When Sarah Kelly from The Roving Home calls and says, “you got a minute?” she really means, “Heather, you got two months?” And it’s always, always the beginning of something wonderful.
Once this kind of call ended up as a tent set up at the end of White Wharf in Rockport with a bluegrass band, a hotdog machine, and a bunch of people holding artwork they own. At the start of an hour, art-holders started swapping with each other. Bluegrass played. Waves lapped. Tourists holding ice cream cones wondered what was going on.
Every time someone asked to swap a piece of artwork, a mark was put on the requested piece. The work with the most requests at the end of the “game” won. It was a sort of Yankee Art Swap in which the value of the item was actually charted; a work’s value wasn’t in dollars but in recorded demand.
Another time Sarah called me to say, “Rockport needs a summer-time farmer’s market – right downtown.” That’s happening. Watch for it.
Welcome to Sarah Kelly’s Rockport, a blended allegiance to the town’s quirky history of artists, quarrying, lobstering, and Nisu, and to a new vibe in which arty becomes multi-generational, edgy, provocative, thoughtful and gets a fabulous view with something authentic if not delicious to eat.
Sarah, along with an equally talented group of Rockporters, runs Rockport Festivals: Motif #1 Day and HarvestFest, which in the last two years attracted over 5,000 visitors to town. When Sarah calls, I say “yes” before she’s finished talking. This time, the call went like this, “Heather, why don’t we do a lunch, and invite a bunch of people we don’t know…”
That was vaguely the idea, but more specifically the plan was to invite people from the art and design world “over the bridge,” who know little of Cape Ann’s history and culture.
Lunch at my house, at Howlets, would mean a lesson in Folly Cove’s and Lanesville’s artistic traditions – as deep as the quarries that blacken the Lanesville woods – Walker Hancock, Paul Manship, the Folly Cove Designers, and the Finns who settled here. “Lunch for strangers at Howlets” would also mean a lesson in the Hale Family, the Hale artists who built my house, their daughter, Nancy Hale, who wrote for the New Yorker, and their two great aunts, anti-slavery author Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catherine Beecher, famous in the 19th century for her book on domesticity, described by scholar Kathryn Kish Sklar as “a comprehensive guide to all aspects of domestic self-management, an effort to create a female domain from which cultural power could be exercised.” Yeah, she’s my favorite.
So, in what seems to be our matched style, Sarah and I proceeded not really knowing where this was going. I’m pretty sure our guests didn’t know where this was going either; everyone seemed a little confused when they first arrived. Remember, we barely knew these people and they barely knew each other. Some, were happy/relieved to recognize a face, or be able to say, “I’ve eaten in your restaurant,” but mostly guests were simply people we thought would appreciate the quiet greatness of Folly Cove and Lanesville, or people who are part of that greatness.
I prepared the lunch – a croustade of Alprilla Farm swiss chard and spinach, and then Early Spring Soup, a bowl of tiny local root vegetables doused in hot Appleton Farms milk, and garnished with Sasquatch smoked salmon, peas and dill. Lanesville resident Mary Lou Nye baked Nisu which we spread with Appleton Farms butter. There were chocolate espresso cookies for dessert, and there was prosecco and Gruner wine gently poured. This was a weekday lunch, after all.
Sarah styled. Resistant to capital “S” style, Sarah’s is not just a bow to the seasons but a crawl along the ground hunting for that truest and best source of style, what nature gives us for free.
A large birch log cradling plates of mushrooms lay down the center of the table as if it had just fallen in the woods. The mushrooms cupped clumps of moss, the dirt still shaking from it, in which fluttered crepe-paper snowdrops, handmade by Sarah.
Across the room a collection of boxes, “Joseph Cornell-like,” as one guest described them, housed small totems to spring and Cape Ann: rocks, more moss.
Guests left with a rock and a Sarah-created folio covered by a nautical map of cape ann, a silouette of a whale painted on it, an image inside of Dogtown from the 1920s, and a poem about Rockport by Lucy Larcom, a tiny emblem of our day.
Hopefully, guests left happy and less confused. One gentleman, standing at the door ready to leave, declared, “I know what this was; it was a salon!” And then he turned to a female guest and said, “and you’re Gertrude Stein!”
Now that we know what this is, we hope to have more. Watch for your invitation.
Cape Ann has her own poets, nightingales
Warbling among her roses, rarely heard,
Except by those who woke that minstrelsy ; —
And she hath joy in other voices : hers
Who saw and pointed to the Gates Ajar
So earnestly, the world turned to look in ;
And his whose rippling notes the Merrimack
Brings down to charm the coast with, — Avery’s chant,
Surging up from the seas and centuries
In dying triumph, — and the marvelous tale
Of spectral soldiers at the garrison
In times of war and witchcraft ; and that bard’s
Whose tender Ballad of the Hesperus
Blooms, a sweet, pale, pathetic flower of song,
From the bare reef of Norman’s Woe.
That open to blue breadths of sea ; lost roads,
Wandering, bewildered, past forsaken homes,
House and inhabitant forgotten now,
And grass-grown cellar-hollows their sole sign ;
Strange rocking-stones a-tilt for centuries ;
White lily-ponds and dank magnolia-beds ;
Sands that give music to your footstep ; pines
Hoarse with forever answering the sea’s moan, —
These will awaken to poetic life In hearts of unborn minstrels.
Though too late For resurrection of dead legends now,
Though Woes and Miseries haunt us unexplained,
Though all the dangerous coast is lighted up,
Safe as a city street by night, — the gleam
Of Straitsmouth, Eastern Point, and Ten Pound Light,
And Thacher’s Isle, twin-beaconed, winking back
To twinkling sister-eyes of Baker’s Isle, —
Prosaic names await romantic births.
Man makes his own traditions ; life and death
And love and sorrow baffle commonplace ;
And poesy will find her wilderness
Of fancy to grow up in, blithely free
From pedant – theories of thus and so,
That fence the schools around.
- Lucy Larcom
The Wild Roses of Cape Ann
and Other Poems, 1880