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Cynthia Melendy: Artistic Journeys: Hunger for Beauty Provides Food for Thought: Still Lifes with Thomas Plant

 

As nature ends summer with its typical autumn color flourish, there is one trip everyone should make to complete the art tour for the summer, The Castle in the Clouds, or Lucknow, in the Ossipee Mountains. Indeed it is the perfect place to bring the entire family: the horse lover, hiker, architecture buff, fisherman, and art lover. And of course, leaf peepers. I went there for the third time this year to revisit the exhibit "Food for Thought", privately curated by Sam and Sheila Robbins. I spent some time with the artists' work, and the Castle and scenery, and it became my favorite visit.
Many remark that if they won the lottery and could buy any New England property, it would be this spectacular 5,500-acre estate built in 1914 in Moultonborough, New Hampshire created by the eccentric industrialist Thomas Plant. Not only is the home architecturally fascinating, its location perched high in the Ossipee Mountains, surrounded by waterfalls, affords stunning views of shimmering, island-sprinkled Lake Winnipesaukee, but its interiors and modern vision capture the imagination. In the fall it is unparalleled.
As you approach by car to the gatehouse, where you can buy your ticket for everything except horse back riding (a separately operated enterprise, and home to Zeus, said to be the largest horse in the world, and also where you can go trail riding), be sure to stop enroute to the Fall of Song waterfall. Try some or all of the 28 miles of hiking trails maintained by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. You can also take a leisurely walk along cascading waterfalls, ending at the largest waterfall, Falls of Song, or opt for a more experienced hike to take in amazing views of the Ossipee Mountains. With over 5200 acres and trails of all variations, you can spend the day hiking with the entire family, or enjoy a peaceful solo discovery. Access to the parking lot and trails can also be obtained from the more northern entry. Trails heads are located at Shannon Pond (Home to giant rainbow trout, and Walter the Fish's origination from "On Golden Pond") or off Route 171, located just south/east of the front gate. Hiker parking is located atop Ossipee Park Road across from the entrance to the Bottling Plant, as well on Route 171 at the trailhead. Guests can visit the Gift Shop to purchase trail maps as well as useful books.
Lucknow was built in 1913-1914 high in the Ossipee Mountain Range. Known as Castle in the Clouds since its opening to the public in 1959, the house is an unusual example of Arts and Crafts architecture in New England, expressing that aesthetic movement's philosophy of living in harmony with nature. Designed by the architectural firm of J. Williams Beal & Sons of Boston, the house not only exhibits skilled hand craftsmanship in every aspect of its interior and exterior, but also features a number of technological innovations of the early 20th century.
Thomas Gustave Plant (1859-1941) made his fortune in the shoe manufacturing industry, retiring as a millionaire at age fifty-one, having sold his business to the United Shoe Machinery Company in 1910. Newly married in 1913, Plant then focused on the creation of his New Hampshire country estate. In addition to buying the property known as Ossipee Mountain Park, Plant accumulated land from the Ossipee Mountains all the way to Lake Winnipesaukee, eventually owning 6,300 acres.
After a series of failed investments, Plant attempted, from the mid-1920s through the era of the Great Depression, to sell the mountaintop estate. However, no buyer was found, and the Plants continued to live at Lucknow until Tom Plant's death in 1941, at which time the property was sold. Plant's desire to maintain the integrity of his mountaintop estate property and the stewardship of the families who owned the property since his time, as well as the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, have ensured that Lucknow survived in close to its original state and that its magnificent natural setting can be enjoyed by all today.
After the orientation on the porch, visitors are led to the front door where they enter feeling like guests of the Plant's. (When I visited, the front entryway was being renovated, so we entered from the garden, where there is a spectacular view of Lake Winnipesaukee). From here, the tour is self-guided, but available trained docents are eager to share their knowledge. Floor plans are provided to help guide visitors through the building and point out important features such as central vacuuming systems and needle showers. Special "I-Spy Cards" are available to children as an educational and exciting scavenger hunt; if all the items are located, children can pick a prize from a treasure chest.
Following my exploration which included a thorough inspection of the garden (and the needle shower) I descended back to the Carriage House. The third and final art exhibition of the season is located in the lobby adjacent to the dining rooms (horse stalls from the carriage house!) or the terrace overlooking the Lake. The Café is very popular and often there is a wait, but the exhibition kept me totally occupied.
Presented is "Food for Thought" the final exhibition for the season, guest curated by Sam and Sheila Robbins. While I have not yet met them, their reputation for lively gallery talks in other locations is evidenced by this collection. The collection is not just about images about food, but it also illustrates the progression and dynamism of early modern art at the turn of the twentieth century in the United States. Especially noteworthy is that of the 36 works displayed, 18 of them are by women. That alone is food for thought in the world of the visual arts.
The artists themselves presented visual puns, for example, C Myron Clark's "Fresh Trout" presented a detailed rendering of a Rainbow Trout, and Dorothy Eisner's "Goose and Eggs" could be considered a domestic farm presentation, or birds about to be a meal. Another noteworthy artist, Elizabeth Hamilton Thayer Huntington, life history is particularly interesting. Leveled by polio as a teenager, she maintained an active art career until she died in her eighties. She painted from a specially constructed desk in the back seat of her car which her husband drove. Based in Boston, they would drive to the White Mountains where Dorothy would paint, then turn around and spend the night back at home, because they could not afford to stay overnight.
Myron Clark might also be familiar to White Mountain Art lovers, as he is also known for his mountain landscapes here and around the world. Lena Jordan's presentation of the "Fish Market" evokes the market place, and Charles Demetroulous' "Frugal Breakfast", moving into the Depression Era when he was teaching at the Boston Museum School, portrays the small breakfast bowl box of Corn Flakes and a tiny pitcher of milk, reflecting the economy of the times. Lois Blonder's "Boston Market", also evocative, portrays fruits in the plein air market.
Many of the works presented are the traditional still lifes of fruit, glass, and everyday household possessions that we recognize. These paintings have their origins carried from the ancient illustration of Egyptian tombs, to Ancient Greek paintings, to the Christian Allegorical stories told throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Groups of fruits, flowers, and interior items provided realism to the spiritual story and gave the artist more freedom of expression than a portrait or a landscape. When removed from that context, artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe and the United States often experimented with composition, color, arrangement, and spatial planes. Artists such as Matisse and Cezanne found the still life a perfect vehicle for experimentation in the geometric spatial arrangements, while Cezanne found the still life a primary means of taking painting away from an illustrative or mimetic function to one demonstrating independently the elements of color, form, and line, a major step towards Abstract art. Additionally, Cézanne's experiments can be seen as leading directly to the development of Cubist still life in the early 20th century.
Several of the works in the exhibition reveal this experimental vision of the artist; for example, Olga Sears' "Mangos" reveals experimentation with geometric, special and color arrangement when simply focusing on a bowl of Mangos. Her work, once we delve into exploring the artist, brings the White Mountains, Food, and artistic movements, and many of the other artists' lives together: Olga Sears was born on August 6, 1906 in Framingham, Massachusetts, the daughter of a shoemaker. At age 22, Sears was attending night school at the New England School of Design, and working as a silkscreen artist during the day. At age 25, she attended night classes at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston, earning money by posing for portrait and sculpture classes. Sears took private lessons from Charles H. Woodbury starting in 1939, and in 1940 she went to Monhegan Island, Maine for the first time and studied with Margaret Jordan Patterson (also represented in the exhibition). Woodbury is well known to many artists, and remains among the most influential artists to work in Ogunquit, Maine and in Boston. He taught more than 4,000 students including ones at Wellesley College, had more than 100 solo exhibitions, and wrote three widely read art education books. He continues to remain a strong influence on art education, and worked with many of the artists represented here.
Sears also studied with George Demetroulous (who painted "Frugal Breakfast" also displayed) in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Parallel to her working and studying as an artist, she taught art beginning in 1939, when she took positions at Dana Hall and Pine Manor School, teaching at Saint Mary's in Littleton, New Hampshire after World War II, and teaching summer classes at the Museum of Fine Arts School. Beginning in 1949, she also taught at the Vesper George School of Art. Early in 1931 when working as a display artist at the Jordan Marsh Company she began designing Christmas Cards and making woodblock prints for a card shop in Hyannis, Massachusetts. After World War II she began exploring abstract painting, and exhibited frequently at the Rockport Art Association, maintaining a studio in Rockport for a long time.
Such is the depth of this exhibition, connections between the artists, the subject matter, and the experimentation they present. The artists and work represented here are an excellent bridge to our present day artists who work in the Mount Washington Valley and the Lakes Region, and is a 'must see' for all those interested in this very interesting time period and subject matter, one which so well illustrates the creativity of artists' vision. Thomas Plant would be happy to have you as his guest.

Cynthia Watkins Melendy, PhD, an American historian, studies and writes about the arts, nature, gender, and their relationship over time. She teaches at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and enjoys the tranquility of the Ossipee Mountains. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

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