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The Soul of an Old House

                                     …The house is half evening, half resolved.
                                  Only the half they can never possess remains…

   The actual Victorian farmhouse, if it is still standing, is somewhere near Port Clyde, Maine. I have never seen the house or even a photograph of it. I know it from a reproduction of a 1942 oil painting by N.C. Wyeth called “Mrs. Cushman’s House,” and this painting exits now in Connecticut at the New Britain Museum of American Art. N.C. Wyeth, patriarch of the great artist clan, was mainly an illustrator, but in his later years, especially when he summered at his place at Port Clyde, Maine, he painted more and more the things around him that grabbed his attention.

Andrew Wyeth
N.C. Wyeth, Mrs. Cushman's House
The New Britain Museum of American Art
Photo: E. Irving Blomstrann

   N.C. Wyeth called himself a follower of Thoreau and took for the Wyeth family motto a line from Thoreau’s Journalthat encourages people “to obtain the utmost of pleasure and inspiration from the simplest and homeliest events from the life around you.” In the painting, Mrs. Cushman’s L-shaped house, freshly painted white with grey shutters flanking the second-story and attic windows, sits by a dirt road in the dissipating late morning fog.  To the left of the house, at the back of the scraggly lawn, a man in work clothes stoops over a pile of lobster traps while laundry hangs from a sagging clothesline over his head. Behind the barn four skinny, pointed fir trees are faintly discernable in the fog. The eye is drawn back to the front door, which is wide open, “leading into the unknown, “as Wyeth explained.

                                  …the idiom
Of the work, in the idiom of an innocent earth,
                Not the enigma of the guilty dream.

   Social philosopher and Adbusters Magazine publisher Kalle Lasn writes that “media spectacles have colonized our mental environment, crowding out history and context.” Lasn notes the hard data that tells us that the rates of major depression for every age group in this country have risen steadily since the 1940s, when “Mrs. Cushman’s House” was painted. Lasn sees a direct connection between this malaise and the pollution of our mental and cultural environment that seems to be getting worse the more it is recognized. In 2012, we started because we felt compelled to make one small push against this trend.  We take our marching orders not from Wall Street or Madison Avenue, but straight from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Draw out of the past genuine life for the present hour.”

    The last time I checked the door to Mrs. Cushman’s house was still open.

                                                                                                                Max H. Peters

Poetry is from “Auroras of Autumn” by Wallace Stevens, Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens,  Alfred A. Knopf, 1954

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