Back to Mystic

Again, some more exhibition news:


In the 1960’s, color photographic prints were usually made from color negative film, the exposure from a darkroom enlarger on light sensitive paper with dyes so unstable that we all were treated a few years later to the spectacle of hideously purple renditions of ourselves on prom night. But I mostly shot slides which would require a costly film internegative be made to then print to paper. Except for the relatively new but very difficult to use Cibachrome paper, which allowed direct printing from slide to paper. The azo dyes of its thirteen layer emulsion produced a depth and brilliance of color some say is still unmatched today. But oh, the long exposures and reciprocity, high contrast to control, dark shadows almost impossible, and a chemistry to gag on.

Mystic Photo at the Mystic Art Center was actually one of then few exclusively photography juried competitions. I had prints accepted in 1979 and 1981. I began making larger prints that were recognized by Ciba-Geigy in Switzerland as finalists for their International Grant Award. You had to ship them. And these were included in Mystic Photo in 1989.

That’s “Mystic”, as in pizza, in Connecticut, the movie, Matt Damon’s film debut.

Cibachrome was renamed Ilfochrome in 1992 after a change in ownership and discontinued in 2012. The color today in those vintage color photographic prints is as good as when they were made.

The Connecticut Academy’s 105th exhibition at the now Mystic Museum of Art is the first public exhibition of an archival pigment print from my new Crappy Negatives series – Mystic River.


That’s “Mystic”, as in the river just north out of Boston, with Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon etc., the 2003 Clint Eastwood movie.

From the introduction to the Crappy Negatives series:

Of course, 45 years ago any serious introduction to the magic of photography began with a developing tank in a darkroom. Thank you Ralph Mercer. But even then with LIFE Magazine predominantly in color, my interest wasn’t great and patience less for the tedium of Ansel Adams’ zone system. All that note taking. Those negatives accumulated slipshod, loose or variously sleeved in what was to become a battered and broken cardboard box, masking taped–up, and too small for its contents. Stuffed on a shelf somewhere. More recently, a free HP flatbed scanner was provided with the new iMac – a good excuse to at least make a digital record. Some negatives were well stuck to their glassines, if that. But the struggling front light low res scans of crappy negatives did occasionally provide an intriguing result. What opportunity would digital provide to control the chaos? Especially tone. Now an archival pigment print. But with some effort, pushing pixels does feel a bit like painting Mudhead portraits for Charles Hawthorne on a Provincetown beach sometime early in the 20th Century.

To see more visit Crappy Negatives on the Reimagine New England website.

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Meadow Life at the Slater Museum

Some more exhibition news:

Meadows Poster

With continuing development of farmland and also reforestation of abandoned agricultural acreage, our fields and meadows, with their associated species are amongst the most endangered habitats, especially threatened birds. Also flood control as some require occasional standing water or other disturbance. Invasion by purple loosestrife is a serious altering problem. Fall mowing can help, my friend in Vermont waits until after nesting season before he’ll cut one of his fields.

Though the Slater summer exhibition takes an expanded view of the situation, their associated workshop focuses on the wet meadows and dry grasslands of Lowthorpe Meadow just north of town. Preserved since 1915, the museum will make a specimen gathering walk in the meadow on July 16th, followed up with a hands on The Art and Science of Herbaria back at the museum on July 31st.

We are grateful to being asked to provide four prints from the Reimagine New England portfolio, including Mudflat, you could say, also known as a clam meadow.


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The free academy and an art museum

Helped by the style of its Second Empire mansard roof, the high ceilings of the parlor and halls are an opportunity to do justice to large landscape prints in my ca 1862 home in Stafford Springs. (see previous post) That’s an appropriate time frame too for I like my art to be wide open in understanding its precedents, especially the Hudson River School, America’s home-grown visual definition of a unique heritage. Amidst the portrayal of a sublime wilderness we see a pasture, cows, a cabin, a mill, perhaps the turret of a Victorian mansion. From the watershed at the Massachusetts state line, the Middle River becomes the Willimantic in the center of town, and recently I had occasion to leisurely drive state road #32 south along the river, further where it joins the Natchaug to form the Shetucket, continuing and then over a height of land to the Nantic River only to again meet up with the Shetucket at the headwaters of the Thames River, an estuary to Long Island Sound. Norwich Free Academy was founded in 1854 as privately endowed to be independent of political pressure and including the betterment of youth from the surrounding towns. The associated 1886 Slater Memorial Museum, a gift from a resident scion of  “The Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution”, now the historic site in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, also provides art classes. A new multi-story glass atrium allows close eyeball of the magnificent Richardsonian Romanesque building. I was there to deliver a couple framed prints for consideration in their 72nd Annual Connecticut Artists Exhibition. But the really special treat I found in one of the upper galleries, wonderful works by a second generation local member of that esteemed School of artists, John Denison Crocker. I did not know him. Mills fit comfortably within a bucolic panorama of the port and rolling hillsides. Especially enthralling was The Capture of Miantonomo, painted in 1847, and a bequest of William A. Slater.


Slater Memorial Museum

The Thames had been known as the Pequot River, but after the 1636 war, the defeated remnant of the tribe no longer had control as frictions rose between the now neighboring Narragansett and Mohegan. Both enemies of the dominant Pequots they had allied in that war with the English in Boston. But the Puritans had been welcomed to some Mohegan lands along the Connecticut, whereas the Narragansett had friendly relations with Roger Williams of Providence Plantations whose beliefs in religious tolerance and Native rights were an anathema. In July of 1643, when the Sachem Uncas got word of Sachem Miantonomo’s secret approach on the Mohegan Fort Shantok he met him instead on the “Sachem Plains” west of the Shetucket. A surprise attack split the Narragansetts, some escaped by immediately forging the river, while others including Miantonomo were first pursued west toward Nantic Falls gorge. Now, while how and whoever actually leapt over the gorge, or fell, depends on the version of the story being told, the chase continued, Miantonomo was captured and brought to Hartford to await the disposition of the English. It happened that the United Colonies of New England, excluding Providence, were actually holding their first meeting, and without any examination of the allegations precipitating the confrontation, the decision was that Uncas could not be safe with Miantonomo alive so they ordered that he be killed on Mohegan lands, also ensuring the two powerful tribes would never unite against them. Miantonomo was buried on Sachem’s Plain at the place traditionally where he had been captured.

Today there’s a small monument erected in 1841 to Mianomoto almost lost on Elijah Street near the Shetucket in the middle of a small mid-twentieth century neighborhood perhaps near to where he is buried, but not far from what is now Unca’s Leap at the Yantic Falls and a more impressive obelisk to Uncas found nearby on Sachem Street. Here at the head of the estuary Norwich is seeking proposals funded by a state brownfield initiative for environmental and archeological study of the falls, the leap, and some granite and brick mills from their gilded age. The Mohegan Sun Casino is a few miles south on the Thames with the Mashantucket Pequot’s Foxwoods not far to the east. The CT/RI state line follows roughly the former extent of the Narragansett domain.

I hope those with a larger stake can appreciate this novice attempt at relevance, and thank you Slater for including Goldenrod from my Reimagine New England suite in the Connecticut exhibition. The museum truly is “a local gem” with an ambiance of Victorian sensibilities.

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Parlor Gallery



And here we are, across Furnace Brook from downtown then a couple blocks, very soon Westford Avenue will turn to woods and country as you climb out of the valley. The house was built in 1864. The tree trimmer for the power company tells me the elm appears quite healthy. The print studio will participate in Artists’ Open Studios of Northeast CT ( on November 27, 28, 29 and December 5, 6 along with 91 others in the Quiet Corner, including five in Stafford Springs alone. Welcome.


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View of Stafford Springs


lithograph by O.H. Bailey & Co. Boston 1878

Oakley Hoopes Bailey was one of the most prolific artists producing “bird’s-eye views” following the Civil War and into the early 20th century, their popularity testament to a civic pride of confidence in industry and urbanization. The optimism of era shows too in the increasing intricacy and frill of the detail in its Victorian architecture whether mill builder’s mansion, the manager’s duplex, or a worker’s boarding house, and the propriety of a Main Street business with the owner’s substantial home all within a walking distance. The scene is active, with riders, carriages, and pedestrians on what appears to be streets and avenues recently lined with young elm trees.

This town in very real ways is still much as you see. Some buildings have been replaced, and things have filled in, some may have lost much of their detail, but an eye opening number have not, and although usage has changed some, overwhelmingly the feeling is residential. Some mills remain active manufacturers, and one continues to produce a fine woolen cloth. It’s not all pretty, there’s unused and underutilized space, yet a number of newer businesses set aside some of their space to show art. Now that’s pretty!

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The Olde Connecticut Path

In 1633 John Oldham with his adventurers went to Wethersfield. In 1635 Rev. John Wareham led his Dorchester congregation to Windsor. In 1636, Rev. Thomas Hooker and the Newtown (Cambridge) congregation migrated to Hartford at the invitation of local tribes. The attraction was the fertile meadowes of the Connecticut River, and beaver. Locals hoped to find safety in alliance against their enemies in the disruptions following Anglo and Dutch settlement.


today the northeastern “Quiet Corner”- Connecticut Society of Colonial Dames pub. 1930

Interior settlement had only followed rivers at this time and there was genuine fear of the dense wilderness of rugged hills with frequent water encumbrances. Likely with guides they would have followed a flexible network of Native trails to accommodate the season, weather and topography, as well as the nature of the traveling party. Only after the defeat of King Phillips War did pioneers slowly find their opportunity here, and stay – a beaver meadow, a mill seat, timber, clearing farmland. Yet before many decades passed, with further westward migration, railroads and industry a draw to the large valleys, and especially after the Civil War, population began to decline, the forests returned, and the Olde Path faded into memory. Parts became today’s roads. Farms that remained didn’t grow large, more they adapt.

And so, here in my explorations of the borderlands, I’m surprised to see so many small landscapes of mature hardwood forest as fine as anywhere in New England. Seems too there’s appreciation for the value of a renewable resource. So close to the cities.

Wildlands and Woodlands

MassConn Sustainable Forest Partnership

Yale School Forests Woodland Partnership

Hull Forest Products Woodland Conservation



Jason Newton’s YouTube video “Old Connecticut Path: Crossing the Great Wall of Westford & Mt. Hope Valley – Ashford/Westford” shows the line in the center of this satellite shot is a massive stone perhaps bridal path of the Olde Path built upon what could have been a beaver dam. His extensive on the ground research is reflective of his family history.

Now seems I could have made that olde journey too, even possibly a path by way of Hopatcong NJ! But that would take 15 years or more to travel.

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The Last Green Valley

Tonight I sit under a starry sky and lose myself. It’s quiet. The awe of scale and distance. How long has it been since I felt this human, here, in the midst of the coastal megalopolis? Vaguely, the near dim ridge marks a boundary for the Last Green Valley  –  a small global dark spot between Boston/Providence and Hartford/New York.


The Last Green Valley is a National Heritage Corridor for the Quinebog and Shetucket Rivers with the abrupt hills of their watersheds. Two and a half million people live closer than a three hour drive. Below me I can hear Baker Brook still fresh with spring run-off that’ll join the Willimantic just down the street to enhance the health of Long Island Sound.

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