A Road Trip through Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont

Linda and I have just returned from a two-week sojourn through New England with many memories, photos….and new books which will pose a bookshelf problem at home! Speaking of books and writers, we began our adventure at the Mark Twain house in Hartford, Connecticut.

 IMG_0850Mark Twain’s home in Hartford

Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, “Mark Twain,” built this beautiful home on the then-outskirts of Hartford in 1873 for Olivia, his wife of three years and their future family of three girls. Nothing was spared in its planning and construction thanks to Olivia’s family coal fortune and Twain’s bright prospects as a writer and speaker.

Alas, Mark Twain was as dismal at investing money as he was brilliant writing stories. Because of  terrible business decisions, Twain was forced into bankruptcy in the early 1890’s after writing such successful classics in his Hartford home as “Tom Sawyer,” and “Huckleberry Finn.” He embarked on an arduous, year-long, around-the-world lecture tour in 1895 with his wife and two daughters, Clara and Jean, in order to pay off his former creditors even though legally not responsible to do so after bankruptcy. In 1896, the eldest daughter, Suzy, who had remained home at Hartford, died of meningitis in that beautiful house. Twain and Olivia were devastated on receiving the news overseas. They were never to return to the beautiful house at Hartford after Suzy’s death; there were just too many beautiful memories of happier times, there.

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I purchased two books in the gift shop at Hartford, both centered on Mark Twain’s gift for peering into the heart of human nature….and subsequently laying it bare in prose via his pithy quotes and his stories.

The first book discusses his insights into human nature, and the second is a book of resulting quotes – for example:

“Such is the human race. Often it does seem such a pity that Noah didn’t miss the boat.”

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

“Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anyone.”

“Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

“The lack of money is the root of all evil.”

“Man was made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired.”

One must admire a man who has the courage to call it the way he sees it – even though his personal shortcomings may be the well-spring of his insight and wisdom.

That last one is my own little commentary on the marvel which is Mark Twain, a writer and a personality worth knowing. I look forward to reading more!

Norman Rockwell: The Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

Linda and I had rubbed elbows with the great artist/illustrator, Norman Rockwell, once before in Arlington, Vermont. That took place in 1992 when we visited New England and stayed at the stately farmhouse built in 1799 that was once his home. In fact, the bed-and-breakfast room that we occupied was Rockwell’s bedroom! It was a beautiful interlude for a few nights, compounded by the fact that we were the only guests! That left time for leisurely breakfasts and long conversation with the congenial couple who owned the place – in front of a crackling fire in the fireplace on crisp Vermont mornings.

It was at the small museum in town that we first saw original Rockwell illustrations, many of them famously familiar. It was there, too, that we learned that he painted from “live” models – often the local town-folk. The faces and the personas in the illustrations are unfailingly “dead ringers” for the folks he used – this, based on the photo evidence. From Arlington, Vermont, Rockwell moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the early 1950’s, and it is there that a beautiful and fitting museum was built to permanently house many of his great works.

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Just beyond the museum, sits his gallery which was moved from downtown Stockbridge, where he lived, up the road a bit to its present spacious setting.

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I could not resist this original, authentic Saturday Evening Post magazine cover from Nov.8, 1930 which was offered in the gift shop for a reasonable price. It is one of my favorites of the many Post covers he did. It is called “The Voyager.”

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Shame on those who pigeon-holed Rockwell as merely an “illustrator” and not an artist! I am not an expert, but I recognize artistic brilliance when I see it. We all can. Has anyone better-captured the soul and spirit of his human subjects while telling their story than Rockwell? If so, I stand ready to listen and learn!

Who is Daniel Chester French?

If you said he sculpted the huge, seated Abraham Lincoln, the focal point of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, you have earned a gold star. If you also gave him credit for the beautiful, inspiring minuteman statue at the Concord, Massachusetts Old North Bridge, you should get three gold stars. We had the opportunity while at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to visit his home and his studio – both situated on beautiful, spacious grounds and referred to as “Chesterwood.”

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The actual, reduced-size plaster model of the Lincoln Memorial

The technique used to transition from smaller plaster models to larger-than-life statuary is a fascinating process, and we had a chance to learn something about it at Chesterwood – well worth the visit!

Two Great B and B’s along the way!

The Inn at Mount Pleasant Farm near Litchfield, Connecticut was both relaxing and interesting. The vantage point overlooking an endless meadow and many trees was beautiful and the conversation with super-hosts Bob and Maggie was fun and  interesting. Bob took us through the original 150 year-old dairy barn which he, a retired developer/builder had to save from danger of collapse when they acquired the farm – interesting insights into preservation/restoration.

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Yes, we are having fun!

Brattleboro, Vermont and 40 Putney Road

Our last stay prior to heading south to Danbury Connecticut, near where we began our trip, was this elegant and delightful B and B run by the fun and efficient, Rhonda. Extra touches were abundant all around, evidence of Rhonda’s successful desire to be the perfect hostess.

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 Rhonda’s breakfasts served in the music conservatory were a treat!

 Visiting Tasha Tudor’s Homestead near Marlboro, Vermont

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My wife has long followed the life of departed author/illustrator/nature-lover, Tasha Tudor. Ms. Tudor lived by herself with her Corgi dogs in the deep woods of Vermont, choosing “the simple life” except for occasional outreaches to the most “civilized” world of book publishing.

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Eschewing all modern conveniences save a water closet and minimal electric lighting, Ms. Tudor lived off the land – going barefoot, chopping wood for her stove and fireplace, weaving on a loom, fashioning garden tools from tree branches, but always painting her story of Corgi Cottage and the simple life, there. Tasha Tudor came from an accomplished and privileged background, yet somewhere along the line – while still quite young – she eschewed that life for the “simpler” one she chose. Don’t look for directions or signposts on how to reach Corgi Cottage, there aren’t any – on purpose.

Tasha Tudor’s personal story is quite fascinating, so Linda made early arrangements for the very infrequent and limited tours of her cottage and natural gardens which are conducted by the immediate family. We had a fascinating look at a different lifestyle as we toured the very rustic premises on a drizzly morning.

Her son, Seth, who was on our tour, and the rest of the family face a daunting challenge in keeping Tasha Tudor’s legacy alive and well while doing the necessary things to fund the ongoing maintenance of the property. Tasha, herself, somehow managed the delicate balance of living an isolated life (except for certain family members) while creating a name and image in the wide-world of book publishing.

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 Tasha Tudor’s second book – 1942

 The Friends of Gladys Taber (FOGT) Annual Reunion

Our final stop before heading home was the Friends of Gladys Taber (FOGT) annual reunion held in Danbury, Connecticut. My post last week, A Father’s Day Surprise from Susan Branch, June 22, 2014, stemmed from that reunion which included a visit to Ms.Taber’s beloved Stillmeadow Cottage where she spent many of her happiest years. It was Susan Branch who, through her blog, introduced my wife to Gladys Taber and her wonderful commentaries on life and country living. Mrs. Susan Turnley edits the quarterly FOGT newsletter which every member receives and which features articles on Ms. Taber and current membership news.

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As is quite evident by now, our New England sojourn of two weeks could rightly be termed a “literary pilgrimage” of sorts, one which was inspired primarily by Linda’s interests in Tasha Tudor, Gladys Taber, and the scenic Connecticut route 7 which she had longed to see. Being interested in writers and immersed in writing, myself, I enthusiastically signed-on to the trip somewhat to Linda’s surprise and joy; I am glad I did. We both saw a lot, learned a lot, and will savor fine memories of people and places for a long time to come.

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