Aunt Ruth: Ruth Henshaw Miles Bascom (1772-1848)

Ruth Henshaw Miles Bascom, also known as “Aunt Ruth” was a twice married woman who raised children, many many children in her household (sometimes as many as 10)—being paid to help them, teach them and if their parents were not around, to foster them. She was a good wife of a minister—doing good works, caring for the poor, tending to the sick. She was also a solid diarist, who had kept diaries since her late teens through the end of her life….with notations from the weather and daily activities (in the early diaries) to details about her town’s statistics, births, deaths, weddings, expenses, cashflow and the like. The American Antiquarian Society has a very interesting pdf with notes and a list of the diaries they have in their collection. Worth taking a look.

Her portraits according to the Fenimore Museum in Cooperstown, NY

“As a minister's wife, Bascom began drawing as a pastime, but was soon traveling to other areas to draw portraiture on commission. She kept a daily journal in which she recorded making over a thousand portraits for money, services in kind, and as tokens of affection. Bascom rendered all her portraits in life-size profile. In order to create a realistic image, she first outlined a cast shadow of the sitter on her drawing paper. She then colored the picture using pastel crayons.”

The way I see it is that Aunt Ruth, in the tradition of parlor activities, would trace the sitter’s profile like a silhouette artist would have done. What is interesting — another point of intersectionality—is that sihouette cutting was popular in America from 1790 until 1840. Why 1840? We know this…the advent of photography!
Silhouette cutting was an activity that was either hired, or something one would do at home for amusement. The twist that Aunt Ruth brought to the process is she took the profile and painted it, using pastels and sometimes colored paper/ foil to dimensionalize the work. What we have is a singularly fresh, modern representation of the sitter that presents the sitter in 1840 as someone we could meet today. This work reminds me of children’s book illustration, and Alex Katz’s portraits.

Profile Portrait of a Young Woman, Her Braided Hair @orn with a comb

Profile Portrait of a Young Woman, Her Braided Hair @orn with a comb

I particularly love the sensitivity of her line work, the blends she does with the back of the women’s hair, and the flat background colors—that complement the sitter, but not overwhelming the likeness.

The image to the right—she takes one step further. Aunt Ruth uses the foil that she used as accents in her portraits and makes it dominant—feeling almost renaissance in feeling and tone. I am so taken with this from the odd placement of the figure on the field, to the use of materials, color, the gradient hair, the linework…its all pretty elegant given the world of 1840, of Ammi Phillips’ grand portraits, the triangular ladies of Field, and the advent of daguerrotypes. Surprisingly, these are not rote images and to me, transcends the change in technology as Bascom changed the process and technique—-bringing silhouettes along with her engaging work.

Erastus Salisbury Field (Leverett, Massachusetts, May 19, 1805 – Sunderland, Massachusetts June 28, 1900)

Oops! Fell down another hole. Learn about Field here >. Yep. He’s a primitive painter—but really was gripped by triangles (you will see). The dude had something going on. Ladies and these nutty organza collars? shawls? like our friend Ammi Phillips had (only Phillips was ever so more puritanical). Some of these paintings are templated (red curtain on left, landscape on right) but many are just sock in the likeness and put a nice neutral in the background. However from his portraits, he evolved to doing these nutty landscapes and architectural images which (at least with the Garden of Eden one really makes me think of Pennsylvania’s pride, Edward Hicks who painted around the same time).

The Garden of Eden, 1860.

The Garden of Eden, 1860.

Historical Monument of the American Republic , 1867–1888 Oil on canvas, 9 feet 3 inches x 13 feet 1 inch, Museum of Fine Arts, The Morgan Wesson Memorial

Historical Monument of the American Republic, 1867–1888
Oil on canvas, 9 feet 3 inches x 13 feet 1 inch, Museum of Fine Arts, The Morgan Wesson Memorial

Red, White and Blues

Bunting at Walmart

Bunting at Walmart

The 4th has come. A day to celebrate independence which always comes with interdependence (though we do not mention that). Here's to singularity and standing up for your beliefs. Here is to compromise, to listening and not talking. Here's to thinking and measured response. Here is to valuing all opinions, and being open to change. 

I am always struck that to so many, "Being American" signifies a rigor around what is right and wrong...something very analog, very black and white, something that doesn't have edges, but issues and ideas that are cleanly broken into the answer and the question. We are either pro-abortion or anti-abortion. We love everyone or hate everyone. There are haters (but no polarities there) but there are no lovers. We approve or disapprove. The concept of a spectrum of understanding, of belief or philosophy is not "being American" but something irrational and insane.

Watching the largest group of presidential contenders being fielded--points up this thought--and I am dumbstruck to think that any of these men (yes, folks--they are men...there is a woman in there for "shits and giggles" but not someone to fear or be competitive with) live such a bi-polar existence or right and wrong, yes or no, oatmeal or eggs, tea or coffee, awake or asleep--life. It seems at odds with how we are as functioning beings, that this limited, approved and market-tested view on any topic can be a way to embrace one's beliefs.  This approach may appear to be the "safe" road to travel, but it is the most heinous and frightening. Yes, it is predictable--but so limited and slim an channel, that very few can navigate it..and leaves many of us out of the process of being engaged and included.

We have so much promise, opportunity, energy, people and treasure. Why can't be be wise enough to take everyone on that journey. It will be far more interesting--and to my thinking, far more Christ-like to embrace the whole and not the privileged few. Aren't  those privileged few those that we escaped in our Independence? Must we revolt again?

Beauty Business

My America: American Royalty, Latrice Royale, Q. Cassetti, 2013, Trumansburg, NY

My America: American Royalty, Latrice Royale, Q. Cassetti, 2013, Trumansburg, NY

New haircut. Rob found the perfect picture of my soon to be hair --a current picture of David Lynch--with long wavy hair on the top and short on the sides. Mr. Lynch and I have similar hair...and I have a wave too, so Emma was charged with this direction. My hope is that by Christmas, the hair will be 100% there. And, my thinking is that we go for foils to make stripes of white... just to really jazz things up. I cannot be as fabulous and gorgeous as Latrice Royale ( a contestant on "RuPaul's Drag Race" who both Kitty and I admire). We'll see. But this is the latest beauty and fashion update.

I just stopped by Sundrees to see that the rack of my cards are severely I need to crank up my printer and get things going to fill those racks. I am so surprised that these cards are selling so well, but it is little business worthy of nurturing. To that, should I be considering going to the stationery show and seeing if there is more to it than this little business I have going here on our beautiful plateau?  Should I just spread my wings locally a bit more to see if there is traction? How would I need to staff to make this happen? Could cards do well on Etsy? Boxed or singletons? More on the retail front: We also worked up some inexpensive little neckaces of teacups and of teapots...and it seems that these are selling as well. I have Kitty's retail intuition to thank! Maybe I can put jump rings on things as I travel out to Utah next week?  I have resin gummy bears that need little hooks and jumprings as well as silver teasets and slices of cake. There may be a bit of traction re: skeletons etc. as the black and orange holiday is on us.

Four months to Christmas. Time to update my mailing list. 

back in the saddle.

Stephen Huneck
Lend a Helping Hand
Image size: 6" x 7"
Paper size: 8 1/2" x 11"

So, I have been thinking about a lot of stuff. First off, a name for a friend's new business. He has been giving it a lot of thought and has some possibilities--but after having a dose of Vermont and the naming that goes on there, I think this could go further. I am intrigued by the name/word "Vermont" and how that has come to mean pure, good, wholesome, farm grown--excellent, though reading the labels might dissuade you from buying the entire package. However it really works. There is Vermont Butter and Cheese, Vermont Smoke and Cure. There is Vermont Maple Syrup (with no other brand than that). Vermont Cheddar and Vermont Cheese (though Cabot Creamery might be the big owner there). Ben and Jerry's is identified with Vermont. You get the Idea. I was tickled to see that there is a Vermont Mystic Pie Company who is using Stephen Huneck to design and illustrate their packages for pie. The look is distinct and frankly very "Vermont". That is one train of thought. What makes Vermont, Vermonty? What is it about Vermont that embues all of this expectation and promise for pure excellence? Do we even have glimmers of that here?

Then there is the approach with getting a bigger name, a wider reach. What I mean is that if my friend is going to make one thing, but possibly blow that channel out a bit, or have other offerings that complement the product he is focusing on, how do we name that entity that has all that the word "Vermont" offers, and yet keeps it broad enough to embrace more. "Vermont" interestingly is a place, a location, a specificity that adds the novel "localvore" connotation as it is to those who can buy those Vermont brands,something desired, something special. So, place is part of the equation, a locality, a pinpointable place. Could that place be even more local? A farm? a street? a town, a village? a hamlet? That resonates for me as the place is the source, the lodestone from which all this goodness, this thinking, this approach comes from...Of course, it comes from the people, but the product is an outflow from the place. So, a place name makes sense with a describing word that situates it like farm, street, ville or burg, hill or river, stream or bend. That can help our name.

That's the thinking now.

Rob is off to Cooperstown and back for an interesting board meeting. Kitty is nursing a sore throat and Alex is nose to the grindstone. I am looking at my list of dos and redos and know that things are going to crank up. Ahhh. More holiday shopping online as today is Cyber Monday? and we all must spend all of our holiday money online as fast as we can. And did I mention holiday cards! Yikes.


The Adirondacks charmed me with snowshoes. First, there was the grazing, amazing, big rabbit at the Great Camp Sagamore which our friend and guide, Beverly, pointed up that he changes color--brown to white for the winter and then vice versa in the spring. His big feet keep him above the snow. This rabbit was happy to let us watch while he snacked on the grass amongst all of us people. Then, at the Adirondack Museum, there was a remarkable collection of images and ideas around the snowshoe--from the various shapes and weaving, Different fasteners and photos of people using them. My absolute favorite snowshoe was the one on Rutherford B. Hayes' iced cream plate he had in the White House (see pink plate with a golden snowshoe). Hayes, as an aside, showed his pride in the Adirondacks through his table service and had a treed bear on a charger that was part of this look and feel....but the snowshoe...!

I have been musing over Mr. William West Durant and his loves, specifically, his visual loves. This is a man who, like friends of ours, are part of the "I love wood" group. This love is manifested in detailled architectural screens from the mosaic work of the lovely little Sunset Cottage to the bark panels at the Sagamore to the linear rails and and porch details of Pine Knot (now owned and run by SUNY Cortland as Camp Huntington).

"Camp Pine Knot was built by William West Durant and sold to railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington in 1895. In 1947, Huntington’s son, Archer, and his wife, Anna, presented to the College the original 201-acre site and historical buildings in the memory of Collis P. Huntington."

From my brief reading, Pine Knot was where it started. WW Durant built this place for his parents and used it as a showcase to show his friends and possible clients what an Adirondack Camp was about, and didn't they want to share in this adventure. This was just a glimmer of the force of Durant's talent, desire to decorate and work with wood, wood bark combined with architectural inspiration from Germany and Switzerland. The idea of a rusticated way of living for those who inhabited the large marble palaces in Newport and Manhattan was such a jump in comfort and concept it really must have been quite a sales job to get them on the train, on the boat and on a carriage to get them to Pine Knot to see and experience the wilderness Durant was inflamed with.

We are busy putting a bunch of holiday images to bed...and finishing. Ahhh. So, new things can slip into their place on the desktop. The Tropic wine and the images for the Hangar are in the roster to move onto the live lists. Alex is running a lot. Rob is working a lot (lots of work at the office, lots of projects coming to close here. Kitty is doing the school improv and has been cast in two of the five performances. All we need to do is finalize a lot of the college stuff--we had a good talk last night about that. I am busy and a bit wild..and would like a lull to get back into my little drawings about Fraktur.

Sunset Cottage [details]

On William West Durant from the NY State Archives:
William West Durant was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1850, the son of Dr. Thomas Clark and Heloise Hannah Timbrel Durant. Durant attended Twickenham School in England and Bonn University in Germany and while living in Europe, Durant traveled extensively. Following his return to the United States, Durant took a position as Supervisor at the Equitable Loan and Trust Company. Durant first came to the Adirondack Mountain region of New York State in 1876 to assist his father in managing the Adirondack Railroad Company. Durant served as secretary and later as president and general manager until the company was absorbed by the Delaware and Hudson Company in 1889. After the merger, Durant continued to sit on the company's board of directors. Later, he worked as a General Land Agent for the Adirondack Company, which was owned by his father. At its peak, the company owned half a million acres in the Adirondack Mountains.

In 1884, Durant married Janet Lathrop Stott and the couple had three children. Following the death of his father in 1885, Durant continued to purchase land in the Adirondacks and began to develop transportation lines and to build homes and resorts. He established the Forest Park and Land Company, of which he was president. Durant built a road between Raquette and Blue Mountain Lakes and established a line of horse–drawn coaches from the terminus of the North Creek Railroad to Blue Mountain Lake. In 1878, he established the Blue Mountain and Raquette Lake Steamboat Line and built several dams to facilitate water travel. He built hotels to accommodate the growing number of visitors to the region and designed, built, and decorated many of the first “great camps” in the Adirondacks. He built Camp Pine Knot in the 1880s, which he took as his home. In 1895, he sold it to Collis P. Huntington. Durant built Camp Uncas for J. P. Morgan, the Sagamore for Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, and also built Camp Kill Kare. He established the Adirondack, Lake George, and Saratoga Telegraph Company as well as the first post office on Long Point, Raquette Lake. He raised funds and donated land to build two churches, the Episcopal Church of the Mission of the Good Shepherd and St. William's Catholic Church. He also built a store on Raquette Lake. In 1900, he built the Marion River City Railroad and oversaw completion of the Raquette Lake Railroad along with fellow investors including Collis Huntington, J. P. Morgan, William Seward Webb, William C. Whitney, John A. Dix, Charles E. Snyder, and Edward M. Burns. Between 1899 and 1900, he built the Eagle's Nest Country Club & Golf Course on Eagle Lake in Hamilton County.

In the early 1900s, due to several poor business deals and difficulties in the settling of his father's estate, Durant lost much of his fortunes. He was divorced from his first wife and married Annie Cotton in 1907. To earn a living, Durant performed title searches for land in the Adirondacks for Charles E. Snyder, a Herkimer, N.Y. attorney and former business partner. Durant died in 1934. In honor of his contributions to the Adirondacks, the lake located between the Village of Indian Lake and Blue Mountain Lake was named for him in 1936.

Rare small size horse weathervane with applied mane by J. Howard, Waltham, Mass., circa 1865. Cast zinc and copper, retaining an old gold painted surface. from

Want to put a man on a fraktur horse and am looking about in the world of folk art for a nice reference on horses. Look at this beauty. Horses exist in Fraktur, but in a very limited way. The "Flying Horse" Carousel in Watch Hill, Rhode Island references the weathervanes as seen above. So, I think I have a model for this image. The lady above is still in coloring...but close.

First day of school was excellent. The classes were better than expected. Nice to be back with friends and teachers we love. And, the lovely low humidity cool weather delights. Rob cancelled his travel due to flu like symptoms. Mr. Hair is cutting down trees and grinding up the piles of brush that have accumulated over the summer. Lovely. Work continues. Christmas on the horizon. Oy.

My friends, the librarians

I was yacking away with my new friend, and stellar musician, Carol Elizabeth Jones, about old time music and sources for inspiration and reference I could go. She, being totally plugged in, recommended a few books and then send me to a wonderful place we all need to go..The Library of Congress' American Memories Page. There are great digital files you can access for starting points--also, if I were a teacher, files that would drop into a powerpoint for students to really see and understand the time, the topic, the idea in a meaningful way. I am delighted with the printed ephemera section down to actual folding diagrams to depict how a piece shown in the collection would be folded (as indicated in the name of the selection--Leaflet, folder Double Vertical Fold). These folding diagrams are fascinating as inspiration for design/print/illustration pieces on the possible table at the office.

Check it out. It's a fun time...that could have great payout...and it's free!(albeit supported by those taxes we all had to pay out this past week).