Saturday, March 31, 2012


The Light of Our Lives

By day the house is pretty much washed with light except on the darkest of overcast days. But at night we have some interesting lamps and fixtures.

Sunrise putting the shadow of a wood and silk Chinese lantern on the bedroom wall above a mission-style electrified oil lamp next to my side of the bed.

The Chinese lantern itself, a flea market find many years ago

I was given the cast iron art nouveau base of Venus on her scallop shell in partial payment for a design job during my student years in Boston.  The Tiffany lampshade revival was in full swing and the shades were WAY too expensive for my limited means.  So I got a old lampshade frame at a junk shop and bought colored glass, lead and everything else one needs from the Whittemore-Durgin Glass Company and tried my hand at making a shade myself, which didn't turn out too badly!

Another cast iron piece that hangs in our entrance hall.  There was no glass when I found it at a Goodwill in Boston, so it was back to Whittemore-Durgin for opalescent glass this time.  The five bulbs can be turned off separately from the column in the middle that makes a fine night light just by itself.

One day at MIT one of our faculty ran into our design and production building calling to us that hundreds of early 20th century light fixtures were being junked in the renovation of the Kendall Square T Station.  Some were not in good condition, with cracked glass or missing parts due to the haphazard way the demolition was going, and all were encrusted with filth, pigeon droppings, etc.  I managed to get three good ones and spent a great deal of time cleaning them up.   I installed them in my house in Roslindale, Boston and moved them, like so many of my other antique fixtures into the new house here.  The fluted glass of the shade burned out in the picture so this one doesn't look nearly as pretty as it really is.

A circa 1910 Moorish-style pendant found in a York, Maine antique store.

A Moorish Star fixture found at the famous Norton Flea Market south of Boston in the 1970s for $10.  Both it and the one above hang in my studio.

A wall-mounted lantern I built and cut the glass for that's now the reading lamp for a guest bed.

One of two art deco sconces that light the stairwell up to my studio and the guest bedroom. 

A pair of ceramic sconces found at an architectural salvage barn in the upstairs bathroom.  The 1930s  decor grew out of my owning the pedestal sink and medicine chest.  The paint job is mine.

And last but not least, our "famous" c1875 chandelier in the great room that was pulled out of a dumpster by a good friend who founded and runs the chamber opera company for which I design.  He and the music director hoped it would work in one or the other of their condos but at three feet wide and about three and a half feet tall it was way too big.  I was offered it and knew immediately exactly where it would fit perfectly.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Dedicated to the wonderful Dr. Spo, aka blogger Michael Rockwell who only wears regular ties for Casual Friday.


While the Republicans deny any "War Against Women," the following is worth considering (thanks to Marlene Lein on Facebook):
Wisconsin Lawmaker: If You Are Being Beaten, Just Remember the Things You Love About Your Husband

by Jodi Jacobson, Editor in Chief, RH Reality Check  March 23, 2012 

If you need any further proof that we are in the midst of a full-on patriarchal biblical-religious war on women, a Wisconsin lawmaker is happy to provide it.  According to Yahoo News, Wisconsin Rep. Don Pridemore helpfully suggests that, rather than divorcing an abusive spouse, you should try to remember the things you love about the guy while he is beating you up.
In Wisconsin -- yes, the same state where lawmakers have introduced a bill penalizing single mothers for being unmarried -- a Republican state representative has come out against divorce for any reason -- even domestic abuse.
Instead of leaving an abusive situation, women should try to remember the things they love about their husbands, Representative Don Pridemore said. "If they can re-find those reasons and get back to why they got married in the first place it might help," he told a local news station.
Pridemore -- who, coincidentally, is a co-sponsor of Republican state Senator Glenn Grothman's "being single causes child abuse" bill as well as a controversial voter ID bill that was ruled unconstitutional earlier this week.
Grothman now asserts that not only is single parenthood a factor in child abuse, women in particular are to blame for it.  Basically, if you are female, Mr. Grothman and Mr. Pridemore feel you are worthless once you leave the delivery room. According to Yahoo, "while [Pridemore] thinks women are capable of caring for a family "in certain situations," fathers are the only ones who provide structure and discipline. If they don't grow up with married biological parents, Pridemore says, "kids tend to go astray."  Uh-huh.  And what's his excuse?



The new workbench with attachable table saw unit that I put together out of scrap wood in the upstairs shop down at Fritz's Center.  The first project will be upholstering the French Bergere armchair that I recently has repaired and rebuilt.


The Gay and Lesbian Review gave such a positive review to this recently published biography of the famed English writer, that I bought it immediately.  It was of particular interest to me because while I've seen several movies made from E.M. Forster's novels, most notably Merchant & Ivory's Maurice, I have never read any of his work.  Fairly early in life I had begun to focus on history and biography, and then during my active career on play scripts and related research,  so that it's only recently that I've been reading novels with any degree of regularity.

While Forster was more or less openly gay, or at least as out as a generation of gay men traumatized by Oscar Wilde's trial and imprisonment could be, The G&L Review pointed out that Forster's homosexuality had not been sufficiently integrated into the work of previous biographers.  Ms Moffat, by contrast, is thorough in tracing incidents and individuals in Forster's life that found their way into his characters' lives, and she chronicles his journey from hesitant entry into a public career to influential gay icon on four continents compellingly.  Along the way are portraits of fascinating figures such as Edward Carpenter and George Merrill, English Socialists who managed to live openly as gay lovers in a countryside village; Constantine Cavafy, who lived above a male brothel in Alexandria, and whose homoerotic poems Forster introduced to the English-speaking world by getting them translated and published; Forster's various lovers in India and Egypt; and a number of American gay artists and activists like Paul Cadmus, George Platt Lynes and Lincoln Kirstein -- even Dr. Kinsey, researching the lives and sexual practices of gay men, was part of the scene.

For an American, however, the most interesting revelations may be in the early chapters dealing with Forster's university days at Cambridge.  Strictly male environments (the very few female students were segregated from the campus as much as possible), the English universities fostered close bonds among students, and between students and the all-male faculty, to the point of affection and beyond.  They were, in effect, extremely efficient engines for producing and releasing large numbers of young homosexual men into an officially and legally homophobic society just waiting to destroy them should they slip up and be detected.  Hypocrisy on a massive scale is obvious: a vast number of England's greatest and most revered writers, actors, musicians, playwrights, painters, politicians, scientists, Kings and Queens, and others -- going back to the nation's earliest days -- were homosexual.

Though he struggled with his courage most of his life, Forster became a quiet but highly influential force for changing all that.


Saturday, March 24, 2012


I'm bumping the post I had prepared for today to print this truly horrifying article which, if true, reveals crimes by the Catholic Church on a level with the mass burning of heretics in the Medieval Period.

Tolerant Dutch Shocked by Accusations the Church Forced Castrations
Time Magazine  Thursday, Mar. 22, 2012  By Leo Cendrowicz

It not only sounds ludicrous as a medical procedure, but in moral terms it's downright barbarous: castrating young men to "cure" them of their homosexuality. Yet this was how the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands treated gays in the 1950s, according to a Dutch newspaper, which claims at least 10 men were forced to go under the knife at the church's behest. The extraordinary allegations, which were published last weekend in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, have prompted Dutch parliamentarians to demand an inquiry into the issue, raising questions about whether the church received political cover to take such extreme measures.

The newspaper said the castrations were regarded both as a treatment for homosexuality as well as a punishment for those who accused clergy of sexual abuse. The newspaper said 20-year-old Henk Heithuis had been surgically castrated on the instructions of Catholic priests in 1956 after he told police he was being abused at the Harreveld boarding school in Gelderland. Although the monks were convicted of the abuse, Heithuis was nonetheless sent to a Catholic psychiatric hospital and then castrated. He died two years later in a car crash. The newspaper adds there are strong indications that at least nine other young men were castrated around the same time, either for whistle-blowing or for supposed homosexuality.

The revelations are especially shocking given the long-standing Dutch traditions of openness and tolerance, notably regarding homosexuality. Same-sex relations have been legal in the Netherlands since 1811, and the country was the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriages in 2001. Perhaps most disturbing, however, is the fact that the castration claims were also missed by an official investigation into sexual abuse in the church published last year. The investigation — headed by Wim Deetman, a former Dutch Education Minister and mayor of the Hague — looked into 1,800 reports of sexual abuse by clergy or volunteers within Dutch Catholic dioceses from 1945 to 2010. While the 1,100-page final report concluded that tens of thousands of children had been abused over 40 years, it did not delve into the castration claims, saying, "There were few leads for further research."

The question now is how much the authorities knew about these activities at the time and whether there has been a cover-up. Minutes of board meetings held at the institutions show that government health inspectors were sometimes present when decisions were made to castrate young boys because of their "homosexual feelings." The minutes also reveal that the heads of the institutions felt they were entitled to make such decisions without consulting the boys' parents. "What lifts this from a level of horrific crime to human-rights violation is what the politicians and the police were doing," says Gauri van Gulik, a women's-rights advocate and researcher for Europe and Central Asia at the New York City–based Human Rights Watch.

There are also allegations that the practice was known to politicians at the highest level, including Victor Marijnen, who was Dutch Prime Minister from 1963 to '65. In the 1950s, Marijnen was vice chairman of the Dutch Catholic child-protection agency and chairman of the Gelderland children's home where Heithuis and others were abused. In that capacity, he intervened to have prison sentences dropped against several priests convicted of abusing children by writing letters to the Queen on their behalf. Marijnen was a member of the defunct Catholic People's Party, which later merged with Protestant political parties to form the conservative Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA).

Since Deetman, who headed the recent investigation into clergy abuse, is also a CDA member, this has raised concerns about whether the inquiry intentionally skipped over the potentially embarrassing role of one of the party's leading figures. As Khadija Arib, an MP from the Dutch Labor Party, says, it suggests a disturbing collusion. "We want the truth, the whole truth to be unearthed. There are still many unanswered questions, including the role of government institutions in the cover-up of this abuse," she says. Deetman himself has refused to comment on the latest allegations. "Mr. Deetman will provide an explanation at a hearing in parliament," his spokesman says. However, the Catholic Church has indicated it is willing to cooperate with any investigation into the castration allegations, and it has already expressed "shame and sorrow" at the child-abuse revelations that the emerged last year.

But Guid Klabbers, chairman of the Dutch association of clerical child sex-abuse victims, says the church is not doing enough to atone for the past. "There is a conspiracy between the Catholic elite and the Catholic politicians in covering the crimes. That seems obvious," he says. Klabbers says one of the reasons that the scandal has remained a secret for more than half a century is because those involved fear ignominy in revealing it. "We need more victims and witnesses to come forward," he says. "But it's not easy to admit you have lost your [testicles]."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

UPDATE: The Republican-dominated House of Representatives here in New Hampshire has just defeated the Republican-sponsored bill to repeal same-sex marriage by a not-even-close vote of 211 to 116.  This means that a number of Republicans DID vote the people's will rather than Republican Party Line.  Thanks to all who crossed the line to do the right thing!

 Award-winning gay political and cultural blogger Joe Jervis (left) posted a statement yesterday from Carl Siciliano, director of the Ali Forney Center in New York City that shelters gay youth thrown out of their families for being gay.  The Cardinal in question is famous for his whiskey drinking and luxury cigar consumption as well as for his homophobia.  My comment on Joe's blog follows.

 "Cardinal Dolan, I pray that you might be able to open your eyes and your heart to the cruel suffering LGBT youths endure when their parents reject them. I invite you to visit the Ali Forney Center, only 30 blocks from St. Patrick's Cathedral, and meet with youths whose Catholic parents drove them from their homes. I want you to hear them tell you what it is like to have their parents be ashamed of them, and tell them that they are against God. I want you to see what their lives are like alone, unloved, and abandoned in the streets. I hope that by meeting our kids you can understand the pain and anguish you help to cause.

"Decent people protect children from harm. I want you to be that decent person. I hope decent Christians will join me in demanding that religious leaders stop promoting homophobia. As the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, and as the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, you may well be the most influential religious leader in the country, and could make an enormous difference in this crisis of family rejection. I hope and pray that you can stop fighting the acceptance of LGBT people as equal citizens. I want you to understand how LGBT youth suffer because of such a fight. Please see these rejected children through the eyes of a pastor and figure out a way to stop causing them to be harmed." - Carl Siciliano, writing for Huffington Post.

I would like to see a boildown of that statement and Carl's picture on the side of every bus in New York City.  Joe, what would that cost?  Could it be made to happen with the assistance of some major donors and the contributions of hundreds of gays -- I'd send a check in a heartbeat.  The Cardinal needs to be shamed into putting down his glass of Jameson's and his latest cigar and into facing the reality of what his bigotry is doing to gay youth.


We're waiting for the result of a vote that will be taken today in the House of Representatives on the bill to repeal same sex marriage in New Hampshire.   The hope has been that our Republican Reps will follow the Party's contention that Legislators have to listen to the people, in which case the vote would reject repeal by a 2/3 majority as that's the percentage of the population that does not want to see Equality repealed.  However, we know from experience that when it comes to gay issues, Republicans tend to vote their prejudices rather than their constituents' will.  The Governor has promised to veto the repeal bill if it passes, at which point it goes back to see if the Legislature can override the veto.

Fingers are crossed.


In his new book, NIV Lessons From Life Bible: Personal Reflections With Jimmy Carter, the former President has an interesting President-Jimmy-Carter.jpgaside about LGBT rights and says he favors marriage equality.
"Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things -- he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.
"I draw the line, maybe arbitrarily, in requiring by law that churches must marry people. I'm a Baptist, and I believe that each congregation is autonomous and can govern its own affairs. So if a local Baptist church wants to accept gay members on an equal basis, which my church does by the way, then that is fine. If a church decides not to, then government laws shouldn't require them to.
"I don't actually have a problem with allowing churches to pass on marrying gay and lesbian couples either. Divorced people can't get married in a Catholic church. Some faiths won't allow those who don't follow their beliefs to get a religious ceremony. Big deal.

"It's the piece of paper and government recognition of rights that's important. Religion is all a bunch of arbitrary beliefs based on superstition. I'll take what I can hold in my hand versus what I can hope for in the afterlife."
~posted by Bil Browning on bilerico

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mike Mennonno recently brought up the "five minute rule" about the safety of eating food dropped on a floor on his Facebook page.  I commented that I remembered it as the "three minute rule" when I was in college, but that perhaps standards had changed over the years.  For me, however, the issue has developed something of a special meaning.   I firmly believe Americans are over-sterilized.  At the same time, there are reports that there is more sickness among school-age children than ever. 

 TV commercials are obsessed with "germs on surfaces" and morning TV constantly shows people with ultraviolet cameras or whatever revealing colonies of seething bacteria in sinks and on counters.  

If I washed and/or chemically sanitized my hands as often as the doctors on Good Morning America say is essential, I'd have skin that looked like boiled leather.  I keep my kitchen normally clean and I know how to cook food.  Nobody has gotten food poisoning in my house, ever.  EVER.

I played outside as a kid. I've had all kinds of things in my mouth and we'll leave it at that, although I don't remember eating dirt, which I understand some kids do and the attraction of which I don't quite get.  I am almost never sick and when I am it's almost invariably one common cold a year -- I've developed a strong immune system in large part because I was exposed to germs as a kid and developed a resistance.  Yes, I had a certain number of pesky childhood illnesses, but I highly recommend not getting hysterical over the odd germ; properly experienced early in life, they lead to good health.

I took charge of my health early in life as I learned about my body and became aware of what its various functions felt like when operating properly and when not.  On one occasion a couple of decades ago, I went into my doctor with a serious cough and told him I had pneumonia in the lower lobe of my left lung.  He sent me for an x-ray, and there it was.

When HMOs began, I joined one in Boston and was asked what kind of doctor I wanted.  I said one who would be interested in all of me, what my mental state was like, what I ate, how I lived, etc. and not one who would just prescribe something by rote every time I came in with a sight problem.  I've also worked with my doctors to adjust downwards the dosage of any prescriptions I do get so as to take the lowest effective dose.  I don't like being over-medicated; popping large amounts of pills was a habit in my family and I decided early in life that I wanted no part of it. 


I thought this kind of scam had been so exposed that it was no longer viable and had faded away.  But this morning, here were two of them in my email:

You Have Won GB£850,000.00 Britain Pounds on the Nokia Inc. United Kingdom 2012 
Draws. For More Information on How to Receive the Money, Contact Financial 
Officer Dr David Gordon Via Email Or Call: +44-703-590-
I have been waiting for you since to contact me for your Conformable
Bank Draft of $900.000.00 United States Dollars,but I did not hear
from you since that time.
You have to contact the FedEx DELIVERY SERVICE now for the
delivery of your Draft with this Information Below:
Contact Person: Mr. LARRY CHURCHILL
Telephone: +448712370558
Finally, make sure that you reconfirm your Postal address; Direct telephone
number; Do send it to them again to avoid any mistake on the Delivery and ask them.
Yours Faithfully,
Mrs. Sonia Martin

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Last Thursday, the website of the London Daily Mail put online the incredible sonar-generated map of the half mile long chunk of the bottom of the North Atlantic where the Titanic came to rest, two and a half miles down, 100 years ago the 15th of this month.

When one of the most popular and acclaimed books on the sinking, Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember," was published in 1955, it was not yet understood that the ship had broken in two while still partially on the surface.  Speculation that it had in fact done so was confirmed by photographs from the famed discovery of the ship on the ocean floor by a Woods Hole, MA oceanographic team.  At the time, Dr. Robert Ballard, leader of the expedition, commented that the forward section of the ship had "landed" on the ocean floor but that the stern had "crashed," given the relative conditions of the two sections.

This full overview of the debris field shows clearly identifiable ship section top center, and a much less identifiable stern section in the lower left center with large chunks lying on the ocean floor from nearby to some distance away.

There will be a two hour History Channel documentary on the hundredth anniversary during which the entire process of making what they're calling a map of the site will be explained in detail.  Two robot underwater sonar vehicles scanned the debris field in a precise grid pattern, the sonar penetrating the pitch blackness and murk of the muddy bottom.  130,000 images were then assembled to make the picture above.

Close-up of the bow and midships.  It is this section that scraped along the iceberg, ripping open enough of the hull to allow seawater into five of the water-tight compartments into which the ship was divided.  Water Lord reported that if only four had been compromised, the Titanic would probably have remained afloat.  He also cacuated that if the order to swerve to avoid the iceberg had come several seconds sooner, the iceberg would have been avoided; if it had come several seconds later, then the ship would have struck head-on and smashed its bow but not have compromised more than the first water-tight compartment and would also have remained afloat (as when the U.S. liner Arizona hit a berg head-on in 1879, crushing 25 feet of its bow, but remaining safely afloat and able to be sailed into port).

The Titanic was put out to the public as "the unsinkable ship."  Lots of ships sink from the bow but don't break apart.  For many years there have been questions as to why Titanic split apart and others have wondered why the gash in its port side was so long.  Some research has speculated the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland used inferior steel that became more brittle in the icy cold North Atlantic than superior steel would have, and shattered readily when impacted by the iceberg.  Others have speculated that marine designer Thomas Andrews placed too many vast open areas, like dining rooms and grand salons, in one section of the ship, reducing strength due to an  insufficient number of structural members in that part of the hull. 

The mangled stern, embedded in the bottom silt, and major debris including engine boilers and shredded sections of the hull.

Of course, the big scandal was the number of dead -- more than 1500 versus just over 700 saved -- linked to the fact that the Titanic carried an insufficient number of lifeboats for everyone on board.  There is shared blame here, plenty to go around.  British Board of Trade rules of the day did not require boats for more than a certain percentage of people on modern steamships.  A major calamity was considered unlikely with the shipping lines so full of other ships that could come to the rescue, and because of the safety technology supposedly included in the ship's construction.  In point of fact, the Titanic carried lifeboats in excess of Admiralty regulations, if still inadequate to the number of souls on board. 

British classism played a big role.  When the order came down from the bridge to abandon ship, the entrances to the lowest passenger deck, the third class or steerage deck, were locked.  Steerage was one of the big financial engines that made trans-Atlantic liners profitable.  Large numbers of people, mostly immigrants looking for a better life in the United States, were crammed into Steerage.  They were rigidly segregated from Second and especially from First Class, whose passengers would presumably be offended by the sight of them.  When someone finally thought to open the gates and let them up to the boat deck, most of the boats were already gone.

But the old Chivalric Code was also at fault.  The rule for places in the lifeboats was "Women and Children First."  But in firm belief of the much publicized unsinkability of the Titanic, and because getting into a small boat in the freezing North Atlantic in pitch blackness wasn't particularly appetizing, lots of women refused to go.  And the men, particularly First Class men, were heavily invested in a belief system that they must go down with the ship rather than take places in the boats meant for women.

So, with women not going in great numbers and men not going, many of the first boats were launched at half or less than half capacity.  The crew, seemingly not able to enforce the Captain's abandon ship order, allowed the death toll to mount by not compelling people into the early boats.  By the time it became obvious that catastrophe was at hand, and steerage passengers were finally released to find their way up to the boat deck, it was too late.  Carnage on a huge scale was inevitable.

A decade ago, Fritz and I drove around Nova Scotia and visited Fairview Lawn, the "Titanic cemetery" in Halifax.  Over a thousand passengers and crew had died of hypothermia in the frigid water, their bodies borne up by the thick cork slabs in their life jackets.  A few ships were dispatched to pick up the victims (one cable-laying ship found 306) but most other ships relied on reports of the shifting westward movement of the "zone of the floating dead" to avoid the area completely.   Between those brought in by search ships and others who washed up on the Nova Scotia shoreline, Halifax provided a resting place for 150 Titanic dead at Fairview and two other cemeteries, while other remains were transported to relatives if their identity was known .

But one man wasn't washed ashore, nor was he picked up floating in the icy North Atlantic.  He didn't hang back to give his seat to a woman, nor did he join the men of his social class in the First Class Lounge for cigars, whiskey and comraderie while waiting to face the end with stiff upper lips like gentlemen. 

He was Bruce Ismay, Director of the White Star Line that owned and operated the Titanic.  He simply climbed into one of the last boats and took a seat in it.  About an hour later he turned away, unable to look as the stern section hung vertically for a few seconds against the star-filled sky and then plunged to the bottom in a futile search for its lost forward section.  On the rescue ship, he isolated himself in the Doctor's cabin and subsisted on opiates for three days until the Carpathia docked in New York City.

Bruce Ismay gave testimony at the Inquests held by the U.S. Senate and the British Board of Trade, being savaged for cowardice by the public and Press on both sides of the Atlantic.  Accounts by eyewitnesses repeatedly suggested that he had urged Captain Smith to run the Titanic at top speed no matter what, ignoring or suppressing iceberg warnings from other ships.  He resigned as head of the White Star Line a year after the disaster and went to ground in a country house in Ireland, trying to disappear as completely from pubic view as possible.  He died in 1937.

I must have read Walter Lord's book a half dozen times as a kid.  The story and the way people behaved as the crisis developed fascinated me.  There was an air of high Greek Tragedy about the event -- the largest and most luxurious ocean-going vessel ever built, arrogantly declared immune to the ever-present danger of the sea, had been struck down on its first voyage, taking with it some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world at that time.

But there was one other part of the book that astonished; in the introduction, Lord revealed that fourteen years BEFORE the sinking of the Titanic, American author and inventor Morgan Andrew Robertson had written an eerily prescient novella.  Here is a (slightly edited) section of the Wikipedia entry:  "Morgan Andrew Robertson (September 30, 1861–March 24, 1915) was a well-known American author of short stories and novels.  He is best known for his short novel "Futility," first published in 1898.  This story features an enormous British passenger liner called the Titan which, deemed unsinkable, carries an insufficient number of lifeboats.  On a voyage in the month of April, the Titan hits an iceberg and sinks in the North Atlantic, resulting in the loss of almost everyone on board, including the cream of international society.  There are some strong similarities to the real-life sinking of the RMS Titanic."

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

A coupe of months ago I posted this picture and said, "You are looking at the ruins of a French Bergere."  Both legs on the left side of the photo were partly broken off and the crest rail across the top of the back of the chair was gone completely.  The chair wasn't together at this point, just a pile of pieces.  I stuck them all together loosely for the picture above, hoping it wouldn't collapse before I'd gotten the picture taken.

Then I pulled them apart and we took the chair to Greg Brown, an master woodworker who works less than half an hour from here.  He identified it as a circa 1910 American-manufactured reproduction of a French Second Empire parlor arm chair or Bergere.   

Before I gave them to Greg to work on, I brought the pieces home and pulled out all the furniture and upholstery tacks and got rid of the dry-rotted shreds of the old upholstery.  I felt that an artisan on his level had a lot better things to do than dig corroded tacks out of old wood.  Then we delivered everything back to him for the real work to begin.

Greg deep cleaned it further, ridding the crevices in the carving of caked-on dirt and rubbing it down to get it free of any residues.  He restored bits of the carving that were damaged or missing (the clay-colored areas--actually poplar wood plugs carved to match the complete areas on the opposite panel.  He rebuilt the legs and carved them to match, then he reassembled the frame, still missing the crest rail. 

He sent me these two sketches for the new crest rail; the top one is based on my thought that it might be good to echo the scallop shell motif of the existing skirt rail (bottom of the seat).  The bottom one is his own invention.  So I processed the sketches with the picture of the re-assembled chair to see what each of the rails would look like in place.  I lived with them for most of the day and decided that the continuous arch of Greg's own design looked better with the chair's lines.

Greg emailed me yesterday to say the work was complete.  He had asked me if I wanted a painted finish like the original, which he analyzed as a milk paint in a faux mahogany color.  I said I thought it would be a mistake to make the chair look too fresh and glossy, that the rough life it had gone through should somehow be honored in its restoration.  So, he used various pigmented stains and got everything harmonized, then put on a simple finish of wax.

And here it is!  We picked it up this afternoon.  I'm thrilled with it; solid as a rock, it has a lovely glow and looks great in the living room.  We shop for upholstery fabric tomorrow and then I'll get to work.


Saturday, March 03, 2012


Please, a little common sense and social justice!

Frederic Deloizy (L), Mark Himes and their four children are currently living through the hell facing some 37,000 same sex couples in the United States.  Long term partners, now legally married, legally able to adopt children and make what has been and continues to be a stable, deeply loving home, they are now facing the very real possibility of Frederic's deportation to France.

The reason for their predicament is the U.S. government's refusal to acknowledge their marriage, the inevitable result of the patchwork nature of Marriage Equality on a state-by-state basis, backed by DOMA that prevents Immigration & Naturalization from behaving logically and compassionately even it it wished to -- and there is evidence that some agents and branches would do so if they could.  Frederic, it should be noted, has filed all the proper forms and documents for residence in the United States at all the proper times. 

Mark's blog, Our Simple Lives . . . A Daddy, a Papa and Their Four Children  has chronicled the the tension of the developing crisis as well as the joys of their developing family.  Were a move of the entire family to France become necessary for the men to stay together, the status of their children might be uncertain; while France recognizes same sex couples it does not, at this time, recognize adoption for gays and lesbians.  A relatively brief look through the last several months of Our Simple Lives will explain the basic problem, the appeals to the proper authorities and the denial of the latest attempt.

If you feel as I do, that this family needs to stay here, and that married same sex couples in real marriages, no matter the dismissive terms the anti-gay groups throw at them, should be allowed to remain together in this country the way bi-national heterosexual couples are, please consider sending your opinion and support to these officials:

Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.
393 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
P: 202-224-6324
Toll Free: 866-802-2833
Fax:  202-228-0604

Secretary Janet Napolitano
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

A personal note: as the gay father of two adopted daughters; as the grandson of a French woman who was a strong influence on my life; and as the husband of a wonderful man my daughters think of as a second father, Mark and Frederic's story and the family they created have resonated strongly with me ever since I found Mark's blog some while ago. I find it very easy to be happy when they have a great adventure out with the kids, concerned when the legal deadlines approach, frustrated and angry when their appeals are dismissed and denied.  These are very real people.  There may well be 36,999 more couples in the same situation, but Mark and Fred aren't statistics, and neither are the thousands of others.  They're part of us and will benefit from our support.


When I was growing up, I always waited for The New Yorker to arrive at my grandmother's apartment.  There were the music reviews, among the most literate and informative I've ever encountered, that fueled a pre-teen's growing love for opera and symphonic music.  There was the Letter from Abroad that gave me valuable glimpses at foreign cultures and customs.  But always the wonderful cartoons that commented with wit and insight on life, art, politics and social trends.

One of by favorite cartoonists was Saul Steinberg, an artist, really, not just a cartoonist.  His New Yorker cover that satirized the Manhattanite geographical perception of the world has often been imitated in tribute.

 But Steinberg was an artist whose line was disciplined, highly descriptive, with a minimum of carefully chosen detail and always delightful.  There are books of his work.  When my older daughter was in her teens, my aunt in New York asked her what she'd like to do on a trip she was taking to the City.  Without hesitation, she said a visit to a gallery in Greenwich Village that was having a major Steinberg exhibit.  The apple hadn't fallen far.
The Saul Steinberg Foundation site has a full biography and an admirably clear analysis of his style and the many other types of art in which he was skilled:

He died in 1999 and I've missed his wit and the eloquence of his drawings ever since.  So I was struck recently to find another cartoonist, with a similar approach, although Charles Barsotti uses captions which weren't ever part of Steinberg's work.

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