Art for the Blind: Listening to Paintings

A Ride for Liberty – The Fugitive Slaves Artist: Eastman Johnson Year: 1862

A Ride for Liberty – The Fugitive Slaves
Artist: Eastman Johnson
Year: 1862


Eastman Johnson bonus paintings:

Negro Life in the South

Negro Life in the South

Eastman Johnson Tutt'Art@ (13)

Good Night


Good Night

Then the bright lamp is carried in,
The sunless hours again begin;
O’er all without, in field and lane,
The haunted night returns again.

Now we behold the embers flee
About the firelit hearth; and see
Our faces painted as we pass,
Like pictures, on the window glass.

Must we to bed indeed? Well then,
Let us arise and go like men,
And face with an undaunted tread
The long black passage up to bed.

Farewell, O brother, sister, sire!
O pleasant party round the fire!
The songs you sing, the tales you tell,
Till far to-morrow, fare you well!

Robert Louis Stevenson

Do We Really Like Homemade Gifts At Christmas?

She looks talented, but I don't know . . .

She looks talented, but I don’t know . . .

There’s always someone at Christmas who says the real spirit of the holidays is lost on shopping and killing each other in stampedes at the malls. I think if people continue to line up on Black Friday year after year, they must get some kick out of the near-death experience and warfare. I go to sleep each night fending off the fear of being buried alive during a dystopian apocalypse so I stay away from malls after Thanksgiving.

My childhood friend used to get a bottle of cheap shampoo every year from her awful grandmother, but I’m not sure a handmade gift would have been any better. While the grandmother was closely related to John Singer Sargent, you could tell by her hair and make-up that she’d have no talent.

Someone always says, “Let’s keep things simple this year. How about only homemade gifts?” Maybe during the Civil War that was a good idea. People whittled back then. I still have my grandmother’s whittled figurines and tiny sword (she was post-Civil War, but still whittled and knit). I wonder why she whittled a tiny sword?

Anyway, the point is I wouldn’t want a homemade gift from my brother. While I’m not impressed with a New York Jets ski mask, I can’t imagine anything good that could come of him crafting something for me.

I bet these women knew how to knit a good turtleneck.

I bet these women knew how to knit a good turtleneck.

When I was super broke I did the homemade thing because I was fairly good at sewing and painting, but I still got the sense that people were like, “I spent good money on her and she makes me this weird tree ornament with a creepy painted face on it?” I was going for weird and primitive. I thought my weight-lifting, UFO obsessed brother would like that!

Lest we beat ourselves up too much about what Christmas has become, we should remember that in Europe partying hard at Christmas was the tradition for centuries. We only gave all that up as Puritans. Finally as the Civil War progressed we decided we needed a good lift out of the misery of death, doom and destruction. Yes, the gifts were mere tokens compared to the electronic extravaganzas and blood diamonds of today, but people back then were no saints and probably some of their homemade gifts were less than stellar.

Do you really like homemade gifts?

Husband asks, “How was your day?”

In my imagination it's summer in William Merritt Chase's Prospect Park

In my imagination it’s summer in William Merritt Chase’s Prospect Park

Before you get all jealous because you didn’t get to spend your day living in a dead painter’s New York, let me explain that this wonderful vacation will probably come to an end soon. After raising five kids in a blended family situation, my husband and I are considering adoption. Yeah, we miss the emotional chaos.

But for now as I come close to finishing the rough draft of the fifth novel in The Tenafly Road series, I get to linger in Prospect Park.

Chase explored everyday life in urban landscapes.

Chase explored everyday life in urban landscapes.

After my husband, who is an itinerant engineer for his company as he learns the tools, happily talked about one of the nice guys he works with in Albany, he asked, “And how was your day?”

I was really happy that he’d had a good day because I didn’t want him to be too jealous of my day inside the paintings. “I had a GREAT day!” I burst out.

“So what happened to Buck today?” he asked. (Buck is my lead character)

I leaned in. “Okay, so, you know how I was wondering how Buck would be in Brooklyn at the same time as his sister Thankful when something bad would happen?” My husband doesn’t want details since he’s gotten really into the series and doesn’t want any spoilers)


“Well, I was thinking about Fred coming back to town.”

“Oh, no,” my husband said with a smile. “You really do love chaos.”

“I love Fred! Well, I hate him, but I LOVE writing about him. And he comes to town to buy art and Buck knows a dealer in Brooklyn. So they have lunch at Delmonico’s. Fred is disgusting and rude. I had so much fun with them at the restaurant. Buck was disgusted.  And then they went to Prospect Park–in Brooklyn.”


“You know how I was gonna make Buck buy Tiffany stained glass and the factory was in Brooklyn?” 

“No,” my husband replied. “I don’t think you told me that.”

“Yes, well, I spent the day in William Merritt Chase’s paintings and it changed everything. I mean having Fred return is such a blessing. The BEST is that on the trip he tells Buck that’s he’s bought the plot of land in Englewood across the street from Buck’s!”

My husband laughs. “They’re going to have a building war, aren’t they?”


So there you go. My husband builds things in the real world that I hardly understand and I build worlds in paintings.


Ding Dong: Door Bell History

When my mother's family pressed this my father told us to hide.

When my mother’s family pressed this my father told us to hide.

Do you always answer the door bell?

When my kids were young they took piano lessons at home. Their teacher was always late and never used the door bell. He’d just bound up the stairs, throw open our door and yell, “Honey, I’m home!” My husband wasn’t too fond of him.

Joseph Henry is largely forgotten in US history, but he not only was the first head of the Smithsonian Institution he also invented the precursor to the electric door bell. As with many great men of past times he grew up poor, but not mentally impoverished. His father died at a young age and so young Joe spent his childhood years with his dear old grandmother just outside of Albany, New York working in a general store.

He thought of becoming an actor in the theater but did so well at his studies at the Albany Academy (on scholarship) that even his teachers asked for help. Joe was “patient, kindly, self-controlled, and gently humorous.”

And who doesn’t love a man responsible for that excited feeling you get when your date rings the door bell? Or the dread you experience when the great warning note announces the arrival of your weird cousins and their unicycle-clad mobile home come for an unexpected visit?

Door bell history

Pretty twist bells


Setting the Fatherhood Bar High

What a Real Man Looks Like

What a Real Man Looks Like

“I was fortunate enough in having a father whom I have always been able to regard as an ideal man. It sounds a little like cant to say what I am going to say, but he really did combine the strength and courage and will and energy of the strongest man with the tenderness, cleanness and purity of a woman. I was a sickly and timid boy. He not only took great and untiring care of me—some of my earliest remembrances are of nights when he would walk up and down with me for an hour at a time in his arms when I was a wretched mite suffering acutely with asthma— but he also most wisely refused to coddle me, and made me feel that I must force myself to hold my own with other boys and prepare to do the rough work of the world. I cannot say that he ever put it into words, but he certainly gave me the feeling that I was always to be both decent and manly, and that if I were manly nobody would laugh at my being decent. In all my childhood he never laid hand on me but once, but I always knew perfectly well that in case it became necessary he would not have the slightest hesitancy in doing so again, and alike from my love and respect, and in a certain sense, my fear of him, I would have hated and dreaded beyond measure to have him know that I had been guilty of a lie, or of cruelty, or of bullying, or of uncleanness or of cowardice. Gradually I grew to have the feeling on my own account, and not merely on his.” Theodore Roosevelt and His Time Shown in His Own Letters Joseph Bucklin Bishop

TR’s father helped found: Orthopaedic Dispensary ( Orthopaedic Department of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center), the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Children’s Aid Society.  He contributed large sums to the Newsboys’ Lodging-house and the YMCA.

“My father, Theodore Roosevelt [Senior], was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness. As we grew older he made us understand that the same standard of clean living was demanded for the boys as for the girls; that what was wrong in a woman could not be right in a man. With great love and patience, and the most understanding sympathy and consideration, he combined insistence on discipline. He never physically punished me but once, but he was the only man of whom I was ever really afraid. I do not mean that it was a wrong fear, for he was entirely just, and we children adored him.” The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt

What was your father like?