Henry David Thoreau would have been 196 today. We were in Concord, MA, anyway so we thought we’d stop by Walden. It’s a lovely spot, though there are a few features that might give the old naturalist pause…
Another window. This was taken on a historical tour of Val-Kill but took me back to my own history rather than Eleanor Roosevelt’s. When air conditioning was scarce, a screened-in porch very much like this is where I spent my summers reading. I did not expect to feel so at home in a place I had never been before.
Yesterday was a spectacular day in Lenox, MA, and we made an unscheduled stop at Edith Wharton’s home there, The Mount. A thunderhead had popped up out of nowhere and we were looking for a vista from which we could view the storm. While the storm passed south of us it provided some wonderful light for garden and interior photos, and I came away with so many beautiful windows. Wharton’s first book was about interior and garden design, and her love of light and appreciation for a good cross breeze is evident in the design of this house, which she built in 1902.
The window above is from the recently restored bedroom suite that included a sitting room. According to the literature, even though the sitting room has a writing desk, Wharton wrote in bed and let the finished pages fall to the floor, where her secretary would retrieve them and type them up. I find this detail enviable and impractical – oh, to be able to write as beautifully as she did and from the comfort of bed, but it makes my back hurt to imagine it. But it makes perfect sense to be writing while looking out a window with a view like the one below.
Visiting historic sites always seems to involve, at some point, a note that areas have been restored to reflect their original beauty based on photographs or narrative descriptions because the authentic buildings, furnishings, paintings, fixtures, frescoes and floors have been sold, lost or destroyed. I get annoyed that people didn’t think to preserve these details all along, particularly when they achieved fame in their own time. Then I think about modern times (our place in history somewhat less secure than Edith Wharton’s in 1912), and I imagine the docent saying, “The original Home Depot oak and laminate cabinets and linoleum floors are recreated here to the best of our ability using photographs and written descriptions of the home from that period.” Never mind.
Many years ago this is where I spent an embarrassing amount of time, talking to my friends on the phone. I pulled the mod white trimline phone out of my sister’s room just out of sight on the right and sat on these stairs my back to the wall and my foot on the door trim at the left – that door led to our third floor where there were more bedrooms and the eaves where we hid and concocted secret clubs with arcane rules that lasted a week, if that. Through that door and up the stairs I was a little girl, and in 1974 I moved downstairs and around the corner from this spot and became first a teeny bopper and then a teenager, talking on that phone pretty much the entire time. I talked to the same three or four people over and over – to my best friend who lived a block away, my first boyfriend who lived three blocks down the street, or a few friends across town. I’d be hard pressed to recount anything we talked about, but I remember laughing until I cried, learning to interpret or impose stony silence, and what it meant to hang up on someone. I remember willing that phone to ring, its cord stretched out into the hall, and the receiver cord so distended it hardly curled anymore. They boy friendishness consisted of one kiss, maybe two, but then hours and hours of time on that phone long after we broke up. He remains one of the best friends who is a boy I have ever had; he set a standard for good and witty conversation by which all who followed have been measured. So none of those moments are captured on the web like the hilarious banter I see between my kids and their friends on Facebook; I am glad they allow me to eavesdrop on their exchanges and see them delight in their own cleverness. Since I don’t have a history archived on the web, this photo will just have to do.
Like the rest of the world, I fell in love with Downton Abbey. And after 30 years in Massachusetts I finally had a chance to drive through and make an overnight stay in the Berkshires. Now is see what all of the fuss is about. I expected the spring beauty of the rolling hills but I was not prepared for the diverse and breathtaking architecture of Western Massachusetts and Eastern New York. This window is the Downton Abbey moment of my first – but not last – journey to Western Massachusetts. It was taken at Cranwell, a gilded age property with a provenance that includes Harriet Beecher Stowe. The pastoral and architectural beauty of the property was matched only by the graciousness of the people who worked there. A real gem.
Now and then I post photographs of windows because I suppose I like what symbolize and how they gave composition to an image or structure to an otherwise unstructured world – I love the implied order of right angles. Wade Zahares is an artist who loves windows even more than I do, I think, and he creates art that portrays windows in ways and colors in I can only dream about. And the more of his art I see the more it matches up with times and places in our lives, including this Boston area triple decker from the ’80s and his more recent coastal New England landscapes and harbors. There is even what appears to be a midwestern plainscape – I have never felt so validated by another person’s art.
And as if that isn’t enough, he portrays trains and rolling vistas in prints and illustrations for wonderful books. We first discovered Zahares’ art though the 1998 book, Window Music, which delighted my young children and still delights me.
And for all of the sharpness of the images and vibrance of color, he works in pastels; I love the juxtaposition of sharp angles and bold landscapes – sometimes with the turf rolled back to reveal fantastic infrastructure – with the occasionally gently smudged pastel. It is fine art that stands up to the cacophony of the garish digital age, paying homage to some great pop art but keeping a kind of hand-forged integrity.
Zahares’ art, in its way, turns LettersHead on its own head, offering up 21st century art in a 20th century way. He does in images what I try to do in words, and the time he has devoted to his craft has produced spectacular results.
Thank you to Wade Zahares for giving us permission to use his art in this post.
This is the view from the second floor over the lobby that stands under the great dome at MIT. I walked by and often stood at this particular spot nearly every day for a few years back in the 80s and 90s, and there was always something interesting to see either inside or out: the skyline across the river, tickets and events information at lunchtime, engineering students in a bridge-building competition, or the regal rhododendron in full bloom along the perimeter of Killian Court outside. After I left the Institute I returned to the Lobby a few times to sell hand painted clothes at the craft fairs. It was lovely to work in such a busy and imposing structure; it made every task seem useful and important and sometimes I would invent reasons just to take that walk down the Infinite Corridor and feel the buzz. I miss it sometimes but on recent visits have found that the nostalgia of the architecture is not enough; it was the people and the work that kept me going, and I would almost prefer to look at the photos than walk down the corridors where, now, nobody knows my name.
It’s been a while since I posted any window photos, though I have taken many. This one is in the house where I grew up, looking much the same now as it did then. We used to climb though the windows on the left and right to sun ourselves on the warm tar roof during cold April days. It was a sign of spring. The vantage point from which the photo was taken was where my mother kept her cedar chest, and I imagine it full of wool blankets and linen and lace wrapped in brown paper – to be honest I am not sure if that’s what was really in the chest or I am just channeling all of those Laura Ingalls Wilder books I read on that landing, my body wedged between the radiator and the window. But I do still have lace and linen wrapped in paper from that house, that much is certain, and I wonder now when I will ever have occasion to use them. They’ve been waiting for their moment for so long.