell your children or your closest loved ones, a personal written memoir. I was approaching 80, a sort of landmark thing, and I thought if I don’t do it now, it’s not going to happen. There were other factors too.

Trump came in. I felt that anything that had a portion of  ‘the other’ needed emphasis. The Jewish part of my work is very important to me to express. I sensed this creeping anti-Semitism coming back. It wouldn’t matter if I were Mexican or Muslim or anything. It’s coming from this same place of being ‘other’. So that motivated me with the book.

B. Yes, I think it’s motivating many of us these days. I hope so.

R. At heart, I am a teacher. There aren’t as many artists now coming from a figurative tradition. I wanted to describe the journey from the figurative to abstraction in a way that people might be able to understand it. And I also wanted other artists to know that they can do this too.

Most people think you’ve got to have a book from Abrams Publishing. That assumes you’ve got a major gallery and have had a major museum show.

I thought, why can’t I make a book that’s equivalent to that and do it the way I want? Why not? My designer was wonderful, Meredith Anderson, who’s at the Cape Ann Museum. She had a connection to a publisher that specializes in art books. Charlie Carroll, a wonderful guy from Gloucester, made sure all the photography was ready for printing. So it was all done right here in Gloucester. I took six months and just got it done.

B. The end result is fantastic. I think it’s everything you set out to do … and beyond. Tell me about the text.

R. The two people who have written about my work (Judith Tolnick Champa and Ori Z. Soltes), I knew before. I felt they knew my work. So, I wasn’t looking for someone who was necessarily a museum person, although they both are in their ways. They have known my work over a long period of time.

B. Two distinctly different voices. And you.

R. My ‘Artist Statement’ I’m very proud of. It took a long time to get it down to one page. But it is what I wanted to say. Fifty years in one page but I’m very pleased with it.

B. Fifty years in one book is an accomplishment too. As a record of your life and work, it’s very clear and powerful; your journey and its metamorphosis through time and place and experience. Like all exploratory artists, there is always something of your previous work in the new work. It’s evolutionary in that sense.

R. There was a book I saw. You walked right into it. The artist was front and center. Pictures of the artist in the studio before you got to the work. That was something I wanted to do.

B. Where was the cavernous space, the black & white photo at the start of the book?

R. That was 249 A Street in Boston. That’s where my studio was for 25 years, before I came to Gloucester.

B. That’s the question I really want to ask. Why did you come to Gloucester?

R. Well, for one thing, I met my husband Ed (Powers). He was coming from New York and I was in the studio in Boston. It was a live/work space.

B. This was the Fort Point Studios right?

R. Right, Fort Point. We tried living there for a few years and at some point we bought a house in Gloucester with the idea that we could rent it out while we stayed in Boston. That’s not exactly the correct sequence of events. Before that, a friend let us use her house for a few days a week. It was summertime. We fell in love with the place.

B. How long have you been on Rocky Neck?

R. Since 1999. Almost 20 years.

B. Tell me about Rocky Neck. Supposedly, it’s America’s Oldest Art Colony. Anyway, it is unique. I don’t know of another place quite like it.

R. Well, Provincetown was but …

B. That’s gone now. There are many regional art enclaves throughout the country. What makes Gloucester so unique, Rocky Neck, in particular, is that it has real artist presence existing alongside a working waterfront. On Cape Ann, the artists aren’t separate from the community. They are ingrained in the fabric of life here. A vital part of it. It’s been that way for over 150 years.

Trident Gallery, Gloucester. August 2018

R. It’s not just visual artists but writers, dancers, musicians, and theatre. Pretty amazing how many talented people are here.

B. Creative people are a major part of the city’s economic engine. Most citizens are aware that it is about art here as well as maritime. Artists are accepted and welcome. Most people here know an artist or two. I hope Gloucester never loses that but sometimes I worry.

R. Rocky Neck has been changing. We are threatened with development.  I’m not sure what the forecast is. We have lots of energy now about our Board and community and sharing our exciting programs. Certainly, we still have serious artists there. We are connected to the whole Gloucester community.

B. Cape Ann is an artist’s island. Was Fort Point your first studio?

R. No, actually when my kids were 5 and 7, I got a place in Watertown. The first studio was over the garage. Then when the kids were in school, a group of us formed a collective, right on the river in one of those old brick buildings.

B. I grew up right across the river in Brighton.

R. Oh. OK. Well, we were on California Street.

B. I know it well.

R. After I was there 4 or 5 years, Fort Point started to happen. I became a member of an artist’s group, Boston Visual Artists Union. We were interested in live/work space. All these buildings on the waterfront on the edge of South Boston were becoming available at that time. We bought the building for one million dollars, 70,000 square feet. There was a great deal of resistance at the time because we were all liberals and …

B. Hippies?

R. Yes. Hippies. South Boston was very conservative.

B. Uptight Irish Catholic. That’s my background. It’s disappearing now, I think.

R. Oh, it’s changed so much.

B. Is it still there, your building?

R. Oh yes. There are two or three buildings where the artists own their own space are still there.

B. It happens all the time. Artists move into low rent, abandoned areas and the gentrifiers soon follow, pricing artists out.

R. People came there first because it was artsy. Then they drove everyone out.

B. Your recent show at Trident Gallery was wonderful. Was it meant to coincide with the release of the book?

R. I finished the work for Trident six months before the show, so it could be photographed and that would be the last chapter of the book.

B. I see.

Trident Gallery, Gloucester. August 2018

R. Secondly, there are several works that really relate to stories in Jewish … are they Old Testament stories, Biblical stories? One of them is totally mystical. The piece that has the four prongs –

B. The Missing Letters.

R. The Missing Letters series. That’s a result of our present political struggles. It’s similar to the belief of the Messiah coming. When the mystical letter appears there will be no more repression and we will be loving. So, that’s my way of dealing with what’s going on now. It pushed me into that series.

Finally, these pieces are hopeful.

The one with the letters floating above it … those are Hebrew letters. One is an Aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Another is Chi, which means life. The third is Bet, which means home.

The story revolves around a rabbi who was very special to the people and his congregation. It was during the time of the Crusades. The Crusaders wrapped the rabbi in the Torah and lit it on fire. His parishioners were just going crazy, crying, ‘What will we do without you? What’s going to happen without you and the Torah?’ And the rabbi says ‘Do not fear – the letters are going up to God.’ OK? Well … it was something that grabbed me.

B. Wow. I can see why.

R. It became the basis for the piece which – but you don’t even need to know that. Maybe I shouldn’t …

B. It’s a very powerful story. But the work stands on its own.

R. There are some mono-prints. I love collage. I cut up and pasted some mono-print forms. Two of those, black & white. And another one, more painterly, with the apples.

B. Yes, tell me about the apples. It’s a recurring theme. Anything to do with Adam and Eve?

R. No. Nothing. We had apple trees in my backyard growing up. Eddie, the man who worked there, he and I would go out and shake the tree, put all the apples in baskets, bring them in to my mother. She would make apple pie, applesauce and the house would smell wonderful.

B. Another great story. Let’s see, anything else you want to add in conclusion?

R. No. I’m just thrilled it’s done. Thrilled you are interested.

B. The thrill is all mine. Thanks, Ruth.

For more information on Ruth Mordecai visit: ruthmordecai.com or tridentgallery.com

Ruth Mordecai. © 2018 Bing

  Bing McGilvray is an artist, flaneur, and raconteur living in Gloucester.

Sea Fair in Annisquam: Illustrating the Eras with Posters

Annisquam Moonlight.  Jon Corbino (1905-1964)

Every year’s Sea Fair poster is unique, none more so than those created by Lisbeth Bornhofft in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Her creations derived from individual silk screens, individual printings. Each was a one-off work of art. Hung on phone poles and in various public places, a number of them disappeared every year. Presumably, people appreciated the value in their individuality and helped themselves, Lisbeth notes.

AHS AVC Lisbeth’s 1979 Sea Fair poster

For the last 172 years Annisquam’s Sea Fair, and before that its Church Fair, has graced the village center in mid-summer. The poster announcing the event bears the date of the year it was produced. Thus, it is that the posters serve a historical purpose and make a contribution to the Annisquam art scene.

Lisbeth took on the Sea Fair artist’s mantle for over ten years, when her brother Hank Bornhofft was in charge of Sea Fair’s staging. Creating a new design every summer, Lisbeth produced silk-screened posters by the hundreds. Each one depicts an aspect of the village that is mirrored in its landscape or architecture-scape. The water figures prominently, as do familiar village scenes. In Lisbeth’s artwork, we see reflections of the Church and Lobster Cove, the Lighthouse, sailboats and lobster pots. The scenes she chooses carry meaning, meaning shared by residents and visitors who have forged unique, personal ties to the place and its scenery. Lisbeth says her image choices are intended to evoke emotion, a sort of nostalgia.

“The images bring a flood of memories, feelings of connectedness in the web of family and friends, generations who have come and gone,” Lisbeth says. “These are iconic Annisquam views. I think my mother [Nancy Bornhofft] was the inspiration for the color schemes at first, the blues and greens. Then, in later years I sometimes chose different colors, just to be different…oranges and yellows, like in the lobster pot poster.”

Producing a silk-screen poster “involves a high level of craft, as much as design,” Lisbeth explains. All of the posters are multi-color, with each hue applied as a discrete element. In an approximate print run of 100 posters, each one was screened separately. Lis begins with the lightest shade, which is usually applied as background and adds detail in progressively darker shades. Thus, lettering and shadows are added last.

All of Lisbeth’s posters have the same font and layout, a unifying visual theme that distinguishes hers from those created by others. With a requirement to list all activities and events planned for Sea Fair, laying out the print portion was painstaking. She started with a whole sheet of letters in different fonts. With the screen on a table, Lisbeth chose the letters she wanted to use, pressing each one by hand to produce text on a master poster. From that she made a screen photograph with an emulsion.

AHS AVC Lisbeth & 1987 poster

Lisbeth only has one or two screens nowadays. “I saved all my silkscreen tools and the apparatus until last year,” Lisbeth says. “When I retired [from the New England Aquarium], I realized the technique is outdated for mass production.” Nonetheless, if she ever feels so moved, she still has those couple screens, as well as the know-how and talent to again produce distinctive and eye-catching pieces.

***Annisquam’s 2018 Sea Fair will take place on Saturday, July 28 in the village center.***

Lisbeth Bornhofft’s Sea Fair posters will be on view in the Annisquam Historical Society’s Firehouse this summer. A naturalist and scientist, Lisbeth worked at the New England Aquarium for 25 years. She retired this last Spring. Previous to her career in science, Lisbeth was a practicing artist and art teacher. She graduated from Smith College with a BA in Fine Arts (concentration in screen printing) and an MA in Education from the Philadelphia College of Art (University of the Arts).

 

Holly Clay is settled in Gloucester after many years of living overseas and in Washington, D.C. Holly is a member of the Gloucester Historical Commission and the Annisquam Historical Society.  With a background in education and writing, her professional energies are currently devoted to studying and teaching yoga and meditation.

 

Stairs to the Harbor

Town Steps, Gloucester. 1916.        John Sloan (1871-1951)

by Eric Schoonover

      I leave by the kitchen door, thinking that the flowers in the small urban courtyard might offer some joy, but they seem to have seen the best of their summer days. The door to the street, a grand wooden affair, swings inward and I step out through the lovage and the rosemary and the sage and the chicory still holding on. Once this land was empty, but here in Gloucester these small ways have become streets; short, often one-way and called “courts.”

I walk toward the staircase, toward the sea: the sea.

My house was built by a fisherman almost four hundred years ago. He would have had to scramble down five hundred feet of granite ledge to reach his boat. Today, there are 57 steps. I inform casual climbers of this fact and of its Heinz connection but they seem indifferent to this older person descending from a world of ketchup and chili sauce. But then, perhaps as a consolation, I gesture toward the flowers and shrubs growing on either side of the staircase.

            Winslow Homer painted from the top of these fifty-seven steps, John Sloan from the bottom.  Homer’s view is not informing.  But Sloan’s observes the social niceties of dogs and shoppers and women chatting with each other. But that does not reveal the nature of this unusual staircase.

            In the fisherman’s time, long before a staircase, it was a dramatic place, the denizen of wolf and fox. Those must have made his early morning descent rather interesting—if indeed he took this route to his boat. Today, a monstrous skunk haunts my dreams with his malodorous character. One night, I rose to see his giant form slink away, his mark of white now yellowed over, presumably his badge of many years of hunting through our refuse.

            Look through the trees and you can see the Atlantic, a shard of ultramarine blue, flat and harmless, hardly a harbinger of a fall hurricane.

           Most of the streets run down to the harbor, as Gloucester is a city of the sea. Their architecture is mostly domestic—triple-deckers, with mansard toppings and wrought iron Victorian frostings. Begin with Pleasant and proceed along Prospect, past Elm and Chestnut until you get to Spring. None of these houses is new, although some have obdurate metal siding offering a hardened aspect to the world. It’s the modern way.

          But I don’t take these streets that lead to the sea. Rather, I choose the stairs. I want that glimpse of the sea and a more woodsy approach, bordered with flowers wild and cultivated.

 

Eric Schoonover’s next novel, Harboring, set in Gloucester, will be published later this year.  Sloan’s painting, Town Steps, Gloucester, is held by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Beyond Beauport

James Tarantino

Summer Read.        ©️ Maryanne Jacobson

One of the hottest takes this summer is the soon-to-be-released adventure novel Beyond Beauport by long-time Gloucester resident James Masciarelli.

Part fiction, with truth based in its accurate portrayal of real people and history, the author combines his passion for maritime adventure, blue-collar upbringing, and his expertise in psychology to appeal to the desires in all of us for love, the sea and a desire to take on great challenges in life.

Masciarelli cleverly stimulates all the senses as he pulls you along with the main character, Shannon Clarke, on a high-seas adventure rich in pirate history.

Check it out at  https://jamesmasciarelli.com   You don’t have to wait for the book launch at 6:30 p.m., July 29th at the Rocky Neck Cultural Center. Beyond Beauport is now available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

 

James Tarantino (Jimmy T.) is an exemplary outdoor enthusiast who heralds his love of family, his friends, and his passion for all things Gloucester.

Ralph Coburn, an Artist’s Artist

Peter Anastas

Paris Landscape. n.d.

Painter and long-time Lanesville resident, Ralph Coburn, who died on June 5th in Miami at the age of 94, was an artist’s artist.  This is not to say that his “spare, beautiful, abstract art,” (Boston Globe) wasn’t appreciated by the many who came to view it at the Cape Ann Museum, Wellesley College, the Arts Club of Chicago, David Hall Gallery, or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where Coburn’s innovative, geometric paintings were exhibited.   Rather, it denotes the deep appreciation that Coburn’s unique abstractions received from those who best understood the thought behind them and how they were part of an ongoing attempt of American painters to move beyond the dominant Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s.   Yet Coburn, whose work ethic was memorable and whose knowledge of art, from the frescos of Masaccio in Florence to Ellsworth Kelly’s bright, elemental abstractions, was extensive, did not insert himself into the art world in the manner of today’s careerists.

“Not enough people know about Coburn’s work, which is spare, beautiful, witty, and uncannily satisfying,” Sebastian Smee, Boston Globe art critic, wrote in 2010. “Coburn himself, I’ve been told, is modest to a fault, which is no doubt one reason why we don’t know more about him.”

Sea Study. 1985    Courtesy of Cape Ann Museum

I can attest to Ralph’s modesty. We met in 1986 while doing our laundry at the laundromat in Dunkin Donuts plaza in downtown Gloucester.  I might have been reading a book that Ralph commented on, or maybe it was the other way around.  A conversation began that ended with the last item of clothing removed from the drier and was taken up again the following Friday; for it was invariably on Friday mornings that we met to do the week’s wash, two aging men talking excitedly about Gertrude Stein or the latest recording of Bartok’s Quartets, while children ran between our legs and their mothers sat smoking and thumbing through tattered copies of People.   One of the most surprising moments of those early talks was our discovery that we had both been in Florence at the same time; in fact, our paths had nearly crossed in the Tuscan hill town of Settignano, where I was then living and Ralph had come to visit my neighbor, artist Susan Nevelson, daughter-in-law of the sculptor Louise Nevelson.

As far as I knew from what Ralph had disclosed, he was at the point of retiring from a job in graphic design at MIT, where he had been an architecture student before the war.  It took a long time before I learned that Ralph was actually a painter, who had been close to a group of post-war artists in Boston, many of whom had studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, including Ellsworth Kelly, Bernard Chaet, and Ninon Lacey.

Landscape Distallation. 1950

It turned out that Ralph was also friends with James Mellow, the Gloucester born biographer of Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds, and Ernest Hemingway, whom I had met through playwright John Coyle, who spent his summers in the family home on Church Street.  Mellow and his partner Augie Capaccio had a summer cottage nearby Ralph’s home and studio in the former Folly Cove Designers barn overlooking Folly Cove.  Soon we were gathering for drinks and dinner at each other’s houses, joined by Mellow’s cousin Dr. June Mellow, a retired clinical psychologist and avid reader, and clinical social workers Peter Parsons and Helane Harris.

Those dinners became a summer routine, a night on John’s deck on Church Street, or at Augie and Jim’s, or at our house where Peter and Maria Denzer, our friends from Houston, MN prepared an unforgettable seafood risotto and the talk ranged from who was doing what in art to Mellow’s National Book Award for his biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne, which reviewer John Updike had called “the finest biography ever written” about the novelist of Salem’s dark secrets.

If Ralph had been modest about his art, which we were finally to experience when we were invited to his house for dinner, he was even more modest about his cooking.   That first night—there would be many others—Ralph, who had spent a great deal of time in France, prepared a fish soup of white fish in a clear broth with fresh vegetables and herbs.  Everyone pronounced it “exquisite.”  But that was only the prelude to the dishes that Ralph would cook for us on subsequent evenings.

Ralph and I shared a love of Modernist music, not to exclude Mahler, and the novels of Andre Gide.  Ralph was also a lifelong jazz fan, having spent countless nights at George Wein’s Storyville Club in Boston, while a student at MIT and later working at Boris Mirski’s gallery of vanguard art on Newbury Street. He greatly admired the playing of another Gloucester native, trumpeter and orchestra leader Herb Pomeroy.

What Ralph did not talk about much was his art—he merely did it, carefully and painstakingly, day after day, year after year, without the thought of recognition.  It was thrilling to see the paintings emerge.

Thinking back to the time we spent together, which now seems never to have been enough, I remember most our laundromat days, when we talked non-stop about art and life, while our clothing whirled in the driers and the children ran and jumped around us.

Ralph Coburn 1950

Ralph Coburn and his niece Carol C. Metcalfe. 2011

 

 

Peter Anastas, editorial director of Enduring Gloucesteris a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.