Saturday, October 29, 2011

Record Snow for October in New York City

The Weather Underground reports that as of 8 pm on Saturday, October 29, the snowfall was measured in Central Park (at the zoo) at 1.3 inches. This set a daily record for October and a record for the total snowfall during the month.

Snowfall has been measured in Central Park since 1869 and only twice before has a measurable amount of snow fallen during October:
1. 1925, when 0.8 inches fell on October 30.
2. 1952, when 0.5 inches fell on October 21.

Another blow for the climate-change sceptics.

Monday, October 17, 2011

HIGH ELMS MANOR | Country House Rescue

High Elms Manor in Garston, near Watford, Herts., UK
I have visited High Elms Manor several times over the last 13 years of its ownership by my sister Sheila O'Neill. A well-informed blogger said of Sheila's determined rescue effort:
If there was a prize for commitment above and beyond financial sense then the owner of High Elms Manor/Garston Manor could probably win "Highly Commended" for her determination to rescue this once-derelict country house. Matthew Becket, The Country Seat, April 10, 2011.
The Risk. When my sister talked to me about purchasing the property, I was of two minds about it. Others in the family were not of two minds – they were opposed, because of the commitment required and the risk involved.

On the one hand the property is a jewel with an impressive history. It is a Grade II listed Georgian home. Built in 1812 or earlier, the Manor was once on a 500-acre estate – of which 21 acres remain. It was called High Elms Manor until 1895, when the name was changed to Garston Manor; Sheila has chosen to use the older name. In 1870 or so, the Manor was bought by the Watney family, who sold it to fellow brewers Benskins. In 1911 it was purchasd by Walter Bourne, a department store co-founder, who died in 1921. His son Stafford inherited it and sold it for use as a medical rehabilitation center. During World War II it was reportedly used for U.S.-British air force consultatation and liaison. After the war it became a National Health Service property for treatment of elderly patients, until the 1990s. This is a distinguished history that earns it a place as a Grade II listed property.

On the other hand, the current cost to heat and maintain the building is £75,000 per year. The cost of repairs that are needed to bring the property up to a minimal standard add another £500,000 to the original price she paid for the property, doubling it to £1 million.
Ceilings had fallen in, all the floors had been damaged, the wood panelling had turned green, chimneys had collapsed, lead had been stripped off the roof by vandals, there were a hundred broken windows, the garden was a jungle. It was in a terrible state. – Sheila O'Neill.
Outcome. Sheila went about the renovation one task at a time, starting with putting on a new roof to stop the widespread leaking. Progress was slow but steady over the past 13 years. Sheila has done an amazing job of renovation. In 2010, she and her daughters applied to Ruth Watson of "Country House Rescue," a widely viewed television program (UK Channel 4), to see how they might put the Manor on a more sustainable footing. Here's what Channel 4 said:
Headmistress Sheila O'Neill bought the house as a wreck for £500,000 from the local council with dreams of turning the decrepit building into a school. Thirteen years later and the Montessori school is just about breaking even. But attempts at diversifying into a wedding and conference venue have failed. Sheila and her children, four daughters in their 30s and 40s, all live in self-contained flats on the upper floors of the house... Ruth needs to persuade Sheila to relinquish control and pass some responsibility onto her eccentric and free spirited daughters. Ruth gives three of the daughters individual responsibilities. - Roisin clears the woodland that accompanies the house and create a magical treasure hunt for guests. - Catrine builds on her interest in the supernatural to launch a UFO academy. - Liadain takes over responsibility of the overall look of the house, from the internal decorations to the disheveled terrace and gardens. "Country House Rescue," April 10, 2011.
Based on professional advice that came with the show, the Manor gets a new terrace, floors are fixed, the kitchen is upgraded and paintings are moved around. (Details on the many renovations are in Hertfordshire Life.) The newly sponsored treasure hunt and the UFO academy are great successes. Having been on "Country House Rescue" was itself a huge plus. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

ART BIZ | Picasso, "Acrobat on a Ball" in Madrid

Picasso, "Acrobat on a Ball" (1905)
Alice and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary in the last week of September. We were in Madrid, Pamplona and Barcelona during the week. We were in Barcelona on the day of the last bullfight. The animal-rights advocates in Catalonia have succeeded in ending bullfights. But they continue in Madrid and elsewhere.

When market-conscious Americans think of Spain these days they likely have a mental image of a series of Euro dominoes with Spain next in line if European patience with reform of Greek finances collapses.

But when you are there in Spain in the eye of the storm, the signs of crisis are not always obvious and they come and go. In Madrid, we visited the Prado Museum, Spain’s preeminent art museum. There it was in all its splendor, quietly waiting for tourists like us.

My major takeaways from a museum are usually historical – I get a better sense of what was happening at a particular time and place. Time travel indeed.

This time, my major takeaway was a painting that reached me on a level beyond history. If you were in Madrid in late September, you can’t not know that the Prado has Picasso's "Acrobat on a Ball" (1905), on loan until December from the Moscow State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The Prado features it on all of its advertising. I last visited the Prado as a teenager with my family in 1955. The stretch of time between my two visits to the museum is six years longer than the lapse of time from when the painting was done and my first visit. Time shrinks as one gets older and the past seems closer.

From the time-travel perspective, the painting was at an important point in Picasso’s life, when he had started selling his paintings and was able to emerge from his poverty-stricken years in Paris – the years dominated by his downbeat Blue Period. He had a settled life with Fernande Olivier. He was morphing into his more positive rose period, although his early misery must have contributed to his being a life-long Communist (his face appears on a Soviet postage stamp).

Picasso was spending his time in 1905 with Paris's Medrano Circus and many of his paintings of the circus nomads focus on their uprootedness. In the “Acrobat on a Ball”, much more is going on. Certainly, the two people in the foreground are disconnected from the country scene suggested in the background. All of the people and animals in the background are facing away – a mother, her child, a dog and a horse. Only possibly is a tiny baby looking at the two performers.

But the two circus performers are powerfully connected. Picasso shows the ethereal essence of the acrobat, painting her rotating on the ball, her body and hands adjusting to the roll of the round platform. Her boyish figure adds to the sense of joy and fluidity. She enjoys her performance and that she is being looked at. The athlete in the foreground – like the acrobat, a circus performer – is there for contrast and unity. His square planted body contrasts with her fluid one. The large cube, his knee echoing the squareness of the box, contrasts with her smaller ball. The colors reinforce the opposition and complementarity.

It’s a painting of yin and yang, female and male. A lovely painting - a fascinating study, and especially appropriate for a 40th wedding anniversary.

On our way out we were reminded again that all is not well in Spain. The roads around the Prado were filling with thousands of striking teachers. One of the signs said: “If you don’t like the cost of education, wait till you find out the cost of ignorance.” Not a totally new idea, but seeing it there in Madrid, in English, somehow made me more confident that Spain and Europe will continue to apply patience and persistence to the problems of the European Union and the Euro. I don't expect immediate solutions but I think that Europe will find a way through its severe current problems, which are not helping the U.S. recovery.

P.S. This post as of May 22, 2014, has been looked at 1,000 times since it was published.

Monday, October 3, 2011

BRIDGEHAMPTON, NY | Ocean View Farm, Windmill Hill

Just visited this farm, which has records going back
View of potato field and ocean. 
Exterior of upper floor of barn
to 1679. Its large barn was recently the location of two events sponsored by the Peconic Land Trust and the Bridgehampton Historical Society.

The farm dates back to 1679. The first building on the site was a "spider leg" windmill. The original "Hook Mill" in East Hampton was also called a spider leg mill.

Raymond Wesnofske and guest and side of barn. In the
distance, the Channing Daughters Winery.
The mill, which does not survive, was built by John Wick, and is the reason for the area being called "Windmill Hill". When the Halseys owned the property in 1818-1939, they renamed it "Ocean View" but the older name still sticks, as it so often does.

John Wick and sons owned the property from 1696 to 1741. He  ran the Wick's Tavern and inn in Bridgehampton near where the Starbucks is now located.
Interior of upper floor of barn.

He was viewed by the locals as a kind of Procrustes reincarnated, with lurid rumors abounding that travelers went into his inn but never came out. However, the historical record does not support the accusations.

Interior of lower floor of barn, where cows were milked.
The extraordinarily well preserved barn on the farm was originally used to support a dairy. The cows were on the basement floor, with its own entrance, and upstairs the hay and other food (ground-up corn husks, for example) was stored in lofts and a silo.

When the farm was converted from dairy to potato cultivation, the silo was removed and the barn is now used for farm equipment and other storage.

Thanks to Raymond and Lynn Wesnofske for permitting a tour of the historic property and to his brother Edward R. (Ed) Wesnofske for the historical background and a 12-page history. I have recommended to Ed that his 12-page history should be turned into a book on the Windmill Hill area. All photos are by me on my iPhone.