Sunday, December 14, 2014

Master Institute

I'm still working on my Wikipedia article on Werner Drewes and, as before, I've turned up interesting stuff that I can't include. In 1940 he taught abstract art at a place called the Master Institute of United Arts. That job was not his only source of income that year as he also taught painting and design at Columbia University and somehow he managed to hold two other positions as well. One was managing a federal arts project in New York and the other making maps for the Fairchild Aerial Survey Company. He placed works in ten exhibitions in 1940 and '41 which presumably means he somehow managed to allocate at least a few of his waking hours to painting and printmaking.

This piece isn't on Drewes's efforts to bring home the bacon, however, but on the Master Institute and its owners. The place had been given birth in 1921 as an art school comprising a single unpainted room in a dingy building on West 54th Street. It was founded by Nicholas and Helena Roerich. He was a native of St. Petersburg whose father's generosity enabled him to indulge a passion for the high culture of late 19th-century Russia. A prolific painter, amateur archaeologist, and humanitarian, he loved travel and had a special passion for journeys within Central Asia. While completing his university thesis he met and fell in love with Helena. The daughter of a prominent architect (Shaposhnikov) and the niece of the composer Mussorgsky, she was every bit as culturally attuned as he. In time, they both became enthralled with the religious beliefs of the Indian subcontinent. Sometime during the years 1915-1917 the couple experienced a spiritual revelation. They encountered a mystic being whom they came to know as the Great Teacher and were able to communicate with this ethereal entity via clairvoyance. From it they learned a way of life they called Living Ethics and a practice they called Agni Yoga. Although their incorporeal guru changed its identity from time to time, it frequently spoke to them in the form of Mahatma Morya, the same spirit invoked by the Theosophist H.P. Blavatsky. Like Blavatsky the Roeriches sought to use their extra-terrestrial link to induce a spiritual awakening among humankind and thereby establish a universal brotherhood of all beings. Uniquely, they believed this awakening could best be effected through the spread of cultural attainment. To them, the study of visual and performing arts was the medium by which salvation could be brought to an inharmonious and unpacific world.

On coming to New York in 1920, Nicholas and Helena, now practically broke, began to teach their living ethics by setting up a "Master School of United Arts" in which the "Master" was their spiritual guide and the instruction was universal: painting, music, singing, dance, theater, ceramics, and mechanical drawing. Their goal could not realistically be achieved in the space they rented and, while the school attracted interest, it was not a financial success. At this time the Roeriches came in contact with a wealthy couple, Nettie and Louis Horch. In conversations over many months they told the Horches about the Great Work, their grand experiment to open the gates to spiritual enlightenment and unify mankind by means of the arts. They also sought to convince the Horches that the enterprise needed and deserved the contributions of financial angels to effect it. The Horches became believers. Over the course of the coming decade Louis Horch would disperse over a million dollars to the cause. In working to accomplish their great aims the Horches, Roeriches, and a small cohort of co-workers met regularly to receive enlightenment from the Master. They formulated questions about the spiritual quest they shared and about the running of the school for which they were responsible. Helena communicated with the great teacher and Nicholas wrote the answers she received on big rolls of sketching paper. Eventually, as the scroll lengthened, the Roeriches made a book of the contents called Leaves of Morya's Garden. Many of these statements take the form of commands, as here:
You, My disciples, behold!
Dream of the future and you will see the regeneration of the world.
Forget not compassion in your striving.
Understand Me.
Remember, Art is the one vital medium of the coming culture.
Through Beauty will you approach.
Understand and remember.
I have entrusted you to pronounce Beauty.
I bid you pronounce Beauty.
(From no. 332, Leaves of Morya's Garden)
The extent of the Horches devotion is shown in the many letters they wrote to the Roeriches during the latter's extensive travels in Central Asia, some of which Louis funded. In one letter, dated October 26, 1923, Nettie wrote of the "great miracle" of the Roeriches' teaching and the "great spiritual conquest" they had undertaken. She said, "Dearest Mother, if you only knew what happiness you brought into my life! Each action or thought of helpfulness or love has been inspired by your example. I find myself a living counterpart of you for all my thoughts and deeds are but the sprouts of the seeds you have planted in my soul. I feel your living presence in my heart, and I strive to nourish it to growth and creation. I find so much of yourself within me, that I sometimes feel like your reflection even tho’ it may be a very pale one. I shall preserve the very best of myself, as my offering to my most treasured mother. The care and love granted us by our great Teacher moves me beyond words." Years later, on February 14, 1930, Louis wrote Helena a kind of love letter fitting to the day. He thanked her for her "divine" letters in which she had told him "that above all daily tasks must always stand continuously the Image of Our Great Teacher and His Cosmic Teachings." He said he and Nettie owed the Roeriches everything: "You and Prof. Roerich have opened the Gates to us—you have shown us the higher path and have brought us to the Great Teacher. To thank you in mere words is impossible. Be assured Dear Mother that I will do my utmost to carry out your commands. Every one of your advices and suggestions came true. I will do everything in my power to bring greater unity into the circle."

As the source of its funding Louis took over the practical affairs of organizing the school. He had it incorporated as a non-profit enterprise under the name "Master Institute of United Arts" and bought a building in which to house both it and a set of rent-free apartments where teachers and visiting impecunious esoterics could reside. He also set up a gallery, the Roerich Museum, for the display of Nicholas's art and the objects he was collecting on his travels. The corporation papers for the Master Institute give its purpose as the unification of mankind through art, where art was seen as the "one solace, the one bridge of understanding between all humanity." In 1929 the Horches replaced this relatively small building with a 29-story Art Nouveau skyscraper on Riverside Drive. The first three floors contained the Institute and Museum, a theater, and studios, while the upper ones were all apartments, some occupied free of rent but most intended to be income-producing. Not long after construction was completed, the crash of the stock market and subsequent depression caused the operation to collapse. The bank holding the mortgage foreclosed and the corporation went into receivership. Shortly thereafter the Horches and Roeriches fell out. When the corporation emerged from bankruptcy with Louis in control, the Roeriches sued alleging that they had been unjustly deprived of their share. The suit failed when the court ruled that Nicholas had ceded full ownership rights to Louis as the enterprise's sole investor. The legal battle left scars. Louis accused the Roeriches of gross hypocrisy and he and Nettie severed relations with them. Louis wrote, "under the guise of spirituality" he and Nettie had "witnessed the service to egotism and self-glorification" in the Roeriches. Stating that "your ways of action are not my ways," he declared the breach between them to be irreconcilable.

Emerging from bankruptcy in 1937, the Horches thus exercised full control over the Master Institute, the Museum, and the building in which they were located. They resumed running the Institute as a nonprofit venture. Revenues, most from renting the apartments, were sufficient to permit them to charge no admission to the Museum—now called the Riverside Museum and dedicated to showing contemporary art—or to take commissions on sale of works displayed. The two institutions and the building that contained them continued thereafter with little change until 1971 when the Horches retired and moved to Florida. That building at 103rd Street and Riverside Drive is now cooperative apartments. It has a web site with a section devoted to the history of the structure but it's not evident the owners (having paid a good $2 million for the apartments they occupy) are aware that the building they know as Master Apartments takes its name from a mystic being known as the Great Teacher with whom Nicholas and Helena Roerich maintained communication through the 1920s and '30s.

Louis Horch and Nicholas Roerich continued to be linked to one another despite their dramatic split. During World War II Louis handled foreign-exchange transactions for the Department of Agriculture while it was headed by Henry Wallace. Wallace, who was later to become Vice President, had become infatuated with the occult practices Roerich promoted, had passionately supported the cause during the financial turmoil of the Depression years, and had given government funding for some of the projects Roerich put forward involving travel in Central Asia. During one of these trips it appeared that Roerich had been making plans to set himself up as the president of a new Central Asian republic and to use force if necessary to achieve this end. There's no certainty that there was any truth in this allegation but, when Horch brought it to Wallace's attention, his support for Roerich began to erode and, not long after, government funding for Roerich's work was withdrawn.

The Roeriches stayed abroad the rest of their lives. He died in India in 1947. She died in Tibet in 1955. Louis Horch resigned from government service in 1947, continued management of the Master Institute, and, after its closing, devoted himself to the Bloomingdale Conservation Project, a program to rehabilitate the Upper West Side neighborhood where the Master Institute was located. He died in Florida in 1979. Nettie Horch co-managed the Institute with her husband. In 1933 a glowing profile in the Women's Section of the New York Evening Post described the busy life of a woman devoted to cultural advancement. She was particularly interested in advancing the careers of women artists.


This photo shows most of the principals involved in running the Master Institute. From left to right: Esther Lichtmann, Sinaida Lichtmann, Nicholas Roerich, Nettie Horch, Frances Grant; standing: Louis Horch, Sofie Shafran, Svetoslav Roerich, Maurice Lichtmann, Tatiana Grebenshchikova, Georgy Grebenshchikov; taken December 7, 1924, at the Master Institute. Maurice and Sina Lichtmann were a Russian couple who ran a small music school, the Lichtmann Piano Studio, in New York. After they became disciples of the Roeriches the studio's students transfered to the newly formed Master School of Art. Esther was Maurice's sister. Sophie Shafran was Sina's mother. Frances Grant was a friend of Nettie's from school days. It was she who introduced the Horches to the Roeriches. Svetoslav was the Roerich's son. Tatiana and Georgy were Russian immigrants and Roerich disciples. (Source: N.K. Roerich and America,


This photo shows Helena Roerich, taken by a professional photographer in St. Petersburg in 1900. (Source: Wikipedia)


The photo above shows the Master Institute building at left, now a co-op called Master Apartments. Beside it is a photo of the promenade at Riverside Park on the riverfront. The third image is an aerial view of the Upper West side showing the building at center (just below the center of the George Washington Bridge). At right you see a cornerstone with a Roerich Museum logo and the year the building was constructed. The three dots in the logo are said to symbolize past, present and future united by the circle of eternity and also religion, knowledge and art in the circle of culture. (Source: Master Apartments web site.)

From 1939 onward, the Riverside Museum hosted annual shows of a group called American Abstract Artists. Drewes, who was one of the 39 founding members of the group, contributed paintings and prints to its exhibitions from the first up to the early 1950s. This image shows an untitled painting of his from the catalog of that first exhibition.


Note on sources:

There are many internet resources on Nicholas and Helena Roerich themselves, their cultural and spiritual ideals, and the story of their association with the Horches.
  • The Nicholas Roerich Museum (no longer associated with the Master Institute) includes biographic information and transcriptions of writings.
  • A Agni Yoga "top site," includes a book, The Roerich Family, by Ekaterina V. Koneva, translated by Nicholas P. Banykin.
  • Especially helpful is a page on Frances Grant, a mutual friend of Nettie Horch and Helena Roerich: Inventory to the Papers of Frances R. Grant by Fernanda Perrone, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries , April 2000.
  • "Directs Culture; Heading 64 Societies of 'Art and Culture,' Wife of Museum President is Busy and Happy" by Martha Dreiblatt, New York Evening Post, June 19, 1933.
  • This is the web site of the cooperative: Master Apartments.
  • The New York Times gave obituaries to both Louis and Nettie Horch: (1) Louis L. Horch, 90 Founder of Museum, New York Times, Apr 16, 1979, pg. D13. (2) Nettie Horch, 94, patron of arts, New York Times News Service, Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1991, pg. 10.
  • Nicholas and Helena Roerich: The Spiritual Journey of Two Great Artists by Ruth Abrams Drayer (Quest Books, 2005).

Rights and Permissions

I invoke Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law for images that appear on this page, excepting those that are in the public domain.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Three friends of Werner Drewes

I'm currently writing a piece on Werner Drewes for Wikipedia. He did his military service in the bloody battles of the Great War's Western Front and made the horrors of that experience tolerable by means of his sketchbook, a copy of Goethe's Faust, and a volume of Nietzsche. After the war he fell in with some interesting fellows while studying to become a professional artist.

One of them was the painter Heinrich Vogeler. Vogeler had fought on the Eastern Front. He subsequently joined the German communist party and was a member of Workers' and Soldiers' Council of the Bremen Soviet Republic during the abortive revolution of 1918. In 1919 he founded a socialist utopian experiment and artists' commune in which Drewes participated for a time. During the 1920s he traveled to the USSR on two occasions and, after the rise of the Nazi party, emigrated there in 1931. Threatened with Soviet persecution for his avant-garde beliefs, he changed his style from expressionist to Socialist-Realist and managed to survive when many friends did not. As the German invasion began to threaten Moscow, Soviet authorities deported him to Kazakhstan and put him to work in one of the labor gangs constructing a hydro-electric dam. There he died, destitute and malnourished, in 1942.

Another friend was the artist William Wauer. Drewes bought his painting "Blutrausch" (bloodlust) with money he'd saved from a job at the Berlin gas works. As well as painter, Wauer was a publisher, art critic, feature editor and illustrator. He published the monthly journal "Quickborn," produced and directed plays and ran his own movie company. In 1911, he achieved fame for his staging of "Die vier Toten der Fiammetta," a pantomime by Herwarth Walden. Wauer wrote extensively about expressionist art and, between 1924 and 1933 when it was shut down by the Nazis, he headed the "International Association of Expressionists, Cubists, Futurists, and Constructivists" (later named Die Abstrakten). He was also an accomplished sculptor. Although the Nazis condemned his work as degenerate and banned him from cultural activity, he was able to remain in Germany during World War II and lived out the rest of his life there.

Herwarth Walden is third and last in this short account of Drewes's friends. Born Georg Levin, Walden took his surname from the famous book by Henry Thoreau. Best known as editor and publisher of the avant-garde magazine, Der Sturm, he was also a musician, composer, author, playwright, bookseller, and gallery owner. It was at his gallery that Drewes saw and purchased Wauer's painting. Like Vogeler, Walden joined the KPD and, in 1932, fled to Moscow to escape the Gestapo. Unlike Vogeler, he did not abandon his passion for avant-garde art and literature and in consequence was attacked as a fascistic purveyor of degenerate art. In 1941 he was arrested and soon after died in a Soviet prison.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

autumn ascends

This photo shows a bit of our back-yard dogwood in afternoon light. This tree shows its fall colors earlier than others. I like the unfocused background of this shot as much as the well-defined green, yellow, and orange shapes that are close at hand. I like, too, the shadowed and highlighted branches fronting, as they do, the abstract fence at lower right and distant greenery above.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I recently spent some time in Madison, Wisconsin, and in Chicago. I took some photos but I don't think any will end up here. During an afternoon in Chicago's Art Institute I wandered in the galleries of modern American art looking for and failing to find paintings by artists whose lives I've been researching. I wandered also in the great, bright wing of contemporary art and there found two good Mardens.

By far my favorite painting in AIC collections is the one shown above. It's Vuillard's "Foliage-Oak Tree and Fruit Seller" of 1918. It's large—over 9 feet wide and 6 high—and it rewards an observer who's willing to give it close attention. The medium is distemper on canvas. In making it Vuillard mixed powdered pigments in water and a hot-glue binder. He had to act quickly as the pigments became unworkable as they cooled. The result is pleasingly free and expressive.

This image shows us all how difficult, near impossible, it is to render a painting like Vuillard's on computer screen. It's disheartening. In general, the media—painting and digital photography—do not seem to be so very incompatible. In this case they are.

I write all this largely because the museum as not shown "Foliage" on my last two visits. It's collections are excellent and the time I spend in its galleries nourish my soul, but I'd so like to have ten minutes or so before this one painting once again.

Monday, August 25, 2014


Bright morning sun above Blue Hill Bay, August 2013

Friday, August 22, 2014


There's lots to like about the neighborhood in which I live. It's kid-friendly, walkable, easy on the eyes, and almost entirely free of violent crime. One of its attractions for me has always been its more-or-less equal mix of large and small houses. This has been changing over the past few years as the latter type disappear. Many are mansionized by expansion up and out. Others, like this one, are eliminated to make room for new dwellings that are pretty much all structure and no yard or garden.

This demolition began when the backhoe arrived and carved out the street side of the little hill on which the house sits. The debris is dumped into trucks that pull into the newly-opened space.

Friday, August 15, 2014

a blush of color

This Rose of Sharon appeared today in the back-yard jungle of our neighbor to the south. It stands out handsomely amidst a dense thicket of vines, bushy greens, and cockeyed trees.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


I'd read that this month's full moon would be bigger and brighter than most, but, imagining it in a clear sky, thought it wouldn't make an interesting photograph. Awakening around midnight with moonlight streaming in the window, I saw what you see here.

When I was about nine I had a friend who lived in a place which held many things that boys love, lots of woods, open grassy slopes, a cascading brook, and, best of all, a small farm complete with smelly chickens and lots of growing things. In a time when children were left to their own devices most of the time, I remember staying up unusually late one night enjoying the bright light of a clear-sky full moon and picking a carrot or two to eat while marveling at the shadows we cast.

Thursday, August 07, 2014


This shows a watercolor called "The Balcony." Paul Cézanne painted it in 1900 and Albert Eugene Gallatin bought it in 1924. Gallatin was a well-bred New York connoisseur, writer, and artist. This photo of Gallatin at age 24 in 1905 shows his upper-crust nature. He was wealthy, conservative, dignified, and entirely correct. How then, one wonders, did he become one of America's most dedicated proponents of radical art, a participant in the rebellion against conservatism that followed the 1913 Armory Show in New York? And why, in particular, did he champion non-representational Cubist art?

Part of the answer is that he taught himself to see differently. A somewhat overwrought and wordy Ph.D. thesis by a man named Gregory Galligan attempts to explain:

"Cézanne taught himself to see otherwise, that is, he mastered an ability to largely disregard his usual habits of stereometric perception for something far more fundamentally (in the ontological sense of the term) pictorial, or "painterly." Albert E. Gallatin understood this aesthetic implicitly when, on a routine visit to the Galleries Berneim-Jeune, Paris, in the summer of 1924, he purchased Cézanne's late watercolor, The Balcony, of 1900. In this instance, a wrought-iron window railing answers the implied arabesques of a distant view of brush and foliage—nature and culture thus taking part in a close poker of mutual bluffing.

Monday, August 04, 2014


This shows a companion who shared my youth and was at times my best friend. Since allergies made furry pets impossible in my family's household, I and my siblings lavished our love on those that inhabited our neighborhood and this gentle beast, living next door, most of all. I can still remember the way his broad head felt under my hand and the softness of his ears. The image is a scan of a 35mm slide that I took using my own Argus C3 in 1954 or thereabouts, when I was maybe 12.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

dreaming of sudden death

Not too long ago I read Siegfried Sassoon's fictionalized Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man which comes to a close in 1915 when he puts on the uniform of a second lieutenant of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. This entry from a diary he kept comes from December 2nd of that year. The book is mainly about his love of outdoor sports, particularly cricket and cross-country horse racing. December 2nd's brief statement concerning an attempt to make a horse jump a ditch is in keeping with both the youthful yest for life that permeates the book and its understated humor.

Quiet day. ... Tried to make black pony jump a ditch and failed utterly. Saw a heron, which sailed slowly away across the misty flats of ploughed land, gray, still evening, gleaming dykes, willows and poplars; a few lights here and there as we rode home, and flicker of star shells in the sky beyond Bethune—Robert Graves lent me his M.S. poems to read: some very bad, violent and repulsive. A few full of promise and real beauty. He ought'nt to publish yet. ... Moving again to-morrow. Very wet night. I dreamed of a sudden death!

The public institution that holds the diary from which this image comes has asserted copyright protection for its digital images. It insists that one must pay a fee to use them. No distinction is made between commercial reproduction and personal or educational use. It's common enough, but always discouraging when an organization dedicated to serving the public restricts the use of cultural resources (particularly ones such as Sassoon's diary entries that are more than a century old) by means such as this. In any event, I am claiming the right to show you this page under fair use provisions of US copyright law.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stefan Hirsch

I'm writing an article about this guy for Wikipedia. He was an art teacher during the 1930s, '40s, and '50s and for much of that time he was head of the art department at Bard. However, my piece is about the art he made, mainly during the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. The research has been generally interesting and the writing hasn't been too very tedious, although my prose can hardly be said to sing. One especially pleasing aspect of the work has been my quest to obtain permission to show images of stuff he produced and, like the photo shown here, of the man himself. Once I've located the people who hold rights, I've found them to be uniformly cooperative and even supportive. The most troublesome part of the whole enterprise comes from my difficulty in finding words to describe what the images show (and to make word-pictures for works I don't show). One of the guy's strengths is that he can't be pigeonholed. There isn't a straightforward collection of art jargon that covers him.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

an end

This shows some of what's left of a rose I've nurtured from a cutting over the past couple of years. It bloomed once this spring and, having served up too many breakfasts to our local rabbits, is now almost beyond hope.

While steeping tea this morning a fox trotted rapidly by on the driveway that separates our house from the neighbors on the west side, and in his mouth, seen as a furry blur, was what might have been one of our depredators. The fox was large for his kind, and handsome, with the speed of his passage making his tail stand out. I am happy he captured a meal and complexly sad both for the bunny and the rose.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

moving earth

Excavation continues in the little shopping center where I buy groceries. Last week the large digger crawled out of the pit when the bank of earth left for its escape dwindled. Now a small digger and front loader are trucking about, moving dirt to a spot where the big digger can extract it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


This little guy came by today to help us rid our car port of burrowing carpenter bees.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


This cedar tree stands beside our neighbors' house. We have a companion on our side of the shared driveway. I once heard that people planted cedars near houses of our vintage for the good luck they were supposed to bring. American Indians held them to be sacred. The morning sun lights this shot and makes it easy to see the wound the tree suffered during a winter storm a year and a half ago. Years of exposure have bleached some of its red bark to a silvery gray.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

coin tower

This shows part of Amsterdam's Amstel Canal. The tower belongs to Munttoren, Munt Tower, dating from 1620. The clouds were beautiful on the day I took the photo.

Monday, July 21, 2014


This shows the Lookout on of foggy day. It's a color photo; there just isn't much color to record. The Lookout was formerly a boarding house is now a restaurant and country inn. The place is Flye Point, near Blue Hill in the Penobscot region of Maine and it's August 2013.

Friday, July 18, 2014


We heard some beautiful music last evening in a place of beautiful paintings. I did some research recently on a man who studied art as well making it. Before starting a painting he chose tone balances, made decisions about tensions of line and area, and considered overall harmonal values based on theories of color, design, and music. You can dissect his work using these theories, but this technical vocabulary does not give you much help when you try to communicate what you find satisfying about it.

The image shows fields and bogs leading to the sea at Judique, Nova Scotia. It doesn't have a particular point of interest. It evokes happy personal emotions about the place and that makes it difficult for me to tell whether it's a good photograph as well as a reminder of a good vacation. Is it pleasing in general, or simply a memento of a specific place at a specific time?

I can think of some good adjectives to describe them but I can't really convey the pleasure it gave me to examine a painting by Bonnard or a performance of the Debussy quartet (both of which floored me last evening). All the same, I'm certain others respond to the two works much as I do. It's different with the photo. I can say why I think the photo might have aesthetic value, but I can't put myself in the position of a viewer who wasn't present when I took it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

digging out

I've been observing an excavation that's taking place where I shop. Over recent months the yellow digger in the photo has been gradually removing earth from an area which used to be a nicely landscaped courtyard. I expect the objective it to increase rent by bringing in new retail establishments.

What's interested me is the engineering problem facing the crew. For many weeks the digger with its caterpillar tracks was at the bottom of the hillside it created. In many repetitive steps, it moved dirt up the incline and loaded it into waiting dump trucks. Now that the excavation is nearing completion, it's up top. The process has been methodical and, obviously, it works.

There's a limit to the effectiveness of the method, however, and I wonder how the contractor plans to get out the last of the earth. The digger can't return to the bottom to bring it up since it needs the incline to get itself out, yet the digger's arm isn't long enough to reach down from the top to bring up the last of the dirt. So, I keep watching as I make my daily run to the grocery.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

young and happy

This photo was taken in 1888. The young woman is my paternal grandmother. She loved dogs and I never knew her to be without one close at hand. Her childhood was largely a happy one, spent on this property — the house and gardens of an estate of her father's in Woodside, Queens, New York. She loved dogs and her home, but most of all she loved her father. So as to remain with him as long as possible, she put off marriage until she was over thirty and the man she chose worked in one of her father's business concerns and came from a family closely intertwined with her own. The wedding took place not that many years before her father's death and it was not a success. She endured a relationship that was painful to both partners and remained faithfully in it for sixty years, until her death in 1962, aged 92.

Monday, July 14, 2014

fresh water

My wife and I received a last-minute invitation to spend a weekend on a large lake in central Virginia. Formed barely a quarter century ago when a power company dammed the local river, the it is a very modern vacation destination. The densely-wooded shoreline boasts many imposing dwellings having tiny beach-fronts, boathouses, gazebos, and swimming docks. Its water sports are all motor-driven and most involve speed.

Yet, as you see here, the undeveloped parts have a scenic placidity. I took the photo on a evening cruise in a pontoon boat, a craft that's worth looking up if you're unfamiliar.

Friday, July 11, 2014

morning light

Plants come down to my basement office to take a rest, some to regain health and others to end their lives. They sit by a window in which I've hung some glass disks which sometimes catch the light and cast colorful shadows on the wall behind. There are four of these disks, yellow, purple, blue, and red. You see the red and purple, at top, and shadows of the red and blue — no yellow here, alas, apart from the strange begonia. The wall is a jumble of bike posters and whiteboard, the latter used when I make my (rare) attempts to sell off stuff on eBay. The succulent behind the begonia is a treasure, a gift received back in the 1970s at a wedding on Malibu beach.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Sequoia National Park

April 2012 was warm and sunny when a niece married the love of her life in Long Beach but the groves of Giant Sequoia in the southern Sierra Mountains were just emerging from the grip of winter.

Monday, July 07, 2014


This year the Tour is spending its first few days in England. The second stage began in York and moved west toward Skipton, then south to Sheffield. Between York and Skipton it took roads that are on or near ones I took in the mid-1970s on a bike tour with my friend Graham. I planned the route months ahead from Ordinance Survey maps and road maps I bought at the map store in Washington DC near where I lived and while I was doing the planning I tried to get in enough riding so that 90 or 100 miles a day would not wear me out. We stayed in hostels and B&Bs, ate in pubs, and enjoyed some marvelously good weather.

I've stitched together two screen captures to give a feel for the Yorkshire segment of the Tour. TV coverage begins about 7:00 a.m. my time. As I do morning chores, I watch via EuroSport internet feed. The images are fuzzy but still pretty absorbing. For the second stage Sunday it seems the whole county turned out, lining the roads and, as the Belgians and Dutch like to do, making a party of the event. It also seems the countryside is as beautiful as it was during my long-ago bike tour.

Saturday, July 05, 2014


A woman named Andrée Ruellan made this lithograph. She was an artist best known for showing ordinary people at work or play in New York City, Savannah, Charleston, and along the New England coast. Born in Manhattan, her parents were French and she spent a good part of her young life in France. That's where this picture, Half Past Two, comes from. She made it in the late 1920s.

I'm putting together a Wikipedia article on Ruellan. Her work seems entirely straight-forward. It's mostly representational. She had great technical skill and a good eye. She could, and did, make greeting cards and illustrations for magazines. But most of her work, and all the best of it, transcends illustration. In 1943 she told an interviewer, "What moves me most is that in spite of poverty and the constant struggle for existence, so much kindness and sturdy courage remain. Naturally I want to paint well-designed pictures, but I also wish to convey these warmer human emotions."

I'm reproducing this image under fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law.

Friday, July 04, 2014

white blossoms

I took this early in June at Swarthmore College which boasts a fine arboretum. I didn't notice what tree sent forth these blossoms.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Fourth

This is what the world looks like across the street from our house. Happy Independence Day!

Monday, June 30, 2014

three together

This is a block of wood from which an artist, Agnes Weinrich, made white-line prints. She made it about 1916 during a summer stay at the art colony in Provincetown at the end of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Lately I've been filling gaps in Wikipedia's coverage of some American artists. I've completed work on one, am finishing off another, and have begun work on a third. There are interesting intersections and parallels among them. They are roughly of the same generation, were born to immigrant parents, lost one or both parents while still young, and lived in artists' colonies.

They also all lived their lives in family groupings of three. Agnes Weinrich lived her entire life with her sister Helen. In 1922, when Helen married the aspiring painter, Karl Knaths, it was he who moved in with them. Agnes was then 49, Helen 46, and Karl 31. He was living hand-to-mouth while they were blessed with a comfortable inheritance. The trio spent the rest of their lives, living, traveling, and working together.

Andrée Ruellan was the third artist. She had no contact with Agnes, Helen, and Karl so far as I know. Her living-arrangement-of-three consisted of herself, her widowed mother, and her husband, Jack Taylor. As with the other, this one came together when Andrée and Jack married and continued intact thereafter.

Throughout much of the 20th century there was nothing particularly unusual about family groupings that included members outside the nuclear parents-and-their-children grouping. During the first half of the century, it was probably more likely than not that a maiden aunt (in the phrase of the time) or aged grandparent, or even the struggling nephew would be part of the household. The family arrangements that my three artists worked out interest me mostly because they were tightly-bonded trios. Neither of the marriages produced children and, although you might think there was cause for friction in the makeup—two artists and one other in each case—the bonds within each group of three were reported to be strong ones. Whatever difficulties they had getting along, none of any consequence were known to the world.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


This is the Amstel canal from Grand Café Amstelhoeck. We'd been caught in a spate of rain. You can see the outdoor tables are wet. The big building at left is NH City Centre. The handsome spire belongs to Oude Kerk. The canal is the Amstel. I took the photo in September 2012 during that trip to visit places where ancestors once lived. I like the near symmetries in the vee of blue sky topping trees on one side, building fronts on other, descending down the Rokin to the church; them and the three strong verticals.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

a boat on the bay

This shows a lobster boat moving down Blue Hill Bay as the sun is about to rise over the southern end of Western Mountain. At least I think it's Western; Cadillac is farther away but taller. You can see the darker outline of Tinker Island just before it. I've been slowing getting used to the utility cables crossing this view. They showed up sometime in the last couple of decades. At first I was sure they spoiled the view, but I've come to accept that they can contribute to the design of a photo, as the large one does here, scribing an arbitrary division just above the horizon. Creating an eye-arresting dissonance it helps keep the photo from being just another pretty picture.

Friday, June 27, 2014


I didn't think too much of this photo when I took it. The subject seemed busy and incoherent; the landscape is not picturesque. You can't tell what the point of it is.

Those things are true, but I've come to like the image anyway. Looked at as a two-dimensional surface—blocks of light and dark, colored shapes—it has an interesting design. Seen as presenting three dimensions, it nicely segregates fore-, mid-, and background elements.

What you can't really see is that these nondescript structures are set in the quaint German hamlet of Schwarzwald, at the foot of a dam, the Ohratallsperre, which holds back a large, scenic reservoir. The dam is dead center in the photo just above the two whitish-gray structures. My brother, sister, and I hiked there from Oberhof, a ski sport center which was pleasantly quiet during our brief September stay there.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


The college I attended turned 150 this year and the my class celebrated its survival all of 50 years from the date we graduated. This photo seems to show a church, but since the college was founded by Quakers, it's actually a meeting hall where we turned out for a mandatory lecture each week (called "collection") and, that burden having been lifted, where current students go to hang out.

I took the photo as myself and classmates, with all the other classes present, trooped to the school's amphitheater to hear speakers in what the program named an Alumni Collection, which turned out to be something like a graduation ceremony without the graduates.

The building is called Clothier Hall. Philadelphians will recognize the name. Strawbridge and Clothier was one of the city's most prominent department store chains. Strawbridges and Clothiers were both Quaker families and, while the Strawbridges favored two other nearby Quaker colleges for their charitable contributions, the Clothiers gave a lot of their money and much of their time toward making the school I attended a good place to study. The Clothiers were also somewhat fanatic about football and, though the college has since abandoned that sport, it was for a long time a major interest for those who could tear themselves away from their books on a Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Though not much different from other tricoleurs, the Dutch flag is a handsome one and, since I like to find occasions to fly it, I've been putting it out when the national team wins a game in Brazil.

As the world knows, Dutch people consider orange to be their national color. When they wear orange clothing to cheer on the home team, Dutch spectators do not also show some red, white, and blue. The colors don't mix well together. Nonetheless, I liked the look of my flag behind the orange daylilies that front our house. The orange does well with the green foliage that surrounds it and, in design terms, the backlit flag is more an interesting counterpoint than a jarring distraction.

Monday, June 23, 2014


My sister lives in a mobile home perched midway on a palisade a half mile above the Pacific near Santa Monica. I took this photo on a visit there a couple years back. Her place is behind my right shoulder. I'm watching the sun set over Malibu. The scene is paradisiacal.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


This shows the field of a small farm at Herrick Bay in the Penobscot region of Maine. I was first brought to this area in 1949 and have returned many times since. Its memorable features are sea views across broad bays to islands and a great expanse of ocean glimpsed among them, rocky shoreline teeming with sealife, and cabins nestled around a great house, the Lookout. There are woods of spruce, pine, and birch. In my youth there was a dirt road which lay warm, inviting summer's hardened bare feet.

This photo is clearly not the standard against which scenic images of the place are measured. I took it during a pause on my daily run when the brilliant, low morning light made views like this one, seen hundreds of times, seem fresh and new. I like the variations of green and ochre in the grassy foreground, the line that suggests the presence of the bay without showing it, and the play of light on the barn and trees.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

travel diary

In the summer of 1932 my grandmother sent my father and his older brother on a visit to Germany. My father was then 21 years old. This is a page from the travel diary he kept through most of the trip. There were members of the family to meet with and a short stay at the University of Munich, but also much touring to see the sights. On debarking at Bremen the two bought a tiny car which gave them constant trouble and had to be abandoned putting them on trains for the last segment of their journey. Their route took them clockwise through much of Germany and a bit of Austria.

The diary is conventional: the weather was so, we stayed here, saw this; we ate, we drank. You would not guess that in those months the Nazi party was becoming ascendent. Brownshirts were marching through the streets of the cities and towns they visited. The swastika flag was omnipresent and posters extolled the Party, condemned Communists, and vilified Jews. These things the diary never mentions.

When I and my siblings were young, my father would tell us stories of that trip. One involved witnessing a Nazi rally. The pair did not attend out of interest in Nazism, only for the spectacle. My father's politics at that time were undeveloped; later he was a left-liberal, tending to vote Socialist. The rally is not mentioned in the diary. He said he and his brother arrived early and seated themselves on some bleachers. As others arrived, they noticed that those who seated themselves on the bleachers were all in Nazi uniforms. It gradually dawned on the brothers that they were in a VIP section of the viewing stands but nobody told them to move. My father said that in the Germany of that time everyone was always expected to know what do do, what place to occupy. Since the two brothers were obviously not ruffians but rather middle class gentlemen, they were not questioned or asked to move, much less man-handled by the Brownshirt enforcers who kept order at rallies.

One of the many ironies of our family history is that my father (and his whole family) did not know that his grandfather on his mother's side was the grandson of the most prominent rabbi in Westphalia. The grandfather had converted to Christianity on emigrating to the U.S. and never spoke of his German family. That family can be traced these days via internet searches. During the Nazi era, many emigrated and those who didn't were almost all exterminated.

Not long ago, my brother, sister, and I travelled through the Netherlands and Germany to see the places where our ancestors had lived. In Germany we stopped in Celle, source of the photo I showed yesterday, and also in Beckum, where many of my great-grandfather's relatives lived. One of them was Salomon Windmüller who was great-grandson of a brother of the prominent rabbi who was the grandfather of my great-grandfather. He was a prominent merchant in Beckum. Two years after my father's summer tour, Salomon was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for and act of defiance: having a servant remove a Nazi anti-Jewish poster from the wall of the building where he lived. He was an old man at the time and did not live long after the end of his prison sentence.

This news item appeared shortly after his conviction (translated from the German):

Last Saturday several persons were sentenced at the Beckum district court, to several weeks’ imprisonment for damaging posters of the Westfalen-Nord district command. They were the following opponents of the National-Socialist movement and government: Mrs Franz Windhövel, Wilhelmstrasse 61 (three weeks imprisonment), the innkeeper Ferdinand Hagedorn, Weststrasse 45 (three weeks imprisonment), the Priest Stroetmann, Provost of the St Paulus Workers Association (three weeks imprisonment), and the last of this illustrious company; the 73-year-old cattle Jew Salomon Windmüller, Weststrasse 19 (six weeks imprisonment). All those sentenced were taken into custody. The Jew Windmüller was imprisoned immediately.

With this verdict, the Beckum district court has made it abundantly clear that the National-Socialist state will not be intimidated by anybody, not even by the Catholic clergy. All subversive activities will in future be severely punished.

Friday, June 20, 2014


This morning I looked at an online folder full of images and asked myself which would intrigue me, supposing I were coming upon them for the first time. Since it's not at all easy for me to do that, I gave myself a leg up by viewing them in thumbnail. Squashed to the size of a 35mm slide, each appears different enough from its true self that it just about takes on an individual identity.

This one immediately caught my eye. Taken in one of the few German cities that were left intact by the Allied bombing campaign of World War II, it isn't a treasured memento of a pleasant trip to view ancestral homelands (which is true of other photos in the folder), but more of an abstract study in light and shadow. The place is Celle, in Saxony, and it's full of medieval timber-frame houses, nestled side by side, above cobbled streets, mostly free of cars, trucks, and buses. Though well-preserved, it's not a museum-like restoration, like Colonial Williamsburg in the United States, but a commercial center, the capital of the district in which it's located. Quite a feat.

Typifying Celle's modernity mingled with historic preservation, our brief stay in Celle was in a building from the early seventeenth century and our landlady was Lithuanian, youthful, outgoing, with a decidedly contemporary outlook.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


As we near the summer solstice, rays of early-morning sun slant through a north-facing window and cast this reflection on the west wall of our dining room. Sometimes, if there's a light breeze, rustling leaves cause the light to dance, but today the image simply descended slowly downward as the sun rose.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


There's construction going on where I do my daily shopping. The food store that serves most of my needs is on the top floor of a building where an exterior balcony makes a theater of a construction site in one corner of the building's plot. Lately, the contractors have been excavating and their tracked digger has the tricky job of removing earth from a confined space, all the while leaving itself a steep pathway to give itself a route out of the hole. The current one is out of view to the camera's left.

Just as interesting as the digger and its work are the holes in the retaining wall. I can't tell why they occur or what purpose they serve. My engineer-brother would know. I'll ask him next chance I get. In addition to the mini-cavern in this photo, you can see two others, one fully shown, blocked with timbers and the other, at far left, only partly in view. The site has two others.

The retaining wall keeps two streets from collapsing into the excavation. It appears to have been put in place long ago, was, until recently, kept in place by the dirt and rocks that the digger is removing, and clearly now needs to be shored up.

I don't know what the owners of the building plan for this space. It surely is expected to be revenue-producing whatever it is. Before the digging began it was a pleasant, nicely-landscaped courtyard, bordered on one side by old and many-blossomed Japanese cherry trees.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

a miller

This is the milling machine that removed the top surface of our street. When it's operating a carbide-toothed drum scrapes up old asphalt and the long-neck conveyor transports it to a dump truck. In its present waiting state this machine reminds me (to continue yesterday's thought process) of the spaceship Firefly in the Joss Whedon TV series of that name.

In my photo, the miller has finished work on our part of the street. It feels strange and a little unnerving to have big machines so thoroughly disrupt the quiet routines of our little neighborhood and some of us wonder what flaws lay in the old surface, not visible to our eyes, that made it necessary for our village council to carry out this major transformation.

In any event, today our street sports new blacktop, richly black and still warm after being poured, let set, and rolled smooth.

Monday, June 16, 2014


In our little neighborhood messages from our village manager arrived in email inboxes over the weekend. They warned us that in coming days the narrow lane outside our houses would fill with trucks and paving equipment. The street is having its top layer of old asphalt removed today and a new layer put down tomorrow. The front loader in this photo came into view shortly after the first pass of the milling machine. It's highly maneuverable -- can turn literally on a dime -- and, as you can see, is not afraid to travel with its front wheels lifted up. It has a sort of compact cuteness that reminds me of Wall-E from the sci-fi movie of the same name.