Former T. S. Eliot East Gloucester Summer Home Given New Life

By Holly Clay

TS Eliot’s Boyhood Summer Home       © 2019 Bing

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.—T. S. Eliot

Several times during the years after poet and Nobel Laureate T.S. Eliot married his second wife Valerie Fletcher, in 1956, they made the trip across the Atlantic from London to Eliot’s family house, high above Niles Beach in East Gloucester.  The old summer house on Edgemoore Road had been sold decades before, but Eliot liked paying the house and its new occupants, Mr. and Mrs. John Cahill, a visit. The Cahills recalled the famous poet’s presence while pointing out the room that had once been his. It was the smallest because he was the youngest of six. They also remembered tears in the poet’s eyes as he made his way through its rooms. Each visit brought him down a memory lane flooded with feeling.

Clare Reihill, an Eliot Foundation trustee, says, “Valerie said the home in Gloucester, was the only place he’d ever experienced pure happiness.”

In 1965, after Eliot’s death, Valerie, then 37, became Eliot’s Literary Executrix, dedicating her life to looking after his legacy.  She worked with Faber and Faber, the London publishing house aligned with the estate, where Eliot had been a director. While at Faber he founded and edited the prestigious literary journal Criterion, (1922-1939).

After Valerie’s death, Reihill and her co-trustee Judith Hooper found a letter, the contents of which came as a revelation.

“Valerie wanted to buy the Eliot house,” Reihill said.  “It had come up for sale in 1965 or 1966. She wrote to her mother, ‘I wonder if I should buy it because he loved it so much.’”

“The letter was such a wonderful thing to discover,” Reihill, said, “a blessing beyond the grave. The connection was so strong, Valerie thought acquiring the house would be consoling for her.”

But Valerie didn’t buy the house. Its $65,000 price tag would have strained her budget. As a consequence, the ties with the United States grew looser.

During his youth, T. S. Eliot and his family divided their time between St. Louis in the Midwest, and Gloucester in New England. Both places abided in Eliot’s psyche, as they did in his writing.

Eliot once commented, “In New England I miss the long dark river, the ailanthus trees, the flaming cardinal birds, the high limestone bluffs where we searched for fossil-shell fish; in Missouri I missed the fir trees, the bay, and the goldenrod, the song-sparrows, the red granite and the blue sea of Massachusetts.”

Reihill says: “Gloucester had a profound influence on Eliot. The place was enormously important to his poetry. His sisters were married here. There was a piece of Eliot’s heart here.”

Gloucester images not only enriched his writing but also “shaped him as a poet,” writes Robert Crawford, author of Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land (2016).

“Indeed, maritime images rooted in Gloucester reverberate throughout Eliot’s work,” Crawford writes, “whether it’s ‘the hand expert with sail and oar’ from The Waste Land or ‘the ragged rock in the restless waters’ and ‘the sea is all about us’ in The Dry Salvages, a poem that is itself named for a group of rocks off Cape Ann.

“In Cape Ann,” Crawford continues, “Eliot lists many of the region’s birds — the ‘Swamp-sparrow, fox-sparrow, vesper-sparrow,’ and the house itself even makes an appearance in Ash-Wednesday: ‘From the wide window towards the granite shore/The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying/Unbroken wings.’”

An acute awareness of his New England ancestry informed Eliot’s thought as well.  He once said, “My family was New Englanders…The family guarded jealously its connection with New England…”

And, so, the Eliots returned here, having chosen Gloucester as their summer residence. Initially, they stayed at the nearby Hawthorne Inn. In time, plans took shape for a home, the brainchild of Eliot’s father Henry Ware Eliot (1843-1919). The East Gloucester house at 18 Edgemoor Road, “the Downs,” as the family named it, was completed in 1896. Eliot would have been an impressionable seven or eight years of age.

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For the next almost 20 years he would reside here in summers, even “coming up” during his Harvard years. Then came the break. He visited only once between the time of his permanent move to England in 1914 and his father’s death in 1919.  The house was sold. Eliot’s mother Charlotte Champe Stearns (1843-1929) said she could no longer afford the upkeep. She was deeply saddened by the loss.

Reihill says, “She was pained” about selling the home, which has since had a number of owners, including the T.S. Eliot Foundation since 2015.

Hooper says, “So now is the fulfillment of a dream,” a dream held by Eliot’s widow and perhaps by Eliot himself.

The acquisition and rehabilitation process is a story in itself.

Hooper and Reihill say it was a “shock” to learn the house was for sale. “Someone sent us the link, ‘T.S. Eliot Summer House for Sale.’  We knew of its existence, but we thought it had been destroyed long ago. It was irresistible because we wanted to forge a new connection with America, a link.

“Sales of Eliot’s works had been lower here in the U.S.  His poems, plays, and essays are not on syllabi to the same extent they are in England. He’s a slightly forgotten, slightly problematic figure in America. We’re interested in rehabilitating his reputation and establishing the fact he belonged here.”

Hooper handled the business and legalities of buying the property, as well as overseeing renovations and upgrades.

She says, “The Foundation bought it to be a retreat for writers who could do everything Eliot could do, the full range of craft: essayists, poets, playwrights, critics, editors. The restoration had to do with making it fit a group who weren’t a family. This is a long term thing for us.”

Hooper says, “It was with warmth, the way we were accepted. Anything to do with T.S. Eliot, well, people have been helpful and interested.  People here are proud of the connection. I felt welcome, personally, so I want this house to work all the more. Fiona Atkinson, the decorator, and I spent Thanksgiving here with Dana Hawkes, the previous owner and now Director of the Eliot House in Gloucester. Then, I was here for Christmas with my family, before we got going on construction projects. It’s a strange thing to say, but it feels like coming home.”

The Foundation undertook renovations designed to make the house last another 100 years as a destination for writers.  The garage extension was converted into a handicap-accessible bedroom and bath, the other baths in the house were upgraded; the house was totally rewired and the interior freshly re-painted.

They worked with local people, for the most part.

Hooper says, “I didn’t realize that ‘local’ meant Gloucester. We actually began by finding professionals over the bridge. That’s a million miles away, I realized, even though it’s only 40 minutes.”

Once she realized how locals define “local,” she tried to contract on Cape Ann or at least nearby. “Fiona, the decorator, shopped in Gloucester, Essex, and Ipswich buying things from antique shops, and dare I say, ‘junk shops.’ We also bought a lot of Dana’s pieces. The sofa in the drawing room was Dana’s.  And, all the rugs.”

As a writers’ retreat, “the Downs” constitutes a perfect adaptive re-use for the once-upon-a-time home of a world-celebrated Nobel Laureate. Residents stay an average of two weeks at a time. They work in a variety of genres. The Foundation directors vet applications for residency.

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The Eliot House has been accepting writers in residence since 2016. They can accommodate five people and can just fit in a sixth. The foundation supports the whole effort. Hawkes even prepares dinner for the guests.

Hawkes writes, “Last year we had 22 writers residing at the house. The house is open from April to October and is closed during the winter months for now.

“We have had many inquiries about the residencies through word of mouth from those who have stayed with us, along with winners of the Chapbook Award from the Poetry Society of America and the annual Fellowship Prize of the Academy of American Poets. Most of the writers are from the US.

“We have an annual poetry reading to launch the opening of the season’s residency. We also are investigating the idea of having a T.S. Eliot Festival in the foreseeable future.”

Ocean Vuong, recipient of the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize for his poetry, reads at the Eliot House in the Spring of 2018.

In addition, the Foundation considers “the Downs” to be part of the Gloucester community. As such, Reihill and Hooper would like to see programs developed on the local front.

Hawkes comments: “We would very much like to do something with the local schools. I have made some inquiries with regards to this and the idea is at its infancy – a work in progress. If something is to be done, probably not until 2020.”

Notes:

Thomas Stearns Eliot lived from 1888 to1965. At 25, in 1914, he left the U.S. permanently. In 1927, Eliot became a British citizen, formally relinquishing his U.S. citizenship. He received the Nobel Prize for literature posthumously in 1948.

Judith Hooper and Clare Reihill serve as Trustees of the London-based Eliot Foundation, which maintains close ties with Faber and Faber. Dana Hawkes is the Gloucester-based Director of the Eliot House.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Principles

By Holly Clay

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***

It’s Labor Day in Gloucester Harbor. Eve Robinson sits composed and dignified in Principles’ cockpit.  Though Eve is legally blind, she appears to gaze out over the glistening water, to engage me with her eyes. At peace on Principles, the 48-foot schooner owned by her partner Derek Durling, she nonetheless senses the splendor of the decorated schooners, the high energy the visiting vessels bestow.

Eve hails from Tunstall, near Kirkby Lonsdale in Lancashire, the North of England.

“It’s the kind of place you do not criticize anyone because you know they belong to someone else,” she says.

Her remark could equally apply to Gloucester. It reflects a principled approach to life. No wonder she feels at home on a mooring in the “Inner Harbor.”

Though it was only recently, in 2016, Eve and Derek first encountered Gloucester, they are solidly hooked. “We were racing last year; that’s when we discovered Gloucester. It’s a special place; the people are special. They have time to talk and be nice,” says Eve.

Derek says they returned this year, ostensibly, for the Gloucester Schooner Festival on Labor Day weekend. Principles was already at its mooring in June, so it’s clear other attractions worked their magic on Eve and Derek. Friendships have a lot to do with it, like those with Inner Harbor folks, sailors mostly, like Fred Shrigley, Beth Leahy, Rob Bent, Mark Sheldon, and Bradley Royds.

Bradley Royds trimming sails

Royds piloted Principles north from the Bahamas at the start of Summer, with then skipper Justin. The meaning in the associations doesn’t escape Derek.

Quite simply, “we made friends here. We like Gloucester. There’s a nice mix and it’s not touristy.”  He says he and Eve are more than comfortable just being on the boat. They feel part of the community.

Derek first saw the schooner Principles in 1995/96 at a Newport, RI rally.

“I thought she was the most beautiful vessel I’d ever seen,” he remembers. Her name comes from the first owner. A corporate leader, he left his company when the board made an unconscionable decision.

“He said he resigned, because ‘It was the principle of the thing,’” Derek continues, adding that he narrowly missed a chance to buy Principles in 2006. Nevertheless, in due course, his turn came. He’s owned Principles for three years now.

She “definitely has” kept him and Eve young, Derek says.

When young, Derek married an American woman. Ironically, he didn’t reside over here until after her death several years ago. He lived mostly in the U.K., minus a brief Royal Air Force posting here or there. Derek’s first opportunity to own a sailboat and learn the sailing arts came while he was stationed in Scotland. The North Sea was his teacher.

Meanwhile, Eve, also married with one son, Malcolm, made a pleasant life for herself in England. In fact, she made a career out of her passion for kitchen arts, beginning as a cooking demonstrator in Manchester, England auditoriums. It wasn’t long before the headmistress of a nearby independent school approached her to teach home economics.

The Clergy Daughters’ School in Casterton, Cumbria, where she taught, “was a special place, because the Bronte sisters attended services and classes there,” explains Eve. “I had no experience with teaching,” she continues, but she always heeds the principle, “answer when opportunity knocks.”

“I stayed there for many years…I loved it.  I had an affinity for it. And better yet, it supported my cars.” Eve loves classic cars.

The same principle, combined with more than a little spunk, propelled Eve into a sailing life in 2013, even though, by then, she’d lost her eyesight.

“What would I have done sitting in a big house all by myself? Life needs to be more than that. You lose heart if you don’t get out and do something, anything. It would have been just existing. I’m not decrying it,” she adds.  But she knew, she was made for something more exciting.

Deric and Eve set out from Glasson Dock, Lancashire on a cold day in December 2013. Companions in the years after their spouses’ deaths, they share a love of music and each has an indomitable spirit, just what they needed to face a ferocious Atlantic in winter. As became their custom, they had a skipper named Euwin, on board.

“The idea was to go round the coast ‘til butter melts,’ then have a go at the Atlantic.  When we got to Hollyhead, Wales, trouble with the engine generator stalled us. Don’t ever go to Hollyhead! We finally did get over to Cork.”

In Cork, more challenges, topped with dollops of good fortune, awaited. As Eve tells the story, “Euwin approached us, declaring ‘by the way, I’ve engaged a nurse.’ Hannah the nurse arrived with a suitcase, a big one, an electric blanket, and a teddy bear,” not the usual comportment for a sailing lass. Clearly, she had been invited aboard for a variety of reasons, not least of which was Euwin “fancied her.” Eve smiles. But wouldn’t you know, before the ship had left Cork, Eve broke her wrist, another disappointment causing another delay. Nevertheless, Hannah brought joy to the situation. “She was well-organized. The medicine kit was complete. And she gave me the Teddy Bear,“ Eve says. “And so, we dawdled…” until Eve was fit for travel. They headed first to Belize, which didn’t suit them, and ultimately to Treasure Key in the Bahamas where they bought a house.

Eve doesn’t shy away from talking about her lost eyesight.

“Back in 2007, I was driving along when I almost drove right into the back of a tractor-trailer,” she explains. “It was my sight, you see. Something was affecting it.  We drove to Liverpool. It turns out I’d had a hemorrhage. The surgeon said, ‘we can operate to clear the damage,’ but not without grave risk.”

He then suggested a less risky surgery that would restore a vague sense of dark and light. Eve opted for the latter operation. It was successful. Light and shadow provide guidance. She’s holding out hope for stem cell replacement, once it’s invented for vision. She giggles: “At my age, I don’t have a lot of time to wait.”

“All my life I’ve been age-conscious,” Eve continues, speaking of another heartfelt principle. Put another way, she doesn’t talk or think about age, “consciously.” “When asked my age, I always say, ‘What’s it got to do with anything.’ I’ll be 90 in September. One time I was driving in England. Someone passed me recklessly, took off the side of the car. The driver apologized and took the blame; we exchanged information. I left the scene, thinking ‘well enough.’ But my husband Eddie, retired by this point, was adamant I must report the damage to the police.”

Off Eve went to the police station where she sidled up to the Sergeant. They were well-known to one another, yet he had to pose the usual questions.

“He asked, ‘what’s the damage?’ And, ‘what’s your name?’ He knew my name perfectly well. Then, he asked my age. ‘Guess,’ I shot back. ‘30,’ he said. ‘That’ll do,’ I said.” It was the principle of the thing.

Eve comes by her principled nature honestly. Her mother, half Lebanese and half French, arrived in England a child bride. A marriage to a man 20 years her senior had been arranged. She spoke no English.

“I think my grandparents thought, ‘we’re giving her a new life.’ It was bad in Syria and Beirut.”

The union was unhappy. Her mother made the best of it, eventually accomplishing much in her own right. WWII trapped Eve’s father in West Africa, primarily in Lagos, Nigeria, running the southern hemisphere portion of his shipping business. There was no one to run the U.K. business, so Eve’s Mother took over.

“She had to do it all. Unusual for a woman of that generation and one who’d been as privileged as she.”

His return after the war was difficult.

“My mother had gained much independence and sovereignty,” reflects Eve, who learned by example to cultivate the same for herself.

The joys of experiencing a new way of life – being in America, or spending time in Gloucester – endure.  Eve and Derek tested their feelings on the matter this last June, returning to England for her granddaughter’s wedding. It was their first visit since they embarked in 2013.

“It was funny going back. I was dreading it, but the visit turned out to be just lovely,” Eve says. “But, I wouldn’t consider going back for good. We really don’t like the weather. This,” she says sweeping her arm before her, as if to embrace the whole of the Inner Harbor, “is living.”

And then the wisp of a lady, with more than her share of pluck asks, “Do you know, I got to go up in a glider, in Franconia, this summer?”

About the 2017 Race

Principles placed first in her class of mid-size schooners and second overall, behind the world-class contender Columbia, who dwarfs Principles, in size only. Eve’s and Derek’s Gloucester friends comprised the bulk of the enthusiastic crew, who brought her victoriously through the race.

Parting After the Race

 

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.