Category Archives: History

The more things change…

When AJ and I travel, we almost always carve out time to visit the local art gallery and museum. During a few days in Derbyshire, we found a small art gallery in the city of Derby virtually dedicated to a famous local 18th Century artist, Joseph Wright. We didn’t know much about him or the art of the period, but we were lucky to visit at a quiet time which meant we had what amounted to a private tour of the room housing his paintings.

Our guide was incredibly knowledgable about Joseph Wright and pointed out many things in the paintings that I’m sure we would have missed if we hadn’t had the benefit of his expertise. Here’s a link to the gallery if you’d like to see some of the paintings.

Joseph Wright was considered the first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution and was famous for his use of light and dark in his paintings, especially favoring subjects portrayed by candlelight. Some absolutely stunning work.

But what caught my attention was the artist himself. An amazing creative, with absolutely incredible talent, he was prone to fits of depression and doubts about that talent. During one period of his life, after he had produced paintings such as A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery (see link above), and having received bad reviews for some of his work, he became really disillusioned with himself and his art and stopped working completely.  He wrote:

“I have heard nothing but humiliating observations on my paintings. which have tended much to the inactivity of my pencil for sometime past. What a mere machine I am become. Depressed and renedered useless by a little censure and put into motion again by a little flattery. I really believe my enemies might persuade me I have no pretentions to paint. What a thing have these weak nerves made of me.”

Food for thought for all the creatives out there, because I’m sure we can all understand these feelings. How many times has a bad review or negative response to our own work made us put down pen, pencil, brush, needle, etc? It’s comforting to know that we’re in good company, and that even the greats suffered through periods of procrastination when they felt their work just wasn’t good enough.

Some things, it seems, never change.

Tricia’s website

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If You Go Down to the Woods Today…

Which is precisely what I managed to do last month for a few days. With Dave on the mend following his op, my friend Avis and I slipped away by coach, visiting the beautiful county of Warwickshire, England for a “Bluebell Walk”. The bluebells were out early this year, and are stunning. Knowing this and when combined with a touch of literary culture, Avis and I we were in for a treat.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

First to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (William Shakespeare’s wife). I visited here back in the 60s, as an 11-year-old on a school trip, and well remembered the thatched building and gardens, although 50 years on one now enters through a different building to reach the cottage, and the gardens have expanded. Following a brief history of the house we were allowed to wander at leisure with staff on hand to explain and inform. I’m certainly glad I didn’t live there – no mains electricity, no water on tap and no central heating; one could well imagine how difficult life was back in the 1500s. Outside, I was disappointed to see that the bluebells amongst all the colourful tulips in the beautiful front garden were the Spanish non-native type. They certainly wouldn’t have been found here in Shakespeare’s time. I hope the gardeners dig them all out soon.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Then on  to Stratford-upon-Avon. Again, it’s some 50 years since  first exploring this town. The main street on which William Shakespeare’s house  is located is now pedestrianised, thankfully, but a large visitor centre now sits incongruously alongside it. We decided against doing the house tour; instead we took a pleasant walk through Stratford and enjoyed a spot of lunch.

Walton Hall Hotel

A few miles outside of Stratford we arrived at our hotel, set in 65 acres of park and farmland. What a fabulous place! Although the main part of the hotel is modern, it’s built in the grounds of a large 16th century mansion (history & info link) recently owned by the late Danny La Rue.  The rooms were lovely, the beds so enormous they could easily sleep 4 persons! And joy of joys, I had a balcony too so as the dawn chorus started, I opened the French doors and enjoyed my early morning coffee outside as I listened. Bliss! The food was excellent, the staff faultless. In fact, it’s one the few hotels I’ve stayed in where I wish I could have stopped for longer, only the bluebell woods called and thus, after a delicious breakfast we were on the road again, heading for Coughton Court (pronounced Coat-un). I’d never heard of this National Trust Tudor treasure until this trip. Can’t understand why.

Once there, we headed straight for the woods and the bluebells, after all this was the main reason for our trip. There were swathes of them. And the scent glorious. If you’ve never smelt an English bluebell wood you are missing a treat. However, there is only so much one can say about bluebells, but I did take lots of photos, mainly for painting reference.

Of course, Thugs Bunny and Mr Tumble had to get in on the act!

We spent several hours wandering around enjoying the spectacle before heading back to explore the house itself. Coughton Court is still occupied by the sixth generation of the Throckmorton family, infamously involved in the plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I in 1583 and put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Inside, we could wander freely, allowed to touch things, sit on the furniture, even try on some of the Tudor clothes on display. Helpful guides were on hand to explain items and various histories of the house and family. Coughton also boasts magnificent gardens, better than Hampton Court apparently, but I have to admit we were too exhausted to venture further so settled on coffee and cake instead. This is definitely a place to go back to. To read more about the house and the Throckmortons I’ve included this link .

Coughton Court

Time eventually caught up with us to make our way back to the coach and home. A lovely, relaxing two days and a much needed break. Now patiently waiting for the next one.

PS: Meanwhile, I feel a painting coming on…

 

George & Louise…A Great Love by Valerie J. Patterson

George and Louise Boldt–their story is one of a great and deeply felt love.  It’s also a tale of tragedy and a future with a broken heart.  George was a poor immigrant in the late 1800s who managed to gain employment at the famous Waldorf Astoria, and later would own it and another hotel here in Pennsylvania.  It was while he was working at the Waldorf that he met Louise Kehrer and fell madly in love with her.  While vacationing in Alexandria Bay, more particularly, the Thousand Islands, he bought Hart Island, which he legally changed to Heart Island.  In 1900, he commenced building a castle there for his lovely Louise to live in.  In 1904, tragedy struck and Louise Boldt died suddenly at the young age of 41.  That same day, George sent a telegram to the island and ordered all construction to cease and all workers to leave the island.  The heartbroken George never stepped foot on Heart Island again.  He never allowed his children or their families to visit the island either.  Boldt Castle was 96% finished the day Louise died, and it would remain unfinished, too.  So great was his love for his wife, and just as great was his pain from losing her, that he could not bear to live there without her.

In 1977, the heirs of George Boldt sold the castle and Heart Island to the state of New York for $1.00 with the following conditions:  1) The castle was to be open to the public and every cent from the sale of tickets was to be put into restoring the castle, which had been vandalized over the decades it remained empty; 2) the restoration was never to go beyond 96% completion, which was the last Louise had ever seen; and 3) no one was ever allowed to live there or stay there.  To date, $38 million have been used in restoring the castle and only one and a half of the 6 floors have been fully restored.

Beginning at the top left corner and continuing clockwise, the photographs are: A view of 75% of Heart Island as seen from our hotel suite’s balcony; the Italian Garden at the rear of the castle with the castle’s power house (also a castle-like structure) in the background; the view of the castle’s main arch entrance where George imagined his guests docking their boats and visiting he and Louise at the castle–to the right is a 6 story playhouse he had designed and constructed for his children and their guests; a rear view of the castle; and, again, the arched entrance to the island.

Steve took me to the Thousand Islands for our anniversary trip, and I was instantly overtaken with the immense love George Boldt had for his wife.  I snapped over 500 photographs, and I apologize that I don’t have a closeup of the front of the castle for you, but those are on another camera card that I have not yet downloaded.

The entire time we were exploring the castle and its grounds on a self-guided tour, Steve and I discussed George and Louise.  All around us were visual signs of their love from heart-shaped flower beds to hand-carved granite benches with huge hearts carved out of the center of each bench’s backrest to the portraits of Louise to the Italian Garden with its carved granite statues.  We wondered what George would think of all the people tramping around the grounds and invading the castle.  We wondered how he would have looked upon the vandalism each room on each floor suffered from careless youths who didn’t know the story behind the castle or perhaps knew it and didn’t care.

As we sat on a magnificent porch, on a heart-shaped bench, I became weepy thinking about George and his immense love of Louise.  With all that Steve has been through this year, perhaps George’s story hit a little too close to home.  Or perhaps I’m just too softhearted and enjoy a good love story.  Maybe a little of both.  One thing I know for certain, George and Louise Boldt are now a part of my own history, and their love story reminds me to be thankful for my own love story!

Finally–so as not to leave on such a sad note–It has been my dream to own an island.  Strange dream, I know.  But ever since I learned that Raymond Burr owned his own island, I’ve wanted to own one myself.  During our stay in Alexandria Bay, we came to learn that there were 3 islands for sale.  The first one we saw had a price of $1.4 million.  The second one we saw had the hefty price tag of $5.5 million.  And the third one was selling for $80,000.  I’ll leave you with the photo of the third island, which is still swimming around in my thoughts as a possibility!

DSCN1396

It’s not the size of the house that matters, but rather the island itself that remains important to me.  <grin>

Until next time, may you be as loved as Louise!!  ❤

Boldt Castle

In And Out The Dusty Bluebells

Spring has finally turned a corner in England now we have slipped into May. Typically, it being May Bank Holiday here, the weather is still on the chilly side (I have the heating on!) and it’s raining. The forecast promises warm weather by the end of this week, much to everyone’s relief. It has been a good year for spring flowers though and now the daffodils have given way to the most glorious (I think) wild flower displays this country puts on, for May represents bluebell time. Whilst in some locations they often appear in April if the weather is warm enough, invariably it is the non-native species that bloom first.

mXPDKBMIt is a sad fact that English bluebells are unique but being slowly but surely eroded by foreign counterparts introduced here way back in the early 1900s.  Known as Spanish bluebells, they are different in many respects to our own native species but so common now, most people do not know the difference. The plants are common in people’s gardens too, as seeds can be readily purchased and easy to grow. As a consequence, they have self-seeded along hedgerows and verges and able to cross-pollinate with our native species, thus destroying their uniqueness. This is such a shame.

So, how can you tell which is which? There are four simple ways.

bluebell-273752__180

The Spanish Invader

First is colour. In the Spanish varieties (hyacinthoides hispanica) the bell-shaped flowers are pale blue, often white, and occasionally pink. The native English (hyacinthoides non-scripta) bluebell flower is darker, more a cobalt blue. The second is the way the flowers hang on the stalks. In the foreign variety, the stem is upright with the bells flowering around it, the flower heads fairly large, open tipped and more prolific. In our native plant, the stem arches with the flowers hanging on one side only, and with fewer bells.

English native

English native

The third clue is pollen: the Spanish flower has blue or green pollen; in the English variety it is white or cream. The fourth, and to my mind the most important, difference is perfume. There is no smell to Spanish varieties whilst the true English form will scent a woodland glade with a subtle, honey-like perfume that is unmistakable.

There’s nothing quite like an English wood when it is in a full swathe of blue glory. A walk through these can raise the spirit and lift the heart as they herald the onset of summer. The show is short-lived as once the leaves on the trees come out fully, the flowers vanish. It’s one of the reasons why I love painting bluebell scenes – to preserve this unique English spectacle for longer. Now, if only I could find a paint that has the same sweet perfume…

Bluebells

Book Review – Memories Of A Geisha

930This book was another selection from the book club I belong too. Would I have read it on my own? Probably not and I didn’t see the movie. It was released in paperback in 1999 so it isn’t a recent release.

The book is author Arthur Golden’s debut novel, but you’d never know it’s a first as it’s exceptionally well written. There were quite a few comments in the front of the book. One, from Houston Chronicle reads, “Memoirs of a Geisha is nothing short of astonishing…. Elegant and spare, but wonderfully evocative.” Boston Magazine calls the story a classic.

The story took me into an unknown culture as foreign as the land it’s set in, where young girls are sold and made to feel it’s an accomplishment to be a Geisha. It takes in the training they undergo and delves deep into their personalities and what shapes them to be manipulative, and even cruel.

The story is told in first person by Nitta Sayuri who is sold along with her older sister at the age of nine. It tells her story as she enters the world of Geisha. It’s a hard life so it’s no wonder the characters are strong, selfish, unkind is to gentle a word for them. Survival really is a matter of who’s fittest. I didn’t always like Sayuri, at least not toward the end. But then she had been taught by masters.

I had a hard time making myself believe that the story is fiction. It has 3268 reviews and  a 4 ½ star rating. It’s a thought provoking read, one that is going to stay with me for a while and one I’m happy to recommend.

 

Wedding Cake Church

090706-38-St-Brides-71Ever wonder where the iconic wedding cake shape came from? Well, some say it came from St. Bride’s Church. A few years ago, my husband and I got to do  whirlwind tour of London as part of a cruise. One of the things we saw was this church, built  by Christopher Wren, a noted architect of places like St. Paul’s Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace. I could write an entire blog just on his buildings. Wow.

This blog is about one church, though. Named after St. Brigid, who was also called Bride, it’s known nowadays for it’s shape, but has real staying power. I was reading through the history and it’s been around in some form or another for about 1,000 years. It was destroyed many times, most notably in the Great Fire of 1666 and the bombings of 1940. It was gutted then, but the main structure was saved and then rebuilt.

So how did wedding cakes get designed after this church’s spire? The story goes that in 1703 a baker’s apprentice named Thomas Rich fell in love with his boss’s daughter and asked her to marry him. In designing an extravagant cake for the occasion, he used St. Bride’s Church for inspiration.

How cool is that? The only picture I got was a bad one, so I’ve linked the picture above to the  main site in case you’re interested in reading more about it.

Gadgets Galore

A recent news item in the UK told of a lady who was selling her collection of teasmade machines, those wonderful gadgets you kept by the bed to wake you with the alarm and a fresh pot of tea. The woman has amassed over 170, most of which still work.teasmade

Popular in the 1960s and 1970s, we never owned one, the main reason being we don’t drink tea; the other being back in the mid 1970s, the house Dave and I lived in was without central heating. He had to be in work for 6:00 am so an early alarm was necessary. Rather than shiver my way downstairs to make him a drink before he left home, I would keep a kettle, mugs, coffee and a jug of milk (which sometimes froze over) by the bed, and simply leaned across to flick on the kettle when the alarm clock rang.  Thank goodness those days are gone.

The article chip slicerbought to mind other gadgets that were about way back then, many of which have fallen by the wayside or left shoved in the back of a cupboard somewhere. My mother worked full time and with a household of six, anything to make cooking easier and quicker was obviously worth investing in. One I remember well was the chip slicer. As a child I was never strong enough to work the heavy metal lever, but often had to wash-up the thing.

chop-o-matic1Another was the Chopamatic – supposedly to make chopping onions quicker and easier. Rarely did the contraption work, often becoming jammed in the onion on the first strike; and what a performance to clean afterwards. Yet, surprisingly, there are still modern versions of these about, not that I’ve bothered to buy one, managing well enough with a sharp knife.

caddy matic teaTwo gadgets were designed specifically to hang on the wall – the Caddy-matic, used to store and deliver the right about of tea leaves per person at the push of the button, awall scalesnd wall-mounted weighing scales. These were both useful and convenient, until one time too much was put on the scales and the weight pulled the screws out of the wall. It was like something out of a snowglobe as flour covered every surface in the kitchen. Oops!

breadslicerThen there was the bread slicer. Although ready-sliced bread, such as Wonderloaf and Sunblest, were familiar and great for making toast but bland and cloying used for sandwiches, we always had a crusty loaf that needed slicing. The bread slicer was used to also slice bacon, beef and even hard cheese. I had one for many years but it took up a lot of space, and I was always frightened my daughter would cut herself on it, so out it went, to be replaced with an electric carving knife which I still use to carve the Sunday joint.

There are no doubt many other gadgets we all had at one time. Which ones do you still have or even still use?