Monday, January 20, 2020

In the Bleak Midwinter

Winter so far has been more soft than harsh. The sparkle of the season still remains, a glittery residue. I cling to holiday carols as a talisman of joy. Winter's magic still has me in thrall. 
While visiting family over the holidays, I discovered a new version of an old song through my chorister nephew. He admires Jacob Collier, a musical prodigy that became known through complex self composed and created musical videos on Youtube. The version of In the Bleak Midwinter with Collier performing all of the complex harmonies himself is a revelation. The performance inspired me to dig deeper into the song's history.
In the Bleak Midwinter is a poem written by Christina Rossetti, first published in January of 1872 as, A Christmas Carol. Rossetti belonged to a famous artistic family and is one of the Victorian age's finest poets. Her portrait below was created by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti via

In the bleak midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart. 


Holst (1906)
Darke (1909)
Rossetti's poem first appeared set to music in The English Hymnal of 1906 in a setting called Cranham, composed by Gustav Host. Holst's melody was suitable for congregational singing. A second setting of the poem was written in 1909 by Harold Darke and is the one heard most often sung by cathedral choirs. It was popularized by Kings College Choir at Cambridge through their annual Christmas Eve radio broadcasts. I prefer the Darke version myself. 
A favorite version of this tune is by harpist Judy Loan and soprano Monica Whicher here:
I am playing the harp daily for my January challenge this year. I hope to learn a version of this song. If I get brave you may find some video on Instagram.

Further Reading:
Christina Rossetti Bio, Poetry Foundation
How Christina Rossetti's Poetry Spilled Over Into the World of Art - Country Life
Christina Rossetti and Her Role in the Victorian Art World - Museum Crush
Christina Rossetti Among the Pre-Raphaelites - Apollo Magazine
What are the lyrics to "In the Bleak Midwinter" and which version is better - Classic FM

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

True Stories of Old Sag Harbor


Sag Harbor Express writer, Jim Marquardt recently released a book compilation of his wonderful "Looking Back" feature columns from The Express. Marquardt writes with the flair of the advertising executive he was, and the curiosity of a history buff and lover of Sag Harbor that he is. Each column gives insight into the uniquely layered history of Sag Harbor and the east end of Long Island.
Long Wharf, Sag Harbor
Eric Woodward Postcard Collection via

Steamboats where vital in Early America 
When the steamboat "Shinnecock" built by the Montauk Steamboat Company left Pier 13 on the East River on almost any morning in the 1890s, office workers hurrying to their jobs on Wall Street stopped and stared in wonder at the "smoke and clatter and pounding paddles". Her coal-fired steam engines generated 2,500 horsepower to turn giant, side paddle-wheels that would propel her up to 17 mph and power her through treacherous Hell Gate into Long Island Sound. Three decks topped by a giant black funnel accommodated 84 staterooms in her 250-foot length. After a stop at Greenport, the "Shinnecock" would arrive at Sag Harbor at 4 o'clock that afternoon and disembark hundreds of passengers onto Long Wharf. From there they walked to the American Hotel and country inns, or took stages to East Hampton and Bridgehampton. The next morning the "Shinnecock" boarded new passengers and returned to Manhattan. The full fare was two dollars." - True Stories of Old Sag Harbor

Sounds a lot more civilized than the Long Island Expressway!
The Shinnecock
image via

Articles, such as Petticoat Whalers of Sag Harbor depict the lives of Sag Harbor women who went to sea on whaling ships from the port of Sag Harbor in the 19th Century. 
Eliza Edwards of Sag Harbor 
Eliza joined her husband, Captain Eli H. Edwards, at sea in 1857. 
Courtesy Audrey Hank via

In 1857 when Mrs. William James Grant of Cold Spring Harbor and Mrs. Eliza Edwards of the "Black Eagle" out of Sag Harbor waited in Honolulu for their husbands to return from the north whaling season, they felt lucky to have each other and also to be boarding at a house kept by Mrs. Cartwright, wife of a Shelter Island man. - True Stories of Old Sag Harbor

A collection of Eliza Edwards' papers reside in the Mystic Seaport Collection.
Illustration Eugene Grasset

Christmas in Old Sag Harbor
We now criticize the commercializations of Christmas, but in early years Sag Harbor, December 25th was primarily a religious observance, and gifting and celebrating were usually modest and home-spun. The December 28, 1893 edition of the Sag Harbor Express reported that at the M.E. Church on Christmas, Rev. James Coote called upon the Sunday school class for their gifts to the poor: "... now a long file of bashful young ladies... laden with potatoes and blushes, followed by young men baring bags of flower and bushels of vegetables, little tots with apples, oranges, and loaves of bread, older ones staggering under bundles of clothing and tons of coal, until the platform presented the appearance of a farmer's cellar, stocked for the winter." - True Stories of Old Sag Harbor

Marquardt covers topics from whaling adventures, shipwrecks and wars to Indians and colonists and to writers and artists. I had read a number of his columns previously in The Express, but had missed many. It was a pleasure to find a book compilation of these gems. 

Jim, thanks for revealing the true stories of our Village!

Links
Jim Marquardt website
Preserving History One Column at a Time - Sag Harbor Express

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Bess Silver Wellins, Southampton Artist

For some reason, every time I pass Silvers restaurant in Southampton, the old Girl Scouts song, "Make New Friends" pops into my head. A weird memory prompt. Silvers is closing, transitioning to new ownership. Paintings that have been part of the restaurant decor by family member, Bess Silver Wellins are being sold as part of this transition. A restaurant will continue in the location, probably under a new name, though after 95 years, I think everyone will still call it Silvers.
A local artist Bess Wellins (1918-1998) was an American artist who lived in Southampton, NY. Her many works include oil and pastel paintings. She attended Corcoran School of Art, Grand Central School of Art and studied under Nikolai Cikovsky. During the Second World War she was hired by Bell Aircraft for aerospace drafting. As the niece of Israel Rouchomovsky, Bess continued the lineage of great artists in her family. via
Silvers, such a charming spot, I'm certain that new friends were made and old friends were cherished there. I hope that the paintings by Bess Wellins go on to new homes; their canvases imbued with the auras of the many happy occasions that they accompanied over the years.
Make New Friends 

Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.

A circle is round,
it has no end.
That's how long,
I will be your friend.

A fire burns bright,
it warms the heart.
We've been friends,
from the very start.

You have one hand,
I have the other
Put them together,
We have each other.

Silver is precious,
Gold is too.
I am precious,
and so are you.

You help me,
and I'll help you
and together
we will see it through.

The sky is blue
The Earth is green
I can help
to keep it clean.

Across the land
Across the sea
Friends forever
We will always be.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Plein Air Sag Harbor

The sweetest season begins.
The Downeaster Alexa is in port.
 Farm stands supply visions of sugar plums.
En plein air painters seem to appear on every corner.
Marc Dalessio painting in Sag Harbor! I've followed Marc's work online and at Sag Harbor's Grenning Gallery. It was exciting to see him at work. I would love to take one of his classes, there are great instructional videos on his site. I'm always curious to know artists tools as well as methods. Marc was using his own a hand crafted plein air painting kit. Artists also have secret ingredients. Standing in the street, I could smell the lavender essence that Marc combines with his painting medium. Definitely more pleasant than turpentine! The final version of this work on Marc's Instagram feed:
Since Marc was painting in the village, I supposed that his wife, artist Tina Tina Orsolic Dalessio might also be working somewhere in town. We looked, but failed to find her. Later, we discovered that she was painting the parking lot view of the Sag Harbor Cinema. Marc and Tina inspire me by honoring atypical views of Sag Harbor. Marc faces away from the oft photographed windmill towards Main Street. Tina observes the parking lot view of the Cinema instead of the iconic neon sign out front. 
Sag Harbor Cinema Under Construction by Tina Orsolic Dalessio
Another aspect of the Dalessios' painting practice that inspires me is the number of times that they've painted each other's portraits. Marc's beautiful portrait of Tina under a tree, painting a water color is currently in the window at Grenning Gallery. 
The Watercolor by Marc Dalessio
Tina Painting, Hillside by Marc Dalessio
Marc Painting by Tina Orsolic Dalessio
Kelly Carmody painting on Main Street at Sag Pizza.
I didn't interrupt Kelly, she seemed very intent on capturing her view. I was glad to find a photo of the completed painting, where else, but at Grenning Gallery. Laura Grenning is an artist herself and is incredible at encouraging artists in their craft and careers as well as fostering community. 
Sag Pizza by Kelly Carmody
There were a group of painters on Long Wharf. It was Wednesday. Funny me, I asked if they were the Wednesday Group. They were! The artist group meets on Wednesdays to encourage, inspire and support each other. A friend, Pam Thomson, paints with them. It was fun to run into her and the group and see what they were working on. They currently have a show up at the Water Mill Museum
Inspired by the abundance of local plein air activity we packed up our gear and headed over to a favorite spot. 
Hugh set up at the entrance to the beach in the shade.
Secret Beach Boats by Hugh Gallagher
My painting set up. Soltek easel, umbrella, etc.
First painting en plein air this year.
The next day we found plenty of beautiful scenes to paint, but it was fiercely windy. Hugh predicted that the canvases would perform like sails and our easels would blow over. 
Better weather for kite surfing.
It was less windy in our own backyard. I was given the opportunity to begin my own tradition of artist spouse portraiture. The book was good. He did not move... much. This was fun. 
Hugh Reading by Gail Gallagher

#sagharbor #pleinair #pleinairpainting #hamptons