“Look around you and paint what you see. Forget the Beaux-Arts and the models and render the intense life which surrounds you and be assured that the Brooklyn Bridge is worth the Colosseum of Rome and that modern America is as fine as the bric-a-brac of antiquity.”











6453_o_childe_hassam green gown









Fitz Hugh Lane: Crippled Artist

A man who happened across no romance . . . but for his art. Cape Ann Museum

A man who happened across no romance . . . but for his art.
Cape Ann Museum

It was said of Fitz Hugh Lane that he had no romantic attachments. One might wonder when viewing  his paintings if men and women were unimportant details, little nothings compared to the sea. His neighbors spoke not of a misanthropic man but of a generous, happy soul.

As a child it is believed he’d been poisoned by an Apple-of-Peru plant and forever more suffered paralysis in his legs. He lived by the sea where legless ships glided over nearly still waters with only the slightest breezes puffing sails. At least this was how he often painted the sea. How does a boy with no sails, no useful legs find his harbor? Find his movement? Paint brushes transport and canvas carries the artist home.


Maybe his stillness led to the luminous oceans of his work. Maybe being forced to sit still brought to mind the rushed, oh-so-self-important moments of others and how easily the sea of life took them all away, daily, yearly. Maybe a boy with useless legs understood the transporting power of being still.

Or maybe he just liked boats.


Pretty pictures:


Serene Art Historians Speaking:


Money Maker:



The Woman Responsible for Exposing Impressionism to the American Art World: Lilla Cabot Perry

Coming from the Cabot family of Boston had its perks for young Lilla–how would you like to hang out with Emerson and the Alcotts? But Lilla was pretty perky on her own–and talented. I don’t know how people find the energy to push art movements along, but she did. I’m  sure now that I’m sending off one of my characters to an artists’ colony and I’m happy to be meeting a bunch of fascinating women along the way. Another visual feast: (or why women are beautiful)



“From her organization of the first American exhibition of Impressionist landscapes by John Breck to her visions of late nineteenth and early twentieth century femininity, Lilla Cabot Perry’s legacy is dynamic. During her lifetime she lived in three continents and was exposed to dozens of artists and stylistic modes. Her blending of eastern and western aesthetics and her sensitive visions of the feminine and natural worlds offered significant stylistic contributions to both the American and French Impressionist schools.


No matter what Perry was exposed to, she always returned to her home and family for inspiration – not because that was all that was available to her, but because it was the part of her life that mattered to her most. Her translation of such dynamic styles into her intimate, everyday world created an oeuvre of art that provides intensely personal reflections on this Boston native’s life.



Her vocal advocacy for the Impressionist movement helped to make it possible for other American Impressionists like Mary Cassatt to gain the exposure and acceptance they needed in the states. She furthered the American careers of her close friends Claude Monet and John Breck by lecturing stateside on their talents and showcasing their works. She also worked closely with Camille Pissarro to assist him in his dire financial situation by selling his work to friends and family in America.



Throughout her life, Perry demonstrated again and again that she was dedicated and devoted not only to her own artistic evolution and career, but also to the careers of those around her. Thanks to her efforts, the Guild of Boston Artists was founded, Impressionism took hold as a respected artistic style in the United States, and a new generation of women artists were able to stake their claim in the art world thanks to the path that Lilla Cabot Perry blazed for them.

More than an artist, Perry was an advocate for the things that mattered to her most.” Wikipedia

Spinster Turned Patroness of the Arts: Florence Griswold


Eligible Spinster

Eligible Spinster

Florence did what women fallen on hard times once did with big family houses and nothing but the memories of dead relatives for riches. She mourned the loss of her 16 year old brother, her father, her sister and mother and opened her house to boarders who happened to be artists.

I think artists like to be mothered. They never fully grow up and demand summer vacation like the rest of the children. I know this because I’ve recklessly thrown away any serious job I’ve ever had a chance at in favor of art and childhood. Even as a teacher staying in the lines never happened and syllabuses were thrown to the wind just long enough to inspire a few Peter Pans before moving on.

Florence seems to have been one of those forgotten women who saw their nurturing, quiet nature as a positive–the artists who flocked to her house for thirty years obviously appreciated her as well. She was still of a time when self sacrifice and creating cozy interior spaces for others was held as a woman’s right and calling. Understandably not every woman wanted to be Florence, but it seems every artist who met her wanted to repay her for her nurturing.

Quiet Beauty

Quiet Beauty

When in later life she grew frail and might lose the house artists of fame and renown banded together to not only save the house for her but restore it to its original beauty. A quiet life, acts of simple love and the inspiration for some of America’s great artists. Oh, what our little deeds mean to others–we may never know.


Art and Death

promised childThe nature of art’s ability to heal as told by the artist:

“In the course of my peregrinations, I saw a man walking up and down before an adobe shanty, apparently much distressed; I approached him, and inquired the cause of his dejection; he told me that his only daughter, aged six years *, had died suddenly in the night; he pointed to the door and I entered the dwelling.

Laid out upon a straw mattress, scrupulously clean, was one of the most angelic children I ever saw. On its face was a placid smile, and it looked more like the gently repose of healthful sleep than the everlasting slumber of death.

Beautiful curls clustered around a brow of snowy whiteness. . . . I entered very softly, and did not disturb the afflicted mother, who reclined on the bed, her face buried in the pillow, sobbing as if her heart would break.

Without a second’s reflection I commenced making a sketch of the inanimate being before me, and in the course of half-an-hour I had produced an excellent likeness.

A slight movement in the room caused the mother to look around her. She perceived me, and I apologized for my intrusion; and telling her that I was one of the Governor’s party. . . . I tore the leaf out of my book and presented it to her, and it is impossible to describe the delight and joy she expressed at its possession. She said I was an angel sent from heaven to comfort her.

She had no likeness of her child. I bid her place her trust in Him “who giveth and taketh away,” and left her indulging in the excitement of joy and sorrow. I went out unperceived by the bereaved father, contemplating the strange combination of events, which gave this poor woman a single ray of peace for her sorrowing heart.

When I was about starting the next day, I discovered in the wagon a basket filled with eggs, butter, and several loaves of bread, and a note to my address containing these words “From a grateful heart.” Solomon Nunes Carvalho 

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Adventurous young man

Adventurous young man

Solomon Nunes Carvalho was the first photographer taken on government explorations of the West. He’d never taken outdoor pictures, saddled a horse or built a campfire, but when Captain John C. Fremont asked him along on his next trip, Carvalho jumped at the chance–yet another adventurous young American. The small party of 22 men–a leader, a photographer, a topographer, 7 assistants, 10 Delaware Indians and 2 Mexicans set out with high hopes only to end up in the treacherous Rockies in winter. If they hadn’t stumbled into the remote Mormon village of Parowan they would have died.

Solomon Nunes Carvalho was born in 1815 in Charleston, South Carolina, into a Jewish family of Spanish-Portuguese descent. Carvalho worked as both a portrait and landscape painter and a photographer.  The daguerreotypes that Carvalho took on this expedition no longer exist.

Amazing Artist’s Studio–Rent Free!


Artist capturing war being documented.

The Civil War’s being fought stage right, but the lens is on the artist and how perfectly the life of an artist is captured here. Note the look of intense sympathy, horrified interest and serious intent. Maybe he posed for the camera and sketching battles was just this man’s boring day job, but today I won’t be cynical. I believe his eyes. He’s there to document humanity. I hope he gets closer. I hope that when Matthew Brady, the photographer of the Civil War brings his cameras right next to a dead young man with bloated belly and shirt pulled from his trousers alerting the viewer to the fact that the boy had just enough time to see where he’d been shot, that this artist, got past the smells and the maggots and saw the boy.

I hope as a writer that I get past the big picture, the seemingly endless gallery of black and white documents that tell us how we’re supposed to feel about the rich, the Egyptians, the poor and the gay. I hope that when a gay character walks in to book two I’m able to get at the depth and struggles and humor of him without the world’s photos obscuring the man. I hope Thankful Crenshaw doesn’t put in a cardboard performance after reading feminist magazines of the day.

I’m going to hang this photograph up to remind me of how lucky I am to be part of a long tradition of writers and artists–most of whom are now forgotten, who were given a deep and abiding love, a true gift in itself, for this world and the flawed people who break out of black and white and bleed into grey.

Life is dark and bleak and lovely and rich, and I imagine that this gaunt looking artist with fantastic boots captured it all.