One of the delights of webwork is that the risks of open access are more than offset by the benefits of wide exposure to the gaze of expert strangers who often become instant friends. An especially gratifying example of this virtual community development has been the email we’ve been receiving from John Hutchinson of Salem, Mass. John is as interested in the traditional salt haymaking in the marshes of the Atlantic coast as we are. And he’s certainly more knowledgeable. He’s kindly given us permission to upload his comments, paintings and photographs to our site. So here they are.
Martin Johnson Heade. Sudden shower, Newbury marshes.
|“DEAR MARSHES! vain to him, the gift of sight|
Who cannot in their varied incomes share,
From every season drawn of shade and light,
Who sees in them but levels brown and bare;
Each change of storm and sunshine scatters free
On them its largess of variety,
For nature with cheap means still works her wonders rare!"
I have downloaded your piece on Heade's Hay which I will take to bed and read tonight. It looks fascinating. I can't wait. I am sending by US Mail a package of marsh stuff you may enjoy.
“Not to be outdone by the above splendid poet, and fresh from reading Shakespeare with my 13 year old daughter, I give you:
“This Monday afternoon just one day since
A weekend blizzard lay two feet of snow
Upon the marshes of New England's coast
I hied me up Route 1 with faithful dog
To Rowley where the hay stacks stand all stark
Upon the whitened marsh with snow o'erlain,
Good Mother Nature's blanch-ed mantle pure.
“Alas, the day's warm sunshine had disrobed,
Or partially undressed each marsh hay mound
Her glor'ous bridal dress and pristine veil.
Their cedar legs showed clear 'neath lifted skirt,
Exposed to painter's wanton eager stare
The earthy beauty that beneath them there
Showed warm sienna in the sundown rays
Beauty exposed to any eye that cared.”
“I had wanted to look again at the hay stacks as they appear in the one season Heade never troubled with. There's plenty of beauty there even at this the bleakest season. I remember tramping the Newburyport marsh once many winters ago after a particularly hard freeze. The ice and snow-filled canals and trickles had been subjected to a big tide, which had pushed the ice slabs every which way in the waterways and up over their lips, and then receded to turn the surface of the marsh into a bleak and cratered extra-terrestrial white and black wilderness.
“Today a white blanket lay soft over the marsh surface. Inexplicably, I had left one boot behind and so was restricted to watching from the roadside as the sun set. We left her pristine surface unmarred by canine or human footprint.
(November 25, 2003:)
“I have been painting marine scenes for 35 years. My style owes much to Salmon/Lane/Heade et al, whose work I have worshipped for as long. My subject matter is nostalgic in feel if not subject matter. I'm a yankee who has lived in Salem, Mass., for over a quarter of a century. I delight in being in the heart of Heade country. It was in perhaps 1970 a few miles up Route 1 from Salem in the town of Rowley that members of an area Rod Gun club persuaded a local retired farmer by the name of Brown to assist them in raising a half dozen salt hay stacks in the traditional manner on a stretch of marsh near the road at the edge of the Ipswich River. I was fortunate to have met Mr. Brown and talked with him before he went on to the Great Marsh Beyond. Unhappily the stacks have been over the years worn down by weather and vandals, but their remains sit on their staddles and are easily seen from the road.
“Farmer Brown told me a wonderful story of coming in from work on the marsh with his team of white horses at the end of a scorching August afternoon. For the entire day swarms of voracious green head flies had besieged both man and beast and left the unfortunate animals covered with blood. As they came up from the marsh onto the road a passing nosy female motorist came to a screeching stop ahead of Brown, alighted from her car and began to berate him for having beaten the poor horses. It was all he could do to calm the woman and persuade her that the blood was from swarms of biting green heads and that she refrain from phoning the MSPCA to report his ill-use of his poor animals.
"I live on an ocean inlet around whose edge lies a small but identifiable salt marsh, so I can observe its seasonal changes. I have spent many outdoors hours with my daughters and dogs tramping the Rowley, Gloucester and Newburyport marshes in all sorts of weather and seasons. In my studio I have a pair of marsh horse shoes ( very hard to come by), a beautiful marsh hay rake and a good deal of literature on the practice and economics of marsh haying. I wouldn't call myself an authority on the subject but rather an experienced enthusiast.
“I have a friend who owns what we think is an early Heade pencil drawing of the marsh as illustrated in the Stebbins books. It was through looking at Heade's work that I first came to love and appreciate the salt marsh.
“Now you can understand why I was taken by your site. I wonder where you are located and how you came to love these beautiful places.
(November 30, 2003:)
> Dear John:
> I was moved and humbled by your letter. It showed how far I have
> to go to complete my harvest. But it was wonderful to learn of your
> own enthusaism and experience. I hope that I or my friend Emily (whose
> family's in Connecticut) will be able to meet you in person in the
> not-too-distant future. Where exactly is your house on the marsh?
> I'm sure you knew everything I sent to you about Heade and the other
> Newburyport artists, but my neophyte excitement may have given you
> some pleasure. I'd love to learn more of what you know, bibliographic
> sources that might be accessible to me, references to or copies of
> images that are not on my list (I have several more hundred to enter,
> from other countries and from the twentieth century, but I'd be especially
> interested in other 19th cent. American hay paintings). Do you have any
> of your own work accessible via the internet?
> My own interest stems from my childhood on a Warwickshire (English Midlands)
> farm that still used draft horses into the 1950s. My appetite for knowledge
> of all kinds comes from ten years pursuing cultural geography at Berkeley,
> followed by 25 years as an academic librarian, ultimately head of the
> library collections, also at Berkeley. I spend vacations most summers
> in Montana, often helping bring in the bales on a large cattle ranch,
> but I much prefer the loose hay making one can still see in the Big Hole
> marshes in the southwest corner of the state, and I still like to travel
> to the traditional haymaking areas of western Ireland and eastern Europe.
> Since I've been working on the virtual haystacks, I've been in frequent
> correspondence with a fellow 'hooi' lover in the Netherlands, Wim
> Lanphen. If you don't know his wesite and would like to visit, I'll
> send you the address in my next note.
> Yours haythfully,
(November 30, 2003:)
“Thank you for your kind and interesting reply.
“What a world it is out there on the marshes! Yesterday I visited with a woman who lives on the Sandwich marshes on the north side of Cape Cod at the foot of Massachusetts Bay. She is commissioning me to do a watercolor of a catboat tied up to the bank of a marsh creek. Her house is part of an upscale development of million dollar homes whose roadway names, such as 'Heron Way' and 'Marsh Hawk Path', have been sandblasted into large imported blocks of non-indigenous granite and placed at the road intersections. God knows! The developer must have greased the palms of local bowling-pin planning board members in order to have been allowed to put up those immaculately-lawned, over-architected abominations. Imagine what kind of damage the lawn fertilizers must be doing to the life in the marshes which surround these palazzos! The newcomers love the marshes though they rarely seem to walk them. Few now realize their value to the farmers who once lived along their edges and depended on their bounty.
“Leaving Sandwich I crossed the Cape Cod Canal and was soon driving alongside the great Marshfield marshes which were represented in Heade's work. They are this time of year in my opinion at their loveliest.
“I wonder if you are familiar with such terms as ‘staddle’ and "gundalow"?* Do you have any salt marsh-related literature? Are you familiar with John Stilgoe's ALONGSHORE, which you ought to be able to find in almost any serious library or bookstore; he devotes a very informative chapter (with many source notes) to the salt marsh.”
“I would like to be able to be in contact with Emil[y]** and your friend in the Netherlands,*** if you could help. Neither I nor my computer is adept at sending images onto an email letter. Could you please let me know your mailing address?
*[see our collection of ‘Hay Words’ at http://www.hayinart.com/000141.html We had staddle but not “gundalow” which is not even in the Oxford English Dictionary online version but is very googlable on the web--AR]
**[Emily Reich, technical whiz, who does our hay-tml work and is email@example.com --AR
*** [Wim Lanphen, founder of the first (Dutch) hay web site http://www.hooiberg.info/engels/index.htm is firstname.lastname@example.org ]