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Current Art at the Gleason explores rich heritage of Greenough land

Introduction

by Marilyn Harte 

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Closeup of one of the doors on which Henry Greenough made his observations. In 1940, the robins arrived on April 5, the ice went out of the pond on April 10 and the first asparagus came up on May 5. (Photo by Ellen Huber) 

Thanks to the Curators of the Art at the Gleason series, Jean Barry, Amy Livens, Emily Stewart and Andrea Urban, we will all be able to experience “Finding Greenough” at the Gleason Public Library from April 2 through June 11. The idea for this exhibit struck Andrea Urban when she saw doors from the former home of Henry Voss Greenough on display at the Concord Museum. It was on these tall white doors that Henry Greenough penciled the names of birds that he saw in the fields, in the woods and around the big pond, with the dates he observed them, beginning in 1931. From this grew the idea of an exhibit entirely devoted to the Greenough land, its inheritors and inhabitants past and present. Artists represented are Debra Bretton Robinson, Barbara Bosworth, Nancy Roberts, Phil Drew (as curator), Marie-Louise Petrie and D’Anne Bodman and Harvey Nosowitz, owners of the former Greenough house set within a privately-owned 30-acre enclave within the 255 acre Greenough Conservation Land on Maple Street. [This is the first of two articles about this rich heritage.]

Stewards of the Greenough House

by Helen Lyons

In 1995 D’Anne Bodman and Harvey Nosowitz purchased the home once owned by Henry Greenough at 528 Maple Street. During the past 20 years, Bodman and Nosowitz have renovated the house, rebuilt the garage, added a barn and restored the long-neglected gardens. In the process they uncovered Greenough’s “bird doors” and other unexpected treasures and made connections with descendants of families who had lived in the home.  

Buying a historic home

The house had been uninhabited for several years before Bodman and Nosowitz purchased it and was in a state of disrepair. Bodman described her decision to buy the property, “When I first visited, the geese flew overhead and it seemed like a sign. I spent a lot of time on the land seeing if it felt right to me. I went by my intuition.” They did not take the purchase lightly. Bodman said, “It ties you to a place—having this responsibility. You are caretakers. It is a responsibility in the way that anything that you love, a child, an animal, is your responsibility. Part of loving it is making sure that it’s cared for to the best of your ability. Houses like this—you have an obligation—they’re not just structures. They’re homes.”

Renovation brings unexpected discoveries

Bodman appreciated the architectural details and the thoughtfulness that the Greenoughs put into the house and said that her intent was to restore the house to the condition it was in when the Greenoughs lived there. She and her husband chose not to expand the house, and tried to keep every wall and floor that could be salvaged. Some areas, however, needed to be replaced.

During the renovation Bodman found some unexpected items. A hand-written genealogy of the Solomon Andrews family was tucked inside a bedroom wall, an old silver cherub ornament was found in another wall, and eight interior doors covered with Henry Greenough’s hand-written notations about bird sightings, weather conditions and farming observations from 1931 to 1962 were found—some hanging in place, others in the basement or garage.  Recognizing the historic value of the doors, Bodman and Nosowitz loaned them to the Concord Museum and now to the Gleason Library for display.

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A door into Henry Voss Greenough’s life. He used several doors inside his house to record nature sightings from 1931 to the 1960s. (Photo by Ellen Huber) 

Connections created by a home

Bodman has found that owning a historic home brings with it connections to the other families who have lived there. She said that people have fond memories of the land and sometimes stop by to visit the place where they used to live and to share stories. One of Greenough’s granddaughters, Nan Bourne, stopped by about ten years ago and showed Bodman the location of the family’s old pet cemetery. Bodman said they cleared the headstones of leaf litter and now maintain the area. Descendants of Solomon Andrews stopped by a few years after Bodman moved in. She was able to give them the geneaology she had found and hear their stories of the land. A neighbor from Concord brought old glass photography slides from photos taken for a House Beautiful article about the home.

“It made me realize how families are called to the memories and history of this place—which I think is rather exceptional. They are taking a chance to meet the new owners.” Bodman said the unexpected meetings with relatives of previous owners have always been pleasant. “Greenough’s granddaughter, Nan, brought her sister, Emery. Then I met Emery’s son, John Goff. There are all these connections because of the house. . . .I think there is an implicit bond between people who share a common love [for the property].” 

Sharing the land

Bodman and Nosowitz have shared the land in many ways in addition to sharing the barn. Friend and photography professor Barbara Bosworth has brought classes here on annual field trips. The land has also been used for painting workshops, birding walks, photography workshops, nature walks and music rehearsals. 

Rewards

When asked what the rewards are for taking care of this property, Bodman responded, “Every day being woken up by the sun and the birds, seeing the moon at night. There is always something—when the lilacs come out or the apples —being able to make cider.”   

Bodman, who is a poet, says, “My writing has changed since living here; it has become more focused on nature.  Seeing one thing really clearly makes you see the universe.  . .  This is a place where you can be really present and observe.”

Observing nature

Nosowitz quickly took to Greenough Pond and, soon after moving in, began documenting the area wildlife. He started keeping a journal of his observations, but with a background in film, he soon switched to video to record what he saw. “D’Anne handles the words, I handle the images. We keep a history.” For almost 20 years, he has recorded the area around the pond and in 2011 he began posting his two-three minute videos on his blog “The Pond Report” and now also on Facebook. 

Nosowitz feels that he is a steward of the land. “It’s just a function of paying attention. The great thing about living here is that you can be so in touch with the cycle of the seasons and the way things change. To live here and not pay attention to that seems like a terrible waste. . . . Part of what the Pond Report does is it creates a routine for paying attention.  . . . It’s a reason for [recording the pond] every week and paying attention to the changes. Obviously the product is important—having a video piece and making it public, but it’s also the process.”

Seasons by video

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D’Anne Bodman and Nancy Roberts, collaborators on a book about the Greenough land. (Photo by Ellen Huber) 

Nosowitz also creates an annual 8-minute year-end video by combining sections of the year’s videos. “It’s a way to really see the cycle of the year and, if you string them together, you can see the seasons over several years.” To see the 8-minute video, visit the library —it is running continuously in the space behind the Reference Desk.

He said he began to think about ways of conveying the changes in the pond over time and better ways of conveying the entire space of the pond. Thus began several projects. “Once a week for an entire year, I went to the same spot on the pond and filmed the barn across the pond. I put that all together to show the changes in the seasons.” Another project involved solstices and equinoxes. Four times a year he went out and did the same kayak trip passing through the old mill site and another area which used to be a bridge. “I didn’t realize when I started that project that it would involve doing it in the middle of the winter, but, luckily the pond wasn’t totally frozen so I was able to do at least part of that trip on December 21. Then I put them together as one continuous trip, changing seasons.” Visit www.pondreporter.blogspot.com to see the videos.

Changes

When asked what changes he has seen, Nosowitz said that some of it is “me getting deeper into paying attention.” In terms of wildlife, he has not seen major changes. Because the Greenough field has recently been used as a corn field, there are no longer bobolinks in the field, but he has seen them on the field edge and in the neighboring Fish and Wildlife area. “I notice things now. When we first lived here I wasn’t that tuned in to things like warblers in the spring. Some things are more obvious. When the turtles come up in the spring it is hard to miss. There are fewer snapping turtles, not fewer turtles, but fewer snappers.” Now he sees otters. They may be new, or he may be more attuned to them; “It’s usually in the fall. For the last couple of years they have definitely been here.”

Beauty all around

Both Bodman and Nosowitz have strong connections to the land around them and make the most of their opportunities to enjoy it.  Bodman smiles, “I have always loved being outdoors and found refuge in woods. Part of what attracted me to this place was that all I had to do to be outside in a beautiful place, was open the door! What beats that?”   ∆

“What makes us choose a place, restore a house, find what speaks to us?” 

by Helen Lyons

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The Greenough house. Painting by Marie-Louise Petrie. (Photo by Ellen Huber) 

Poems and photographs reveal a sense of place

What is it about a particular place that engages you, that calls you back again and again, that becomes etched in your memory? Henry Greenough’s granddaughter Emery Goff Carhart recently recounted such an experience. Carhart feels a strong connection to the farm once owned by her grandparents, the 200+ acre parcel now known as “The Greenough Land.” She fondly recalls time she spent at the Maple Street property and one experience in particular: “I have a vivid memory of walking down the road to the barn. The road was lined on both sides with apple trees and they were blooming. The sun was rising and a blue jay was calling. It was magical. I wrote a poem about it.”

Some call this “magical” experience, a ‘sense of place’—a strongly felt connection with and an almost intuitive understanding of the land. Author Wallace Stegner says that to experience a sense of a place, humans must study the area with the attention and wonder of a poet, in fact, Stegner avows, “No place is a place until it has had a poet.”

Sense of place is a theme in two books about the Greenough Land: The Bending Moment by Carlisle residents D’Anne Bodman and Nancy Roberts (Nightwood Press, 1998) and The Meadow by Barbara Bosworth and Margot Anne Kelley (Radius Books, 2015). In each book the authors examine their connection to the land and share their experiences through photographs, poems and essays.

The Bending Moment

In The Bending Moment photographer Nancy Roberts and poet D’Anne Bodman document the reconstruction of the farm house originally built by Henry Greenough and bought by Bodman and her husband Harvey Nosowitz in 1995. Black and white photographs accompanied by a series of poems trace the progress of the renovation. 

Roberts’ photographs capture the building and landscape from a variety of angles: the sweeping meadow under an open sky; the gaping hole left after removal of a deteriorated portion of the house; the stonework of the old well house; and “Henry’s bird doors”, remarkably preserved records of bird sightings, notable weather occurrences, and the timing of the first appearance of apple blossoms and asparagus each year from the early 1930s to the 1960s.

Bodman’s poems examine the relationships between the land and its inhabitants: discovery, awareness, change, appreciation. “So many gifts in a day—this last snow so abundant—the trees do not mind the burden—to wear silver and glass—and steal even the sun’s glance.” and “What trick of sun—after frost—gives back the sweetness—of the meadow—as if even now—it could be summer.”

Although the photographs are about the rebirth of a house, Roberts writes, “They are also about my responses to the spaces, light and surrounding landscape.” Bodman writes “I had the opportunity to buy an old house on an extraordinary piece of property. The events and circumstances leading to the purchase seem to me even now miraculous and destined.” Bodman had intended to keep a journal to record the renovation process but found, “when I was able to sit down and write, it was always poems, and the spaces being created were as much internal as external. Changing the view you change the landscape.”

The Meadow

Barbara Bosworth, professor of photography at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Margot Anne Kelley, interim director of the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, at the Art Institute of Boston, collaborated on The Meadow, a 200-page book that examines the Greenough Meadow through photographs and essays.  

Bosworth and Kelley visited the meadow often, over a ten-year period, walking the trails and getting to know the land. With the help of herpetologists, entomologists, birders, botanists, amateur naturalists and others, they explored the meadow, studying it with Zen-like attention. Kelley writes that she and Bosworth are “interested in how art and science invigorate each other . . . we wonder how different people experience the ‘same’ place.”  The result of their experiences is The Meadow, a breathtaking compilation of photographs, essays, maps, poems and old documents that truly capture the sense of this extraordinary land.

Kelley’s text includes essays and poems on a variety of subjects related to the meadow. She draws parallels between Henry David Thoreau, who, “living five miles from the meadow, began recording the arrival dates of various leaves, flowers and birds each spring in his journals,” and Henry Greenough, “who owned the house and meadow for much of the 20th century, shared this  impulse and inscribed his observations directly onto his bedroom doors,” and Harvey Nosowitz, who, “living there now, in the 21st century, also shares their passion for attention, recording the changes he sees in a blog he calls ‘The Pond report’.”  

Bosworth’s photographs capture the meadow in all lights—from the mist and fog of early morning, to the mid day sun warming apple trees heavy with fruit, to the full moon over the meadow and forest. Fireflies, birds, turtles, collections of mushrooms and ants, and trees all become objects of beauty as well as subjects for study through Bosworth’s lens. Bosworth writes that she began visiting the meadow to walk with Bodman. 

Over time she began photographing the meadow, sometimes in the evening when the fireflies were active. “Then one clear and glorious night of the full moon, when even at 2 a.m. I could not take leave of the meadow, the mockingbird began to sing. From the apple tree next to me. And kept singing. Loud. Clear. Joyous.  I kept photographing.”

Decades after Emery Goff heard a blue jay call on her magical walk, Bosworth heard the song of a mockingbird from the same apple trees during her glorious evening at Greenough. Goff wrote a poem. Bosworth photographed. Both wanted to share the sense of place they had just experienced.  ∆

The exhibit at Gleason Library is open from April 2 to June 11. There will be an artists’ reception on May 13 from 7 to 10 p.m. Descendants of the Greenough family will attend. Dr. Dana Booth will give a history presentation. Music by the Marcus Pinney Trio. RSVP to gleasonlibrary.org/art. Tickets $10 each.