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.

Ammi Phillip's bonnet

I am doing a bit of research on “primitive” American portraits and enjoying jumping in with both feet. I was looking at limner painters and found Ammi Phillips ( April 24, 1788 – July 11, 1865), also referred also as the Kent Limner . I love the formats of the time that were de rigueur and am am collecting images to better understand and categorize them. Unfortunately, I will be torturing you with my findings.

Philllps was born in Connecticut and starting painting when he was young. Wikipedia says:

“He enters the documentary record as an artist in 1809, at the age of 21, with advertisements in both The Berkshire Reporter[3] and a Pittsfield, Massachusetts tavern[4] proclaiming his talent for painting "correct likenesses," distinguished by “perfect shadows and elegantly dressed in the prevailing fashions of the day.” Although Phillips also advertised his talent for "fancy painting, silhouettes, sign and ornamental painting,"[3] he soon specialized as a portraitist. His work satisfied the local standard, and within two years Phillips was receiving regular portrait commissions from community leaders in this area of western Massachusetts.[3]

I find it interesting that he comes from a decorative background, silhouetting and stylish painting. Phillips was a practitioner of an expected style with his artistry being a plus. His figures reflect that paintings were made to be sn to illustrate how a member of the household would be remembered as a legacy as a justifying the privilege they chose to embrace.

Detail of the bonnet.

Detail of the bonnet.

Part of Phillips’ props “kit of parts” included this highly ornate, organza, embroidered and beribboned bonnet that was placed on many customers for their portraits. What a silly, over the top bonnet—on all sorts of ladies from young, to old—with the bonnet telling us that this woman has married well (married women wore inside bonnets), and she spends her time doing lady’s work—reading, needlework. You will also note a common collar in three of the portraits—perhaps also pre-painted or part of the artist’s prop closet? The older lady (the first image) has a decorative ribbon which shows up in other portraits Phillips has painted.

As a limner, it almost suggests that these paintings were already set up in advance, and only the faces were painted live. Limners were itinerant painters, so to have pre-painted paintings made the transaction quicker as the faces were painted in…and on you went (leaving the paint to dry). Just a thought.

I am looking at other models to better understand this particularly American period of decorative art, portraiture and design. This seems to click with all sorts of things I love to bits.

Pissing and Moaning

Peony from the Lake, Q. Cassetti, 2012Poor  Alex Cassetti. Today he has to go on the Senior Picnic and then…oh my, he has to submit himself to being fitted for a costume. Pissing and moaning about how put upon he was this morning as we finished up the big big load of recycling and trash….to be surprised by Mr. White’s productivity in the Killing Fields. Yes, once again, right on the back porch, Mr. White methodically decapitated another squirrel (last one was Monday if you recall), and started his process of devouring the beast leaving the head, tail and a foot or two and the liver (always feels almost Masonic in the symbology). So, to spare the neighbors the site of this massacre, I moved the squirrel and Mr. White to another less central/less visable location and he lost interest. Now we have a half a squirrel in the freeze (in a freezer bag) waiting for Elly to take to the Super Hawk, Tucker. Waste not, want not. There was a look in Mr. White’s single eye that suggested that this might not be the only prize of the day.

Yesterday’s conversation with Steve about my work we are going to try to do at GlassLab on Governors Island (July 1, 2012) was exciting and productive. I have my list of things to try before we go — so I am making up a sheet of glass decals, ordered up some 3M Buttercut, and some resists to see what we can do. I am looking into glass enamel paints to see what that would yield tooo….and then away we go. The Maryoshka dolls going from the largest being clear, middle a bit less clear to the tiny one being color and brilliant is the approach. We may do some burka Maryoskas as well as it would be another technique, and could be a second to that nested set. So, I am psyched. Might learn a few things and might add a little nice twist to the things on my resume. And who knows, maybe we can pull it off.

Off to see my friends at TreeGate Farm. We are reviving their project…and hope to get some lift for them. RedByrd went back on press. MacDonald on stall  until his rush of work slows a tad. Goodlife wants to relook at where they are.The Farmers Market starts a week from today….and I am getting a bit nutty around everything working out. I had a nice meeting with a board member who recalibrated everything for me…which was a blessing. And so it goes. Local food, local growers coming on with the season.

And the RFP keeps chugging away. Today is the review of all of our insurance work. Left foot, right foot.


Matryoshka in Blue, Q. Cassetti.2012, Adobe Illustrator2300˚ Thursday night was great. Gold Dust Lounge played their surfer noir music to the delight of the outdoor revellers. The amazing and handsome Makepeace Brothers filled the auditorium which was blissfully airconditioned to all our delight. The sales in the shop were amazing (I bought a bunch of rhinestone wrap bracelets, some earrings for kitty and an amazing brooch that grabs my entire shoulder and encrusting it in colorful sparklers describing flowers and parrots. Kitty, Alex, Elly, Gloria and I had a great time. Rob was on the clock, but it looked like he was having fun too. Kitty and I got her set up with Kelly (Kelly Girls) for her weekend work in July at Governors Island with the Museum of Glass and the Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design in New York City. 

I was flattered and delighted to be asked to join a group of graphic designers who will work with the GlassLab Team on Governors Island  from June 30 to July 29, 2012. Each designer will be realizing a design/ idea with the hot glass team to learn and experience what glass can do. I have been working with the idea of nesting  Matryoshka dolls with the largest being clear and colorless with just etching for the features and simple detail. The second would have more etching and be a little less transparent, and the finally tiny one being brilliant, patterned etc. You all know how I love being a folky girl…and the Matryoshka shape really suggests glass…that we can decorate like crazy with glass waterslip decals, enamel paint, hand etching and diamond point pen. So I am investigating crafty etching products. Thanks to  Michael Rogers from RIT- for this decal supplier that can be put on glass: InPlainSite Art. So, I am ramping up to trial a bunch of these things prior to show date. As soon as I know the date, I will let you know…and as I am sure you will be seeing sketches as they come. I have a phone call to talk techniques and how we will roll this thing out on Tuesday. We are looking at a bunch of surface texture approaches (Graal for instance), or stamping and encasing the pattern into the glass before all the crazy applied decoration I would love to do.

We are rolling down to NYC tomorrow and back on Monday to take Kitty to FIT for her summer engagement. Now, all we need to do is watch her pack…(!). I am a bit worried…but hey, it will happen.

Mid week review

Bird Collection, Q. Cassetti,2010, digitalCoffee brewing. Sauce on the stove too. Broccoli soup simmering—getting ready for the big whizzzz before serving to the crew today. I finally went to the store to stock up, so the lack of bread, bananas and other basics is no longer. I cooked and chopped and cooked some more last night so today I can work and not get itchy around 11:45 trying to figure out what I am going to scratch together for the team. I am on it.

The back of the house is totally open. It is impressive what the light is doing to the rooms—and the intimacy the space has when returned to the slimmer hallway. Feels more personal and less like the back space (which when we bought this house was covered in avocado carpet squares saturated with cat  urine) was storage or the promise of another room. Again, thankfully, this work was topical, so cheap in/easy out. And the dumpster continues to fill. More noise, but happy noise as the change is great and will really take the downstairs of this big barn to another place.  

Alex is running at Taughannock State Park. I hope, for his sake, the really cranked up workout is not on the roster for today. That little gem is running to the top of the waterfall, around the rim trail and back down several times. This little process has a -zilla on the end of the name…and I cannot remember it. I do not think its pukezilla…but for me it is… or trashedzilla? Poor devil. But, he signed up for it.

The Demo Derby was very successful. The boys loved it and took great pictures. Bruce cozied up to a few of the drivers and made a deeper connection than I am want to do. More from the fair today (Horse Pulls). I hope the weather clears a bit this week. Overcast for a few days…and frankly, I would like the end of summer to be a bit more brilliant.

NPR had a good critique of the book, The Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age by Juliet Nicolson along with others. From the review, Tina Brown (editor- ini chief) of Daily Beast) details:

In The Great Silence, Nicolson uses anecdotes, diaries and letters to create portraits of 35 people living in England after the armistice. Her characters range from “under-chauffeurs and below-stairs people” to “royalty, as well as famous writers and artists,” Brown says. And in Brown’s eyes, Nicolson’s bottom-up approach to history is what makes her book so affecting.

“What we don’t think about is the devastating trauma of what it was like when one in seven young men in England had died,” she says. And certainly the incidents from Nicolson’s book that Brown recounts are harrowing.

“She describes scenes like, for instance, riding the bus, and suddenly some woman would just break into wild tears as something had reminded her of her son, or her brother or somebody in her family,” the editor says. “Or she would talk about men walking the streets of London wearing these strange, eerie tin masks because their faces had been shot away.”

One surgeon, Howard Gillies — himself a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Great War — was so affected by the tin-masked men that he worked to develop a revolutionary plastic surgery technique. Nicolson devotes a chapter of her book to describing his work.

All of Brown’s “survival” picks are about displaying character in the face of stress. Howard Schultz, for example, succeeded because of his uncommon audacity and vision. America’s 20-somethings may be foundering because most of them “haven’t really faced up to the stresses [that] people like Schultz are writing about yet,” Brown says.

And the survivors of the conflict once called the War to End All Wars faced the ultimate test: trying to readjust after a horrific, unimaginable trauma. As Brown puts it: “You do have to admire these people who returned under such terrifying circumstances and simply had to pick up and carry on.”

Imagine. Imagine the tin masks, the tears, the losses of families, of communities, of life. This is beyond my understanding. And to that,  this book has been added to my list of things to read. It’s on my kindle now.

More later.


Two new banners at the Hangar Theatre, Q. Cassetti, 2010Last night we attended the comedy, “The 39 Steps” at the Hangar Theatre…their opening night in the newly rennovated space. Imagine my surprise and delight  when we pulled up to the Hangar to find 3 of the 6 large scale banners hung on the building! Yes, I know I did the work, but to see them bigger than life and better than anticipated (how often does that happen?) Man, to gloat a bit, this vector stuff really works big like a dream. I need to get back to working this style a bit more…cause the huge piece matches up nicely with the tiny reproduction on the cover of the program. The theatre looks great and real. We are so lucky to have such generous citizens donate to make this a theatre facility to match the talent and shows being presented. Wendy Dann, the director of  “The 39 Steps” took us all on a very imaginative journey with four very skilled, comedic actors creating environments out of parts leading us  to places outlandish or predictable.  We were in trains, planes, automobiles and rollercoasters. There were no end of windows and doors that were cued beautifully…(Alex’s observation) to interesting and odd locations. It was a fun confection, the play, the place, the rich evening rolling in front of us after this fun experience. I highly recommend it. I need better pix of the banners…but hey, here are the point and shoots.

Saturday a.m. at SaudersGloria and I got up early and went to Sauders for granola makings, fresh strawberries and the like. I bought bacon ends, free range eggs, and something called “Amish Wedding” Cherry juice. We got strawberries which were glorious and the shape that say, “I am not from California or Florida” in an entirely different coloration and red. I got some chicken, some cheese, and containers to pack more granola in as there seems to be a new demand for the stuff. I snapped some shots to show you that no…this is not holllywood Amish stuff, but the real Mennonite scene.  We left at 8, got back by 10 with a 40 -45 drive each way. It was great driving north on RT. 414 through Romulus which we call the Amish Mainstreet. Farmstands galore, with tons of big draft horses grazing or even better, harnessed and working— truly defining 12 horsepower. Its not quite that time, but with twenty bucks and a big cooler, I can easily fill the box with produce for a week from these farmstands. Soon…but now its asparagus, fresh peas and the new strawberries. Cherries are a week away…particularly the sour cherries which I will pick with Kitty and Alex and Peter Hoover sometime during the first week of July.

We just got back from Americana Winery for lunch with Gloria, Rob’s sister who is visiting. The food was glorious and we sat outside and pretended we were on vacation…talking and having fun. The only damper to our lunch was that another table brought their feisty Shepherd mix who decided to try to get into a fight with the two winery chocolate labs. Amazingly enough, the Shepherd’s family sat placidly there while the lab was threatened very loudly by their pooch. Certainly made lunch a lot less pleasant with that sort of floor show. Note to self: keep the dog in the car or at home…and let everyone have a nice time.

More pictures in the works. I am working on a Lubok (Russian Folk Art) inspired bee picture. When Jim R. saw it.. we decided to fuse this approach with the new Cayuga Blue Notes band he is in. Love it. Should be fun.

Gotta go.

Baba Marta

from Wikipedia:

Martenitsa ( is a small piece of adornment, made of white and red yarn and worn from March 1 until around the end of March (or the first time an individual sees a stork, swallow or budding tree). The name of the holiday is Baba Marta. "Baba"  is the Bulgarian word for "grandmother" and Mart (март) is the Bulgarian word for the month of March. Baba Marta is a Bulgarian tradition related to welcoming the upcoming spring. The month of March, according to Bulgarian folklore, marks the beginning of springtime. Therefore, the first day of March is a traditional holiday associated with sending off winter and welcoming spring.

Romanians also have a similar but not identical holiday on March 1, called "Mărţişor". If and how these two holidays are related is still a matter of debate between ethnologists.

The red and white woven threads symbolize the wish for good health. They are the heralds of the coming of spring in Bulgaria and life in general. While white as a color symbolizes purity, red is a symbol of life and passion, thus some ethnologists have proposed that in its very origins the custom might have reminded people of the constant cycle of life and death, the balance of good and evil, and of the sorrow and happiness in human life.


On the first day of March and few days afterwards, Bulgarians exchange and wear white and red tassels or small dolls called (Pizho and Penda). In Bulgarian folklore the name Baba Marta (in Bulgarian meaning Grandma March) is related to a grumpy old lady whose mood swings change very rapidly.

This is an old pagan tradition and remains almost unchanged today. The common belief is that by wearing the red and white colours of the martenitsa people ask Baba Marta for mercy. They hope that it will make winter pass faster and bring spring. Many people wear more than one martenitsa. They receive them as presents from relatives, close friends and colleagues. Martenitsa is usually worn pinned on the clothes, near the collar, or tied around the wrist. The tradition calls for wearing the martenitsa until the person sees a stork or a blooming tree. The stork is considered a harbinger of spring and as evidence that Baba Marta is in a good mood and is about to retire.

The ritual of finally taking off the martenitsa may be different in the different parts of Bulgaria. Some people would tie their martenitsa on a branch of a fruit tree, thus giving the tree health and luck, which the person wearing the martenitsa has enjoyed himself while wearing it. Others would put the martenitsa under a stone with the idea that the kind of the creature (usually an insect) closest to the token the next day will determine the person's health for the rest of the year. If the creature is a larva or a worm, the coming year will be healthy, and full of success. The same luck is associated with an ant, the difference being that the person will have to work hard to reach success. If the creature near the token is a spider, then the person is in trouble and may not enjoy luck, health, or personal success.

The martenitsa is also a stylized symbol of Mother Nature. At that early-spring/late-winter time of the year, Nature seems full of hopes and expectations. The white symbolizes the purity of the melting white snow and the red symbolizes the setting of the sun which becomes more and more intense as spring progresses. These two natural resources are the source of life. They are also associated with the male and female beginnings.

Wearing one or more martenitsi is a very popular Bulgarian tradition. The martenitsa symbolises new life, conception, fertility, and spring. The time during which it is worn is meant to be a joyful holiday commemorating health and long life. The colours of the martenitsa are interpreted as symbols of purity and life, as well as the need for harmony in Nature and in people's lives.

Here is another nice posting about spring evocative traditions in Bulgaris>> Many Mouths One Stomach>>

I think cranky Baba Marta with her erratic behavior might make a nice picture? Eh?