Forty Year Journey


A couple of weeks ago a friend and town historian told me she had the diaries of Charles Brown and I might be interested in reading them.  Charles Brown was the father of Percy Brown who had written the first history of Rowe as well as being a large benefactor to the town.  She had transcribed each passage that referred to the time they spent in town from the years 1887 to 1929.

She dropped them off at the house and this began my breakfast and lunch routine of reading through the diaries.  I was immediately struck by the dedication to doing this.  He wrote every day.  He and his wife usually spent the month of August in town and he wrote about the weather and how they spent their days and evenings.

Well, either their thermometers were different or this is a testament to how much warmer it is now than in that forty-year span of time.  There were many days and nights when it was downright chilly.  He would often right about how many blankets he slept under to give you an idea of the cold.

When they began coming to Rowe they would stay at the “Wright house”, which is my house now.  There is something about reading about what was happening 130 years ago and having it take place right where you live.  He wrote about finding a horse and buggy to rent while they were here and the trips they would take daily around the area and into Vermont.

He wrote of the people around him, names so familiar but some too distant in the past for me have known.  He hired people to do jobs for him, had many visitors, read on the piazza, played hundreds of games of croquet recording the scores daily.  There was mention of murders, lightning strikes and fires.  He and Percy came to help when the barn here was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.

He wrote of his visitors.  He shared Percy’s friendships in Rowe, the places they all “tramped”, picnics on Pulpit Rock.  I learned of Percy’s engagement and marriage to Corinne.  Expected their visits year after year, then suddenly one line about her dying in Cincinnati.  At this point I was pretty invested in these characters and it felt like a gut punch with no explanation.  Thank goodness for public records and other info found with the diaries.

As the years went by the horse-drawn carriages and train rides to Zoar gave way to drives in new automobiles and how painful that could be.  Honestly, with the number of flats they changed it was a wonder they drove anywhere.  Of course there were always reports on how bad the roads were.

Friday morning I finished reading the remaining pages of the diaries.  I had been immersed in this wonderful little world of people, games and vacationing in a bygone time but a very familiar place. Charles was 79 years old.  His routine in Rowe had changed gradually over the years but in being able to read it in a few days time was compressed.  What really happened is I got to the end and went “Nooooooo”.  The story wasn’t over, it just stopped, ugh.  Think of it as Downton Abbey without season 6 – none of the ends were really tied up.

Social history is one of my favorite things and I have rarely, if ever, read anything so simply done give such a vivid picture of life in a bygone time.  I’m sad the story ended but think I will read it over again.  Like every good story you read to see where it goes, this time I’ll read it again to pay more attention to what it says.


Weaving Inspiration


A few weeks ago I met a long time friend on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls.  As a gardener I am always amazed at this wonderful place.

I posted this photograph after shooting my way along the bridge and a fellow weaver used it as color inspiration.  I thought I would as well. (Of course hers was finished within days of the picture going up).

I also decided to move out of the realm of safety and work with new materials, sort of.  I’m using 20/2 mercerized cotton and a draft from Twill Thrills to make a scarf.


I did the math.  Ordered the cotton.  Did the math again.  Then started winding the warp.


Truth be told this is my least favorite part of weaving and it took me three days to do it because there were a few moments when I just had to walk away.

I finally got it to the loom and threaded it.  It’s an advancing twill pattern at  40 E.P.I.  Yes, forty ends per inch.  At this point I’m saying to myself “You must be out of your mind” but it got better . . .

lrm_export_20161008_204035 I had 32 threads leftover at the end.  Not usually a problem unless you decide to do graded colors, ugh.  Not happy at this point.   It was sort of a random twill so I decided to just to a repeat of part of the pattern and see how it turned out.  At this point I was not going to rethread it.


Yesterday I began sleying the reed 4 threads per dent.  I got halfway through and decided to break until this morning when the light was better.  Finished an hour or so ago.  I’ll tie it on, spend some time on the floor doing tie-ups and finally start weaving later today with any luck.  Then I’ll be able to see what kind of mess I truly made and if I can live with it or start over.

The interesting part to me is the weavers I have that surround me, that inspire me.  I weave with a woman who weaves nothing but twills.  She threads her loom without a draft starting in the center and working her way to either edge designing it as she goes along.  Her work is amazing.  I felt like I was channeling her as I threaded all of those extra ends.  I don’ begin to think I’m capable of doing what she does but it’s having weavers around me giving that inspiration.  They’re all mentors without knowing it.

I think that’s what makes it so important to show and share your work – no matter what kind of work it is or what your skill level.  You never know who you’re going to inspire.





A Little Bit of Fun


While helping Peggy mend a couple of long runs of weaving last week she asked me to weave the end of the warp she had on her barn frame loom because she had run out of rags.  She is out west on her own adventure this week so I figured this would be mine.


I have never woven on one of these looms before.  What I found was once you understand the mechanics of weaving you can pretty much weave on anything.  So in this one spot I’ve gone from crazy power looms to one of history’s finest.


It has two shafts and was warped for rag rugs, all I had to do is bring the weft.  I hadn’t woven a rag rug before but have seen plenty in progress so I figured how hard could it be?  I spent a few hours tearing fabric (I’m a long time quilter so fabric is everywhere).  It was torn into strips 3″ wide, folded with the wrong sides together and pressed.  Then I randomly picked pieces and sewed them together in flat seams.  I had a 30″ rag shuttle so I added the strips to that.  I really hadn’t looked at the warp that close before I decided to do this so I had no idea how much weft I was going to need.


There is nothing like a loom you have to climb into.  It’s quite comfortable, so much so that I think I need to build a bench into my Macomber.

There is no shuttle race when you open the shed but the rag shuttle worked perfectly.  I began and ended the rug with a few picks of rug warp and wove to 60″ in length.  Probably a little long but once I started I couldn’t stop.  Advancing the warp was easily done just required a little muscle.


There’s a window at your back and a nice breeze was blowing in the entire time I was weaving.  It also gave a rather harsh light to the finished weaving.

Time for a confession.  I’m really a control freak when it comes to a lot of things, especially color.  When I chose my fabric for the weft I used a blue that I had a lot of to add to the continuity of the entire piece.  I didn’t really randomly choose fabrics, they were chosen with intent. I knew what the warp colors were so I made sure to incorporate those colors in the weft.  This didn’t go together the way I had envisioned it but I have to say it finished with something I’m satisfied with.

Now I’m dreaming about that rug loom restoration project in the shed and the things I’m going to be weaving on it.  Sometime we just need a little push.

Goodbye Doc


Photo – Merritt Brown

I lost a very dear friend yesterday.  2016 has been a rough year.

I met Merritt (Doc) Brown 40 years ago almost to the day at Hallmark Institute of Photography.  We were the third class to go through the school with a class size of a little over 30 people.  At the time Hallmark was a different place than it grew into.  It wasn’t accredited, you couldn’t get financial aid, you had to really want to be there.  It was also the first place in my entire life that I felt like I belonged and one of those reasons was Doc.

I am sharing some things here that will probably not mean as much if you didn’t know him but somehow it feels like everyone knew him.  When we were in school I thought he was probably the worst photographer I had ever met – truly.  He understood the process – his vision, exposure and printing – not so much.   I never saw him in any commercial realm of photography (at least as it was at that time – we’re talking 1977) but he had such a passion for what he was doing.  We’d be given assignments and many critiques were cringe worthy.  He never gave up and graduated with the rest of us (although in a recent conversation we both confessed that neither of us knew how he got through).

Now I can’t speak to how Merritt was before the “Hallmark experience”.  I do know that our time in that place changed us all.  It made us understand the value of friendship and the importance of maintaining the relationships you have.

Merritt had more friends than anyone I ever knew.  He maintained them well.  With the advent of social media he really came into his own.  Through it we could see that his passion for photography had only grown through the years.  He shared his images and his sometimes twisted philosophy with so many of us.  Always quick with a smart remark or advice or simple observation I looked forward to his running commentary on my life.  It was always positive.

This past year we had conversed more than usual and more about life in general than photography specifically. We shared the experience of children lost and found, something rather unique in my circle of friends.  I’m glad it was with him because he always could be counted on for truth in any situation.  He could see things as they were and would tell it like it is.  Last week I visited him at home and the conversation was more poignant.   He wished he had more time with his children and grandchildren.  It killed him to know that he wasn’t going to be around to enjoy some of Manop’s cooking. Fishing, he hadn’t been fishing at all this year.  He had a habit of shooting daily, was limited to home but he still had images to share with his friends. Clouds, he could photograph the clouds and since that’s where he was going he wanted to share them.

He knew he was at the end, he knew some of it had to do with the choices he’d made in life but there were really no regrets.  It had been quite the ride.  So this kind, gentle, larger than life soul left this earth yesterday and we are all sitting here in disbelief.  For me it’s left quite a hole.

My daughter-in-law recently commented on how many friends I have.  I’d never really thought about it before.  I do.  I have circles of friends from different times in my life.  I’ve maintained the ones that are most important to me.  Until now I didn’t realize there’s a downside to all of this, you have to move through losing them.

Our friends make up who we are, some more significantly then others, they teach us how to be.  We try to surround ourselves with the people who make us our better selves.  That’s what Merritt did for me, he made me just a little bit better.

Solitary Goose


Summer is pretty much gone here.  You can see that the trees and grass in the fields are tired.  Gone is that crisp, vibrant green of spring.

I pass this field in Charlemont often.  It’s along Route 2 coming into town from Rowe.  This morning the air was thick and it was raining . . . and the goose was in the field.  I did two separate u-turns to get to the right spot and stood in the rain in front of my car hoping nothing huge would come rumbling down the road to splash water in my direction.  You do what you have to do to get the shot.

Last spring, as all of the Canadian geese were strolling out the new offspring I saw this goose in this field surrounded by a large flock of Canadian geese.  It was odd, and still is. It has been in this field quite often throughout the summer.  It has conjured up all kinds of scenarios about why it’s there but now there are just questions like where did it come from?  Does it belong to someone?  Why hasn’t some fox eaten it yet?  Is it lonely?

Now I’m starting to worry about where it will be this winter, it doesn’t seem to have any friends to tell it to fly south.  Maybe someone needs to round it up although I will miss seeing it brighten up a field on an otherwise gloomy day.

Why Are These People Laughing?

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Yesterday was the first work bee I have attended at the Rowe Historical Society.  Like most small town museums there is a decided lack of space.  This is something that creeps up with collections growing year after year.

One storage space had flooding a while back and our task was to remove all of the covering from the basement walls in preparation for painting.

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Getting to the walls was a whole different issue.

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The group of eight split along gender lines as it always does with the men doing demo on one end of the room and the women sorting and categorizing everything to move into spaces better suited for each item.  For me it was a pretty awesome experience and not unlike going through the barn or coop here with decades of stuff collected.

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I have to say everyone worked diligently to get to the end of the task but there were many, many light moments surrounding the question “What the heck is this?”.

I daresay this may be an issue with most museums, especially those that are trying to make sense of collections without policy taking place since the sixties.  We are not alone.  There is so much knowledge in this group that there were maybe 3 items in that room that were left unidentified.  That’s pretty cool considering the amount of stuff that was there.

We each have our own strengths.  Mine is photography and textiles but having grown up with a nutty, hoarding collecting  father it extends to sawmills, lumber and vintage farm equipment.  Old Sturbridge Village taught me the use of household items in 1840 so that helped too.

There is only one member that I knew when I started this a short month ago but I see this as building community within a community.  We have a common interest.  These bees will continue as well as individuals working on their areas of interest.  Trying to bring centuries worth of belongings into the present.  Knowing what there is, why it’s there and how best to share it with the community.  It always amazes me just a little bit when strangers come together with a common goal and through that friendships are built or made stronger.



Fair Worthy


Fair season begins tonight.  All entries for the Heath Fair have to be there by 8:00 p.m.  I finished the bear 10 minutes ago.

Every year as I’m doing whatever project I’m doing I always look at it asking if it’s fair worthy.  Does it meet my standards to be shown in public?  By people who know more about what I’m doing than I do?

This year there are 3 entries for the Heath Fair and the Big E.  The weaving I knew was worthy as soon as the wet finishing was done.  The bear . . . I decided to sew one when I filled out the entry forms weeks ago but didn’t even begin it until last week.

I have a lot of bears that I’ve made over the years but each entry to the fair has to have been completed since the last fair.  I pulled out materials that haven’t seen the light of day for years and started this little project.  I finished his face (so I thought) and put all of his joints together.  Stuffed his body and sat him on the table where I looked at him every time I walked by.  He was off – the eyes weren’t right, the ears were cockeyed, the nose needed work.  He was not fair worthy.  I didn’t want anyone to look at him and wonder “What hack made this?”.

I thought about not putting him in the fair at all but remembered I had until 8 to get there and knew if he didn’t go in there was a possibility of him spending years in a closet somewhere.  I moved his eyes, stitched down an ear in a better position and spent some more time on the embroidered nose.  I  kind of wished I’d photographed him before I fixed him.  He looked at me with gratitude when I took that last stitch and brushed out his fur.

I’m telling you it’s tough being a perfectionist who anthropomorphizes her stuffed animals.


By the way – Fair bear really could use a name, any suggestions?

Building a Story


There are families that embraced photography wholeheartedly when it was introduced.  I think of them as being sentimental.  They understood that life was fleeting and it was important to them to remember moments in time.  Not all families are like that.  My father’s side was very sentimental and there are hundreds of old photos of my grand and great grands as well as my father growing up.  They go back even further to the ambrotypes and tintypes although those are fewer.  My mother’s side was not recorded quite as well but there is still quite an archive.

I have always been the “keeper” of the photographs.  When households were emptied the boxes of photos were brought to me.  I have closets full of boxes of photographs dating from the 1850’s to the present.  I have to say the advent of digital photography makes organizing and making sense of this archive much easier.

Recently I volunteered to digitize the photographic collection at the Rowe Historical Society.  I became a trustee and am hoping to organize their collection to give everyone access and help make sense of some of this imagery.  I have to tell you I’m extraordinarily happy that Rowe is an extremely small town.  I can’t imagine trying to make sense of a collection that is much bigger.

This was also self-serving in some respects – I wanted to see more of the photographs of Fort Pelham Farm back in the days of rolling fields and farming.  I was also in search of angles of the house from the south side.  I had never seen any.  The Wrights were photo centric people.  They were very social, had a wide circle of friends and family and took pictures at many occasions.  They also kept many of their photographs glued in albums.  This helps give a timeline to the images you are viewing. You have to be a sort of sleuth to figure out what is going on because all of the players are long gone and the names and dates often went with them.

Last week I scanned roughly 400 photographs from a few albums.  I haven’t taken the time at this point to really examine them.  There were a few that caught my interest because they were what I was looking for but an interesting thing has happened along the way.  Not all of the albums belonged to the Wrights but there were many photographs of Fort Pelham Farm in albums belonging to families I’m unfamiliar with. One of these albums was fairly well labelled as to who, what, where and when.   I pulled out the genealogy and realized just how many people were related to each other in town.

I think I love doing this sort of project because of the stories that form while you’re looking at the images.  The body language, the clothing, the history that is shown even though they weren’t aware of much of it at the time.  The stories grow as the collections come together.  It takes some patience and a good memory for detail to make this all work but the technology we have today makes it all so much easier.  With a little luck and some time this story should come alive and an archive will be available for everyone.

Critters of the Worst Kind

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A few years ago Bill and I put in a perennial garden that included a stone stairway to nowhere.  The garden was on a bank and we had huge flat stones that we placed as stairs.  It was satisfying work and we placed a bench on the top step to sit and enjoy the view of the back forty with our morning coffee.

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Yesterday I noticed this.  

A friend of mine had just posted about the problem he was having with rabbits in his garden.  I had commented on how I have a lot of animals around my garden but they never get in it.  Apparently they have enough to eat everywhere else.

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This hole is huge.  I see these woodchucks daily in the back forty grazing on the grasses and I know where numerous holes are around the property but this one was a surprise.

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Now the problem is how to get rid of the buggers.  I don’t even know how many there are.  I actually don’t mind them being on the property I just don’t want them here.

I’m open to suggestions.

Learning New Things About Old Things

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This morning I was doing some photography for a book that Peggy is writing on wool.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taken photographs for someone else, let alone tabletop items.  It was stressful and wonderful at the same time.  She also wanted a photo of my wool wheel in a specific place.  As you can see I had more than one obstacle to deal with.  He is a master of photo bomb.  I had to physically remove him from the area.

Along with the photographs I took was one I had to scan.

Charlton Woolen Weave Room

This is a photograph of the weave room at Charlton Woolens probably taken in the mid to late 1930’s.  My grandfather’s toolbox is one of many in the photograph.  This photo was one of the many reasons I wanted to experience the Crompton and Knowles power looms. In doing so this photograph is so much richer.  I now have an understanding of what was happening in this room, where the weavers stood, the noise.  I look at this photo and think about how you must have felt the vibrations in your feet and gone home with your ears ringing.  I have a better idea of the kind of job a loom mechanic had.

I’m always amazed at just how long research takes when it comes to history if you want to understand the whole story.  Genealogy gives you the names and dates of the people – the who, what and where kind of thing.  The photographs, when you can find them, begin to fill out the story.  Then there is the living history.  This is far more elusive but when you find it you can put yourself in your ancestors shoes with a little bit of imagination.

Social history is what makes studying the past come alive.  It’s where you begin to understand a little about the way people thought about their world and made their life decisions.  Public records give you clues into things.  You begin with the big stuff – politics and religion and work your way down to minutia.  Things like what were they wearing and how did it affect how they moved and did their work.  You look at how men and women treated each other, how economics made or broke their lives.

I think there’s been an injustice served on the American people in not teaching our history in a way that is accessible to everyone.  I think a lot of the turmoil that we see is a lack of understanding of what has gone on before.  I feel like people are making up things as they go along in a way that is only self-serving. Their knowledge is so narrow.  Maybe because social media has taken over our lives and rather than read a book we read twitter every morning.  I think the idea of knowing our history has been lost.  It’s too bad because some of the greatest stories ever told are true.

I plug along learning new things about old things everyday.  I’ll continue to put myself into situations where I can understand what was going on or the work involved.  One year I dug my garden plot completely by hand so I could feel what kind of work went into putting in a kitchen garden for the women of 1840.  It’s one thing to read about it, quite another to do it.

The real goal is putting the family history into words with understanding.  Not just any story, a story that makes these people human. One that makes you understand that the world could be just as scary a place to them as it sometimes is to us.  History repeats itself, over and over, but unless you know something about it you don’t recognize it when it happens.