American Impressionist

Come summer, as temperatures rise and my patience for enduring them wears thin, the cool blues of an impressionist seascape can almost refresh as effectively as a cooling sea breeze itself, if I’m desperate and imaginative enough.

Childe Hassam The Laurel in the Ledges, Appledore 1905 Oil on canvas 25 × 30 in. (63.5 × 76.2 cm) North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Promised gift of Ann and Jim Goodnight

This summer, if you haven’t escaped to some upper New England seaside locale, you too can can wallow in those metonymic blues at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum where more than 40 of the American impressionist Childe Hassam’s greatest oil paintings and watercolors of the coves, inlets, ledges and expansive seascapes of his beloved Appledore Island, will be on view through Nov 16. [There’s also of course the undeniable cool of industrial air conditioning.]

Childe Hassam 1859 – 1935, United States Poppies, Isles of Shoals, 1891 Oil on canvas overall: 50.2 x 61 cm (19 3/4 x 24 in.) framed: 73.5 x 83.8 x 6.7 cm (28 15/16 x 33 x 2 5/8 in.) Gift of Margaret and Raymond Horowitz 1997.135.1 Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

For thirty years, beginning in 1886, Hassam, the earliest American champion of the Impressionist movement, regularly visited Appledore, the largest island of the Isles of Shoals located off the coasts of southern New Hampshire and Maine.
There, year after year, inspired by the Atlantic breeze as well as the garden of poet and local celebrity Celia Thaxter, Hassam created painting after painting, often depicting the same locations, altering the perspective or framing, with the same commitment and imagination as Monet and his haystacks.

Childe Hassam Sylph’s Rock, Appledore 1907 Oil on canvas 25 × 30 in. (63.5 × 76.2 cm) Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, Gift of Charlotte E.W. Buffington in memory of her husband, 1908.5 © Worcester Art Museum. Photograph by Frank E. Graham

For this exhibition, an innovative, interdisciplinary team of art historians, marine scientists, and geologists teamed up to interpret and map Hassam’s island as expressed in his paintings. I assume the team’s findings are useful to their individual scholarly communities. But, as a lay visitor, I’ll confess to not really understanding how all that mapping and naming enhances my understanding of American impressionism or the artful, imaginative experience I expect to have when visiting an exhibition of the same.
In the same way, while 12 contemporary black-and-white photographs of Appledore today by Alexandra de Steiguer offer a different perspective of the island at a different time in a different medium, their relevance to my experience seems secondary. I understand why they’re there, but they’re not why I’m there.

Childe Hassam Sunset at Sea 1911 Oil on canvas 34 3/4 × 34 1/2 in. (99.3× 87.6 cm) Private collection, Courtesy of Brock & Co., Concord, Massachusetts Photography by Clements/Howcroft

My favorite section of the show was the last, where we see Hassam himself altering his perspective and medium. Late in his career, after a visit to Paris, Hassam returned to Appledore and sought out new locations to paint in watercolor rather than oil. I found these works to be more emotionally adventurous and aesthetically moodier than the earlier more stereotypically impressionist work.

Childe Hassam The Cove 1912 Watercolor on paper 14 × 20 in. (36.5 × 51 cm) Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, Kansas, John W. and Mildred L. Graves Collection, 1986.15

They raise questions for me: what changed? Why? And whether those changes were carried into other parts of his life.
By extension I can’t help ask the follow-up questions: are there locations just adjacent to those I tend to return to that have the potential to radically alter my perspective and experience? Are there unused tools that extend my current skill-set and open up new possibilities and opportunities?
I’ll confess to not really knowing who Childe Hassam was before previewing this show. Nevertheless, I can imagine we’re going to enjoy a number of hot summer days together.


American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals
through Nov 16, 2016


Asia in Amsterdam (Us in the World)


: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time

Plaque. Delft, The Netherlands, 1670–1690. Tin-glazed earthenware (faience). 25 × 36 1/4 inches (63.5 × 92 cm). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Purchased with the support of the Stichting tot Bevordering van de Belangen van het Rijksmuseum, BK-1971-117 Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

For many years now, around kitchen tables and cocktail tables, I’ve been hearing about the Dutch in Asia and how and what to present to modern audiences of the far-reaching influence of that luxurious golden age.


: something that is helpful or welcome and that is not usually or always available

Cat. 22 Sweetmeat set with the coat of arms of Johannes Camphuys. Jingdezhen, China, 1671–1690. Porcelain. 14 1/4 inches (36.19 cm) diameter. Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Museum purchase with funds donated by the Asian Export Art Visiting Committee, AE85686.A-I. © 2010 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Dennis Helmar

I even went to Amsterdam over the holidays in part to see installed at the Dutch national museum the nearly 200 superlative works of art – paintings, ceramics, silver, lacquerware, furniture, jewelry and books – eventually collected in “Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age” that reveal the transformative impact of Asian luxuries on Dutch art and life in the 17th century.


: very happy and successful

Pieter Claesz (1596 /1597–1660). Still Life with Peacock Pie, 1627. Oil on panel. National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, 2013.141.1. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Founded less than a year apart – in 1798 and 1799 – the Rijksmuseum and the Peabody Essex Museum are caretakers of superlative collections inextricably linked to early international trade. They also now serve themselves as personal ports for my own engagement with our wide and fascinating world. 


: the time of life when a person does something or becomes legally able to do something

Cat. 26 Cradle. Coromandel Coast, India, 1650–1700. Ebony and ivory. 35 × 53 1/8 × 24 3/4 inches (89 × 135 × 63 cm). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, BK-1966-48.

Ostensibly, the objects collected in this exhibition show us how the dutch perceived and valued imported luxuries from Asia, the lengths to which they would go to acquire them, and how they incorporated them into their lives, but they also challenge all of us to imagine how far into the Other we can journey and to what extent we might allow the Other to change our daily lives.

It’s interesting to think about our own personal golden ages. To what ends we might go to cultivate them, and what affects those efforts might have on ourselves and others.


“Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age”
on vies at PEM February 27 – June 5



crossing the bridge

From a suburban cubicle in one of New England’s largest office parks, I spend my days making extraordinarily beautiful books.  To that end, as a requirement of my job, I must research San Francisco’s artisanal toast trend, develop projects with media savvy Dumpster divers, and find ways to endear myself to The 60 (Plus)  Coolest People in Food and Drink 2014.

Nothing has much of anything to do with my immediate environment or community. It’s just me, my imagination and Google. And while that combination’s a pretty fecund one, it does have its limitations: namely me (not so much Google).

So in an effort to break free from the insularity of my own mind and intentionally expose myself to the new/unexpected/other, I organized a Friday afternoon office field trip.  A dozen of us would make the ten-minute drive across the bridge from Beverly to Salem (which in truth is a journey as psychological as it is physical) to America’s oldest operating and most innovating museum, our very own Peabody Essex.

A tour of their new exhibit, “California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way,”  did not seem immediately relevant to developing food and craft books, but pourquois pas? Why not let another with more knowledge than I take on the responsibility of showing me something interesting?

Also, I’ve found a change of scenery is usually beneficial in itself.

Buff, Straub & Hensman (1955-1961, later Buff, Hensman and Associates). Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, 1958. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1959. Getty Research Institute
Buff, Straub & Hensman (1955-1961, later Buff, Hensman and Associates). Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, 1958. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1959. Getty Research Institute


And the effect of a change in scenery, is in large part, what the show is about: the ways California’s climate, opportunity and distance from the Establishment manifested themselves in myriad ways from the domestic to the atomic to create a distinctively “modern” and memorable way  of life.


Photo courtesy of Regina Grenier
Photo courtesy of Regina Grenier


Look at those Shapes!


photo 2
Photo courtesy of Regina Grenier

And colors!

In thinking about the artists, designers, manufacturers and consumers who cultivated the looks on display here, it’s not hard to recognize their intentionality and drive.  In every new shape, color combination, and product is a glimpse of the new/unexpected/other; the very manifestation of the modern.

These creators crossed a continent in pursuit; we crossed a bridge to glimpse.

It will be curious to see once settled back at our (actually rather innovative) cube farm on the other side of the bridge, how we find new ways to pursue the beautifully new, despite our undeniably established environs.

When there’s not a bridge or continent or any real geographic distance at all to cross, how do we remind ourselves to look relentlessly for the new amidst all the old?  To cross from the known, to the unknown?  To journey from the ordinary to the extraordinary?

Memories of California might help.


“To the farthest port of the rich Indies.”


PEM presents California Design, 1930 – 1965: Living in a Modern Way
On view from March 29 to July 6, 2014 

Salem Midsummer

According to Luke’s telling, John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus.  According to western tradition, Jesus was born on Dec. 24. Therefore, according to the universe, the summer solstice is the celebration of John the Baptist’s birth (which is not something I ever learned as a Baptist).

Logically, therefore, in Salem we celebrated John the Baptist’s summer solstice a month late with an opening of a new exhibit on Faberge, Russian folk music, and gold rimmed champagne cocktails.

Photo courtesy of social palates

This was another of the Peabody Essex Museum’s PEM/PM parties held the third Thursday evening of every month.  And another example of the mind-blowingly diverse community in which we live and of which the Museum is a catalyst.

On this night bloggers from around the Boston metro gathered in the Asian Garden and were serenaded by traditional folk musicians.



We talked about dim sum at Bo Lings at the Kansas City Board of Trade, Diner en Blanc, and community arts initiatives of which John Andrews of Social Palates has become the photographer of record (see his gallery of images from the evening here).

Back in the galleries, we were reminded of the extraordinary expense and exquisite workmanship of the legendary Imperial Faberge eggs, given as gifts at Easter by and to the ill-fated House of Romanov.

Which brings us full circle?

According to Mark, Herod has John the Baptist’s head served on a platter.  According to the historical record, the Romanovs were executed in a Yekaterinburg basement.  And according to the spinning of the earth, summer must fall to winter.

This is something I did learn as a Baptist: the inevitable and paradoxical relationship life and death share.

Or, according to Wikipedia ” In October 2007 Pallinghurst Resources LLP announced that the company intended to restore Fabergé to its rightful position as the leading purveyor of enduring and endearing personal possessions.”

In other words, the House of Faberge has been resurrected and we can now once again celebrate the resurrection of Christ with a jewel encrusted egg.

I’m not sure it’s relation to the chicken, but I think it might be relevant.

It all makes my head hurt (or maybe that’s just the champagne).

Do you believe in magic?

I realize magic is supposed to be irrational and silly.  Maybe even a little sinister.

Nevertheless, I’ve become obsessed with pursuing magical moments.  Those experiences that are just on the other side of convention, infused with wonder, joy and possibility.

They can’t be bought: Indeed, returns diminish with greater financial investment.
Nor are they, free: The harder one works, the greater the payout.

Case in point: Diner en Blanc

A couple years ago I read about the epic pop-up picnic in white that attracts 10,000 participants to a very public space in Paris each year, and thought it sounded it cool.

I started talking about it, and then talking about how cool it would be to have one in Salem, and then talking about what would need to happen to have one in Salem.

Then there were meetings, and spreadsheets, and conversations with the police. . .

And then, it happened.


One hundred fifty people dressed all in white brought their tables and chairs, white table cloths, candelabra, silver and crystal to a very public space in Salem.  

The price of admission, was a lot of work, and it was magical.

More photos here.


A milestone

This blog, “Goat Anyone?,” achieved a milestone last week.  It had nothing to do with number of posts or number of visitors.  Indeed, the milestone had nothing at all to do with anything WordPress stats might record about its virtual life.

That’s because what “Goat Anyone?” achieved was real world recognition.  As representative of this New Media platform I was invited to a reception for bloggers preceding the Peabody Essex Museum’s monthly PEM/PM party. Ostensibly, I presume to write about the expanding museum and its innovative programming.

Throughout the evening I had to explain what “Goat Anyone?” is and how it got its name.  Questions I don’t often think about.

I started this blog when several lifetimes ago I went off to the goat farm in Poland to make cheese.  It was a travel log in the waning days of the mass email.

I kept “Goat Anyone?” going as I continued across Russia and into China – acquiring new readers as the distance between its original audience and purpose grew.

It’s now been nearly six years since I first started writing about goats, and in that time I’ve managed to write about a lot (El Camino de Santiago, dumpster diving, all things French), though relatively little about goats.  I never would have guessed that the site would develop a readership in France nearly as dedicated as that in America.

So it seems appropriate that the coming-out of “Goat Anyone?” was PEM’s “dirt” party.

PEM, my neighborhood art museum currently engaged in a $650 million expansion is the oldest continuously operating museum in America with a mission to “transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the wider world.”  These evening parties, scheduled for the third Thursday of each month are designed to engage new and diverse audiences with the Museum and its collection.

In the Moshe Safdie designed atrium there were representatives of Salem Community Gardens and the Salem Farmers Market, a model dressed as a garden, staged for life sketching, and a tour of the American galleries tracing early American foodways.

There were many people who had never been to the Museum before, had never been to a PEM/PM party before, did not know about the Salem Community Gardens or Farmers Market or that the person standing in front of them in line for a taste of Salem Naumkeag’s pickles was a dear friend of an old neighbor.

To say it was transformative might be a stretch, but expanding surely, in much the same way this blog is now not just a virtual travel log for my friends and family but a real world platform for new media in the 21st century.