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.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

a painting by Karl Knaths

This is a painting by Karl Knaths. He was one of America's first modernist painters. Out of an early affection for the work of Cézanne, he let his work evolve into a personal blend of abstract and realist elements, all of it pretty much influenced by the sort of cubist technique that led from those early Cézanne innovations. It's all interesting and mostly good. Art critics, museum curators, and collectors all liked (and still like) his stuff, though not so exuberantly as they like the work of many other American artists (that's why you're probably not familiar with it).

I wrote an article in Wikipedia on him. It's remarkable for snagging only one gripe from that institution's picky editors. She or he put a box at top of the article telling the world that I used too many external links.

I'm fond of this particular painting partly because its owners gave me permission to use it in the Wikipedia article. In my experience owners almost never wish to do this since it requires that they, basically, give up all rights and put the image in the public domain. I'm sure you realize that restrictions imposed by copyright or Creative Commons licenses do little good in keeping protected works off the Internet, but that doesn't make these protections entirely useless and owners are understandably reluctant to let them go.

The painting is called Pumpkin. Knaths painted it late in his career, in 1964. It is oil on canvas, measures 30" x 36" and comes from the collection of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum; gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Orr, in memory of Louise Ault.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Flag of the USS Blessman

On June 14th the United States celebrates Flag Day. During the battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945, the USS Blessman was severely damaged in an attack by a Japanese bomber. The ship was a destroyer escort converted to high-speed transport and only the day before it had been under bombardment by shore defenses as the underwater demolition teams that it carried were conducting reconnaissance of the Iwo beaches where Marines would soon be landed.

My uncle, Arthur Hettema, was one of the swimmers who surveyed the waters where the amphibious landings would take place. Like the other frogmen, he swam more than a thousand yards from drop off point to the beach, dressed simply in swimming trunks and having a noteboard strapped on his leg so he could make notes of sand, surf, and obstructions using a grease pen. He swam under the waves, dove to check the sandy bottom, and, hoping not to become a target, surfaced in troughs to breathe. He and his partner did the job and swam back to their pickup point without being hit.

Later, he was onboard the Blessman when it took two bombs mid-ship, immediately disabling it. He and the other surviving UDT members had to deal with explosions; dead, dying, and wounded sailors; fires; and the confusion that's inevitable when a ship receives direct hits. For the work he did in the water and on shipboard he was given the Bronze Star.

He was also presented with this flag, which the Blessman had flown.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Last summer I noticed a bee nosing around some hosta blossoms, sought out my camera, and, amazingly, was able to catch this shot.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

close observation

There's a story about this tiny blossom and its out-of-focus cousin behind. While eating lunch on our side porch I noticed a little girl stooping to look at something in the dirt at the foot of our driveway. She squatted to look closely and said something excitedly to her mom. I thought whatever it was she saw had to be pretty unusual, like a dead baby bird maybe. When I'd finished my sandwich and strolled out to look, I found these two little flowers which had sprung up under our scraggly hedge.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


My blogging impulse having fled some months ago, I'm ready to try something new; well, not exactly new, but borrowed from my friend Deniz (whose inspiration has also waned). Starting today, it's my goal to post occasional photos, all of them my own taking and most in that vague category of images that stick in memory for reasons difficult to state. This, above, is the first.