Painting the Cottage

“Here comes Carol with her camera!” one of my uncles said when I visited the cottage as an adult. (See “The Cottage”). I found endless and evocative images both inside and outside this brown-shingled summer home. The light through the windows and the doorways and on the wide front porch made shadows and patterns both dramatic and restful.

I admit to having cottage envy. I wanted a cottage like the one my cousins had. Our family rented summer homes on Long Island Sound for a few years, but on Sunday afternoons we still seemed to end up on the sea wall in front of the Norton’s cottage. For me there was only ever one “Cottage.”

But to make a painting of something is to make it a little bit my own. I can carry the places and the scenes I paint with me forever because of the process of recreating them on paper or on canvas.

One of the first pieces of art I made about the cottage was a drawing/collage – a pencil drawing of the cottage with a collaged photo of my aunt Ellen as a young woman sitting on a porch with some friends. They all wore upswept hairdos and puffy-sleeved dresses. I wish I had a reproduction of the drawing to include, but I’m away from home as I write this, and can only see the drawing in my mind.

Since I did that drawing in 1975, I’ve used paint to create my tribute to the house overlooking the blue water. I’ve painted it from the inside looking out.

"Sleeping Porch Windows #2," Carol Crump Bryner, 2011

“Sleeping Porch Windows #2,” Carol Crump Bryner, 2011

I’ve painted it from the side, looking toward the Marsh.

"On the Marsh," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2006

“On the Marsh,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2006

I’ve painted it from the front.

"Upstairs Window," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2006

“Upstairs Window,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2006

I’ve painted a picture of the old AGA stove in the kitchen before it was replaced during a kitchen remodel.

"The AGA," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on panel

“The AGA,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on panel

But most often I’ve painted the porch. The place where so much family gathering took place looks timeless in the late afternoon and evening light. This painting from 1985 is a favorite of mine, and hangs in our entryway in Alaska.

"Madison, Connecticut Porch Evening Light," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on linen, 1985

“Madison, Connecticut Porch, Evening Light,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on linen, 1985

And here’s one from 2005.

"Two Porches, Late Afternoon Light," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 2005

“Two Porches, Late Afternoon Light,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 2005

I’m so glad to have done all these paintings – a few of them still keep me company every day. But there’s nothing that beats being on the cottage porch with a gin and tonic and with people I love as the sun sets over the water, and the moon begins its nightly travels.

Margy Norton Campion and Kirt Crump on the cottage porch

Margy Norton Campion and Kirt Crump on the cottage porch

On Monday:  Janet

16 thoughts on “Painting the Cottage

  1. Paul Norton

    Beautiful artwork! I had to look closely at the AGA stove as I thought it was a photo!! I can see your parents and mine sitting on that porch so often…..Mom and Dad’s favorite spot……and you captured it beautifully!!

    1. Carol Post author

      They did love sitting on the porch, and we loved lying in the hammock, and fought over who got to be in it. Thanks, Paul.

  2. Janet Alexander

    So restful (if you don’t think about cleaning all those lovely windows). I think I’d stay on the porch all the time. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Carol Post author

      On a blustery day, when it was impossible to sit out there, it was cozy to sit in the living room and look through the clean windows out to the sea.

  3. Katy gilmore

    What a wonderful post! Getting to see all those terrific paintings. You must wish you were there as summer starts its wind-down, but your paintings the next best thing for sure.

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks, Katy. I often wish to be there. I haven’t been there in summer for so long. But I feel so happy to know that the cottage is still there and still being loved and used.

  4. Michael Foster

    How could anyone visit this place and not have cottage envy? These paintings are wonderful. They capture the scene but also evoke the sense of the house and its surrounds. All family members must have deeply etched memories of their visits; smelling the salt in the air, soaking in that particular light that comes only near the water, and hearing the call of gulls and the waves lapping at the rocks. I hope that there will be many responses sharing those times. These are the memories that span and unite the generations. Each has its own time and unique perspective but there are many core experiences that are shared by all and are timeless.

    I visited Circle Beach one summer when my parents rented a cottage across the street from the Norton’s. I may have also visited once or twice on day trips. My memory is hazy and I only have a vague sense of where things are in relation to one another, but these things stand out:

    Crabbing. Near the cottage was a pier or perhaps a bridge crossing a stream from the marsh. Blue crabs scavenged below this structure. You could tie a fish head to a string, drop it to the bottom and wait for a crab to find it. Once one grabbed on, it was reluctant to let go. If you were very careful, and lucky, you could pull it out of the water and add it to the collection in the pail. We had crab for dinner at least once.

    A smelly pair of pants. I think I only heard about this as legend and didn’t experience it myself. The story was that a man was strolling the beach one night and stumbled across a skunk who was also out for a stroll. The skunk took offense and the man was thoroughly doused. He stripped off his trousers and buried them in the sand. For years afterwards, children would dig up the pants and find them still smelling as strongly of skunk as they did that first night.

    The big house at the corner. I was taken to play with a boy who lived at the big house at the end of the beach. I don’t remember the boy or his name, but do have memories of parts of the house. We explored the dark and very mysterious basement that was built of stone and concrete. It had arched openings that looked out over the water, many cast iron pipes and at least one shower set up in the open. It smelled strongly of the sea and was quite damp. I could never understand why there were openings like this and wondered how this cavernous space was used. My child’s imagination conjured up pirates and smuggling operations. More likely it was set up to wash down the kids after a swim.

    Ginger snaps. We visited Grandma Norton once or twice while we were there. We saw the kitchen and got just a peek into the rooms beyond. During one of those visits we found her baking and the kitchen was filled with the most delicious aroma. It was my first experience with ginger snaps. All ginger snaps since then have been compared with these remembered cookies and have been found wanting.

    I would be glad to hear about how things really were at Circle Beach and some of the adventures that the Nortons, Halls, Crumps and others shared.

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks so much for these stories, Mike. I always wanted to go into that big house on the corner. There was something very dramatic about it as it perched on the rocks over the water. I never went crabbing, but did go sailing a few times with my cousins and uncles. I was always nervous going anywhere on the water with the Norton boys, as they loved to dump me off the sailfish, or tell me I was about to be attacked by a crab, or that the water wasn’t really “all that deep.” But it was so much fun to be with them that I didn’t mind the occasional dunking. The only thing I really didn’t like about the cottage activities was taking that cold outdoor shower and having to change into my clothes in the upstairs of the barn. But I kept thinking about the ginger cookies and root beer I would get to have afterwards, and somehow made it through those cold showers.

  5. Margaret Norton Campion

    Oh, Carol! What a tribute. Thank you.
    Mike – I don’t remember when the Fosters rented across from us, but I wonder if your parents might have rented Ellie and Carol Wolcott’s cottage. It had (and still has) red climbing roses along the fences (and road) that arc around that property. Your memories of crabbing are right-on, and the story of the smelly-skunk pants is so great! (I did not know this story.)
    As for the boy in the big house on the corner … I think this may have been Brock Wommack. His parents bought that place sometime in the ’60s. It was purchased by the current owners, the Shultzes, in the early to mid ’70s. I bet it was Brock (does that name ring a bell?) who was showing you the caves under their seawall. We ALL had fantasies of rum-smuggling or some-such. But I think you are right … there was definitely a shower (that still worked when we were kids) back in there, and a corridor that led up to a door through which (we never went, but) you could enter the house. Those were fun places to explore.

    My most fun memories are of playing Capture the Flag and Spotlight (outdoors, after dark), and Up-Jenkins (indoors, at the big, pale green, dining room table) with my cousins and the other kids in the neighborhood; of laughing so hard and long I no longer remembered what had first tickled me …. (sometimes all it took was just LOOKING at Paul Norton. I don’t know how he did it, but he would simply look at me and off I would go in gales of laughter).

    Ahhh … and the ginger cookies. Yes. Grammy’s originally, of course. And then it was Betty and Caroline who kept the ginger cookie tin full. (It still sits … sadly, most often empty … on the buffet in the dining room. I’m heading to the cottage tomorrow, so … you know what?! I’m going to fill that thing UP! COME ON DOWN AND GETCHERSELF SOME!)

    I am so honored (accompanied by my husband, Ed) to be the current steward of the cottage.
    There’s nothing I love more than caring for this place. I mean it: stop by.

    CCB: Thank you for this generous and loving post, and for your stunning art.

    1. Carol Post author

      You’re very welcome Margy. It is a true gem, this place. I always wanted to play “Up Jenkins.” My mom talked about it all the time, but I don’t think I ever played. I do remember playing endless games of Parcheesi with Aunt Ellen. She and my grandma Hall loved games of cards, etc.
      And a thank you to all of you for letting me put your cottage on canvas. I’ve loved doing it. And so glad that you and Ed are such good stewards.

    2. Michael Foster

      Brock doesn’t ring a bell, but the time frame is right. I think I was only there during that one week vacation and it is all pretty hazy. I also think I remember a trellis with roses at the cottage where we stayed, but it might have been a picture I saw. I didn’t get to go sailing with the Norton boys as Carol describes, but I do seem to remember an attempt to get Dave and me water skiing behind a skiff with an outboard. I don’t think it could have been more than 15 horse. I never got up, but appreciated the opportunity. It whetted my appetite for the time we got a boat and I was finally successful.

      I may take you up on that invitation, Margy. I drove by the cottage to show my wife, Jill, the beach but that was a couple of decades ago.

  6. Margaret Norton Campion

    OH … and PS: Paul – I commissioned Carol to do the painting of the AGA (and its 4 implements) just before Ed & I tore out the old kitchen. I was SO sad to lose that stove … and Carol’s amazing rendering (I know! It DOES look like a photograph!) and mounting the front plate (the face) of the AGA on one of the kitchen walls … has assuaged my sorrow over losing it. Please come. I think you’d really like being able to turn on a 20th century gas burner with the twist of a wrist. : o)

  7. Margaret Norton Campion

    Oh, yes … sliding off of that sailfish was almost impossible NOT to do.
    And the cold showers … ah, yes. (know what? they are about at an end. I’ve scheduled my marvelous plumber to come to see about adding a hot water line to the outdoor shower … which now sports a beautiful, built-by-Edmund Campion-enclosure! Gram and “the Norton boys” are turning in their graves over the advent of hot water, though, I am sure!
    Yes. Changing in the barn. That was so ridiculous, honestly. But Gram was a nazi (forgive the too-easy and sacrilegious-to-elders reference) about salt and sand in the cottage. (And I am still pretty dang nazi-ish about the use of the foot bucket before climbing onto the porch.) No more changing in the barn, tho.

  8. Karen Dederick Kowalski

    Your description of the family cottage brought back some pleasant memories. I was not really a salt water visitor, but spent my summers in NH. One summer while in high school I worked as a mother’s helper for a family with 3 young children, about the same ages as my grandchildren are now. The family was from Woodbridge, CT, but had a very large old home in Woodmont, CT that was on the beach. I loved sleeping on the third floor, that caught the sea breeze and could hear the waves on the beach. Luckily the mother was not a neat freak and there was sand everywhere and a broom was just an arm’s length away. Cynthia Dunn worked for the same family a year earlier.

  9. Sue Foster

    I used to love going to the cottage! I remember going once or twice with Patti and a few other times alone with my mother. She used to love to go “down to the shore” on those hot humid days and enjoy the sea breezes. I remember Betty Norton telling me to be sure to look at the stove – I always thought she said “cold stove” which didn’t make any sense to me (why would anyone want a cold stove?)but of course she was saying “coal stove”. As an adult I often go to the Mercy Retreat Center and I always make a point to walk down the road so that I can see the cottage and enjoy that wonderful view again. Thanks for sharing your lovely paintings Carol – they really tell a story of a very special place.

    1. Carol Post author

      And I never realized that it was actually a coal stove either until I saw all the photos of the coal bucket and coal shovel, etc. and then painted them all. I always thought it was a wood stove like the one at the farm. Funny how we remember things. I’ve always loved that sentence, “Let’s go down to the shore.” It had so much happiness and expectation in it.


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