Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Astronomer's House

Ephraim Niles Byram (1809-1881)
Portrait by Orlando Hand Bears 1834

The title story in Val Schaffner's book, The Astronomer's House, is a fictional tale of an astronomer that haunts his former home. It is one of many short stories based on real people and places in Sag Harbor. In Schaffner's book, the character "Isaiah Mistral" is based on the real life scientist, astronomer and clock maker Ephraim Niles Byram.

The astronomer in Schaffner's book haunts an Italianate Villa with a tall narrow tower from which he could observe the stars. It wasn't difficult for me to imagine the Byram house being haunted as I looked through the locked front gate on this cool October day. The summer crowds were gone and the stillness was only disturbed by the wind blowing red and gold leaves across the road.
Ephraim Niles Byram was born in Sag Harbor on Nov. 25, 1809, the son of Eliab Byram. He became an astronomer, inventor, philosopher, and clock maker. He was also skilled in making compasses, telescopes and other nautical instruments, which he constructed with tools he made himself. At the age of twenty-five he completed a mechanical model of the solar system called an orrery. It was on display at the Sag Harbor Arsenal in 1836, and then was taken on tour around the country. He was best know for clock making, particularly tower clocks. - from the Smithsonian here
 Oakland Cottage, the Byram house was built circa 1852.
In Schaffner's ghost story, the mausoleum of the Astronomer in the cemetery adjoining the home is a prominent part of the tale. In real life, though the Oakland Cemetery is next door, the nearest mausoleum type grave belongs to the Fahys (the watchcase maker) not the Byrams.
The centerpiece of the Byram family plot is a monument with a sphere on top. I examined the sphere to see if there where any earthly or celestial markings but only saw lichen.
A small wooden gate is nearby, it most likely once linked to the larger original Byram property. The front of the monument with the Byram name is seen as you approach from the direction of the gate.
With your back to the wooden gate viewing the monument, you can see the Broken Mast monument a few yards away.
The Broken Mast Monument was erected in 1856 by the Howell family in tribute to John Howell who was killed by a whale. The names of five other whaling captains also killed by whales are listed. The monument serves "To commemorate that noble enterprise, the whale fishery, and a tribute of lasting respect to those bold and enterprising ship masters, Sons of Southampton, who periled their lives in a daring profession and perished in actual encounter with the monsters of the deep. Entombed in the Ocean, they live in our memory."
Close up of the carving on the Broken Mast Monument

Very few of Byram's clocks seem to have made it to the 21st Century. 
The list here testifies to the toll of fire and weather.
"Old Whaler's" church dedicated in 1844
The original steeple lost in the 1938 hurricane had four Byram clocks. The brochure from the church says the the clockworks were removed in 1846 because the high winds interfered with the clock's functioning. The clock was moved to East Hampton's Presbyterian Church where it served until it was gutted and electrified in the 1960s. A video of the clockworks in the tower of First Presbyterian Church of Southampton manufactured around this time gives you a good example of the delicacy of the machinery here.

While researching the Astronomer, I was excited to find the photograph of the portrait of Ephraim Niles Byram by Orlando Hand Bears on the Smithsonian site. The actual portrait appears to be in a private collection in Mississippi. It would be so wonderful to see a color photograph of the work, if not the work in person! Artworks by native Sag Harbor artist Orlando Hand Bears seem to be a rarity. Bears (sometimes spelled Beers) only lived from 1811-1851. 
Orlando Beers (d 2/10/1851) 
Self Portrait on Ivory
John Jermain Library,  here
Guide to Sag Harbor Landmarks, Homes and History by Henry Wiesburg and Lisa Donneson
Hamptons Bohemia by Helen A. Harrison and Constance Ayers Denne
Ephraim Niles Byram Long Island's Only Tower Clockmaker by Frederick Shelley
Of Interest
Walking Tour of Historic Sag Harbor Art and Architecture Quarterly of the East End

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


The farm stands are still filled with sunflowers.
I just began reading "The Sunflowers are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh's Masterpiece" by Martin Bailey. The author has a background in investigative journalism which serves him well in uncovering new information about Van Gogh. The discovery of an unknown Van Gogh letter in a used book sent Bailey on a mission that culminated in this book. Along the way, Bailey found the photograph below of  the sadly destroyed "Six Sunflowers" in a small Japanese museum tucked inside a folio of Cezanne.  So beautiful.
Six Sunflowers 1888
photograph Mushkoji Saneatsu Memorial Museum
formerly in a Japanese private collection
destroyed in an American bombing raid WW2

Van Gogh painted his most famous sunflower series while living in the Yellow House in Arles, France. 
Sunflowers in Arles photo from here
Fifteen Sunflowers 1889
oil on canvas 93 x 73 cm
Van Gogh Museum image form here
Martin Bailey takes you from the creation of each painting to what happened to them after Van Gogh died. For instance, the painting above that is now in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was never sold. A member of the Van Gogh family owned it from 1891 and donated it to the museum in 1973. 
Self Portrait for Gauguin 1888
oil on canvas 45 x 55 cm

How could I not be inspired? 
I picked up sunflowers at Tate's farm.
I am getting busy.

Interview with author Martin Bailey here
More about the book,  "The Sunflowers are Mine"

Monday, October 14, 2013

Grenning Gallery at the Watchcase

As I entered the raw space that once was the Bulova watchcase factory, I felt transported to an atelier in Florence. Bathed in north light, an artist is at his easel painting a portrait of a comely woman. The brick walls are hung with beautiful landscapes of local streets, beaches and countryside. The artist is Leo Mancini-Hresko and he is one of featured artists in Grenning Gallery's latest show, Local Landscapes.
Grenning Gallery collaborated with the Watchcase residences to do a combined art show and open house on Sunday October 13th. I was fortunate enough to be able to stop by and check it out.
The unadorned factory walls were beautiful in their rough state.
Adding art to the space was the cherry on the ice creme sundae.
Distant Storm by Leo Mancini-Hresko
oil 24" x 22" more info here

The old Watchcase building has been deserted for years. It was so exciting to see something happening at the site. The plans carefully made and approved are finally being carried out. It was thrilling to be inside the reconstructed space and I anticipated going upstairs to the model Factory Loft. When the property is complete this will be a spectacular site. 
The model loft was in the space directly above the painting exhibition.
Bedroom corner.
Master bedroom
Loft living area.
Open kitchen.
Up the stairs to the roof is your private deck.
The roof of the Watchcase is the highest point in Sag Harbor.
Great views towards town and the harbor.
you know what my favorite part was.
Don't miss seeing the latest Local Landscapes at the Grenning Gallery.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Tim's Vermeer

Tim Jenison, founder of Software company NewTek, is the creative force behind the new Sony Pictures Classics film, Tim's Vermeer.
Jenison had become obsessed with a concept described in David Hockney's book Secret KnowledgeArtists were secretly using optical devices as early as the 15th century to create their works.
The curious and creative Tim Jenison decided that he would see if he could paint an old master painting in the way that Hockney proposed. He built his own version of the camera obscura....
... and chose Johannes Vermeer's "The Music Lesson" as the masterwork he would recreate.
The film takes us along on Jenison's five year quest.
The documentary is a Penn and Teller film, directed by Penn Jillette.
Read more about the film here:
"How Penn and Teller came to make a movie about Dutch painting" - Los Angeles Times
"Art and Tech Collide in Awe-Inspiring Historical Whodunit" - Village Voice
"Penn and Teller's uncanny crowd pleaser asks the question, is it still a masterpiece if an amateur could do it?" -  Variety
"Tim's Vermeer" - The Hollywood Reporter
Tim's Vermeer will be shown at the Hamptons International Film Festival this coming weekend.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Plein Air Long Beach

Hugh had the idea to go painting at Long Beach on Saturday morning. I would have lounged with coffee and the morning papers, but Hugh knew morning was the time to be there. The homes along the cliff are illuminated by direct sunlight in the early morning. While we were setting up our easels, a local mermaid was taking her morning swim.
I'm still learning what brushes and paints to bring with me.
Hugh is better prepared and gets a quick start.
Squinting at the beauty.
Attempting to capture the scene in paint.
The sun was feeling stronger.
I realized that I had forgotten to bring water.
Big Mistake.
Fortunately Cromer's Market is within walking distance.
Out the parking lot and up Noyac Road.
The homes face the water.
The back entry gates are along the road.
I was able to get a closer glimpse on foot.
So inviting.
My oasis at last.
On the way back to the beach.
A not so subtle reminder to take care on the road.
Such a beautiful spot.
I love Hugh's painting.
Long Beach by Hugh Gallagher 10" x 20"
Mine... more work to be done.
Long Beach by Gail Gallagher 12" x 16"