What’s a Gibson Girl to do in Bethel, Maine?

The Gibson Girls get a day at the beach!

If you believe Wikipedia, we have illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, who created the slender-waisted, chignon-crowned Gibson Girl, to blame for the American woman’s obsession with beauty. The online encyclopedia claims he personified the feminine ideal with his “satirical” pen and ink drawings. If you believe Richard D. (Dick) Rasor, a former advertising executive for J. Walter Thompson and the current owner of The Bethel Inn Resort in Bethel, Maine, Gibson was the first American feminist.

The Gibson Room at The Bethel Inn Resort.

Rasor has dedicated an entire room at the Inn to the long-necked beauties and their eponymous creator. He took me on a tour of the Gibson Room earlier today, pointing out how the graphic designer riffed on men, the weaker sex, in many of his renderings: “With absolute clarity, he shows how screwed up men are!”

Leave it to Rasor to have a different take on Gibson’s standing in American history, as he has a razor sharp way of cutting through ambiguities (pun intended)! The hotelier bought a very different resort in 1979 than the one I am sitting within as I write this today. The 60-guestroom hotel surrounded by 100 acres and a 9-hole golf course saw 3,000 visitors a year in the late seventies. Today the property hosts 35,000 guests to its gracious spot off the commons in the Maine mountain village; has 200 acres surrounding its charming Victorian façade, an 18-hole golf course, 40 condominiums abutting the green, 40 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, and a popular spa.

During lunch in the Inn’s Millbrook Tavern & Grille, Rasor explained that from the start he was intent on founding a marketing-based business when he left the “Mad Men” world of New York City advertising. He paid $400,000 for the property in ’79, which he pointed out was about the same amount of money a home in Scarsdale, New York, would have cost during that time. In an article printed in Snow Country in 1989, Rasor advised everyone in the high-pressured world he had left to sell their $800,000 homes, buy a $150,000 home in Bethel, and use the rest of the money to open a small business: “There’s no way, really, to be on a power trip in Bethel, Me,” he quipped.

The talented businessman practiced what he preached, trading in his room at the top for a room at the Inn, and he’s been thrilled about his decision ever since. I, for one, am happy to have been in his spirited presence as he shared his passion about building a unique property with an abundance of character in the heart of one of the prettiest mountain destinations in our country. I am also happy he didn’t take his father’s advice. “Don’t get into the hotel business,” was the elder Rasor’s first caveat. Then he told his son, “If you do, don’t be dumb enough to buy a resort!” Had Rasor listened, not only would he have missed out on the opportunity to create a unique vacation experience for thousands of tourists each year, he might not have met his beautiful wife Gretchen, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last evening.

"A Little Story. By A Sleeve." by Charles Dana Gibson.

And back to the Gibson Room: Rasor owns several original Gibson Girl drawings, which explains his fascination with the comely women with pert chins and perfectly pursed lips. He motioned me over to a framed drawing—one of about a dozen in the room—titled “A Little Story. By a Sleeve.” As we leaned down and peered at the illustration, he asked me why I thought the piece of art was given such a title. I said, “I have no idea!” With a very pleased expression on his face, he said, “Look at her sleeves: one is flat! Guess where the guy would have been sitting before the waiter came in! And a Gibson Girl would never have a lock of hair out of place!”

Detail of one of Charles Dana Gibson's drawings in the Gibson Room at the Bethel Inn Resort. It's all in the details!

Though this may seem completely unrelated to a story about an inn, I beg to differ. A successful hospitality venue is built upon a precept that Rasor’s keen observation skills attest to: it’s all in the details. One of the results of this at the Bethel Inn Resort is an ample dose of charm.

You can like the Bethel Inn Resort Facebook page here, and follow them on Twitter here.

By the Table; Verlaine is far left and a young Rimbaud is seated facing him.

The Rebel as Poet

By the Table; Verlaine is far left and a young Rimbaud is seated facing him.

During my time in Paris, I visited the Musée d’Orsay, drinking in the architecture of the former railway station from blocks away (and understanding why the museum bills the building, which was erected for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, as its first work of art). The locale on the banks of the Seine opposite the Tuileries Gardens is its second triumph. And its art collections, spanning from 1848 to 1914, is its pièce de résistance.

One painting in particular was pilgrimage-worthy for me: Henri Fantin-Latour’s By the Table. I’ve been fascinated with it since I can remember because the subjects in the composition are men gathered at the Salon of 1872, including Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud—an almost cherubic Rimbaud sitting facing his friend at the time. It was Verlaine, a more mature poet, who would eventually contribute to Rimbaud’s disillusionment, causing him to put down his pen at the age of 20. What a loss for poetry! One of my favorite quotes has been attributed to Rimbaud, though I have never managed to track down the source: “I’d rather be the poem than the poet,” he was reported to have said. I feel that sums up the level of dedication a true poet would have to his or her craft.

If you’ve never read Rimbaud’s story, it’s worthwhile. He didn’t have an easy life, and he wrote what he produced at such a young age, I can only imagine the quality of work he would have produced had he been writing as a mature poet. A great place to start if you also happen to like rock-n-roll is Wallace Fowlie’s book Rimbaud and Jim Morrison: The Rebel as Poet. He compares the two renegades who did share a passion for stirring things up. I give you Rimbaud’s “Sensation,” a poem he wrote in March of 1870, nearly a century and a half ago:

Through blue summer nights I will pass along paths,

Pricked by wheat, trampling short grass:

Dreaming, I will feel coolness underfoot,

Will let breezes bathe my bare head.

Not a word, not a thought:

Boundless love will surge through my soul,

And I will wander far away, a vagabond

In Nature—as happily as with a woman.

Arthur Rimbaud

And Morrison’s “L.A. Woman”: …Midnight alleys roam…

Wood's Fish Market, Town Wharf, Plymouth, Mass

Eric Engstrom’s Roadside Distractions

Wood's Fish Market, Town Wharf, Plymouth, Mass

The divine Ms. JoAnn Locktov turned me on to Eric Engstrom’s art, which I’m featuring here today. (If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, she’s the center of the connectivity universe!) I thought he’d be the perfect post for this #TravelTuesday because he’s the ultimate gadabout when it comes to his art, which is now on view at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station, California, until January 16th. His works reflect his interests in history, vernacular architecture, and the character of “the places in-between” along the back roads of America. One of his “bibles,” William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue Highways, remains one of my all-time favorites. I asked Eric to share a bit about his inspiration and what he is up to in 2011. Happy roaming everyone!

In his own words… I’m a great admirer of barns—those utilitarian structures that manage to define their regions and uses so perfectly, ones mainly without architects as their creators. I am also fascinated by old industrial buildings that no longer produce the goods that sparked America’s growth in the 19th and 20th centuries. All of my art is based on my original photographs taken on several cross-country trips along old secondary roads. By creating digital photographic collages and then over-painting them with acrylics, I’ve tried to enhance the mundane and to create compelling visual comments about our built environment. Recently, I’ve added three-dimensional assemblage elements to the images, bringing forward the character of the structures even more clearly.

My inspiration spans all the way back to my early childhood. My dad, also an artist, used to pack the family in the car and take us for long drives through the back roads of New England, where I became fascinated with barns and abandoned commercial buildings from the back seat. While in high school I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and dreamed of just getting in the car and driving, with camera, sketchbook, and journal to record what I’d experienced. After finishing the Rhode Island School of Design, I worked for Plimoth Plantation Museum in Massachusetts as a graphic and exhibits designer. One of my early assignments was to visit museums and tool collections on the East Coast, driving between small towns on secondary roads. Visiting places like the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York, among others was a delightful part of my job. Studying in detail the barn illustrations of Eric Sloane gave me a real appreciation for American agricultural outbuildings.

Later on, I read the classic journal Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, and William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. I have continued my readings with Vanishing America by Michael Eastman, Roadside America by John Margolies, and am currently enjoying Long Way Home by Bill Barich. I’ve driven across America many times, always preferring the old numbered “US” routes to the Interstates. My most recent cross country journey in the fall of 2007 totaled over 11,000 miles, less than 400 of them were on the Interstates.

I began digitally enhancing my photographs in the late 1990s, and when I retired from the interior design field, I began creating individual digital photo-collages, each one using the same image. A couple of years ago, I began pasting the collages to canvas or hardboard (Masonite), and enhancing the images with acrylic and pencil. In this way I began to create imagined landscapes around the buildings I had rendered. By manipulating the buildings and landscapes visually, they became more interesting—the intent was that the mundane could be converted into intriguing and somewhat mysterious images. Last summer, in response to a group show requirements, I began working in the third dimension, using skills I developed years ago as an architectural model builder. The extra dimension not only adds layers to the image, it also allows the viewer to participate more fully in enjoying the work. My intent in 2011 is to explore the medium further and push toward more complex and edgy works.

"Boy in Red Shoes" by Akio Takamori

Claying With Fire

"Boy in Red Shoes" by Akio Takamori

I visited the SOFA (Sculpture Objects & Functional Art) show in Chicago today and came away with a new appreciation for artists working with ceramics. One of my favorite gallerists was there, Barry Friedman. He said he’s seeing ceramics as a trend, and I did see an incredible variety of pieces created from variations on the material. He had brought Akio Takamori’s stoneware figures to the show, one of which was “Boy in the Red Shoes, 2010,” shown below. If you’re in New York City this coming Friday, November 12, Friedman is holding an opening at the gallery (515 West 26th Street, NYC 10001) from 6 to 8 p.m., and Takamori will be on hand. Friedman will also be bringing his refined eye to Design Miami/ in early December. Look for another trend I spotted on the Curated Object later this week!

Aubrey Beardsley's Salome, 1894

Dig Yourself, Brighton!

Aubrey Beardsley's Salome, 1894

I’ve been exploring Brighton, England, the past few days and have had a blast getting to know this terrific seaside town. I was so surprised how easy it was to get here: just a bit over an hour by train thanks to Rail Europe’s excellent handling of my itinerary. It’s such an interesting mix of the artful, the commercial and the soulful (with the ocean churning below a moisture-infused sky etched in soft gray, the elemental is ever-present and powerful).

I’ve been learning about the history of the place–the Pavilion with its quirky royal secrecy, the abundance of fresh seafood, and Brighton’s famous residents. One of my favorite artists was born here (Aubrey Beardsley, whose Salome was drawn in 1894) and a very talented musician that I’ve had a longstanding love/hate relationship with (I either love or hate Nick Cave’s music: there’s really no in-between). Thought I’d share one of my loves with you as I say goodbye to Brighton tomorrow morning and head back to the U.S. “I don’t know what it is but there’s definitely something going on upstairs!”


The Art of Travel

I’m in the British Airways lounge at JFK on my way to the UK to visit two properties in the Dorchester Collection. I’m really impressed with the art collection here. Such a nice Basquiat!
I’m always curious to know my readers’ favorite museums: Metropolitan Museum of Art? Museum of Art and Design? Museum of Modern Art? Brooklyn Museum of Art?
Claude Monet painted the Les Roches Noires


Marguerite Duras

Is there a reason to be optimistic? No. There isn’t just one. There are many. The sun scaled my scrap of sky this morning; I am writing this, the open books on the smooth surface of my desk cupping each other like clam shells filled with briny juice and delicate pearls; I have a splendid legacy of authors who came before me, daring to break new ground with their pens, typewriters and keyboards; last and most exciting of all, I am about to make a pilgrimage to France to visit the town where one of my favorite writers, Marguerite Duras, penned some of her most dynamic works. I’ll be staying in the very building (which is now a hotel) in which she had an apartment in Trouville, a town in Normandy sluiced by brisk ocean waters and buffeted by maritime winds.

The beach at Trouville

Largely locked in her apartment at Les Roches Noires for days on end, Duras wrote The Malady of Death among other books. The prolific author penned plays, screenplays and novels; and directed films and theater, culled largely from her own material. One of her biographers, Laure Adler, wrote of her, “She became an excellent administrator of her own talent, constantly recycling Duras.” Le Monde called The Malady of Death “…an extended haiku on the meaning of love…” Duras’ writing was enigmatic in many cases: the film India Song, for example, holds dialogue that rolls along with a hypnotic repletion of the word “yes” spoken by a voice detached from human form. The word continually answers questions spoken by another voice sans body.

Claude Monet painted the Les Roches Noires

One of her best-known works outside of France is The Lover, which is said to be semi-autobiographical and based upon her childhood in Vietnam. In the book she wrote, “The story of my life doesn’t exist. Does not exist. There’s never any center to it. No path, no line. There are great spaces where you pretend there used to be someone, but it’s not true, there was no one.” It has taken me years to make this trip happen, the seed of which was planted when I saw the film Cet Amour-Lá by Josée Dayan. The movie is based upon Duras’ years in Trouville when a young man named Yann Andréa Steiner came into her life. The film is a moving tribute to Duras’ appetite for the written word and her drive to get it on the page even when alcohol and cigarettes took their toll on her health. I share this determination to make a mark as a writer and this trip will be my heartfelt homage to her lust for language and determination to make her writing wholly unique.

Duras’ The Lover was made into a feature film of the same name

At the end of The War: A Memoir, Duras wrote, “It’s dark. I can’t see the words I’ve written any more. I can’t see anything except my motionless hand which has stopped writing to you.” She’s one of the brave writers who inspire me to continue working even when self-doubt and feelings of arrogance that what I have to say matters creep in. She’s one of the reasons I have been able to continue posting The Road to Promise, even when I wondered why I would. I can’t wait to breathe in the salty air from that swath of shoreline at the edge of the English Channel. “There are reasons to be optimistic?” “Yes.”


What is Heaven?

I took a tour of CastaDiva this morning with Silvia Ballerini and am wowed by the property. I’m guessing once you see this brief moment of beauty from my terrace and the above image by Paul Clemence, you will be, too! I’ll be writing several comprehensive pieces on the resort as the weeks move along but thought I’d give you a glimpse this evening before a glass of Prosecco calls me away from the computer! I spend a great deal of time in my life with this running through my mind: “I want to know what I want.” I can certainly say being able to spend even a few days in this little slice of heaven along Lake Como’s shores is on that list of wants. Speaking of heaven: I leave you with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s last stanza to “Ode to Heaven,” a poem he wrote while traveling through Italy:

What is Heaven? a globe of dew,

Filling in the morning new

Some eyed flower whose young leaves waken

On an unimagined world:

Constellated suns unshaken,

Orbits measureless, are furled

In that frail and fading sphere,

With ten millions gathered there,

To tremble, gleam, and disappear.”

The Pillow Book Sei Shonagon by Hisashi Otsuka

The Pillow Book of Saxon Henry

One of my favorite movies is “The Pillow Book,” a film by Peter Greenaway based upon The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, a collection of anecdotes and memories of an eighteenth-century courtier at the height of Japan’s Heian culture. Shonagon’s chronicling of Japan’s high society of her time was as varied as her interests. There were politics, of course, flirtations galore (“sex and the writing table” comes to mind), and a fair number of explorations of nature.

In entry number 137, entitled “Clouds,” she wrote: “I love white, purple, and black clouds, and rain clouds when they are driven by the wind. It is charming at dawn to see the dark clouds gradually turn white. I believe this has been described in a Chinese poem that says something about ‘the tints that leave at dawn.’ It is moving to see a thin wisp of cloud across a very bright moon.”

The Pillow Book Sei Shonagon by Hisashi Otsuka

I thought it would be fun to come up with my own pillow book entry to get this week off to a lyrical start. Here’s my nod to Shonagon’s artful idea: “I love a soft, many-pillowed bed overlooking a wide sky of cerulean; lavender scents wafting on balmy breezes. It is charming to see the heavens steal the sun’s power and toss it to the horizon when it is dusk it desires. I do not know if this has been described in a Chinese poem, but I believe it would be recounted ‘the hues that arrive as day leaks away.’ “It is moving to see the golden orb burn the canopy of trees shielding the earth from its incessant invasion.” Makes me want to hop on a plane to Japan! Shonagon left her book as a sort of memoir.

I am now recording My Pillow Book entries on my Improvateur blog; I hope you’ll stop by and take a peek! Oh, and happy roaming everyone, even if you are merely a mental traveler on this fine day…

You can see the beautiful art of Hisashi Otsuka on his web site!

Hilda Glasgow certainly had a flair for fashion illustration.

Always in Fashion: Hilda Glasgow’s Art

Hilda Glasgow certainly had a flair for fashion illustration.

One of my favorite perks from being a design journalist is getting to know the photographers who shoot the rooms that end up looking killer-good in magazine spreads. One such gifted shutterbug is Elizabeth Glasgow, who was the eyes behind most of my pieces for Distinction Magazine and a collaborator on a number of shoots I produced for Coastal Living. You might say she’s the prime example of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” as her mother, Hilda Glasgow, was equally talented but as a top fashion illustrator from the 1940s to the 1960s.
Glasgow’s eye for glamour is unmistakable…
“She was a woman ahead of her time,” says Liz, who has lovingly preserved her mother’s drawings and is just now bringing them back into the public realm. “She was born in 1913, and graduated from Pratt Institute in NYC in 1933. She illustrated the cutting-edge mid 20th century fashions of that time for magazines such as Vogue and a variety of high-end department stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue and Best & Co.” Liz is offering Hilda’s original pen and ink drawings as gicleé reproductions–the perfect case of a daughter’s talents preserving and advancing a parent’s (I like that enormously!). Each order is custom printed on a heavyweight archival paper that mimics the original paper. They are available in four sizes ranging from 9″ x 12″ to 2′ x 3′.
You can see them here on Liz’s new site The White Cabinet (follow her on Twitter here). Fans of fashion that play out in the classic movies such as “Funny Face” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and is defined by that little black dress, will find these vintage illustrations simply irresistible. I thought this would be the perfect interior-design-cum-fashion related item to catapult us all into fashion week. And to see the embodiment of the level of glamour Hilda was capturing, here’s a little clip of the personification of it.
I’ll be stopping by Jason Wu’s post-runway-show cocktail party this afternoon at the invitation of Brizo Faucets to meet some of my favorite tweeps. Will give you a report in a timely fashion! Happy catwalk-ing everyone! Postscript: Elizabeth did a blog post about our post (thanks, Liz!); find it here.