Tag Archives: watercolor

Janet’s Christmas

My mother wrote this essay in the early 1980’s in answer to a request by my son to tell him how she celebrated Christmas when she was a young girl.

“We would always cut one of our trees from our woods for Christmas. It was always a hemlock, and we would have to get it the day before Christmas because the needles would drop. I would usually go on a logging sled drawn by a horse – that was when I was around your age [probably eight years old]. Later, we would drive our old truck. Often we would just take the top off a tree – that would just fit in our living room. Then the night before, we would all decorate the tree with our old favorite ornaments. We often made colored chains to put around the tree – and sometimes popcorn. But my father liked his popcorn made into popcorn balls that we kept in the back of our wood stove.

My mother always made around 3 plum puddings and a large fruitcake with white boiled frosting. We would hang our biggest knee sock on the doorknobs near the tree – one year we hung them at the foot of our beds. Before we went to bed we would leave 2 oranges on the shelf with a note for Santa Claus.

Christmas morning we would get up around 5:30. That was the time life on the farm started – cows had to be milked and fed. We were always so excited Christmas Eve that we could hardly get to sleep. The 3 of us slept in one room on that evening. When we got around eleven, I slept with my sister, and my brother had his own room.

We usually got about 5 presents Christmas morning – one of them could be skis or a sled. But we were always happy no matter what we got. Christmas was so special on the farm. The windows in the kitchen were covered with beautiful snow flakes that Jack Frost made during the night, and the wood stove gave us a very magic heat, and on the wood stove a large tea kettle sang a little tune.

We would have our Christmas dinner at noon – always a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with mashed potatoes and boiled onions, peas or corn. We would have company, but it always depended on the weather. Then in the afternoon we went sliding on our beautiful hills or ice skating on our favorite pond. We also might go down the hill to our neighbors to see their presents and play with them for a while.

Then late in the afternoon I would go out in the barn and help my father at milking time. Even if it were zero outdoors, it was always warm in the barn. Somehow 30 or 40 cows help make lots of heat.” – Janet Hall Crump, 1983

Wishing you all a warm and peaceful holiday!

"Winter Scene," Janet Hall Crump, watercolor

“Winter Scene,” Janet Hall Crump, watercolor

On Monday: Ellsworth’s Birthday

Autumn Leaves

There’s something about an autumn leaf that makes picking it up and taking it home hard to resist.

My mother should have been a naturalist. Her knowledge of birds, trees, flowers, and animals was wide, and she collected specimens like a museum curator. And she never met a fall leaf she didn’t like.

"Autumn," Janet Hall Crump, watercolor, October 1982

“Autumn,” Janet Hall Crump, watercolor, October 1982

When we went for walks together in the Octobers of the past we brought home leaves and pressed them between sheets of waxed paper. To this day I still find her handiwork gracing the pages of many of the big books in the house. In summer she did the same with flowers. Her letters to me in Alaska included dried field flowers she picked – buttercups, Queen Anne’s Lace, cornflowers. She sent me feathers, flowers, and reports about the flora and fauna activity on Whirlwind Hill.

Fall leaf in bird book

Fall leaf in bird book

My grandson Henry inherited her love of collecting. He picks up treasures everywhere and proudly displays them on the shelves of his room. So on a fall Saturday I suggested we go out and collect some autumn leaves. We carried a brown paper bag with handles and put in the leaves one by one as each was discovered on sidewalk or grass. Every time we thought that maybe we had gathered enough Henry said, “I want to stop, but I just can’t help myself!” With a promise of cookies and milk for him and a cup of tea for me, we took our bounty home and spread it out on a cloth.

Autumn treasures

Autumn treasures

The colors were vibrant. I thought we should paint some portraits of the best leaves, but Henry wanted to do leaf rubbings. I had never done a leaf rubbing, so he showed me how. What a treat it is to have a grandchild teach an old timer a new trick. We tried to fill the page with interesting shapes. We weren’t always successful, but in the end were happy with our project. And, of course, we followed my mother’s example and pressed a few leaves between the pages of books, maybe to be found in the future by Henry’s own children.

Carol and Henry's leaf rubbings, October 18, 2014

Carol and Henry’s leaf rubbings, October 18, 2014

On Monday:  Ghosts

Baked Beans

On Saturday afternoons in fall and winter, my mother and I got in the car and drove the mile or so from our little red house on East Center Street to the farm on Whirlwind Hill. We visited with my grandparents and uncles and aunts over afternoon coffee in the kitchen, and then we headed home with our treasures. Mine was the weekly Life Magazine. My grandmother had a subscription and let me have it after she was finished. When I got home I read it cover to cover while I waited for the supper that was my mother’s treasure – a big pot of my grandmother’s baked beans.

"Bean Pot," Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor, 2014

“Bean Pot,” Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor, 2014

Saturday on the farm was baking day, and when cooler weather started, my grandmother started making her beans. I didn’t care for the beans back then (although I’d like to taste them now), but my mother must have appreciated having dinner “to go.” She probably added ham or hot dogs and maybe scalloped potatoes. My brother has always loved baked beans. He still cooks them the old-fashioned way – soaking the beans, adding the molasses, salt pork, etc. and then cooking them in an old bean pot for hours and hours. He claims that real New England baked beans should be made with Yellow Eye beans, and that the very best way to cook them is in a bean hole.

"Yelloweye Beans," Carol Crump Bryner, 2014

“Yelloweye Beans,” Carol Crump Bryner, 2014

On Friday:  Apples – An Addendum

Painters in the Family

I’ve been wondering lately about the force that nudges a person onto their life path. Is it heredity? Is it serendipity? Is it a desire to be like someone they admire? It’s probably a bit of everything, but, yet, I don’t think it’s an accident that there is, in my family, a line of artist/painters descended from the Harts of Durham, Connecticut. There must be something genetic in the desire to not only observe the world but to record those observations.

My great-grandmother, Lydia Jane Hart Hall, the woman whose journals I quote frequently in this blog, introduced the Hart blood into the Hall family. The Harts were a prominent and long-time Durham family who lived for four generations in the little homestead memorialized in this picture. The Hart family will be the subject of a future post, but today I’m concentrating on Mary E. Hart and the other women in our family who admired and emulated her.

"Original Hart Homestead," Melissa Hall, copy of a painting by Mary E. Hart

“Original Hart Homestead,” Melissa Hall, copy of a painting by Mary E. Hart

I’ve written about Mary E. Hart before in “Violets,” and “Violets, An Addendum.” She lived the prime of her life during the Civil War years – she was born in 1836 and died in 1899 – but her paintings radiate peace. In her early life she’d been a teacher but later on became a prominent artist in the Durham area. She was especially famous for her depictions of violets. Her touch with paint was as delicate when she used oil as it was when she painted with watercolor.

"Pinks and Violets," Mary E. Hart, watercolor, around 1870

“Pinks and Violets,” Mary E. Hart, watercolor, around 1870

"Pansies," (detail), Mary E. Hart, oil on canvas, around 1870

“Pansies,” (detail), Mary E. Hart, oil on canvas, around 1870

Melissa Hall, my mother’s much-older cousin, was born around 1896, and exposed early on to Mary Hart’s paintings. She, like Mary, never married. In this photo from a 1904 Thanksgiving at the farm, she sits to the left of her two sisters, Alice and Gertrude.

"Melissa Hall (left), Alice Hall (top), Gertrude Hall (right front)

“Melissa Hall (left), Alice Hall (top), Gertrude Hall (right front)

Cousin Melissa made copies of many of Mary’s paintings, (the picture of the Hart Homestead is a copy made by her of a Mary Hart painting), but she had a style of her own. To the end of her life she made and sent me and other family members Christmas cards, Easter cards, birthday cards, and postcards.

Melissa's flowers565

My mother, Janet Hall Crump, began painting early, influenced not only by Mary Hart but also by her cousin Melissa. She especially loved painting the flowers she picked from her garden. Here she’s set up her pansies – maybe to be painted – next to Mary Hart’s painting.

Janet's pansies with Mary's painting

Janet’s pansies with Mary’s painting

And Janet, too, liked to make cards and decorations with her brush and paint. This must have been a place card for a dinner.

"Place Card," Janet Hall Crump

“Place Card,” Janet Hall Crump

I grew up surrounded by the paintings done by these three women. There’s no denying their influence on the path I chose. Paintings by Mary, Melissa, and Janet will surface again in my blog posts. Here’s an early still life done by my mother when she was at Boston University. Watercolor was the perfect medium for her. She was a woman who “lived in the moment,” and the immediacy of watercolor suited her perfectly.

"Still Life with Yellow Cup," Janet Hall Crump, watercolor, 1938

“Still Life with Yellow Cup,” Janet Hall Crump, watercolor, 1938

Sixty years later I did my own painting of a yellow cup.

"Morning Light," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 1998

“Morning Light,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 1998

I can’t resist closing with this example of how the artistic influence travels down the family tree. My daughter did this painting of flowers when she was nine years old. It made me smile today when I took it down from the wall to scan it and noticed that she had signed it Mara “Crump.”

"Flowers," Mara Bryner, acrylic, 1986

“Flowers,” Mara Bryner, acrylic, 1986

On Monday:  Washday

The Muddy River Schoolhouse

At the foot of Whirlwind Hill, where the MacKenzie reservoir now beckons ducks, geese, swans, turtles, and hopeful fishermen and women, there was once a school. In 1810 the Muddy River Schoolhouse was built in the Wallingford, Connecticut School District No. 8, and the one-room building sat on this same spot until 1932 when plans were made to dig the new reservoir.

MacKenzie Reservoir, spring, 2014

MacKenzie Reservoir, spring, 2014

For a hundred and twenty-two years this one-room school saw Wallingford schoolchildren come and go. As many as thirty students at a time from kindergarten to sixth grade spent their days in the company of one hard-working teacher, learning to read and write and cope with all the hardships and joys of wooden desks, chalkboards, and a single stove to provide heat in the winter. For at least a year my mother was one of those students. In a 1923 photo of the school, teacher, and students, she’s the sixth child from the left, her dark hair framed by the school doorway.

Muddy River Schoolhouse with teacher and students around 1923, Janet Hall sixth child from the left

Muddy River Schoolhouse with teacher and students around 1923, Janet Hall sixth child from the left

I don’t know for sure how many of my ancestors started their educations there, but in 1861 or 1862 my great-grandmother Lydia Jane Hart came over the Totoket Mountains from Durham, Connecticut to be the teacher. Because the Hall farmland was on the uphill slope above Muddy River, I imagine my great-grandparents meeting for the first time somewhere on Whirlwind Hill. William and Lydia married in 1863, ending Lydia’s career as a teacher but beginning another generation of Muddy River schoolchildren.

In a 1998 Meriden Record article about the school, my mother, Janet Hall Crump, says, “I was pretty young, but I remember the fun things like Christmas time when we would decorate and all the parents would come,” she said. “I’m so glad I had that one year. It’s a rather interesting experience when you’re in a one-room schoolhouse. I am so glad I had that experience.”

But the year at the school that my mother remembers was a short-lived one. In January 1924 my great-grandmother Lydia recorded news of Janet and school.

Friday, January 4, 1924 – “A nice bright morning. Snow gone – no more sliding until more snow and ice come. Agnes has taken the children to school. Janet is at home. She has taken a notion she doesn’t want to go any more. Her mother is going to let her stay home until Spring.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Monday, January 14, 1924 – “Nice bright morning. Quite spring-like, tho we do not hear the birds. Children at school. Janet at home, cutting paper, etc. singing by herself.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Thursday, March 6, 1924 – “A very nice morning. Agnes taking the children to school. Janet outside with her daddy whom she likes to talk with, in the house playing with her dolls, coming with books for Grandma to read to her.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, March 19, 1924 – “Nice day – warmer, more like spring. The children have been to school. Agnes has gone to bring them home. Janet is at home this winter. Goes to school next fall. She is as quick to learn as the others. She likes her daddy and likes to be out of doors with him.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Janet Hall with doll, around 1924

Janet Hall with doll, around 1924

It must have been hard for my grandmother Agnes, who made such effort to get her children to school, dance lessons, music lessons, etc., to just let my mom stay at home for this half year. But it was such an important time for Janet. She never forgot the joy of being the “only child” for a few hours each day, of having her daddy all to herself, and of being a part of the daily farm routine. Later on, as a mother herself, she occasionally let my brother and me stay home from school when important things happened on the farm. My brother remembers being allowed to take “sick” days when heavy equipment was working nearby so he could watch the machines in action. And I often begged to stay home so I could go to the farm kitchen to watch my grandmother do the washing.

My mother did go back to school, but not to this little building at the foot of the hill. In the fall she joined her brother and sister at the school in town. She was a good student, and she graduated from Lyman Hall High School. In this high school photo I can still see the little girl who liked to follow her daddy around the farm.

Janet Hall's High School photo

Janet Hall’s High School photo

In 1932, instead of tearing the school down to make way for the dredging of the reservoir, the town of Wallingford gave it to Oscar Williams, a farmer living on nearby Williams Road. Oscar hired Fred Audisio (who was paid in eggs since Oscar Williams raised chickens) to put a chain on the building and drag it up Williams Road to his farm where it sat mostly intact until 1998. It was then donated to the Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust and disassembled for storage. It was supposed to be moved and reassembled on another site, but as far as I know, that has never happened. The Muddy River Schoolhouse may still be in pieces in a barn on Williams Road. It’s another mystery for me to solve, and if I find out anything, I’ll let you know.

The earliest depiction I’ve seen of the schoolhouse is a watercolor by Mary E. Hart (or possibly a copy of her painting made by Melissa Hall) that hangs in my parents’ dining room on Whirlwind Hill. Until a few months ago I thought this was a painting of the Hart Homestead in Durham, but my brother told me its subject is the Muddy River Schoolhouse. I was amazed that I’d looked at this picture for so long without really knowing what it was. For me this discovery was like having a ghost step out of the past and say “howdy!” In the painting, done around 1860 or 1870, the school still has white clapboards. Next to the schoolhouse is the bridge over the river at the bottom of Whirlwind Hill. In the background, on the far side of Muddy River, the painter has brushed in the lush spring blooms of the Hall orchards.

"Muddy River Schoolhouse," Mary E. Hart, watercolor

“Muddy River Schoolhouse,” Mary E. Hart, watercolor

On Wednesday:  Painters in our Family


Watermelon Pickles

A cold watermelon on a hot summer day is a glorious treat, especially when eaten outside where seed spitting is allowed.

Francis and Janet Hall eating watermelon, 1921

Francis and Janet Hall eating watermelon, 1921

Whoever invented watermelon pickles must have had the bright idea to preserve the memory of this sweet, watery, cold, pink, and green fruit for a dark winter day.

My uncle Francis loved these pickles, so my grandmother kept jars of them in the basement and put the sweet sticky blobs in a glass dish to go along with the big Sunday dinner. But watermelon pickles are a disappointment. They don’t look like watermelon because they’re actually watermelon RIND pickles. And during the pickling process they become translucent and kind of slimy. I think someone should figure out a way to make watermelon pickles so they look like the ones my grandson and I painted on a recent July afternoon.

"Watermelon Pickles," Carol and Henry, 2014

“Watermelon Pickles,” Carol and Henry, 2014

On Monday:  Ellsworth’s Room

Decoration Day

As you can see, this is not “The House that Aaron Built,” which I had promised today. That will appear on Wednesday instead.

It’s Memorial Day, and I want to mark it. It seems important on this day to pause and remember. The custom in our family was to go to the cemetery with flowers – not just for soldiers, but for all those we held dear. I admit to being a cemetery person. I like the quiet grounds and find it peaceful to visit the resting places of my ancestors. Here in Anchorage, because I’m so far away from the place where my own mother and father are buried, I’ll go today to the local cemetery and place a small bouquet of flowers on the graves of Bill and Frances – parents of a good friend. This cemetery in the middle of town is a busy place on Memorial Day. Families picnic near their loved ones, and visitors prune vegetation and place flags and flowers at the headstones.

In the early part of the twentieth century Memorial Day was always on May 30, and it was called “Decoration Day.”

My great-grandmother Lydia Hall wrote in her 1924 journal:

Friday, May 30 – “Pleasant. This is Decoration day. Agnes took the children in town to see the parade. They were too late. Very quiet for Wallingford. The decorations were very nice. I have been sitting out of doors for an hour this morning enjoying the sunshine and warm air. It is the first time I have been out since last fall.” – Lydia Jane Hall

For her “decorations,” my mother gathered flowers from the farm or from her own garden to make a patriotic bouquet. Red and white peonies and indigo blue baptisia were her blooms of choice, and under my mother’s skillful hands, they made a striking arrangement.

janet Hall Crump with Red Peonies

janet Hall Crump with Red Peonies

One year she painted this tiny watercolor of her bouquet. It hangs in an alcove in my house and greets me in the morning when I come downstairs to breakfast. Today when I see it I’ll pause, and remember, and thank her for this good life.

"Memorial Day Bouquet," Janet Hall Crump, watercolor

“Memorial Day Bouquet,” Janet Hall Crump, watercolor

On Wednesday:  The House that Aaron Built



“Cold and cloudy, rained hard during the night. It is lighting up at noon. Think the storm has passed. Agnes has taken the three children [my mother Janet, her sister Lydia, and her brother Francis] in the auto to Sunday School. Quite a chore for her to get them washed, dressed & ready & home again. It needs perseverance – am glad she has got it. Should be glad to help her but have been miserable lately. The apple trees are out in full bloom. Daisies are budded, blue violets all out…” – Lydia Jane Hall, May 1, 1924

Whirlwind Hill Violets

Violets may be starting to bloom in Wallingford now. To me they seem the most old-fashioned of flowers. Near the old barn site on my parents’ property the violets still grow in profusion, and I pick a bunch and put them in the middle of the kitchen table when I’m there.

My great-grandmother Lydia’s cousin, Mary E. Hart, painted watercolors and oils of scenery and flowers. (I’ll return to Mary Hart in more detail in the future.) The violets in this painting by her lie gracefully tied in a loose bouquet. Maybe they were a gift or maybe just an arranged still life. But they seem to me as fresh as they must have been all those years ago when she put her brush to the paper.

"Violets," Mary E. Hart, watercolor, ca. 1860

“Violets,” Mary E. Hart, watercolor, ca. 1860

On Monday:  A Window on the Landing