Wednesday, November 28, 2007

BROOKGREEN GARDENS … South Carolina, 1998

I live just four hours from BROOKGREEN GARDENS but it was 20 years before I made my first visit. I had no idea of what I was missing until my friend Douglas and I made the trip in 1998.

The gardens have been described as “a museum of sculpture” but it does not do justice to the collection. It is many acres that combine the beauty of nature with the beauty of creative works by some of America’s most outstanding sculptors. Hundreds of statues are placed to our viewing advantage among dogwoods, magnolias, floral settings and, my favorite, the enormous live-oaks dripping with gray/green Spanish Moss. Some statues are integrated with pools or overlooking streams or small lakes.

This is a walker’s paradise. We were amused to read some of the whimsical poems that were engraved on large stone plaques strewn among the flower beds. One of them read:

“I used to love my garden, but now my love is dead.
I found a Bachelor’s Button in Black-eyed Susan’s bed.”

We also got a chuckle out of one of the small statues in the indoor museum. It was entitled “The Dowager” and was of a nude woman, very obviously in her 80’s or older. She was portrayed in an aristocratic pose with a haughty look on her face. Her only bit of “attire” was a gold-tipped cane that she held in her hand and I had the distinct feeling that if I laughed out loud she would not hesitate to use it on me !

BROOKGREEN GARDENS also provides tours, a boat excursion, an animal habitat and a visit to the Alston family plantation where Aaron Burr’s daughter lived. We were mainly interested in the statues and the landscaping so we didn’t partake of these, but I’m sure they would be up to par and very interesting.

If you ever get to Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, I would highly recommend a visit to BROOKGREEN GARDENS.

Friday, November 23, 2007

November 24, 1963

44 years have passed and it’s still a fresh, and shocking, memory. It was a Sunday and my husband and I and a close friend were in our NY City apartment. We were grieving over the assassination of President Kennedy two days earlier. We were also glued to the TV set because the accused killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was about to be transferred from the Dallas police station to a nearby county jail, and it was to be televised.

Nowadays we are used to 24 hour news broadcasting and instant replays. In 1963, however, it was a big deal to be watching this event “live” and we didn’t want to miss a bit of it. I remember that we even hired a young teenager to watch the children so that we could give it our undivided attention!

It was early afternoon in New York and a light scattering of snow had fallen. Our friend Chick had arrived, bearing warm bagels and cream cheese. We had planned on watching the Oswald transfer while enjoying our light brunch and then taking a short walk in Central Park.

We had no inkling of the dramatic events that were about to unfold before our very eyes. The TV screen showed the halls of the Dallas Police station, jammed with reporters, and it was difficult to pick out the detectives or officers from the rest.

Suddenly the door opened and Oswald was escorted in to the room. It was mere seconds before a man leaped forward and, with gun in hand, he shot him at close range. None of us could believe what we’d seen. Mass confusion ensued and the TV announcer was as much in the dark as were we, the viewers.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning photo above was shot by Robert H. Jackson of the Dallas Times-Herald. It is amazing that he could react so quickly. That same picture had flashed before our eyes but was soon obscured as a roomful of men wrestled the shooter to the ground. It wasn't long before he was identified as Jack Ruby...a well known man about town.

Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, had gained admittance to the Police station by impersonating a newspaper reporter. No one thought to check for weapons and it was easy for him to draw his gun and fatally wound the 24 year old Oswald. Ruby was tried and convicted of murder but he petitioned for a second trial and died in 1967 of cancer before he could be tried again. (He went to his death convinced that he’d been poisoned with “cancer cells”.)

Ruby never explained why he shot Oswald and speculations have been going on for years as to their connection with the crime syndicate and the assassination of President Kennedy. When I hear those arguments it never fails to take me back to that November day in 1963 and to the shock of watching an execution take place before our eyes and the eyes of a stunned nation.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Steve Huneck is an artist with a great love for his dogs so it was only natural that he would portray their antics in his whimsical art. The first picture that I saw, about 3 years ago, was “Life Is a Ball” and I loved the simplicity and the upbeat message.

When I was visiting my niece recently in St. Johnsbury, Vt. she told me that his studio, gallery and DOG CHAPEL were nearby. I couldn’t wait to visit and I wasn’t disappointed. It is located on 400 open, pasture-like acres aptly named “Dog Mountain”. Visitors are encouraged to bring their dogs and there are even three dog ponds for their pleasure!

The gallery is a delight. There are many pictures for sale but also children‘s books...written and illustrated by the artist...specialty items and, most fascinating of all...FURNITURE.

That’s right….furniture. Tables, chairs, banisters, etc...all beautifully wrought and with animal motifs. The Chapel even boasts pews with a seated dog at each end. Each piece of furniture is hand hewn and one of a kind.

The highlight of our visit, for me anyway, was the DOG CHAPEL. Mr Huneck built the chapel after he had a near death experience and he considers it “the largest artwork of my life and most personal”. Visitors are encouraged to celebrate the lives of the pets that they have lost and I was amazed to see that the walls of the two large rooms that comprise the chapel were completely covered with bits of paper and photographs.

A Lab with wings tops the white steeple of the Chapel and inside you see dog carvings, pictures and even stained glass windows that incorporate the dog theme. I loved the simplicity of the building and the over-all feel of peace and serenity. The sign in front of the Chapel summed it up for me...and I couldn’t help but think that it would be a different world if more churches would adhere to it.
It reads:


Thursday, November 15, 2007


Marcel Marceau died recently at the age of 84 and it seemed to me that his life had come full circle. He had actually completed the 4th stage of his famous mime entitled, “The Four Stages of Human Life”. That is the performance where he is first highlighted in the fetal position and then evolves from “youth” to “maturity” to “old age” and then slowly diminishes until he is once again in the fetal position…and that is the 4th stage, “Death”.

That particular “silent play” has stuck with me over the years and I remembered it often when I was in Italy. Almost every city that we visited had their share of street performers. Some of them were actors playing out tableau's like in the picture above. They were mimes who dressed as famous Italian artists and they were great tourist attractions. That is not me in the picture but I did take it. It shows a member of the audience who paid well for her short moment of fame.

The ones that truly fascinated me, however, were the “silent statues”. These were mime artists, either bronzed or white washed, who would pose like a statue, often for hours on end. It is an art that requires a great deal of patience and physical stamina.

Piazza della Signoria of Florence, Italy, has been the political center for centuries and is the entrance to the square where the famous Uffizi Gallery is located and where there are numerous statues. It is also the place where I had one of my eeriest experiences.

It had been a long day and Douglas and I were very happy to sit for a bit, enjoy a gelato and watch the street performers and the artists. It was also the day that I bought a small artist’s rendition of the famous Brunelleschi's Dome. I had just paid for this and was wandering along admiring the statues when I had a strange feeling that someone was staring at me.

I turned back to the statue that I had just admired and had the strong sensation that it wasn’t in the same position that it had been before. I concentrated for a good ten minutes on this statue alone and was just about to move on when, lo and behold, the darn thing winked at me !

I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so surprised. I would have sworn that the statue was was that convincing. I ran off to get Douglas but he wasn’t anywhere near as impressed as I had been. When I asked him how he could be so sure that it was a performer and not a real statue he said, “You see that little box at the base of the statue...the one with the slit in the top? That’s for tips and it’s a sure fire sign that it’s a performer.!”

“Oh, well”, I thought, as I slipped a Euro or two into the box, “I can always say I got winked at in Italy...even though I had to pay for it!”

Saturday, November 10, 2007


The classic Grant Wood painting “The American Gothic” was exhibited for the first time in 1930 at The Art Institute of Chicago. It was awarded a prize of $300 and brought the artist instant fame.

The painting depicts a stoic Iowan farmer gazing unflinchingly at the viewer. His daughter, eyes averted, appears to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. It was painted during the Depression and many believe that the painting illustrates the strength and resolve that was needed at that time to simply survive. Others believe that Wood was satirizing the culture of the mid-west, an accusation that he denied.

“The American Gothic” has become a part of our popular culture and the couple has been the subject of many parodies...ranging from Mad magazine, Disney characters and even a picture of Paul Newman and his daughter (advertising their food stuffs).

My family became part of this dubious group when we enacted our spoof in 1972. Granted (no pun, intended) we added three children to the scene but the basic idea was the same. The pitchfork, by the way, was for real!

Monday, November 05, 2007


Imagine a small house with a tin roof, circa 1904. It is loosely in the “Arts & Crafts” style and sits close to the road. The property covers barely half an acre and most of the land is to the rear of the house. The owner has replaced the windows, remodeled the inside and had the exterior painted when needed.

Although the house is situated close to a rural town, and is on a main road, it still retains an air of privacy and seclusion. This is primarily the case because two sides of the property are adjacent to a large tract of 50+ acres of towering pines and oak trees. For many years this land has been unused.

Now imagine that it is dusk and the sky is suddenly inundated with over 100 huge black birds. They don’t make a sound and they seem suspended in space. Then they gracefully loop and swirl before they slowly and deliberately drop down and settle on the branches of the huge trees. They take up their stances like sentries and I feel like they are watching and protecting me.

Yes, this is my little house that I’ve described and these were my beloved Turkey Buzzards who came back year after year. I never had to worry about snakes or other rodents, and I loved to watch them leave their perches in the morning. They would seem to slowly shake themselves awake and then, just as slowly, lift their huge wings and swoop on up and into the air. But they always circled back at least once, as if to say, “We’ll be back. Have a nice day.”

My black-winged friends are gone now and will never return. I miss them and wonder if they miss me too. That 50 acres that I mentioned has been bought by a developer and the first thing he did was to take down ALL the trees. I now have a few large trees that fringe my property but that’s it.

It seems that “progress” has reached my doorstep and perhaps it is time for me to follow the lead of my Turkey Buzzards and venture further afield.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Magnificent St. Johnsbury Library and Art Gallery

Recently I visited my niece in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. It was my first time there and I was duly impressed. This is a quaint, and almost unspoiled, town that pride’s itself on retaining elements of days gone by.

Perhaps the most outstanding example of this is the Athenaeum, a Second Empire style edifice that was a gift to the people of St. Johnsbury from Horace Fairbanks in 1871. The Fairbanks were the inventors and manufacturers of the world’s first platform scale and it was with the wealth from this enterprise that they were able to retain architect John Davis Hatch III to design the building.

The Fairbanks were also able to obtain an extensive collection of art works ... including an impressive group of landscapes by the Hudson River artists. This first class collection is housed in the art gallery section of the library and is open to the public for a small fee.

I was particularly impressed with the interior of the library. Almost every room has ornate circular stairs, either wooden or metal, that enabled the patrons to reach the top shelves. These are all cordoned off now, due to fire and safety regulations, but they are a delight to see.

The Children’s Library boasts delightful wall murals by a local artist and depicts scenes from famous children’s books. Any child able to sign his/her name can get a library card...a nice inducement to get youngsters into the habit of using the library.

As Horace Fairbanks said, in 1971, “My highest ambition will be satisfied and fullest expectations realized, if now and in the coming years, the people make the rooms of the Athenaeum a favorite place of resort for patient research, reading and study.”
He would be pleased to know that my niece, who is new to the area, is doing exactly that.

The Athenaeum has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is a private, nonprofit public library and art gallery. Be sure to put it on your list of “must sees” if you ever get to the area.