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.)



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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

Bebe reflects upon her OOTS

oh Jonny – wherefore art thou, Jonny?


To reflect upon my OOTS is to imply that it is a thing of the past, but that is hardly the case.  We are still in the throes of summer and although Gentleman Farmer is sending his offspring back to school, the boys of summer are out of the pennant race, and last night I slept with a blanket I will hold on desperately to the dog days of summer

To this end, I will discuss my OOTS.  Our clothing choices speak volumes, more about a persons life can be revealed in a top and bottom than in pages of text, and much of my life can be read in my wardrobe. Unwilling to adopt a versatile uniform in which I go from task to task in sartorial mediocrity, I am much more comfortable suiting my outfit to my actions. A very high-minded attitude for someone on the bottom of the family clothing budget hierarchy. And someone for whom fuss, bother and ill fit are equally  intolerable. When I am not working out, landscaping or covering up a bathing suit I am in my normal daywear which must meet the aforementioned criteria as well as have the ability to go from boat to pub, walking tour to restaurant. A challenging task, but I do my best to come up with a few key pieces that I can switch up. To wit:
eyelet skirt
eyelet navy
Cotton eyelet skirts. Although not quite fitted enough at the waist (Bebe has a hip to waist ratio she would rather flatter than conceal) they are comfortable and pretty. I have one in white and one in navy blue. Putting some thought into getting the aqua one as well
eyelet skirt teephoto(25)
Cotton tee shirts-no prints please-that are cheap enough not to be precious and quality enough not to be cheap. I like to wear my pearls with a tee shirt, but only with a crew neck. I just don’t like the curvature of a 19″ strand of pearls cutting across the opening of a v-neck. White and black are my favorite colors but I particularly like the orange one (not pictured) that I wear with the navy skirt.
Summer feet The sneakers are from from LL Bean. They were on sale in the store this past Spring when I went in for something else and I picked them up just to have as a summer back-up. They turned out to be one of my favorites as the summer contains a lot of walking and occasional boat trips. I bought the Cole Haan loafers because I have two different pink tee shirts but they are not as comfortable as I originally thought. Otherwise I wear a pair of nude sandal wedges
I tried to do an Audrey Hepburn but I had a wardrobe faux pas in the form of an errant bra strap so Ive cropped
My summer hat. I love it. I bought it at a little hat shop in Provincetown and though it was something of a spur of the moment purchase I have no regrets
I didn’t realize the ‘B’ would be so large
My bag I know I seem an awful prep-a -doodle-doo but when your summer takes you from boat to barn you appreciate the yankee aesthetic and you realize why it came about in the first place. In this I can carry not only my wallet and keys, but sunblock, maps, water, a bit of lunch, family cellphones and glasses etc. And if I have to, I can zip the top up and keep them all inside. Very handy to deter pickpocketers in crowds and strong gales off the North Atlantic, though Im not too certain about how it will stand up to a horse looking for a mint- which I did almost find out when I casually hung it on a railing in the barn. It can get wet, banged around, packed away and still does its job flawlessly. Obviously I don’t take it out for an evening but otherwise it is my summer partner, my only concession to ‘uniform’ dressing.
These pieces are summer to me. It will be a sad day when I will prep them for their winter hibernation and pack them away. The colder months have their own charms, I know. But I am not a fan of the bulky wool and mulitple layers that they require. No, I like hot sun and lite cotton. I like long days full of activities, sunblock in my hair and cool pubs.  The warm weather may last well into September, but the summer has only two short weeks left.

the pleasantest thing

I was working-tap,tapping away at my computer, windows open, dinner cooking, wine poured. Typically a quiet time of day, the normal sounds of summer had suddenly risen to a boisterous pitch. Across the street, over a stone wall, and up a grassy hill, four children were swinging in their backyard. From where I was sitting in the dining room I could see them, and oh were they swinging.  Obviously deep in the throes of competition, they were going as high as they could, yelling to one another gleefully. The instant that I looked up and saw them I was awash with the remembrance of that soaring, thrilling feeling on my yellow swing at Alconleigh.

Over, above and almost around-It was a homemade swing, my father built it from sturdy materials of longevity. Thick chains, hanging from a large piece of timber that was secured to the trees with massive bolts. The seat was a large chunk of wood sanded smooth and painted yellow with real oil based paint that wouldn’t peel, chip, or weather.

The pine trees it hung from soared up forever into the sky, trees that had been standing there for a century before they became the sentinels to my yellow swing. Something about the height of those trees made the swinging seem small, that no matter how high you could get you still were only frolicking around at their bases.


That feeling of freedom encouraged my mind to wander and though I paid not the slightest bit of attention to my safety, instinctively I held tight, managing to  stay with the swing even when the seat came out from under me at the highest peak when, upside down with feet pointed toward the sky, the chains would slacken and the swing start to fall back on itself. This only added to the thrill.

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the only picture I could find. not very clear but you can see little Bebe flying low,  the barns of Alconleigh in the background and the corner of the dollhouse to the right

Occasionally we would jump off rather than come to a stop, arms and legs flailing to get the most  of the brief moment between swing and ground. I only see unsupervised children do that now.

And the space trolly was the cats pajamas.

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My Uncle gives my cousin a ride. That little squidget now lives in Manhattan, teaches fourth grade in the Bronx and has a little squidgett of her own. My younger brother, on the right, now has two little squidgetts and has taken to wearing shirts

Despite the picture, this was for older kids only as it was frought with dangers from which little tots could not protect themselves. We were warned: keep hands away from the cables or fingers could get cut off, dont bounce or the cables could rip out of the tree and slice our heads off..the  warnings were dire. It was not for the faint of heart. Should you twist around the wrong way you would go crashing through the rhodedendron or careening into the rough bark of a sturdy pine. But all these dangers only enhanced the feeling of freedom as you flew 100 feet across the yard. No helmets, no knee or elbow pads just scrapes and bruises and exhilaration.

How do you like to go up in a swing,
   Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
   Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
   Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
   Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green,
   Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
   Up in the air and down!
The Swing, Robert Louis Stevenson

Secrets or Stories?

Im back!

Now that the Spring Visiting Season has drawn to a close I am able to return to my scribbles. Its been a joyful, weary time that begins around Memorial Day and ends now.  We’ve had proms, parties, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and umpteen birthdays. Now that we have all been feted we can settle into a summer routine.

There has been some of this:

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A lot of this:

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A touch of this:

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A bit too much of this:

photo 3

photo 1

and some of this:

photo 1

photo 3

The flurry of birthdays is, of course, nothing new to me. But this year, when my youngest donned a pair of wedges for one of our outings, she was as tall as her mother. This seemed to me to be a mark of time more definite than any other.

So I thought this would be a great time to share my birth story.

Just typing that made me laugh. But when I was first exploring the blog world and was naturally, curious about the ‘mommy blogs’ (to use their cloying soubriquet) I stumbled upon a perfectly innocuous post where the author included a link to what she called her “birth story’. Assuming it to be a unique and interesting tale, I clicked.  Did she give birth in a canoe? Whilst backpacking through the Andes? It turned out to be the story of a perfectly normal delivery – over several posts-that had nothing whatsoever to set it apart from the millions of others that probably happened on the same day. It had no inherent comedic, literary or informational value so why take the world in to a very personal, intimate and precious part of you private world? At first I thought the author had a touch of the loquor ergo sum but then I came upon more and more of the same. It became apparent to me that the ‘birth story’ was a widely accepted subset of the parenting blogs.

Why isn’t the traditional birth notice sufficient?

this is more like it

Human beings are social creatures, this we know. It comforts us to have the validation of others. Perhaps with the onslaught of social media we are having a bit of a difficult time drawing up boundaries between sharing and bare-ing Perhaps discretion will re-assert itself as we all become more accustomed to cameras in bedrooms and twitter at the table.

But not for love or money would I want to give up any of my private life. I care very much for my readers and blog colleagues but there are several rooms in which I would not seek your company, one being the delivery room. Hell, I didn’t even want to be there.

When we strip away our intimacy, what is intimacy worth?

Our natural inclination to gather knowledge has run amok and we are helpless to stop the influx of information. But once we know everything where is the interest? Its the not knowing that keeps our imagination engaged, its the mystery. Allow the imagination to run free, give it it’s head.  Open her up and see what she can do.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know or understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there will ever be to know and understand (Albert E.)

If we leave nothing to the imagination, our imagination will have nothing to do







I heard the sound of TAPS one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times
That TAPS had meant “Amen,”
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend.
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom isn’t free.

       -Kelly Strong

Chronica Domus: don’t look! Jane and Lance: avert your eyes!

….and any of the rest of my lovely readers who may like to dabble and hoe, please turn away now! For after you are witness to the destruction that I have wrought our friendship may be something of a trial for you

photo 4
My big, beautiful, hydrangeas
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….are hydrangeas no more. Why?!

Please understand that I have the best of intentions. I feed, I weed, I water. I bask in the glow of compliments and I disperse blooms to all and sundry.

IMG_1578My hydrangeas are the beautiful backdrop to our summers, both indoors and out, big blue hydrangeas grace tabletops and bookshelves.



I even have special containers in which to display them.

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Sugar Wimsey searches in vain
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…and inquires into their absence

We had landscapers at Alconleigh so I grew up without ever having done a drop of gardening and I had to learn it all when we bought our house (that’s what happens when you marry for love, folks). Together we tamed the yard with our own bare hands and continue to learn by trial and error.

My hydrangeas were my success story. Something blue and bonny to reward all my efforts. But when the tell-tale buds failed to appear this Spring I sensed something might be wrong. I spoke to my trusted local expert at the gardening center and she gave me the bad news: Winter Death.

Winter Death, N.C.Wyeth
Winter Death, N.C.Wyeth

Actually I made that up. I cant remember what she called it but that is what I heard because I was being told the stems were dead and it had something to do with the winter.

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Winter Death

In other words, no hydrangeas. I was instructed to cut back the stems until I hit green

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When I cut back the branches I found a lost ball. To give you an idea of how long I have had big, leafy hydrangeas, my offspring haven’t played softball in about eight years

The prognosis, although hard to swallow at first, was not as bad as it could have been. There are leaves at the very bottom of each, so they are still alive and perhaps still have a chance

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Hope springs eternal

apparently she is

Is she or isn’t she?


In 1998 an art dealer in Paris was flipping through the Christies catalogue when he came upon this young lady:

“Head of a Young Girl in Profile to the Left in Renaissance Dress. German. Early 19th century. Pen, ink and chalk on vellum, mounted on oak board”

The venerable auction house had it listed as an 19th cent work from Germany but the art dealer had a different idea. Off he dashed to NYC to buy this little mystery but unfortunately he was outbid. The story could have ended there, but in an interesting twist of fate, this same art dealer was wandering through an UES art gallery ten years later when he bumped into her again. This time he bought her on the spot and with his pockets $22,000 lighter he flew back to Paris to get to know his young lady.

Friends and colleagues in the world of fine art agreed: “It looks Italian”….”Renaissance probably”…”the work of a master”. What artist capable of such great talent was working in Italy during the Renaissance?..Who could it be?……..


A wild idea was taking form. The art dealer placed a call to Martin Kemp, an art historian at Oxford University and an authority on Leonardo daVinci. “Hey Martin, can you take a look at this little picture I found and tell me what you think?” In England, Prof. Kemp is intrigued by  the similarity to Leonardos work and agrees to investigate further.


Confirmation of the date seemed to be in order. If the work was indeed created in the nineteenth century then the research need go no further. Time to turn to science for some answers. In Paris, our friend takes the drawing to art specialist Giammarco Cappuzzo for some handy carbon 14 dating. When the tests show that the vellum dates, not from the 19th cent as Christies thought, but from the late fifteenth and early 16th centuries, the investigation kicked into high gear. Infrared imaging was now called for, and a friend of Cappuzzo had, in a lab across town, an amazing camera that is able to take pictures of such clarity that every detail is revealed. Cappuzzo pops the young lady in the back of his scooter and takes off across Paris, weaving through traffic with what could very possibly be the find of the century secured in his little moped.


The multi-spectral imaging allowed a peek between the layers of ink and chalk and showed some very interesting things.  There were corrections made to the drawing before it was finished, very similar to the way Leonardo worked. With the high resolution images they were able to examine the drawing in minute detail and saw a fingerprint left by the artist,  left handed sloping of the penmarks, and exquisite draftsmanship.  All hallmarks of da Vinci. And all present on this drawing.


Perhaps most importantly, they found three little holes on the left side, evenly spaced as if bound in a book. An intriguing clue..


In the meantime word has been traveling around the art community. An expert on Italian renaissance costume had a very interesting little piece of information: The young lady in the drawing is wearing her hair in a coazzone: a style made popular in Milan in the late 15th cent by the ladies of the ruling Sforza family.


Ludivico Sforza was the duke of Milan from 1498-1500 and the patron of Leonardo da Vinci.  In fact, Ludovico commissioned The Last Supper.

It is all falling together…

Ludovico Sforza, duke of Milan 1489-1500

A Professor of art history in Florida sends an email to Professor Kemp “You know, Martin, you should pop on over to Warsaw and take a look at this old book they have that used to belong to the Sforzas”


The parade of experts goes off to Poland where they find the Sforziada, an illuminated manuscript commemorating the marriage of little Bianca Sforza, illegitimate daughter of Ludovico, to Galeazzo Sanseverino one of Ludovicos generals. Bianca would have been the right age for the girl in the drawing and, lo and behold,..

Prof Kemp holds a copy of Le Bella Principessa while studying the Sforziada in Warsaw

…..the drawing fit perfectly. The holes aligned with the binding, and the book even had a page missing, right where the portrait would have been placed. Suspicions were confirmed and hopes realized.  The world is now one Leonardo richer.

My understanding is C14dating + Sforza hairstyle + left-handed hatching(shading)+missing page from the Sforziada =

a long lost Leonardo!

It’s certainly possible,and I love a story with a happy ending, but all my years as an art historian (0) combined with all my years as a teensy bit of a cynic (many) leave me feeling that this would be a perfect forgery. For one thing, it has hardly any provenance. That puts up a big red flag for me. A work by Leonardo unknown for almost 500 years until it suddenly pops up in the possession of a little old lady in Switzerland? A little old lady who is now suing Christies for the misattribution, which would add verisimilitude to the story.

I hope it is a Leonardo.  The world needs another Leonardo more than it needs another cynic, so I am joining Team Kemp.