Mallards by Otto Kurth
True confession: I’ve never been on Ebay before – never looked, never browsed, never ventured a bid. But when I found a painting for sale by Peconic Bay Impressionist Otto Kurth, the other day, I had to jump in. Never mind I don’t particularly care for bird paintings and don’t really like mallards – it was a piece of North Fork history (circa 196os) painted in Mattituck and a wonderful souvenir . The bidding began at $129. I hemmed, I hawed. I made an offer. I became the lead bidder at $151. I checked every twenty minutes then every ten. I was still winning- until I wasn’t. The bidding suddenly went up to $175. Should I keep going? Was it worth it? I didn’t know much about the Peconic Impressionists and Otto only got tiny mention in the book that Alison had lent me on the subject just the day before (as mentioned in a previous post). I called my friend Anne Hargrave for advice.
Anne is deeply knowledgeable about art; she worked in galleries for years and now has a private clientele who seek her out for her opinion and to appraise their art. Anne knew who Otto Kurth was, of course, and she knew exactly what his paintings were worth. You should bid on it, she said. But the painting looked like it had some bits of paint missing. It would probably have to be restored, said Anne. That would cost several hundred dollars – at least. Did I want a slightly chipped bird painting? I decided I did and upped up my bid to $200. It was immediately countered. I made mine $215. There were ten minutes left. I debated further. Did it really want it? Was it worth it? I thought of giving Anne another call but she was already on her way back to New York. Ten seconds. I went up $20 more but it was rejected and then it was over. The Mallards sold for $256.
How much was the painting really worth? According to Anne its value could have been as much as $700 to $1000 if it was properly restored – though the monetary value wasn’t the only measure, of course. My loss now seemed somehow greater than several hundreds of dollars. Had I allowed a piece of North Fork history slip from my hands?
Perhaps, I thought, the successful bidder might one day regret his purchase and put it back on Ebay. In the meantime, I consoled myself with the thought that though Otto’s birds would be on someone else’s wall, I still had the (entire) North Fork around me, after all.
Caroline Bell and the Peconic Impressionists
I’ve been away for a few days – again- but this time no further than New York City. I came home and my neighbor Joan handed me a fistful of mail – alas only bills and a threat from the New Yorker that my subscription was “about to expire.” Never mind that a closer examination revealed that this sad event would actually take place sometime in mid-March. I know it’s a tough time for media of all kinds but how bad must it be if even the renewals department of the venerable and vaunted New Yorker is panicking? On the other hand, if that’s true, I might hold out for a better rate…
Joan has been busy while I’ve been away- in addition to writing all of her old beaux (the one she sent a Christmas card to has apparently written back and demanded a picture of her). She got a dog from the local pound that came with the name Angel and according to Joan, she earns it every day. She’s an old dog that someone clearly thought had come to the end of her usefulness and decided to give away. Joan is a bit of an angel as far as I’m concerned for saving her life, whatever remains of it.
In the meantime, Joan is thinking of getting her picture taken in a wedding dress she bought a while back at TJ Max. “The dress looked good and it was cheap,” she said to me, as if that was an adequate explanation. Never mind there wasn’t a smallest promise of a groom. I do love her spirit.
Joan sells a lot of stuff on ebay – mostly dolls- and maybe a wedding dress or two. When I stopped by to visit, her friend Alison was visiting with Joan as well. Alison apparently knows a lot about a lot of things, including the Peconic Bay Impressionists, a school of artists that lived in Mattituck about seventy or so years ago. They were a group of artists who were apparently under the tutelage or perhaps the patronage of Caroline Bell. Alison later went home to get the book (seen above) which she dropped off at my door along with Subsoil, a book about the North Fork some seventy years ago. (She says it’s much more interesting than it sounds.) The impromptu generosity of my neighbors on the North Fork continues to amaze me. Now of course I need to something for them.
I’ve been in Alabama this past week – eating and drinking – over and over again. But details will have to wait for my May column in Food & Wine. In addition to some great restaurants and wine (no Alabama muscadine, however) I found something quite amazing: a carousel horse carving school over a bar. The bar is one of those local-hangout places, a southern-style Cheers decorated with “Go Crimson” souvenirs. (The Crimson Tide, is of course, the University of Alabama football team which just happened to have won the National Championship this year). I went into the bar and asked a guy named Rudy – who turned out to be the bar manager- how I could get upstairs to see the carousel horses in the window. “I have no idea,” Rudy admitted. But Rudy offered to accompany me to the building next door where he thought the door to the Carousel school might be found. “I’ve been curious about that place,” Rudy confessed. The owner, an artist who normally works in bronze (he showed us some statues) was just there, waiting for one of his pupils to show up. He was an artist from California who had the idea to make carousel horses when he’d visited a carver in Chattanooga a few years ago. And he’d liked it so much he decided to open his own school in Alabama. Not that he had a carousel in mind that needed them. There aren’t many carousels left in the country, the artist lamented. But then the school had only been open for four or five months. “Maybe you will convince someone to create a new carousel,” I suggested. The artist didn’t answer but he did give Rudy and me a complete tour of his studio and all the horses in relative stages of readiness – that his pupils – including one grandmother and a retired cop- had made. The grandmother had finished her horse and was now working on a carousel bunny.
“It’s a magical place,” I gushed. Rudy just looked around, “Yeah, pretty cool,” he agreed. Had the artist ever been to the bar downstairs? He had not, the artist replied firmly as if I’d suggested something especially debauched. If Rudy was insulted by this, he didn’t show it. In fact, he told us a little story: “There were a bunch of guys sitting outside the bar, I think a few months ago- they were pretty drunk- they kept looking at up those things-” Rudy gestured to the wooden cherubs that the artist had hung in the window over the horses. “They kept saying “I want one of them birds, I want one of them birds.” Rudy laughed at the memory. The artist simply nodded and soon showed us out. “Thanks for stopping by,” he said and gave us cards and a brochure. And he went back to his horses and perhaps, his search for a carousel.
As students of Roman mythology realize – and probably plenty of calendar readers as well- the month of January derives its name from the two-faced Roman god, Janus. As the god of gates and doors, Janus seems like a better moniker for a building supply company than the bleakest month of the year. Or at least that’s always been what January is to me- though my friends on the North Fork keep saying “March” is truly the month to be dreaded. Some several snow storms later, I have to say I don’t like the look of January so far. But back to Janus. Who is not only the god of various portals but also, beginnings and endings.
So I will try to think of January less as a month to be endured and more of one that could be the start of something exciting and new. Now, I just have to figure out what that should be. A friend of mine has embarked on a Total Global Makeover (of herself) which sounds as terrifying to me as it does ambitious. I thought I’d start with something a bit smaller- like, say, learning how to chop vegetables properly. My friend and neighbor (and amazing cooking instructor and winery owner) Paula Croteau runs a Farmhouse cooking school out of her wonderful Farmhouse and I think (and hope) Knife Skills is one of the courses she will be offering. “People are calling me up and asking when the next class will be,” Paula said, “Things get pretty desperate in January.” To which I replied, “What about March?”
I spend nearly as much time reading the books in the collection of the Southold Historical Society as I do cataloging them. Not really the sort of thing a good volunteer should confess. But there are so many odd books on the shelves that I simply can’t help it. Who would have guessed there was an audience for the definitive guide to fairy lamps? Or lace patterns or porcelain from the 17th century or hooked rugs? My favorite title, as of today, is Long Island is My Nation, a book about Arts and Crafts furniture and silver. I have no idea how the author came up with it- but I like the sound of it as much as he clearly did.
The authors of these books fascinate me as well, or rather, their names do. Many went by their married titles. For example, Mrs James Thorne wrote a book about lace while Mrs. Lowes wrote a book about silver patterns. Other favorites are Matoon Curtis (would that be a man or woman?) and Amelia McSwiggen and Ottalie Williams but my absolute, positive favorite of all is E. Lolita Evelith, who wrote a book on Lace Identification. The author photo shows E. Lolita to be a rather substantial middle-aged woman with more than one chin and the faintest suggestion of a mustache. She actually has her eyes closed in a swoon? just like you’d expect a Lolita to – and I can’t help but wonder what she was thinking about. Was it lace? Was she in love with the photographer? Was she praying she’d actually sell a few of her books? I don’t know the answers but somehow, some way, I’m going to find out.
Eberhard Muller and Paulette Satur: A North Fork Love Story
Love seems like a good first word for my first post of the New Year – appropriate and even timely. Not that love requires good timing. In fact, love often comes at all the wrong times and is directed at all the ‘wrong’ people. It’s inconvenient and embarrassing as often as it is transcendent and life-affirming. It’s like what Ronny Camareri aka Nic Cage says to Loretta aka Cher in one of my favorite scenes from my favorite movie, Moonstruck:
I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.
Today’s post is about the love story of my friends, the remarkable Eberhard Muller and Paulette Satur, their business, Satur Farms, and the life that they built on the North Fork. I wrote it for Guideposts a short time ago and you can read it here… http://www.guideposts.com/story/satur-farms-food.
May your New Year be filled with love and laughter and, as Eberhard and Paulette would probably say, good lettuce.
Current Issue of Edible East End
I wrote an essay on my new life “Under the North Fork Sun” that’s just been published in the latest issue of Edible East End. EEE is one of several “Edible” publications managed by the estimable Brian Halweil and his team; it’s a beautiful magazine with some truly terrific photography. My piece, complete with a photo by the talented Randee Dadonna is found on page 59 or click on the cover and go to “current issue” and you’ll find the piece under “transplants.” One of my friends, after reading it, said “It sounds like the Eat/Pray/Love of Long Island” while another declared it was rather “Pollyanish” adding, a bit waspishly I thought, “It sounds like you love everything.” (And yes, he happens to be a professional critic.) And yet … when I stopped by the Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck a few days ago (it’s one of the places I mentioned in my piece) to buy some cheese for a friend, Rosemary the owner was there. “Are you my cheese girl?” she asked and came around the counter to give me a hug. There’s something to be said for a Pollyanaish view of the world- particularly when it’s accompanied by a hunk of good Parmesan.