Thursday, December 8, 2016

Neapolitan Children Bathing: The stories of John Singer Sargent and Robert Sterling Clark

Neapolitan Children Bathing, by John Singer Sargent

Presented to the Club by David T. Noyes on Monday evening, December 5, 2016

Can you remember when the only building housing the Clark Art Institute was the stark, austere, imposing, lonely, marble fortress set back from the street on a knoll in Williamstown? After moving to Pittsfield in 1981, Sue and I made many trips to take in Sterling Clark’s collection. There was no food service at the Museum in those days, so we might grab lunch at the (now defunct) Howard Johnson’s, or have a sandwich at Papa Charlie’s Deli on Spring Street. No visit was complete without admiring this small painting—also titled Innocence Abroad; or Boys on a Beach, Naples, painted in 1879 by John Singer Sargent.

This 11” x 16” canvas shows children enjoying a beautiful sunny day at the beach. Two boys—one with a towel over his face, the other on his stomach with his head propped up on his hand—lie near two other, much younger boys standing. The boy at the center, wearing water wings, looks as though he is trying to get up the courage to wade into the rolling surf. Out in the water, a head bobbing above the rolling waves shows us a swimmer. The only interruption of the blue sky is the sailboat on the horizon. The smallest child, still showing the chubbiness of babyhood, looks outward engaging the viewer, thereby inviting us into their realm. The use of a completely frontal stance became a hallmark of Sargent’s painting as he felt this gave a more powerful image and made a more direct connection with the viewer. The children are all relaxed, and self absorbed—the very epitome of childhood innocence.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Back Stairs: The world of servants in America

Presented to the Club on Monday Evening, March 7, 2016 by Albert Easton

I am sure that most of us here have watched, or are at least familiar with the television program Downton Abbey, or its predecessor, Upstairs Downstairs. Each of these programs derives part of its drama from the contrast between the aristocracy and the servant class. Although each is based in England at a time and place when this contrast was most clearly delineated, there certainly was a somewhat similar contrast in America up to about 1930, and my purpose tonight is to explore the world of servants. Who were they, what were they like, and what has become of them?

Servants have probably existed for most of human history. It was natural for one person who was able for whatever reason to dominate another, to request that that other person take on some of the tasks he had been doing. Very often, the dominance was a result of warfare, and the people of the defeated nation were made the slaves of the victor. Often, too, the younger children did not inherit enough to support themselves, and had to offer services to others in order to survive.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Richard Whitlock Nunley, 1931-2016

Our longtime Monday Evening Club member, Richard Whitlock Nunley, born July 31, 1931, in Scituate, Massachusetts, died from a brain hemorrhage on March 3 in Portland, Oregon.

Dick was a teacher, poet, cook, gardener, and lover of the natural world. Childhood mentors fostered a love of books and learning, which led him to Dartmouth College and Kings College, Cambridge in England.

There he met Susan Stroud, whom he married on December 19, 1965. They spent the majority of their lives together in New Lebanon, New York, where Dick was a teacher at Darrow School. They raised two daughters, Diana and Felicity, at their "Garden Hill" home, surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens with a spectacular view across Lebanon Valley.

In 1970 Dick became a professor of English at Berkshire Community College in nearby Pittsfield, Massachusetts. An exacting teacher with high expectations for all, many former students credit him with changing the course of their lives.

For 25 years beginning in 1980 Dick wrote a weekly "Our Berkshires" column for The Berkshire Eagle. His columns challenged readers to connect the dots between vignettes of Berkshire life and his favorite poets and thinkers, and revealed the thoughtful, caring and generous man that he was.

For the last 12 years of his life, Dick and Sue lived near Felicity in Portland, Oregon, where he turned his eye on the lush environment of the Pacific Northwest and enjoyed the city's art and musical offerings. He delighted in his grandchildren, Helen and Norris Meigs of Portland and Hanna and Elena Johnson of Minneapolis.

"How simple happiness is, really," concludes one of Dick's poems. That lesson may be Dick's greatest legacy to all who remember him whether it's to be found in a delicate spring bloom, a morning walk, or a fresh-baked loaf of bread. A brief memorial service will be held at Willamette View in Portland on Monday, March 7, with a fuller celebration of his life planned for this summer in New Lebanon.


We also enjoyed this remembrance of Dick by Judy Waters in The Berkshire Eagle of Friday, March 11, 2016.