I Went to Olly’s to See Rufus

We never stopped at the jewelry counter of Jordan Marsh. We simply and, I thought, hurriedly, passed it by on our way in or out. But the gems within captured my fascination and held it so tightly that I truly believed the natural order of the world would be best served by my having ownership of them.  There was no desire to wear them around and cause pangs of jealousy from my enemies in the schoolyard; it was just a primal impulse to possess them.

I was reminded of an echo of that feeling when I spent the night at the Oliver Wight house.

Oliver Wight House
Oliver Wight House

I knew they had a Rufus Porter mural there, but not until I walked through the large old door and  my eyes adjusted to the cool darkness of the hallway did I realize that it wasn’t on special display, guarded under glass or behind velvet ropes.  There would be no guard approaching from the corner of the room to banish my camera, no visitors at my shoulder to apportion the view (or my personal favorite, read aloud)

There was not a soul around, and I was free to get as close as I wanted, to examine it at my leisure and take as many pictures as I chose. I could discuss out loud with Mr Bebe different points of interest which,I am sure, pleased him to no end. It was mine -all mine. Like ye olde canopy bed I would sleep in upstairs, this belonged to me, if only for one night.


An ambitious renaissance man and rumored to be the inspiration for Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, Rufus Porter was not only a popular folk art muralist and portraitist, but a teacher, a traveler, a writer, a poet, a publisher, and a keen inventor.  He held over 25 patents and he started Scientific American magazine. He taught painting, opened a dance school, invented the revolver, designed an airship, wrote poetry and worked his entire life devising mechanical improvements for agricultural, military and transportation machinery


He spent several years wandering up and down the East Coast with his painting gear. He did some portraits but the bulk of his work was on the walls of private homes and public hostelries exchanging work for lodging. At some point in his travels, he stopped into an Inn in Massachusetts where, almost 200 years later, Bebe would rest her head.

*(the lighting was quite poor so the picture quality is inconsistent, Im afraid. Mr Bebe held open the door to let in more natural light which helped for some areas but not all.)



IMG_1699 - Copy

Rufus included in his murals objects that held personal interested for him



Details. Love the hats



Rufus liked to put cliffs and waterfalls at staircases



Rufus Porter 1792-1884


nota bene:   Bebe is not adverse to having a Rufus all to herself at an inn…


for Blue Booby:

yes I did

18 thoughts on “I Went to Olly’s to See Rufus

  1. Very well done Bebe! What a Renaissance Man Rufus was and how appropriate that another quintessentially American original Mark Twain base a character on him.
    Murals, portraits, revolvers, airships, and dance schools…I must check to see if this Porter runs up my line of accomplished Porters.
    ….like that album he did with Chaka Khan too.


    1. I thought he was an itinerant painter, penniless and drifting. But that was clearly not the case. He came from a very wealthy family and his mural painting was not only a creative outlet, but like the inventions he worked on his entire life, it something to improve the daily lives of the average citizen. Wallpaper was very expensive back then and his murals were a cheaper alternative. Most of them were very colorful and vibrant but I like the grisaille

      As the paint would dry, Chaka would entertain the pub guests by strutting around in all her finery as Rufus blasted out ‘let me rock ya Chaka Kahn’ on the fiddle. Fact

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I was surprised to learn what I did about him. I had always liked his murals but there was much more to him than his painting. I have been planning to do a Rufus mural on my wall. Something a bit smaller in scale but I have a blank wall over the stairs in the kitchen that I think would be the perfect spot


  2. My Darling Mrs. Bebe
    I woke up this morning scratchy chinned, sore, stiff, blasé, and just overall old and grumpy feeling. So thank you so much for rocking my world early, as I watch the sun come up and the day get started. Freaking Rufus Porter, who the heck knew, I sure as hell didn’t. Immediately, even before finishing your post, I had to find out more about the man, the legend, and so I consulted that source of all modern knowledge, all modern power, Wikipedia, and what a man, and what a legend Rufus Porter turned out to be.

    I do have to ask about the condition of the mural. I get that there will settlement cracks, more ominous are the missing bits of plaster, as in your windmill photo. How bad/good is the overall condition?

    Do you have a place for the armoire picked out?

    Finally, given his rather obscene procreative powers (thank you Wikipedia), it is a good thing that you prefer Rufus II as opposed to Rufus I as an inn companion.


    1. Good morning dear GF! I am very flattered to be one of the very first objects of your attention as the sun rises over the barn. Im glad I piqued your interest in Mr Porter. I can report that, unlike many of his murals that were destroyed or covered with wallpaper, this one at the Oliver Wight house was in very good shape. They have protected the walls on the stairway and upper landing as those are areas that could be bumped frequently but the bulk of the mural is there for all to touch. There are a few cracks and some chipped plaster but overall it has aged well. I know they had it restored at some point, maybe just cleaned?..

      As the Love Shack is rather modest in size I have only a couple of choices for the armoire but I would like to put it in the dining room. Quite near the Rufus Porter mural I am putting on my own wall.

      All those children-where did he find the time? And his wife raised them all by herself when he was away, no wonder she died young!..


      1. B-
        My thoughts exactly on poor Mrs. P., did not she not know the word “no”, my Mrs. certainly did, for that matter so did I.

        Vernacular art is the best; I sure hope my travels lead me someday to the Oliver Wight, which strangely enough, fascinatingly enough, is a family name of Mrs. GF.

        And silly, don’t you know that any day you write you make not just my day, but many, many others too?


    1. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I dont know why wordpress is puttung your comments in spam-they are sertainly NOT spam to me!. It did the same to Blue Booby also. I know that I have been having a heck of a time recently commenting on blogger blogs. I have to go through a whole system of copying and pasting and submitting in triplicate. Must be a compatability issue?…


    1. I just updated my post in answer to your wise question. You know me so well

      Its funny-I was originally going to put that picture in the post but I left it out because I thought my fingers looked fat. Then I realized how crazy it is to worry that my fingers look fat..

      But in my defense I had been up carousing til 2.30 the night before..


  3. Darling Bebe,

    This is indeed a fascinating account of a man who clearly shaped a number of areas of American history. We hurried off immediately to find out more about Rufus only to discover that there is a wealth of information about this man who lived through 21 American presidents, invented, painted and fathered innumerable children. Gosh, we were quite breathless just reading about it all.

    But, what a marvellous experience to spend the night in the Oliver Wight House and to be able to see at close hand the Rufus mural. It reminds us very much of the Rex Whistler mural at Plas Newydd. The attention to detail is beguiling and the touches of humour so domestic. It is these kinds of things which make the work come alive. Unlike Rex, however, Rufus does not seem to have included any small images of himself in the mural……

    We have thoroughly enjoyed this post and learned a great deal from it. What is special, however, is the atmosphere which you generate in your writing. We really could have been in the Wight House ( so easy to confuse with White House) with you that night. Indeed, the partying which went on there would have also been most enjoyable!


    1. Darlings Jane and Lance
      I only wish I could have written more about the artist but I am just learning about him as well. Such an ambitious man. And at a time without internet, automobiles, and all the modcons we are used to today! How was his wife able to raise all those children without a washing machine or a pediatrician?! I would have demanded he put away his paintbrush and lend a hand with all the kids! How did Rufus have the energy to paint anything after walking from town to town? If I
      jog a mere two miles in the morning I feel as though I deserve a vacation for the rest of the day…
      I was quite taken with the idea that I was viewing the mural in situ, as it were. That Rufus painted away diligently, in that very hallway, almost two centuries ago. One feels more of a connection with the artist and the work. I wish you had been there with me! The four of us would have rocked that little town. We spent the next day at Sturbridge Village which was in the midst of ‘Rebels and Redcoats’ and we got a fine dose of life in 1776 from the soldiers perspective. For a history geek like me it was a great wknd.


    1. Welcome Jen! And I agree-I wish I had a mural like that. Martha Stewart did one in one of her houses and she gave instructions on her show. The video can be found on youtube I believe. There are also Rufus Porter stencils we can buy-I found some at MB Historic Decor


  4. I am catching up on reading all of my favorite blogs and here I am learning so much about such a great character. I recall several years ago an article in Martha Stewart’s magazine featuring a mural she had commissioned for her home Turkey Hill. The inspiration for the mural was Mr. Porter’s work. Ms. Stewart’s mural bore more than a striking resemblance to the mural you feature in the photographs that accompany this excellent post.

    Oh, how I would have loved to stay at the Oliver Wight House, which looks right up my alley, decoratively speaking.


  5. We call these Murials – just because we’re such Kiwi plebs, but i love them no less. (from Muriels wedding) I especially love these ones because they have a simplicity about them which would seem childlike if we didn’t know how hard it was to draw in that childlike way and for it to be so evocative of sea and land.
    Love the BB reference – what a corker!


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