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Observation 53, On an Artist’s Life, Part 11

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

This is the eleventh column on “an Artist’s Life.” It’s my memory of growing up amongst artists and specifically about my Dad who recently died at the age of 96. Last time ended with me breaking out on my own artistically, consciously separating from Dad’s guidance as Greg advanced through early elementary school.

Around this time, I also re-established a professional work relationship with the Forbes House. I can’t remember if it was during First or Second grade, but the mom of one of Greg’s classmates and a fellow Cub Scout leader and I swapped after-school days. The boys stayed with me one afternoon and with her another. Dana, the Archivist back when I volunteered for 3 years before Greg was born, was now the Director/Curator of the newly reformed Forbes House Museum. The China Trade portion received an endowment that created an addition to the Peabody (now Peabody Essex) Museum. The Chinese porcelain and other artifacts and ephemera I had worked with and much of the furniture were now up in Salem. Dana and I agreed I’d go in one day a week and begin with cataloguing and organizing photographs from the Lincoln collection. I was to spend the next 3 years or so going through drawers full of photographs that previously had been out hanging on the walls of the Lincoln Cabin replica. The unheated, realistic log cabin was not an appropriate place to store daguerreotypes and other early sepia photos of Lincoln, his homes, Civil War Generals, as well as color and black and white lithography, etc. At some point, they’d been removed from their frames and stored in various boxes and drawers rather randomly. I wrote up catalogue cards, stored them in drawers by categories we developed, and wrapped them in acid free tissue with acid free cardboard as needed to support them when they were moved. I loved it.

Greg’s First Grade teacher was a seasoned pro. I went in several times a month to help out and she encouraged several ideas I had for activities to do with the class. Lord knows if they would fly in these days where testing needs take priority over learning. Anyway, they read a child’s version of the story of King Arthur, a book of mine, and afterwards, had a joust with horse costumes I created with cardboard, some plastic armor of Greg’s and breakaway jousting sticks. It was controlled chaos and a lot of fun.

Dad and Greg continued to have a special relationship. From Greg’s early years we got together with Dad (and later Marge as well) for most Holidays. Halloween was a special one when Greg was young. Dad would often take Greg trick-or-treating around the street. At Easter, I’d color our eggs and keep up the family tradition of marbling them (oil swirled on the egg keeps dye from sticking, which allows you to wipe parts off and reapply. You can do up to 3 layers and get great effects). When I was a kid, we also painted on the eggs, using dye for ink and paint brushes. Dad would always help, actually he did most of them and we were lucky to get one to do. He did some amazing paintings on them and I continued that tradition as well. Each family member would have one with their name on it for Easter breakfast. Some we saved and they eventually dried out. Plus, we would also blow out eggs, dye them and paint them for permanent artwork. If you’ve ever blown out an egg, it takes so much force it feels like your brains are going to trickle out your ears. I learned a few tricks as an adult, you can make the hole at the bottom a little bigger and then pierce the yolk with a scarf needle. Once the yolk is broken, it leaves the egg easier. Then we’d string them using a bead or sequin to hold the string in place and we’d hang them on forsythia or pussywillows. During these last few years, my collection of eggs, which is a mix of a few of Dad’s and some Greg, Richard & I did, hasn’t been on display. Mainly because we have been away. But if the grandkids come, I’ll bring them out for them.

It was great to be able to create such beautiful little things, but on occasion I’d be advised that mine weren’t measuring up to a professional artist’s standard, which could be frustrating for me. When Dad wasn’t looking, my mom would place our paper chains and school ornaments on the backside of our Christmas trees. By the time the grandchildren came around, Dad had gotten better at the critiques he’d dole out when viewing their creations. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember who started it, but Greg and Dad had what I called the cow wars (enabled in part by me). Multiple times a year they’d give each other cow gifts-dad had mugs, napkin rings, table covers, placemats and much more. All from Greg. For years they both got gifts wrapped in a cow pattern (black & white). I don’t remember what Greg got from Dad, mainly cards with cows and the like. Greg & I both had fun finding stuff.

The summer after First Grade, Richard and I had a get-away with a couple who we met through Richard’s work at Polaroid. We went out to the North End together in the Fall and by the end of dinner were toasting to a trip together to Portugal and Madrid. We scrambled for dog and childcare. Dad and Marge had Greg for a bit and friends we had made from Nursery School had Greg and the dogs and a long week at the Cape place with their 2 boys.

It was a great 12-day trip to Portugal and Madrid. The first three or four nights were spent in the mountains north of Lisbon, where we stayed at an old-fashioned resort hotel near a hot spring. Much of the food came from their vegetable gardens-Europeans have always believed in locally sourced and eating what is in season. We had lovely meals, with silverware pieces rarely used these days and I learned variants on the potage recipe of Graham Kerr’s I use as a base. I still remember the haricot verte potage we had our first night there. The meals were 5 courses, simple well-made food. This was the first exposure to Europe for both of us. Three or four nights in the resort by ourselves, followed by three in Lisbon with our friends and a flight to Madrid together and four nights there (the last one on our own). I recently returned to our Lisbon hotel; a family-owned house full of wonderful antiques (Pergola House), in the resort town of Cascais. It’s now run by the daughter of the woman who ran it when we were first there. I (and the friend I traveled with) was delighted to find it was as wonderful as I remembered and Cascais every bit as scenic and hospitable as it was in 1990. In Madrid my most treasured memories were 1) a meal where we cooked our meat right in the heated bowls in front of us; 2) the Prado, which I dragged my husband to a second time on our last day to see the Picasso wing, while with our friends I subjected the wife to my rapture over Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights and other works of his. (It’s one of the best museums I’ve visited) and 3) and a meal of suckling pig in a restaurant Dad recommend from his and Mom’s trip to Spain, one I discovered is the oldest restaurant in the world, Sobrino de Botin. Next time, more art classes, travels and teaching Sunday School.

Janet L Cornacchio

Janet Cornacchio is an artist member of Front Street Art Gallery, President of Scituate Arts Association & a Realtor. You can contact her at jcornacch@aol.com


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