Wednesday, August 31, 2016

CELIA'S SALON: Celia Thaxter's Art Colony Exhibit at the Salem Atheneaum: Review by Polly Guerin

Celia Thaxter in her Appeldore Island Garden
Celia Thaxter, the celebrated American poet and champion of Appeldore Island, attracted the cultural cognoscenti of the 19th century and established  the first American Artists and Writers Colony in America.      
     Celia's Appeldore garden, tended by Celia with loving care on the treeless island, was often painted by her guests. In her cottage parlor, next to her family's resort hotel you might meet the artists who occupied rooms in her cottage including Childe Hassam. J. Appleton Brown and Ellen Robbins. They, too, created images of lasting beauty. Image: Childe Hassam's painting of Celia's garden in the spotted impressionistic style.
      Today there appears to be a resurgence of interest in Celia Thaxter and THE SALEM ATHENAEUM, for one, is raising the bar of interest with a breathtaking exhibition entitled, CELIA'S SALON. 2016, through September 23. On display is a treasure trove of rare books and personal correspondence, art, and family photographs and memorabilia. The exhibition invites you to scrutinize these museum quality artifacts and vicariously become part of Celia's celebrated arts colony and writers circle.
Celia Thaxter's Cottage on Appeldore 
The curator Elaine von Bruns has painstakingly culled the Celia documents and artifacts from The Salem Athenaeum's archives producing in the process a multi-dimensional exhibit that includes intimate pictures of Appeldore's landscape and visitors. With celebrity status came Celia Thaxter's advertisement endorsements including her picture on cigar box covers and, in another case, endorsement of the Thaxter typewriter.  

    Several illustrated brochures are offered for the taking including "An Artistic Escapade" by Oscar Leighton, Celia's brother. In another brochure,  "Memories of a Young Guest" by Maude A. McDowell wrote, "It was my privilege as a young girl to be for several summers in the cottage of Celia Thaxter the poet, on Appledore."
     Celia showed the power of her pen when she wrote against the bird-wearing hat fashions of the time, Woman's Heartlessness in the February 1887 issue of Audubon Magazine, "We trust yet to see one day when women, one and all, will look upon wearing of birds it its proper light, namely as a sign of heartlessness and a mark of ignominy and reproach."
    The exhibit introduces the visitor to the famous artistic and literary individuals who were visitors to Celia's Salon.  Childe Hassam was a frequent visitor of some 30 years and erected a studio on a plot of land that he purchased from one of Celia's brothers.  On view are Hassam's favorite subject Celia's garden and paintings of the windswept gorges and boulders of Appledore.  Other luminaries introduced in the exhibit include John Greenleaf Whittier, Quaker poet and close friend of Celia and her circle as well as William Morris Hunt, esteemed Boston artist and friend of Celia's husband Levi Thaxter. Ross Sterling Turner was,"Famous for his charming sketches of our boats," wrote Celia's brother, Oscar Laighton, in 90 Years on the Isles of Shoals, 1929.
    You will learn about Celia's friendship with Robert Browning and the literary and artistic luminaries of the day, enjoying an informal evening concert by the composer Edward MacDowell, who frequently visited Appeldore with his wife who founded the MacDowell Colony in his honor. The Norwegian violinist Ole Bull might entertain as did many other musicians contribute to the conviviality of Celia's circle. At evening readings, on occasion, Celia would recite poetry and perhaps even be coaxed to read her account of the fearsome murders on Smutty Nose Island.
One Woman's Work by
Celia found time to paint and like other women of her time it was a woman's work, a way to earn a living, though modest it provided necessary income. Her exquisite renderings of island flora and fauna are some of the most beautiful examples on her plates and vases also on display.  Among the books of particular note is the quintessential Celia Thaxter reader, An Island Garden by Celia Thaxter with illustrations by Childe Hassam.

    Several other books on view of note include One Woman's Work, The Visual Art of Celia Laighton Thaxter,  by Sharon Paiva Stephan, a visual feast of Celia's hand-illustrated-books, watercolors and painted china.
    THE SALEM ATHENAEUM, the historic private library shares a common mission with Celia Thaxter: to encourage creativity and share literature, music, and art.  In the summers, like Celia, the Athenaeum enjoys a lovely garden and Friday salons. Find them at 337 Essex Street, Salem, MA. Tel: 978.744.2540.
Coincidentally, PEM, the Peabody Essex Museum's exhibition American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals runs through November 6.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

THE SERENDIPITOUS INNKEEPER: Northey Street House, Salem, MA By Polly Guerin:

Northey Street Bed & Breakfast
The perfect word to describe the Northey Street House, Bed and Breakfast is "Serendipitous," which Webster's describes as "obtained or characterized by serendipity (discoveries)." 
     Discovery is what makes Northey B&B, a rather small gem with a big historic heart; reinvented with modern amenities fifteen years ago by the charismatic innkeeper Flora Tonthat.  
     Located in Salem, Massachusetts on a quite little enclave, 30 Northey Street,  Northey B&B is a short walk to museums, nautical adventures, wharfs and fine restaurants. It is a peaceful retreat after sightseeing and for the weary walker you can take a taxi anywhere in Salem for $6. At least that was the fare when I was there in August 2016.  Of special note, Northey has free parking, but it is best to check first for those details.
     The Salem Train depot is just a few blocks away and takes you to Boston and Cape Ann in a mere 30 minutes.  There is also a commuter ferry from Boston to Salem or if you prefer. as I did, I left Salem in nautical style and took the ferry back to Boston.
The Federal style house's historical past is a discovery worth the telling. 
Northey;s  Charming Woodbury Room
     The documented history of the house goes back to 1809. In those days, cabinetmaking was an important industry and Salem was an epicenter of this trade. 
    Flora Tonthat is fond of historic and local information,"The Federal house was built for the cabinetmaker Nathaniel Appelton, Jr. and later occupied by his daughter Susan and son-in-law Captain Isaiah Woodbury, a Salem Shipmaster. That is why I named one room the Woodbury and another room the Captain's Quarters.  The latest addition to the house is the Garden Room with double French patio doors that accesses a Japanese Garden. Of special note, Northey has a separate apartment suite, which is ideal for small families, for vacation stays and even transient visitors."                                                                                                                                                           PERIOD DETAILS and ANTIQUES
Northey Sun Deck and Breakfast Al Fresco 
Elegantly furnished rooms with period details and antiques appealed my creative senses but I appreciated most the private bath, queen bed, cable TV/DVD and other personal amenities. The inviting living room welcomes guests for conversation and relaxation and the kitchen opens out to a large Al Fresco sun deck where a complimentary breakfast is served each morning (weather permitting).

     Polly can attest to the specialty of this Eco-friendly house that recycles, has composts and solar panels and adheres to serving healthy low sugar baked goods such as Northey Glory muffins, scones, and Provencal fritatas. The next day another surprise, blueberry whole wheat pancakes were served drizzled with maple syrup, plus fresh fruit, a fresh garden fritata and scones. Many of the herbs and some of the vegetables come right out of Flora's garden. Complimentary coffee, tea, juice, snacks and other accoutrements always available including ice, movies and library.
Northey;s Japanese Garden, of the Garden Room
FLORA TONTHAT has immersed herself not only in the historical aspects of  Northey House but also by serving on local community committees, as does her husband Jeff.  Flora is a woman who was determined to succeed. 
     After 911, when she lost her job as a software engineer Flora was already living in this house in Salem and worked part time in IT while raising her two daughters. Then, as fate would have it, while jogging one day through the Salem Commons she noticed the B&Bs and the thought entered her mind, "I can do that!" And that, dear readers, is how the Serendipitous Innkeeper was born. 
     Flora welcomes your interest and reservation. She can be reached at 978.397.1582 or