Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy 2006

I had a passport photo taken today. It's a study in contrasts from the one taken of me at 29 (now I am standing on the brink of 41). Then I had a sharp jaw line and medium length blonde hair. Now I have two chins and medium length brown hair with strands of gray starting in. Then I was a young single serious girl witha serious romance. Now I am a broken down sour mouthed almost middle aged barely still married mother of two. Every one of those 12 years is showing these days. Motherhood and divorce lawyering and something of poor character have surfaced there. Well. It's a snap shot, right? And with the New Year one stops and reflects on what has been and what will be. I think in 2006 I am going to try to relax a little (the opposite of what you thought I would say, no doubt). This is not to say that I am giving up and going completely to the dogs. In fact, I think I am going to yank my foot out their slobbering mouths.

In 2006, I am just going to be myself and not worry so much. I have been editing myself and guarding my comments (believe it or not) for ages. I have also been guarded in getting to know new people. Well, why worry? Also, since I like to go out and walk and listen to music, I am going to do that more. It should help take off some of this shocking weight. I am also going to seek a path of self discipline based on self support instead of self loathing. How does that sound? Sounds good, like so much bromide. We'll see, Since I seem to be the only one reading this I might as well write something just for myself. If some other soul of goodwill has stumbled in here, best wishes to you to for 2006.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

More Regarding Gladys

There is a famous line in a famous hymn by Isaac Watts: "Time like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away" (That's the line, the hymn is "A Mighty Fortress is Our God.") It occurs to me often, though not a very fashionable thought, and certainly when I consider what has become of Gladys. (Leave it to me, with however many generations of dour northern ancestry, to find the gloomy side of collecting old pictures and story books).

Gladys was famous in her day with the kind of fame that I think has a modern day parallel with Isaak Mizrahi or (at least once upon a time) Terence Conran. She was a brand. Her name appeared in large letters above the titles of the books she illutrated and sometimes wrote. In Gladys's 1977 obituatary, her friend, "the Hon. Lady Fisher," notes that in the 1930s it was "the in thing to wear a Peto dress." I think, however, given her times, her intelligence, and an innate dignity that comes through, she recognized the vanity of this. In the aforementioned interview in the Empire Annual For Australian Girls, she talks about how she continued to attend high society events, though bored to tears by them, to keep up her sketching skills. (see my post on Gladys Peto Proto Professional Woamn).

Gladys made her reputation during World War I by drawing caricatures and banners for the society magazine, The Sketch. (I will post a few of those when I can. They are among her best work.) The Sketch was a kind of cross between Town & Country and People Magazine. Gossip, or gossipy columns, reviews of popular plays, dewey photographs of the gentry with news of engagements etc. (Any academic with an interest in cultural history might find several thesis topics in The Sketch.) She also gained fame early on by illustrating the works of our own (American) Louisa May Alcott.

Her own writings came later, in the twenties and thirties, and mostly accompanied Children's books. Many of these she wrote herself (Gladys Peto's Children's Annual for instance made one or more appearances. The scholarship here remains to be done). Among my favorite of her early works is a compilation of stories and poems illustrated by her and written by her and several other bright lights of Great Britain the the 1920s, The China Cow.

Among the contributors were the immortal Sewell Stokes, Christine Jope-Slade, Berta Ruck or C. Lindsay Emmerson (does that last name sound familiar?). While Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells and other denizens of Gladys's world maintain a hold on our imaginations and some name recognition, the contributors to The China Cow have bubbled under that aforementioned ever-rolling stream. Berta Ruck was a famous novelist at the time The China Cow appeared. She wrote more than 100 books in her day and was married to another then famous writer, Oliver Onions.(Berta was also the brunt of a disparaging remark from Virginia Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway, and that is now one of her chief claims to fame). Christine Jope-Slade who wrote plays and screenplays during the 1920s and '30s including the unforgettable, The Mad Hatters and Britannia of Billingsgate . Sewell Stokes is an interesting figure. Knowing his association with Gladys I bought his memoirs, Personal Glimpses. In it, he confesses to having asked Gladys to marry him (he had contacted her about providing some artwork for his college (Cambridge somewhere) magazine. He beggared himself to take her to tea, commenting that she had the most beautiful hands in England. She politely declined his offer of marriage and he tried hard to forget her. A task made extremely difficult by the fact that Gladys Peto images stared down at him from every " 'bus and tube." (He referred specifically to the Allenbury's Food poster that appears in post card form on this blog.) Another aside, this is one of the really fun things about collecting, finding things like this. Stokes wrote many books, screenplays and plays, including a movie about Isadora Duncan. According to his memoirs (written when he was still a young man in the tone of a sarcastic undergraduate) Peto called him shortly after she refused him to tell him she was engaged. The man she accepted, Colonel C. Lindsay Emmerson, who, as noted, was also a contributor to The China Cow.

Next time I get an hour to myself, I'll tell you all more. I am sure there are legions of you out there panting to know more! (Did someone say "sarcastic undergraduate?")

Sunday, November 27, 2005

An Image Famous on the Buses and Subways of London in the 1920s. More on this later.

Peto Postcard - WW I

Gladys Peto: 1920s Proto Professional Woman

Gladys Emma Peto was born in Maidenhead, Berkshire outside London, 1890. As near as I can tell, she was born at the at the low-to-middling-end of the British upper class.

Peto was famous in London and perhaps throughout the UK and even throughout the Empire in the 1920s and '30s Anyone who lived in London and got around at all would have encountered Peto's work. Her advertising illustations were prominently featured in magazines and posters. She illustrated books for children and wrote some of the stories herself. She designed dresses and theatre scenery.

This being the long Thanksgiving weekend I have had a few minutes to indulge my inner-collector and I have been organizing my neglected collection of Petoiana. Yesterday, as I framed and hung up an advertisement I bought last week on Ebay for the new (in 1929) Gladys Peto Nursery Ware collection of the Tuscan Pottery at Stoke-on-Trent, it occurred to me that I have probably gathered the largest collection of Peto artifiacts anywhere. OK, I know. Big whoop. Who else cares? Well, there are at least a few, judging by the attention her books get on Ebay. And, of course, there may be some descendants out there - I hope there are - with crates of her things. But in my five or so years of collecting, which included a year of hosting an expensive web site devoted to Peto, I have not encountered these descendants. I suspect that if she had children (and it has been oddly hard to learn this basic fact) they would be in their 80s now. Grandchildren likely in their 50s. Since Gladys died in 1977, her grandchildren would have known her well. If any of you get to this Blog, send me a comment!

Since dropping my web site two years ago I have always felt a little bad. It got a couple of hundred visitors, not that many really, but I felt like a keeper of the flame who had dropped the torch. Really, at over $200 a year, I couldn't keep it up in good conscience. I also was not sufficiently technically proficient to transfer its contents to some free web space. So, it perished. But now, I have this Blog and this being Sunday and a long weekend and my kids still asleep, here, for your consumption you dear wide world, is my bit of Peto scholarship.

As noted, she was born in 1890 and died in 1977, in Ireland. She attended Maidenhead High School and art classes in the town before heading off to London to study at art school there. She married C. Lindsay Emmerson, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and with him during the 1920s she traveled with him to Malta, Cyprus and Egypt. Among the most desirable Peto books are the guide books she wrote for English "Sojourners" to those places (i.e., long-term residents). Malta and Cyprus and The Egypt of the Sojourner were published by J.M Dent in London for their Outward Bound Library.

Peto's work remains appealing now for its attractive and inventive art deco style, clearly influenced by Aubrey Beardsley. At its best she captures something magical of the world of childhood and cutting-edge in the world of fashion. Aside from her work, her biography is also full of interest. Though she came of age before World War I, she took a daring career path and became a successful commercial artist. She was not a Bloomsbury radical (they didn't tend to marry army colonels) but neither was she a typical woman of her day. Reading Peto's works, especially her travel book on Egypt, it's clear that she played the part of Colonel's wife as much as she devoted herself to her work.

Sometime in the 1920s the Empire Annual for Australian Girls published "Poster Art Work for Girls, A Talk With Miss Gladys Peto the Well-Known Poster Artist." (The Empire Annual is, itself a worthy subject of study, combining fiction and practical advice to help girls of the time make their way in the world. The annual with the Peto interview includes tips for the "the Family Failure" on how to get along).

Peto there discusses her beginnings. Her family was not especially artisitic, except for herself. As a girl in Maidenhead, she would go out "in her father's trap" and notice interesting people along the way. She would get home and sketch them. From thence to High School then Art School. After a few years learning academic techniques, she started beating the pavement to various editors and publishers with her sketches expecting instant success. She didn't find it but sold two little drawings. It was a beginning. "And [her] family's somewhat discouraging queries as to how I was going to live on that amount did not debar [her] from trying further." In keeping with the Empire Annual's mandate to offer guidance, Gladys lets the reader know that a girl with training, talent and inventiveness might well be able to make her way "there is a good living to be made from this particular type of artistic endeavor." No figures are mentioned, but the interviewer, one George A. Wade, notes that "several people are aware that this young lady, as one of the best-known depicters of "fashionable life," and a designer of posters which attract much public attantion, makes an annual income which many men in very high positions might well envy."

Well, the kids are up. More next time. I will try to upload a little Peto artwork for your consideration.

Jay Peak is open and I think today's the day to start my little girl on a snowboard!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Still here

One of my favorite movies is "7 Up" - can't think of the name of the filmmaker. It's a really fascinating documentary involving interviews, every seven years, of a group of people who gave the first interviews when they were seven years old. It occurred to me watching the most recent version a couple of years back that this must be sort of like how God sees us - a lifetime compressed. It started as an exploration of class in England and its effects. It's still about that but I think it's more about the trajectory of life - perfect somehow, though full of pain and struggle. Adam and Even banished from the Garden but not forsaken. Each person followed (and a few of the stiffer ones have dropped out) struck me as lovely somehow - so worthy of compassion. They're all well up into their 40s now, I think, and have learned the lessons of life. If you haven't seen it, get it.

Why am I talking about this? Because I have been absent from this Blog for year. Just too busy with my crazy job as a divorce lawyer in Burlington. I have never had a more difficult job - but in all the trauma, time has flown. Time does fly on us. So here I am back again. Physically, more of a ruin, having neglected friends and family too much. (I have a pile of unsent birthday cards and some dear relatives that I haven't seen or spoke to or corresponded with in more than a year.) Another deep lesson learned by blogging, or failing to blog.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Latest

It's way past my bed time but I checked back here and though still comment-free I'll assume one or two friendly readers are on tenterhooks wondering what has happened to Woolfoot here at the Last House during the last six weeks.

Well, we're all still here. The House is generally occupied by the Woolfoot Husband and Woolfoot Kid 1 (girl, 7) and Kid 2(Boy, 4). I had hoped to bring Kids to the luxe condo for the end of the school year but none of the preschools in which I had any interest had a spot. I didn't like to split up Kid 1 and Kid 2, so they will finish their school year here at the friendly Catholic School in Newport. I have been driving back and forth to Burlington most days but spending a couple nights a week as a bachelorette at the condo. The first few nights like that were sort of glorious (take out and a DVD!). It would be an impoverished existence, however, if it were a long-term thing. I guess that's for another post.

Speaking of preschools and schools, the Woolfoot kinder have long experience at their Catholic school here in the Northeast Kingdom. It runs from pre-school to grade 8. The building is a cold-war relic (it still has the Fallout Shelter sign on the outside wall) but the people are nice. I am not a Catholic but my husband is, by heritage anyway, and I respect the Institution although I can't quite assimilate some of its unique beliefs. Anyway, the kids are, after 4 years there, wholly known quantities. I raced up to the school from Burlington last week to the [interminable] spring concert and managed to see Kid 1 sing her three songs with grades 1-3 and then spent the rest of the evening chasing Kid 2 around the halls. Amazing how many people know Kid 2. He is a charasmatic sort of individual and not without his charms. One thing I am little sad about is that he will miss his year with my favorite preschool teacher. She is just finishing her college degree, I think, and has a grown family. I am always reminded of one of the stalwarts Country Music stars when I look at her, like Loretta Lynn. She is so energetic and uncomplaining. Kid 1 prospered in her class.

I think a little exposure to Normal America and the middle class environment of Burlington will be a good thing for them, although I am not without my misgivings. I doubt that they will be known as they are known now anyway. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

One-Trick Pony?

Jeez. I just re-read a bunch of my postings and I am a regular Johnny One Note!(Vermont blah blah blah). Sorry if I have been boring you (are "you" out there? I seem not to have attracted a single comment so I don't know if anyone other than a couple of friends have even looked at this spot).

In case any "you" are wondering the Burlington condo deal seems to have been sealed. I took the kids to the little North Troy Library after school yesterday. On the way out of the building (combo fire house, library, police department and clerk's office) our village clerk, Nancy Allen, stopped me to say my new landlord had called her to check us out. Very clever. As anyone who lives in small town Vermont knows, village clerks know everything about every body. My landlord is a native Vermonter. Why bother with references when village clerks are available? Well, Nancy is a neighbor and if we had a fan club she might be its president (it would be a small club, naturally). So she told him, of course, we were the best people in town (her exact words). If he won't rent to us after that I don't know what would persuade him. Only in Vermont! OOPS. There I go again. OK. I am going to shut up and get dressed now.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Mud Season And Another Change

In these last few melty days, great hunks of ice have been slipping off the red steel roof of the Last House, threatening to take the gutters down with them. It wouldn't be much of a loss as the gutters have been clogged for about 12 years, since about 20 minutes after we had them installed at considerable expense when we first bought the place. There is a a stand of Locust trees behind the house, growing well north of their range, that provide a nice tracery of branches behind the house all winter and some beautiful-smelling blossoms for about three days in June, but shedding gutter-clogging leaves each fall.

The trees and their ways are one of the thousands of little details about life in the Last House I have been contemplating in recent weeks. I, Woolfoot, have taken a job in the closest American city of any size, Burlington, Vermont, and the long term future of the Last House is in question. That immortal question rings, "Should I stay or should I go now?"

Well, nothing will happen right away. We have rented a condo in Burlington that will house the little family or some part of it during the weeks for the next year or so, then we will probably have to make up our minds about whether we will be regular Americans (Burlington) or irregular ones (North Troy). Both have their charms. Burlington has employment opportunities.

The condo I have bargained to rent has a view over Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks and as you walk to the little parking area Burlington twinkles up the hillside which it climbs from the lake. A bike path connects the Condo to my office downtown. A good public school, where my Harvard-graduate friends have their kids, lies on the path between the two places. Much will be demanded of Woolfoot to pay the bills, but much more is available by way of opportunity.

After viewing the condo yesterday, I stopped on my way out of town for a Grande Vanilla Latte at the Starbucks near the Connector. College types served it up with a piece of lemon cake. Of course, our local North Troy reinvigorated gas station has coffee too, (see my earlier post on the topic of the gas station) but the contrast between the First and Last Border Stop and Starbucks of Burlington tells the whole story and highlights my dilemma.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Back In My Nordic Home

It took eleven hours from the door of my brother's new house in one of Dallas's fanciest neighborhoods to get back to the door of our house in one of the least fancy towns in Vermont. The many pieces of the journey went smoothly and I am grateful for that. The snow is back, all through the northeast, so I am glad I got my travelling done on Sunday. I flew in and out of Montreal, which is about an hour and half from here. Things up there are looking great. Dallas was interesting but Montreal is "my" city, where I spent most of my 20s. We have bonded. Having imprinted on Montreal I don't know that I can ever form a deep feeling for any other. I have a general antipathy to the suburbs, but I'll admit I was beguiled by my brother's neighborhood. It helps that it is close to the core of Dallas.

Interesting to journey through America. Looking out of the window of the plane on my way into Dallas last Tuesday night, and seeing the miles and miles of lights, I was impressed by the power of capital to get things done. A hundred years ago there was nothing down there. Now there is a civilzation unique in world history: one which a humble, poorly compensated state employee (I am a deputy State's attorney here) can gaze down upon from 30,000 feet from the comfort of a jet plane and it's all just la vie quotidien. Amazing.

Also amazing, and somehow depressing, is the fact that my search for some small gifts for my kids took me to the Barnes & Nobel in my brother's neighborhood and to Costco. Both places I can shop at in Burlington or any other place I am likely to go. Part and parcel of the power of our economy is this general sameness in the crap we can buy. Regional differences definitely survive, however, if not in consumables in the general approach to life. I was impressed by the thin, made-up blonde woman who was talking on the cell phone at the ladies room at Home Depo Expo in North Dallas (not a type we see much up here). She was winding up her conversation on the phone and yelled to her little girl in the stall, impatiently, "Are y'all done in there?" Love it.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Woolfoot Does Dallas

If you're hoping for something racy, move on. The highlight of my day so far down here in the Big D was a breakfast at a faux-french place called La Madeleine here in North Dallas - or maybe the Grande Vanilla Latte at Starbucks. Even in Texas I do things small scale...

I am down visiting my baby brother who just bought a nice house in a nice neighborhood down here. I am supposed to be packing his kitchen in preparation for the move from his bachelor condo to the house tomorrow AM. It is always good to change scenery for a few days. I haven't been down here in years and it's an interesting contrast to the world of the Last House. Remember the Eagles: "Everything, all the time"? That's how this strikes me. I, of course, think it suffers in comparison to my Green Mountain home. My brother, when he visits us, feels the opposite way. I guess things work out.

The $$$$ flying around down here are amazing. My brother's new house is a nice '50s ranch, well kept and tastefully renovated. It cost him more than $600,000. He tells me the value is alomst completely in the lot and that the house, nice as it is and perfectly adequate for a couple or small family, is basically an impediment. All over his neighborhood houses of this vintage are "scrape-offs". Seems a shame to me and unChristian, really. I must say, however, that the new houses are generally very attractive. Still, what would our ancestors make of this?

Back to packing the kitchen.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

My Holy Mountain back on an uncrowded day in December.
copyright 2005 Kim Velk

View from the parking lot at Jay Peak
copyright 2005 Kim Velk

Mitchell, STAY HOME or "Too Many Skiers!"

If you have been following along here you know that we got about a foot of snow here on the Vermont/Quebec border last week. This snow was well publicized. I played my wee bloggish role in this. Well, the down side - believe it or not there is a downside to a snowstorm - is that it attracted a gazillion PFAs to my holy mountain, Jay Peak. (PFA = Vermonter for "people from away). I think of it as "mine" because when I hike there in the fall and summer I never see anyone else.

When I get off the beaten ski paths (in the woods where a person can snowshoe) if I meet one person on a beautiful winter day it's an oddity. True, people do go there to ski and I guess I have to put up with that given as it is someone's business and a ski resort, afterall, but the beauty of Jay has been its big, quiet, line-free nature. I fear all their TV advertising may have screwed that up. My little girl takes a ski lesson there each Saturday and she and I ski together on Sundays. This, the most far north of any U.S. ski area, was simply MOBBED. I waited til afternoon on Sunday to do our little ski outing thinking that the out-worlders would have decamped for Connecticut and Massachusetts and Ontario etc. but most of them were -- are you sitting down -- STILL THERE! Reader, I was clobbered by a youngster on a snowboard who cut me off and set my aging out-of-shape frame down hard! A responsible citizen chased the kid down, "buddy you need to apologize." I, when I could speak, lamely excused him. The kid, no doubt afraid he was in trouble, muttered something in French and beat it. My neck is still sore.

I have an unfortunate Babbitish streak that has compelled me from time to time to play booster to this rural no-wheresville I call home. A wail has been going up from a large and generally irritating subset of Vermonters for years, lamenting the arrival of the rest of the world. I have generally been out of sympathy with this crowd. Burlington and environs may need saving but people up here need jobs and schools. Of course, I am from that larger world but I got here when country wasn't cool, as the saying goes. This weekend makes me feel sympathetic to those who want to pull up the ladders.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Today at the top of Vermont

The big news around here is the snow. A foot or so fell on Thursday and Friday. Most everyone up here is glad to see it. If you hate winter you don't hang around on the US/Canadian border. The guy who re-opened our village gas station last week is surely happy. The gas station reopening is a big deal. It had been teetering along for years before the fire last Fall, mostly staffed by a local friendly, if beleagured, grandmother. I think had been looking for an exit for a long while before the fire. She was always nice to me and I sympathized with her, albeit silently. Several notices against trespass were hung near the newspaper stand. The place was robbed at least twice in the last ten years (hence the notices against trespass... even if the guys were never "caught," she had a good idea who had done it). The new owner is a village selectman and he has done the place up right: gutting it to the walls. It has new floors, new ceilings, a pizza oven and deli and place to sit and eat pizza and sandwiches. Most important of all, it has new pumps with brand new tanks: installed over several days in some serious cold by some serious big equipment. A snowmobile trail runs within 30 feet of the place and his gas pumps are the last ones the Quebecers hit on their way back into Canada. He can charge a little extra. I don't begrudge him.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The last house, February twilight.
copyright 2005 Kim Velk

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Welcome to the Last House

OK, it's really only the last house if you are heading out of the US and into Canada in North Troy, Vermont (and crossing the border illegally). If you're headed (legally) to the border station at Highwater, Quebec, on Vermont Route 243 there's a different (and much nicer) last house: a five-over-four colonial number with big trees in the front yard. Our house is a semi-spavined farmhouse, albeit on a beautiful piece of ground which, as noted, includes the 20-foot-strip that marks the Canada-US boundary. (Well patrolled by the Border Patrol, please note).

From this perch at the top of the country in a rural and none-too-stylish, though not without its charms, community I have a unique vantage point on things going on in the great world around me that I sometimes want to express. I'll be back.