Scarlet Letter
Tramp Steamer


Portrait of the Artist as an Old MaN


December 30, 2011


Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

December 30th. December 31. Then January 1, 2012. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was thinking about the headline I'd put on Page One of The Berkshire Eagle when the century changed. Something like this:


A new millennium dawns

My headline was being hatched some years before the 1900s would call it quits. I never got to use it because in 1997 I took early retirement. I still think it would have looked great across the top of the paper. The year 2000 was a big thing - the start of the third millennium - and deserved something big.

Mankind made amazing strides in the first 2000 years. For all our intellectual and technical skills, however, we haven't figured out how to stop slaughtering each other through war. Maybe we never will.

This New Year's Eve we will celebrate the passage of time with our old friends Rory and Claire and Lew and Harriet as we have every year for the past 20 years or so.

Now we are old friends not only in terms of years we have known each other but in terms of age as well. Well, maybe not Harriet. She may be too young to be old. But there's no question about the rest of us. We range from 75 to over 80.

For me it's a party that never gets old.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about the photo at the top. It is the channel at Pontoosuc Lake and I took it yesterday just after darkness fell I like the lights playing on the water and the ice along the banks.





December 28, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

My daughter Shannon pauses in the midst of her annual Christmas day unwrapping extravaganza and brunch, a look of pleasure and perhaps bemusement on her face. There were eight of us ranging in age from 12 to a day or two short of 80 and it was a warm, happy gathering.


In this shot Babbie  has just unwrapped a HummZinger of a present - a hummingbird feeder she had hoped for.

The next day Eric and Michelle and the twins, now 11 months old, arrived to continue the Christmas celebration and we had dinner for 11 at our house. I drank too much wine and had a wonderful time.

Geography kept our third family, Michael, Maghen and their 4-year-old, from joining the festivities. We did all connect visually, however, via iChat.

I felt like I was coming down with something Christmas afternoon so I took to my bed for a couple hours. The bedroom looks like a construction zone and has for a long time. Take a look.


That mountain in the blanket is my foot. For a few years we've been in the process of covering the old fiberboard walls with sheet rock. Babbie and I got the sheet rock up a couple years ago. Then I taped it, smeared on the joint compound, used a wet sponge to smooth it and started reinstalling the wood trim, some of which is new.


Paul and I put the windows and skylight in well before this project started ions ago. The thing's so close to being done that I'm confident that it will look brand spanking new by the end of February. Maybe sooner. It would have been finished a long time ago if things didn't keep interfering. There's always something going wrong with older houses. And then there's life too.

I'll sort of miss the way it looks. I like the bed in the middle of the room, my chest of drawers way off the wall at a jaunty angle and Babbie's in another room. (Oh, you noticed that Heineken's on the bureau. I had that before I went to bed.) But I especially like the white lines of the taped joints. I probably should explain that but it's too hard. Everyone to their own taste.



December 25, 2011

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!
How laden are your branches
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!
Your presence here enhances
Your silver star does glisten bright
Reflecting all the candlelight
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!
How laden are your branches





December 23, 2011

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Yesterday as night was about to fall I was sitting in Babbie's Prius in the Best Buy parking lot taking photos. It was raining hard and the hills were shrouded in fog. In this shot the rearview mirror looks like it's topped by molten lava, an effect caused by tail lights caught by a slow lens speed.

I had just bought Babbie's Christmas present - a five disc CD player, which was the only thing she had mentioned - and stashed it in the cargo space in back.

She wanted one because for years we have had no reliable way to play our CD's. Ever since our 100-CD jukebox had been zapped by an electric surge during a thunder storm, it had gone haywire. Who can blame it.

When you'd turn it on, the digital display that was supposed to let you pick the album you wanted would go into an electronic frenzy, flashing an endless stream of letters, numbers and punctuation marks.

When I got back to the house last evening I decided to leave the present in the parked car, planning to bring it in after Babbie went to bed.

When I woke up at 9:30 this morning, I remembered that I forgot. Babbie was gone and so was the car. Now I had to worry about two things. That she'd park it somewhere without locking it and the present would be stolen or that she'd see it and the surprise would be spoiled.

It turned out to be the latter.

"Why don't we make it a present for both of us?" she asked.

She said she didn't have a clue what to get me anyway. To seal the deal she threw in two books for my iPod to boot: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides - whose novel Middlesex I thought was tremendous - and The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay by Beverly Jensen, which Babbie considers the best book she's read in a while. I downloaded them and I'm looking forward to hours of good listening.

Two more photographs before I go down to the cellar to paint. Above is the Best Buy parking lot through the wet windshield. Below are the hills softened by the rain and fog with a band of headlight gold along the bottom. Oh, by the way, Merry Christmas.





December 21, 2011

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

I returned to the channel at Pontoosuc Lake to take some more pictures as darkness started to fall yesterday. I got some shots I like, including this one.

Because the lens was going to be open a long time, I kneeled in the grass and steadied the camera on a guardrail post. Even then I couldn't hold it absolutely still.

I haven't painted now for what - maybe 10 days - and I'm getting pretty antsy. I have worked on my next photo for the project on my parents.

And I've read - rather, listened to - Billy Budd and Why You SHould Read Moby Dick by Nathaniel Philbrick and ordered Ahab's Wife from the library as my Herman Melville kick continues.

Philbrick is convinced, and convincing, about Moby Dick being the great American novel. I've been thinking of posting the last three chapters with illustrations by Mark Milloff.



December 18, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Today you're getting two blogs for the price of one. I wrote my December 16 post and thought I had published it. Wrong. I must have been very sleepy that night because I normally check on Firefox to make sure each post appears. Anyway, here is the 18th's and below it the 16th's.

As for today's, the photographs are reflections on the sun reflecting on water, above, and on ice, below.

The one on top is one of a series I've been doing of the channel at Pontoosuc Lake in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. For an earlier shot you can go to my archives for November 29. I have taken shots there frequently in the past, but was inspired to try this tight cropping by Andreas Gursky's Rhine II, a photo that sold in November for more than any other in history. (More on that at the end of today's piece.)

This one was shot late one recent afternoon. I was taking shelter from the glare by standing behind a tree at the Blue Anchor.

Now here's a shot of Gursky's shot, which is big - 80" x 140".

Photo by Andreas Gursky

This is what England's Guardian newspaper had to say on November 11 about the sale of his photo, titled Rhine II:

"A sludgy image of the grey Rhine under grey skies, by the German artist Andreas Gursky, has sold for $4.3m (£2.7m) at a Christie's auction in New York, setting a new world record for a photograph.

The desolate featureless landscape shown in Rhine II is no accident: Gursky explained in an interview that it is his favourite picture: "It says a lot using the most minimal means … for me it is an allegorical picture about the meaning of life and how things are."

In fact the artist carefully digitally removed any intrusive features – dog walkers, cyclists, a factory building – until it was bleak enough to satisfy him.

Christie's described it as "a dramatic and profound reflection on human existence and our relationship to nature on the cusp of the 21st century".

The buyer of the huge glass-mounted 350cm x 200cm (80in x 140in) print is unknown, but other Gursky works hang in the collections of major museums including Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The previous record for a photograph was paid for a 1981 print by the American Cindy Sherman, who is also the subject of all her own works.

Gursky's prices have steadily been climbing at auction for the past decade: a diptych, 99 cent II, sold for £1.7m at a 2007 Sotheby's auction."



December 16, 2011

Photo by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

The curving railing glows in the light of the setting sun in this shot I took in early November. In the top left of the photo you can see the vapor trail of a jet heading west.

Within three minutes the sun was out of sight but still putting on a show (below).

The scene is upper North Street along Pontoosuc Lake in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I live nearby.

I remember how upset I was when they cut all the trees along the lakeshore to rebuild the road. But it turns out that tree-toppling highway projects aren't always bad. In this case the view of the lake trumps the loss of the big cottonwoods and tangled undergrowth blocking the view.

Another plus is that the sidewalk built along the guard rail has become one of the most popular walking routes in the community. The walk replaced a dirt trail that didn't see many walkers.



December 14, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Whoever's responsible for Christmas lighting in the Park Square end of downtown Pittsfield this year, congratulations. The lights strung in the trees in the center island near make North Street look festive. It's a relief after years and years of sort of blah decorations. Merchants have chimed in along the street with white lights tracing their windows.

Christmas time is a good segue - or maybe not so good - into my reflections on time itself. (Oh, no he's going all philosophical on me. And it will be philosophy lite, too. I can almost hear the parachutes opening as everyone bails out here.)


Anyway for those still with me: The trip we took to Louisiana in November, Thanksgiving at Zoa's - for that matter last week's trip to New Hampshire - all seem so far in the past as time zooms forward at warp speed.

I'd like time to slow down a little. I'd like to put a brake on the minutes of the day and night, forcing 60 seconds to take maybe 120 so a day of 1464 minutes would be more like one of 2928 minutes. I doubled the number in my head. Did I get it right?

At 76 you know that  your time, which once seemed infinite, isn't. Days, weeks, years are going by you were riding the front car of the roller coaster.

Every now and then, fortunately, there's a week that seems 10 days long. You get to Wednesday and realize that Sunday, Monday and Tuesday unfolded at a leisurely pace. And Thursday, Friday and Saturday don't seem like they're rushing up on you.

That's what I want for Christmas. The power to turn a switch in my brain to slow motion. Not always. But often. I savor time. I don't get bored. But then I know, as Chaucer said, time waits for no man.



December 12, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

I drove up to Keene, New Hampshire, last week to deliver a painting to a friend at Keene State. From there I went to Auburn to visit my son Eric, his wife Michelle and their twins.

Eric and I went to an art opening in Manchester and then crossed the street for a great meal at a stakehouse - and a great time.

During the course of the evening Eric introduced me to a half dozen people he knows: a developer who collects photos, a strong man, a tall woman who plays polo, a jeweler and his friend who has been considering naming his baby Grier ( a great choice ) and the owner of the establishment.

On the road I met a lot of trucks (How's that for a forced transition?) and photographed a number of them. Here are a few.

Above, through a dirty windshield faintly is a white truck heading downhill into West Cummington, Massachusetts. It had snowed during the night. Although up to 16 inches had been predicted, we only got a couple.

While it may not look like it in the shot above, I didn't encounter any serious traffic during the trip.

This rig (above and below) took both the Horner 18 Wheeler Award for the best name and insignia on a trailer and the classiest message on a cab.


Here we are in the fast lane at the entry to the Mass Pike at Auburn on the way home. I'm in love with the transponders on our cars: they let us go through the toll booths without stopping.



December 10, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Let's take a ride on the wet side. Head with me down First Street in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on a recent rainy night.

Above we are pulling up to the intersection of First and Fenn, a nicely uphonious juncture. On the right is the empty lot where the building burned several years ago and had to be torn down. It is long, narrow and fenced.

Now we're oposite the municipal parking lot on the left and the Pittsfield Common, with its cool new sidewalk, is coming up on the right. We're just passing the First Baptist Church.

Methinks that's the School Administration building on the left.

Now mates, if you haven't abandoned ship, we're approaching the intersection of First and Tyler.

As you may have figured out, this is no longer First. It's North Street going down the hill toward the intersection with Crane Avenue. While it isn't First, I contend it's legitimate to plunk it into this photo jaunt. After all First makes a straight run into this section of North, whereas the North that runs through the downtown has to make a slight right and then an abrupt right hook by the hospital - a right hook with a stop sign - to connect with its namesake.

P.S. Last night I saw my granddaughter Riley and her fellow actors trod the Herberg Middle School stage in a delightful version of the Scandinavian folk tale, East of the Moon, West of the Sun. She was the lead, the beautiful poor girl who is sent to live with the polar bear to enrich her family. The bear turns out to be a handsome prince who the smitten Riley has to track to the ends of the earth before becoming his princess. I discovered what I expected to discover: She has stage presence. Maybe she's Broadway bound. Afterwards, Paul, Shannon, Riley, Babbie and I went to Ben and Jerry's to celebrate.



December 8, 2011


Walk On Walls, the new show at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield, hangs photos that were originally intended to be displayed on city sidewalks this summer as part of the city's 250th birthday celebration.

Some of the shots were installed on the sidewalks and others weren't. I suspect there was a shortage of sponsorship money. This show, which runs through February 4, presents the work of 25 of the artists who had been picked by the jury for the sidewalk event.

A lot of good work is on display and each 36" wide photo is for sale for $95. I would love to have a number of them, but we're trying to export art rather than import it. We have no more wall space.

Take a look at the show. The Lichtenstein is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Sabine Vollmer von Falken took the sophisticated photo at the top, Pittsfield Dancers, in the alley that runs beside the Beacon Cinema. She was taking dance lessons at the time and they were her instructors.



From the weather forecasts last night I expect to wake up today to a scene like this one of Snow Blowing in Pittsfield captured by Peggy Brawn.



Years ago England Brothers department store thrived on North Street. In the remembrance above, Kevin O'Hara captures the magic of riding the elevators.


My granddaughter took this shot of Shining Rails from the Intermodal Transit station on Columbus Avenue two years ago. My granddaughter,, now 12, and I both entered photographs for this juried event. She got in. I didn't. I'm very proud of her.


This little Urban Gardener shows off her prized zucchini for Dianne Firtell who recorded the moment for posterity.


This is a photo of a painting, Onota Pine, done by Joanne Murray.


Matthew Gadson painted this picture, which takes the form of a photograph for the show. He calls it Me Walking Down the Street Playing with My Dog. He got the Big Y with its shopping carts in. And I think that the building on the right is Pittsfield Tire.


Dancer was taken by Eagle photographer Ben Garver on a Third Thursday. Those are serious dreadlocks.


Kevin O'Hara, the author, took this shot of his boyhood stomping grounds, the footbridge over the Bel Air Dam off Wahconah Street.



Susan Geller was out in this kayak when she got this shot of Onota Lake.



This is a photo of a painting by Marguerite Bride. Dunham Mall, bedecked with banners promoting Pittsfield, leads to City Hall.



A double rainbow graces the Crosby Baseball Field by Patrick Berry.

I took the photos of the photos during Saturday's opening and some are distorted because I had to shoot up at them on walls where they were hung one over the other. In others my photos picked up light glaring on the surface.

There were more I would have liked to show you here. But I've already put in so many anyone calling this post up on dialup is going to have a long wait.





December 5, 2011

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

I hate to sit in the dealership waiting for my minivan to be serviced. But the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail is close to the Honda facility so in good weather I don't have to. Last Thursday I hiked about four miles along Cheshire Lake - taking care of the needs of both the vehicle and the body I occupy.


It was cold but dazzlingly clear. The sky was blue. The lake was blue. I shoved my hands in my pockets to keep them from turning blue, extracting them only long enough to snap about 65 pictures. Here are three.

I was listening to Moby Dick - I'm in the last third of the book now - but kept drifting during Ishmael's long, involved - dare I say wordy and sometimes boring - soliloquies on whales and whaling. Then I would have to fish the Ipod out of my pocket and start the chapter over.

While I should have been keeping a sharp lookout for the whale, my mind couldn't come to grips with its assignment. It kept turning to the way the brilliant sunshine turned the bare branches of the trees silver or the translucent ice that had formed on trail side puddles or thoughts of the final touches I needed to make on my current painting.

So as I wandered down the trail, my mind wandering, the white whale eluded me. No real problem. I will keep pursuing that whale, not as monomaniacal as Ahab, but nevertheless hell bent on lowering the boats and hurling the harpoon.



December 3, 2011

(Material added December 4)


Photo by Grier Horner

We went to the Worcester Art Museum recently to see an exhibit of modern American painting. It was good. But the painting at WAM that I liked best was the one above ( with the detail below) by James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Arrangement in Black and Brown, The Fur Jacket  hung on the far wall of a gallery and I sucked in my breath slightly when I saw it about 50 feet away.


Photo by Grier Horner

Subtlety isn't my thing in painting - although I find myself drawn to it more - but this life-size portrait done in 1877 is almost as abstract as some of Mark Rothko's darker canvases like the one below. The experience made me want to know more about Whistler, who was a contemporary of Winslow Homer and painted at the same time as the Impressionists who hit their stride in the 1870s and 80s.

I think the Impressionists and Homer completely overshadow Whistler now.


This and the subsequent photos were taken from the internet.



Above we have the young Whistler's portrait of his mistress The White Girl, Joanna Hiffernan, an Irish beauty who kindly raised his son by a parlor maid despite a tempestuous breakup.

When Whistler left for another country to paint, Hiffernan posed for Whistler's friend Gustave Courbet. Where she was all in innocent white in Whistler's work, she was nude in Courbet's. His painting of her, L'Origine du Monde, was one of the most erotic paintings then and now.

Anyway, the Whistler-Hiffernan relationship fell by the wayside. But the White Girl standing on the bearskin, it's glass eyes staring at you, brought him to the attention of the art world.

Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1834. But the artist, who spent his career in France and England, didn't brag about his birthplace. And for all I know Lowell doesn't brag about Whistler. It touts Jack Kerouac as it's famous son instead of the short, scrappy dandy who worked hard at his art.

During Whistler's lawsuit against the famous critic John Ruskin, Whistler claimed St. Petersburg, Russia, as his hometown. He had lived there as a boy when he father's engineering work took them to Russia.

"I shall be born when and where I want, and I do not choose to be born in Lowell', he declared when challenged.

An insult to Lowell but an insight into the cutting wit that made him at one time a favorite of Oscar Wilde.

Whistler sued Ruskin for writing that the artist's 1877 painting Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, looked as if Whistler had thrown paint at the canvas. It was considered scathing criticism then, just as it was 75 years later in attacks on the Abstract Expressionists. Like some of Turner's paintings, The Falling Rocket, is abstract in its realism.

Here's an interplay between Whistler and Ruskin's lawyer, Sir John Holker during the trial that ruined Whistler financially even though he won. It's taken, as is much of my information on Whistler, from Wikipedia.

Holker: "What is the subject of Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket?"

Whistler: "It is a night piece and represents the fireworks at Cremorne Gardens."

Holker: "Not a view of Cremorne?"

Whistler: "If it were A View of Cremorne it would certainly bring about nothing but disappointment on the part of the beholders. It is an artistic arrangement. That is why I call it a nocturne...."

Holker: "Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off?"

Whistler: "Oh, I 'knock one off' possibly in a couple of days – one day to do the work and another to finish it..." [the painting measures 24 3/4 x 18 3/8 inches]

Holker: "The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?"

Whistler: "No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime."

Whistler championed art for art's sake.



Here's another tonal portrait by Whistler, Harmony in Red Lamp Light. And below is his famous - and often parodied - painting known as Whistler's Mother. It was his mother who toned down his Bohemian life by moving in with him in Paris.

After the beautiful Irish girl, Whistler had another mistress, Maud Franklin, so I guess the contention that his mother tamed his life is overstated.

When Whistler died in 1903, some 40 years after he painted The White Girl, Hiffernan attended his funeral. Art collector Charles Lang Freer, a pallbearer, met Hiffernan there.

Another art patron, Louisine Havemeyer, later wrote about what Freer told him of the occasion:

"As she raised her veil and I saw ... the thick wavy hair, although it was streaked with gray, I knew at once it was Johanna, the Johanna of Etretat, 'la belle Irlandaise' that Courbet had painted with her wonderful hair and a mirror in her hand.... She stood for a long time beside the coffin—nearly an hour I should think.... I could not help being touched by the feeling she showed toward her old friend.

"Did Maud [Franklin] come?" [Havemeyer] asked. "Yes" answered Mr. Freer, "the same afternoon. She had come all the way from Paris and was very much affected as I uncovered Whistler's face for her to see him." ... [One could see, Freer mused] "that the real drama of [Whistler's] life was bound up in the love of [these] devoted women."

Courbet, did a much more flattering job with Hiffernan's face and hair in the painting above than Whistler in White Girl.




December 1, 2011


Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved


 I had a little inner celebration yesterday afternoon because I finished this painting, which I've been working on for awhile. But now that I look at the photos I see it isn't quite done. One of the good things about photographing a painting is that I usually see things in the photos I didn't notice looking at the painting itself.

I've been working on this since late October. During that period we were away for 10 days. Still, it's taking me longer to do a painting than it used to. I'm not putting in as much time in the studio as I'd like to.

The face needs touching up. The vertical folds in the flag are too rigid and the dark blues on the left are too dark. The whistle hanging from the lanyard isn't convincing. I bet you can spot other things.

I made the flag transparent, which I don't think flags are. But the transparency stays.

This piece is 74" x 49". The background is acrylic and China marker and the figure is oil. The outfit is by Dsquared and the model is Arizona Muse.

I'm writing this after a spectacular supper at Eliza and Peter's. We always have a great time with them.

I've been on my own for a couple days while Babbie was up with Michelle and the twins. By myself I drink too much and stay up too late. I didn't go to bed until after 4 either night.

If I lived alone, I'd be a sleepy alcoholic.




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