Photo Caption: Paint on the 1758 John Paul Jones House has not yet begun to dry. Photo courtesy of Portsmouth Painting Company.
Watching Paint Dry at the John Paul Jones House
The John Paul Jones House is still yellow. All of it, now.
In 1989, a well-known paint company featured the building in its national TV commercials. “Enduring centuries of New England’s harsh winters, stands the great American home of John Paul Jones,” the announcer intoned. “Today, we’re repainting it with new advance formula Weatherbeater!”
Twenty-five years later, the Portsmouth Historical Society received a New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) grant that permitted it to repaint most of the historic 1758 house (in which the famous naval hero lived, for a while, at least).
Now, with funds recently received through the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance from The 1772 Foundation, the Historical Society has been able to complete the job, painting the remaining portions of the house, including its addition (or “ell”) and its matching carriage house.
Even advance-formula paint does not last forever, but periodic coats of paint have protected the clapboard siding of Portsmouth’s old landmark for more than 250 years. Preservation is an on-going process, but fortunately, public nonprofits like the Portsmouth Historical Society have patiently assumed responsibility for maintaining these familiar connections with our earliest history. Funders like The 1772 Foundation, however, insist that the Historical Society raise matching funds from the public for work like this.
These contributions also permitted the Portsmouth Historical Society to repair several windows of the old structure. Because outside and inside air have different temperatures and humidity levels, and they most often come into contact at a building’s windows, these are the places where moisture frequently condenses, and are therefore the first places in old houses to decay. Sash & Solder Window Restoration, a local studio housed in the Button Factory, did the work to repair the windows.
Painting was performed by the Portsmouth Painting Company, the same family business that painted the main part of the house five years ago and has done work on various other historic structures in the city. They have even been sponsored by Sherwin Williams Paint Company to re-create that classic commercial featuring the old house.
Portsmouth Historical Society also maintains the historic Morton-Benedict House and the Portsmouth Academy building, both dating from the very early 19th century. Together with a modern addition constructed when the complex served as Portsmouth’s public library, today they serve as the headquarters of the Historical Society, with its exhibition galleries, visitor welcome center, and unique museum shop.
Walking tour tickets, Society memberships, and information on the latest events and virtual lectures are all available at: www.portsmouthhistory.org or by calling 603-436-8433.
PHOTO CAPTION: Barbara Adams. Tugs Two. Oil on canvas. Photo by Ken Goldman (kenphotogeek.com)
“Abstracting the Seacoast” at Portsmouth Historical Society
On October 1, the work of five contemporary artists will be on display in “Abstracting the Seacoast” at Portsmouth Historical Society. The artists—Dustan Knight, Tom Glover, Peter Cady, Barbara Adams, and Brian Chu—have challenged themselves to create new ways of portraying and abstracting their appreciation of this unique coastal area.
In five highly individual styles, “Abstracting the Seacoast” evokes the smell of the salt marsh, the call of seagulls, and the crash of the waves along the coast. It brings to mind the bustle of the docks loading and unloading, while the ubiquitous Moran tugboats chug down the river. Historic Portsmouth, with its venerable red brick buildings, narrow side alleys, and bright, busy Market Square dissolves into the softer natural world of silver pocket beaches and deep pine and birch woods. All these impressions have been incorporated into this inspiring exhibition by these artists.
Each artist approaches the possibilities of abstracting the Seacoast differently. Peter Cady has spent a lifetime observing the marshes, woods, and shore of the Seacoast, while recently he has been exploring use of collage to express his vision of these treasured places. Tom Glover works to incorporate into his paintings what he has learned from John Laurent, Walt Kuhn, Charles Woodbury, and Richard Diebenkorn, and then tries to keep in mind the historical context of this area as he works. Barbara Adams has always treasured the historic buildings of Portsmouth; the connection with her fellow artists in working on this exhibition inspired her to newly creative and energetic visions of the city. In yet another approach, Dustan Knight explores the territory between a literal representation of her Seacoast home and her non-representational emotional experiences living beside the sea. Dustan’s work is loose and easy feeling with nuanced colors and suggested images. Brian Chu paints vernacular cityscapes in active textured colors. He maintains a perspective on subjectivity and objectivity which gives each painting a quiet suspense in his negotiation between the two.
A brochure accompanies this exhibition and highlights several works of each artist. An essay entitled “Seacoast Abstraction” by professional art critic and artist Christopher Volpe is also included.
The opening reception for “Abstracting the Seacoast” is Friday, October 1, from 5 pm to 7 pm, during the Portsmouth-wide monthly open-studio event Art ‘Round Town. The exhibition will be on display through November 18 at Portsmouth Historical Society’s Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center, which is open to the public from 10 am to 5 pm, daily, at 10 Middle Street. Additional information can be found at PortsmouthHistory.org or by calling 603-436-8433.
Sublime Impressionist paintings and powerful expressionist woodcuts are featured in two exhibitions of very different styles of art, both produced by artists with roots in the area. On display at Portsmouth Historical Society’s galleries through September 12, “Twilight of American Impressionism” showcases two extraordinary New England painters who were masters of Impressionism during their lifetimes, but who are today largely forgotten: Alice Ruggles Sohier and Frederick A. Bosley. Concurrently in the upstairs gallery, the exhibition “Don Gorvett: Working Waterfronts” will present over sixty works by this famed contemporary Seacoast printmaker.
“Everybody loves Impressionist art, and those of us in the Portsmouth area are especially fond of Gorvett’s atmospheric woodcuts,” observed Historical Society director Brian LeMay. “These two exhibitions are significant for what they tell us about the changing history of art and the culture of the Seacoast area, but the real reason people will love these shows is that the art in them is just heartbreakingly beautiful and powerful, but in very different ways.”
Sohier and Bosley both worked in the style of Impressionism, popularized by French painters like Monet and Renoir in the last quarter of the 19th century. Bosley and Sohier, however, did not reach artistic maturity until the early 20th century, when representational art was falling out of favor, and abstract art was coming into vogue. Although the two artists were acknowledged as supremely talented painters during their lifetimes, neither became a major star, and their works have been rarely seen in public since they were first painted, remaining largely in the private collections of their families. Guest Curator William Brewster Jr., a descendant of both Sohier and Bosley, brings his unparalleled knowledge of the two artists to the project.
Later in the 20th century, artist Don Gorvett studied art at the same School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where Bosley and Sohier trained, and where Bosley himself became a teacher. This connection also ties the three artists to Edmund Tarbell and Gertrude Fiske, who were the subjects of two earlier exhibitions organized by the Historical Society. “These exhibitions form bookends for our shows on the Boston School,” remarked LeMay, “telling the story of how artistic styles germinate in particular times and places, gradually gain currency, and then retrospectively become part of a longer tradition in the history of art.”
Unlike his predecessors, Don Gorvett was attracted by the sights and sounds of the New England waterfronts, painting seascapes and boat portraits throughout his career. Although he too could capture a sense of the serene and picturesque, Gorvett often celebrated the mechanical and gritty, rather than fashionable drawing rooms and peaceful sunsets. Gorvett is today renowned for his distinctive work with the reduction woodcut technique, whereby the artist personally prints multiple, superimposed impressions from the same block, each of which is subtly different from preceding layers, produced as parts of the block are gradually cut away. The results are final works of remarkable complexity and beauty.
Both exhibitions are presented with the generous support of Martha Fuller Clark and Geoffrey E. Clark, Pauline C. Metcalf/The Felicia Fund, Inc., William & Arlene Brewster, Joseph MacDonald Family, New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, Anthony Moore Painting Conservation, Jameson & Priscilla French, Piscataqua Savings Bank, and Cambridge Trust. Full-color catalogues of the exhibitions, produced by Portsmouth Marine Society Press, are available on the Society’s website (www.PortsmouthHistory.org), and are for sale in the Discover Portsmouth Museum Shop.
“Twilight of American Impressionism” and “Don Gorvett: Working Waterfronts” are on view from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, every day from April 2 to September 12. The Society’s galleries are located adjacent to the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center and Museum Shop at 10 Middle Street in downtown Portsmouth. Admission is $7.50 for adults, free for children under 18, seniors 70 and older, Society members, and active and retired military. Admission is free for everybody on the first Friday of every month. Social distancing is mandated, masks are required and available for free, along with abundant hand-sanitizer.
Walking tour tickets, Society memberships, and information on the latest events and virtual lectures are all available at: www.portsmouthhistory.org or by calling 603-436-8433.
Jackie van Berlo’s award-winning gingerbread recreation of Ceres Bakery on display in the Academy Galleries at the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center until December 22. This year additional entrants in the 30th Annual Gingerbread Contest are on display in 20 downtown Portsmouth shop windows. A “Scavenger Hunt” form and prizes are available for families who are looking for a fun, safe, outdoor activity courtesy of the Portsmouth Historical Society. (Photo by Raya on Assignment)
The baking and decorating are done. The official awards are won. Now you can see more than 80 edible entries from the 30th Annual Gingerbread House Contest and Exhibition. Twenty are on display in a special new way—in shop windows across town.
The idea of putting exhibitions in storefront windows was actually first conceived when the Portsmouth Historical Society was planning its recent quilts show. “Unfortunately, the pandemic was just then beginning to grab us by our lapels and shake us, so everybody was a bit too overwhelmed to pursue the plan at that time,” says Brian LeMay, executive director of the Society. “But the vision of a town filled with gingerbread grew out of the same notion that history and the historical society are deeply embedded in the traditions of this community.”
“If only we could fill the streets with the smell of gingerbread and frosting,” mused LeMay. “That’s one thing that I associate with this annual exhibition in our galleries, and it still hits you when you walk in our doors.”
While the primary exhibition of 65 gingerbread creations can be seen seven days a week through December 22 at the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center, downtown shoppers can see many through store windows. Young people who want to locate them all can join a scavenger hunt. Families can download a passport or “stamp sheet” with digital hints from PortsmouthHistory.org or pick up a copy at the Welcome Center and participating stores. After getting each site validated, contestants are eligible to win a $100 gift certificate from the Roundabout Cafe or Cure Restaurant. Visitors to the Welcome Center can also purchase $1 raffle tickets for a chance to take home a house as a holiday centerpiece.
“The gingerbread scavenger hunt has been a huge hit with families,” says Jen Mathieson, owner of Hello Lovely at 92 Pleasant Street. “It has given them a no-cost family-fun adventure that takes them to parts of the city they may not have explored before.”
Mathieson points to a mother-daughter team from out of town who followed the scavenger hunt from store to store last week. “The daughter was a HUGE history buff! She learned more about Portsmouth and its history in one day than I have learned in my 30 years of living here!”
Liz Rodgers, owner of the boutique Lizology at 16 Market Street says the contest is giving parents, kids, shoppers, and walkers a safe way to interact during the holiday. “I have absolutely loved the idea,” Rodgers says. “To see kids coming in with their parents with giant smiles on their faces because they located another gingerbread house has been—well, contagious.”
Historical Society exhibitions manager Meredith Affleck recalls discussing the idea while socially distanced with committee members last August. They were gathered around the swimming pool at the Rockingham Hotel, next door to the John Paul Jones House Museum.
“The idea was to offer something to the folks who didn’t feel comfortable going inside to see all the houses,” she recalls. “But we soon realized that the main benefit would be to local retailers.”
Welcome Center associate Robin Albert floated the idea during a Chamber of Commerce Zoom meeting and received an enthusiastic response. The tricky part, Affleck says today, was managing the number of participants so there would be enough houses to go around.
And not just houses. The winning professional entry offers an uncanny candy recreation of Ceres Bakery. “We’ve had trains, and boats, and igloos, and carousels, and all sorts of wonderful things,” Robin Albert told WMUR-TV. A recent episode of the popular Channel 9 program “Chronicle” features a colorful close-up tour of this year’s gingerbread projects by entrants of all ages, both amateur and professional. Voting for the “People’s Choice Awards” is ongoing through December 16.
A gingerbread model of Sander’s Fish Market can be seen in the window of Birch at 73 State Street. Owner Kate Belavitch says she is “thrilled” to host a display of another local business that she visits every week.
“I love this idea,” says Makenzie Dube from Off Piste on 37 Market Street. “I give this event five stars! Would totally do it again.”
Getting people outdoors, walking downtown in the crisp fresh air, and enjoying the holiday decorations is just one bonus of the gingerbread tour, says Meredith Affleck. “What started as a good idea for C19 reasons, we want to continue in the future because it boosts community involvement,” she says.
“The year-end holidays are celebrations of tradition, of family, and community,” director Brian LeMay adds. “So it’s appropriate that the Portsmouth Historical Society should be the home of this beloved, whimsical, multi-sensory holiday tradition.”
Participating stores include Birch, The Black Dog, Celtic Crossing, Clays, Cup of Joe Cafe & Bar, Eyelook Optical, Fatface, Good Vibes, Hello Lovely, Kennedy Gallery & Custom Framing, Lizology, Moonshine, Off Piste, Otter Creek Shop, Putting on the Glitz, Raleigh Wine Bar + Eatery, The Hammer Pub & Grille, Warner’s Card & Gift Shop, White Box Jewelers, and Wiglesworth’s Mercantile.
The exhibition is generously sponsored by Kennebunk Savings; Performance Business Solutions, LLC; Devine Millimet, Attorneys at Law; The Music Hall; and oHive.
The primary exhibition and holiday-stocked Museum Store are located at the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center, 10 Main Street in downtown Portsmouth, NH. Visitors may also view the two large “Community Quilts” with individual quilt squares created by Seacoast citizens during the ongoing pandemic. Operated by the nonprofit Portsmouth Historical Society, the Welcome Center is warm and safe. COVID precautions include mandated masks, social distancing, controlled attendance, and a one-way path through the exhibition. The Museum Store also offers curbside pickup and local delivery. The Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm daily through December 23. For more information on membership, shopping, exhibitions, and donations visit www.Portsmouthhistory.org or call 603-436-8433.
PHOTO CAPTION: Bid on over 100 works of art by nearly fifty regional artists. Photos courtesy of the artists and Ken Goldman.
Only days remain to bid on over 100 works by regional artists in the Portsmouth Historical Society’s “Jubilee” art auction that ends October 7 at 6pm. Half of the proceeds support Discover Portsmouth and the John Paul Jones House Museum while the other half goes directly to 50 contributing artists. The online exhibition offers a fantastic array of paintings, many featuring familiar scenes, plus handcrafted jewelry, sculpture, woodworking, and clothing.
“It’s a triple win,” says executive director Brian LeMay. “Buyers take home a treasured original new work of art while supporting its talented creator and the city’s 100-year-old historical society.”
This year’s fall auction lets bidders join in from home or office with a special online platform. BiddingForGood is a charitable e-commerce company designed to connect fundraisers, cause-conscious shoppers, and socially responsible businesses. Users are advised that a desktop or laptop computer is the best way to view the online gallery.
Art lovers can reach the auction until October 7 via the PHS website (PortsmouthHistory.org) and click through the entire gallery. Bidding instructions are included. Each item has an opening bid minimum, a description of the artwork, and added details about the artist. The auction software also features a “Buy Now” button for those who just can’t wait to own a favorite item.
“We’ve already had three exciting buy-out sales,” says development associate Joyce Tucker, who prepared the auction with Beth Jefferson and the 2020 Jubilee Committee. Tucker says the buy-out bidders purchased a beautiful pair of handcrafted silver and pearl earrings, an intricate piece of woven art entitled African Necklace, and a colorful woven cotton rug named Splash of Color. Tucker notes that buyers who wish to see specific works “up close and personal” may contact her at joyce@Portsmouthhistory.org or by phone at 603-570-2492 for a private viewing at the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center.
“Art, culture, and history define Portsmouth,” Brian LeMay says, “and this year both our artist community and our local nonprofits have been hit hard financially by the pandemic.” Since the opening of the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center in 2010, PHS has featured fine art exhibitions by classic artists like Edmund C. Tarbell of Boston (who summered in New Castle) and Gertrude Fiske. Galleries in the historic 1810-era Academy Building have showcased scores of local artists, including special exhibitions by Jane Kaufman, Sumner Winebaum, John Stobart, Michael Stasiuk, Wendy Turner, Jay Goldsmith, and many more.
This year’s hugely popular exhibition “Threads 2020” highlights an amazing array of contemporary and historical hand-sewn quilts in three galleries on two floors of Discover Portsmouth. Two giant “Community Quilts” created from swatches made by society fans during the ongoing pandemic have recently gone on display.
Despite hard times and social distancing, welcome center visitors have been blown away by “Threads,” according to dedicated Discover Center staff and volunteers. The 2020 exhibition—including George Washington’s bedspread and a stunning 1876 Centennial Quilt loaned by New Hampshire resident and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns—continues through November 9.
“It’s been a very tough year for corporate sponsorships, particularly from small, local businesses, which have traditionally been our bread-and-butter,” says exhibition manager Meredith Affleck. “That’s why our Jubilee auction, donations, new memberships, and museum shop sales are so important. Despite it all, we’re extremely proud of the work we’ve accomplished and the wonderful response from the community.”
“The art of today becomes the exhibition inspiration for tomorrow,” says PHS development director Judy Loto. “Portsmouth simply would not be Portsmouth without its arts community. And this is a perfect chance to own a piece of it.”
“Threads: A Community Quilt for 2020” is open at 10 Middle Street from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Fridays through Mondays. Admission is free. Masks are required and available free. For walking tour tickets, guided tours of the John Paul Jones House Museum, Society memberships, and the latest events and virtual lectures please visit www.portsmouthhistory.org or call 603-436-8433.
PHOTO CAPTION: City Manager Karen Conard, Portsmouth Historical Society Board President Daniel Hoefle and Facilities Manager Robin Lurie-Meyerkopf cut ribbons officially opening the ”universally accessible” public restrooms at the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center. (Photo: Raya on Assignment)
PORTSMOUTH—Marking the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the City of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Historical Society (PHS) this week officially opened ”universally accessible” public restrooms, in the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center, a city-owned building.
PHS board chair Dan Hoefle announced that the restroom project removed “the last barriers for the use of the Historical Society’s facilities for all members of the public, whether they be differently abled or not.” Hoefle observed that “at some point in each of our lives, whether we’re using a baby-stroller, a wheelchair, or a walker, we will all eventually need—and be entitled to—accommodation of our differing abilities, through elements of universal design.”
The project was a joint effort of the Portsmouth Historical Society with the City’s Community Development Department, which works with the Community Advisory Committee, and administers Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds provided by the federal government’s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Construction work on the $250,000 project was made possible with generous supplemental funding from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts’ Conservation License Plate Program (aka ”Moose Plate” fund). Planning of the project began with design work contributed by the Newfields firm, Martini Northern, LLC. Work was performed by the Laconia construction contractors Bonnette Page & Stone, with construction designs created by the Manchester firm, Dennis Mires PA, The Architects.
“The City of Portsmouth is strongly committed to universal accessibility,” declared Elise D. Annunciata, Community Development Coordinator and manager of the restroom project for the City. “We’re proud to have been able to complete this ADA-compliant project, despite challenges posed by the global pandemic.”
The upgrades of the restrooms in the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center are part of the Portsmouth Historical Society’s efforts to make the entire facility accessible. Last year, with the support of the Portsmouth Rotary Club and Portland Glass, the Historical Society installed new ADA-compliant doors in the Welcome Center and its adjacent Academy Gallery, including automatic door-openers. An existing ramp provides access to the main lobby shared by the buildings, and an elevator provides access to the upper-level gallery.
The modern restrooms complement carefully-designed social distancing provisions and abundant hand-sanitizer that together have attracted back many of the Historical Society’s longtime fans to its current quilt exhibition, ”Threads”, soon to feature two ”Community Quilts” assembled from squares created by members of the public during their recent periods of self-isolation.
“The restrooms are now essentially complete,” observed PHS director Brian LeMay, “but we should probably not be surprised if the interiors continue to change a bit. There seems to be a distinct streak of whimsy among members of our exhibition and education staff, who have suggested that these might be appropriate places to capture the attention of visitors when they’re in a contemplative mindset, with modest exhibits on things like the history of plumbing or sanitation in Portsmouth. I suspect we may have some repeat visitation at these exhibits.”
About Portsmouth Historical Society
Founded in 1917, the Portsmouth Historical Society is a nonprofit institution devoted to promoting the significance of the past, the art, and the cultures of the Seacoast region, as well as the larger world in which Portsmouth has played a significant role. PHS maintains three primary facilities: the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center, the Portsmouth Academy Gallery, and the John Paul Jones Historic House Museum. It’s also home to the Portsmouth Advocates for Historic Preservation, and the Portsmouth Marine Society Press. For information on its current exhibition of quilts, “Threads: A Community Quilt for 2020,” or about becoming a member, a volunteer, or contributor, visit the Society’s website www.portsmouthhistory.org or call 603-436-8433.