Friday, July 30, 2010

A Busy Day on Newport Harbor

A brief stop in King Park this afternoon resulted in the following shots of a bustling inner harbor.

© 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Theme Thursday - Light

These were images from my archives that popped into my head when I saw that this week's theme would be "Light".

The full moon on October 13, 2008

Taken on Easton's Beach on March 14, 2008

You've seen these next two before, part of last November's "Late" Thursday theme. I just thought they fit here as well.

"You Are the Light of the World" from the musical Godspell was the first song that popped into my head for this theme. I tried to find a video clip from the movie version all by itself, but had to settle with this, which includes the Prodigal Son sketch as a prelude to the song. Ah well, it's all fun, so what the heck!

Of course, growing up when I did, it's natural that another song with "light" in it that would occur to me would be The Doors and "Light My Fire". So here's Jim, Ray, Robbie, and John to light up your night!

The last is one of my favorite songs: Everlast and Santana performing Everlast's "Put Your Lights On", from Santana's Supernatural album. I love Everlast; he's like the Tom Waits of the hip-hop generation, telling stories about the inhabitants of the mean streets. Although some of Everlast's mean streets are in the West Bank ("The Stone In My Hand") and Iraq ("Letters Home from the Garden of Stone") as well as those in NYC and LA ("What It's Like", "Saving Grace" - yeah, he's the one who wrote and performed the theme for that show). "Put Your Lights On" is a recounting of his thoughts after surviving a heart attack; it's a great tune that Santana manages to make even better. Enjoy!

Photos & text © 2008, 2009, & 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Birds Here and There

A few bird pics from Thursday and today. On my way to doing errands on Thursday I took a brief detour to the Cliff Walk in hopes of surf (nope!) but did find some interesting Sandpipers on Belmont Beach at the end of Marine Ave. There were a couple of Spotted Sandpipers that I never got a good shot of, but this little Least Sandpiper came out very well indeed.

Today was the biweekly Sunday bird walk, and today we went down to Third Beach and then over to Sachuest Point. There were Goldfinches everywhere; this is peak season for them because all their favorite flowers are going to seed now. This little male American Goldfinch was in the parking lot at Third Beach, first in a big puddle drinking and bathing (we had a real dumper of a storm come through last evening), then up to some Chicory gone to seed, and then back to the puddle again. I seem to have irritated him; in both of the photos below he seems to be giving me that "Do you mind?" look. [Note: Click to enlarge.]

There was also a Short-billed Dowitcher hanging out with a crowd of Peeps (mostly Semi-Palmated Plovers and Least Sandpipers), but it was in direct, bright sunlight and wasn't photographing well. My buddy Bob was on the other side of it getting pictures which probably turned out, but by the time I got to where he was the birds had all decided to move elsewhere and flew off in a cloud.

After that we went over to the Sachuest Point National Wildlife refuge. Now, it's been a hot and humid week here. Yesterday was horrible, with heat in the upper 80s F (31º - 32º C) with relative humidity up in the 90 percentile range, and not a breath of a breeze. Today was starting to turn out the same (at 7:00 AM it was 77º F/25º C with 89% relative humidity) , but lo and behold, when we were out at Sachuest Point (which has absolutely no shade at all) a thin scrim of cloud covered the sun and a nice (and considerably less humid) breeze picked up, so our jaunt on the north loop trail turned out to be pleasant. Lots of Goldfinches, Mockingbirds, Catbirds, and Song Sparrows, and the offshore rocks were full of cormorants and two immature Eider ducks. But the best shot of the day happened as we pulled into the parking lot at the Visitor's Center - there on the peak of the roof, right over the main entrance, was this Red-tailed Hawk welcoming all comers, as if to say: "Hi there! I'm a wild bird, and if you want to see more wild birds all you have to do is look around and walk the trails. Enjoy your stay and come back often!" Needless to say Bob and I were snapping away!

Nothing from Ballard Park and Gooseneck Cove today. I bumped into some friends on Hazard Rd. at the Cove and we spent most of the time watching the antics of the Blue Crabs at the culvert - there was one small one doing some kind of major excavation and all the others were coming over to bug him about it, and then a big 'un came over and scared everybody off. There were some Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets flying over but not landing, and an immature Black-crowned Night Heron flew over and perched in a tree across the way from us, but it was out of camera range. Oh well, maybe later in the week...

© 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Used To Be...

Today's post was inspired by Tony's and Alan's Sepia Saturday posts (no, I'm not jumping on the bandwagon; I really don't have a collection of old photos to show off). Tony's been scanning slides of old buildings no longer there in Halifax, and Alan found the park featured in an antique postcard and took his own pictures of the place, antiquing them to match the postcard. Since I don't have any pictures of places that don't exist any more, I decided to shoot some places that used to be something else way back when. Well, in one case the building is up for sale and soon will no longer be used for what it was built for (that is, if somebody buys it). And then I played with them in Photoshop to make them look somewhat aged.

The first place I thought of was the old Masonic Temple at School and Church Streets. It's now used as an apartment house and it really needs some serious working on; there are boarded up windows and it really needs painting. But some of the signs of being a Masonic temple are still there - the square central "tower", the round windows in the flanking gables, and the pillars at the front entrance. In colonial days and through the 19th Century there were a lot of Masons in Newport, but the movement isn't what it once was and interest is dying out; I'm sure there are other temples which have suffered the same fate.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist on Touro St. is up for sale; has been for over a year now. There's no longer a functioning Christian Science congregation here; no new blood and all the ancient members of the congregation have been dying without being replaced. I gather this is a world-wide phenomenon in this particular denomination. Anyhow, if you have $725,000 USD to spare, come to Newport!

I also got shots of a former synagogue now used as a school by one of the more virulent new religious right churches on Center St., and a former fire station converted to residences on Young St., but I couldn't get those shots to work. And there are a bunch of old churches , some fairly historic, now used as residences which I'll do a separate post about some day. But for today I'll leave you with this shot of this old trestle which is part of what used to be the old Walnut St. Bridge over the railroad tracks; Walnut St. no longer goes all the way through to Farewell St. because they built America's Cup Blvd. in the '70s and cut the street off so that now it ends at the trestle.

© 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Moody Day

Overcast and just beginning to rain; just spits and spatters, nothing to break out the umbrella for just yet. This enhances the lush greens in both the forest in Ballard Park and the salt marsh in Gooseneck Cove. It creates a mood - dark, lush, mysterious, and downright primeval. The only things missing are the dinosaurs.

© 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Theme Thursday - Park

I've showed you so much of Ballard Park that I thought featuring it for the Thursday theme of "Park" would be overkill. Instead I thought I'd show you some of the other parks I frequent in Newport.

Battery Park overlooks the upper harbor in the Point section of Newport. It's a pleasant place that has a cool breeze blowing even on the hottest days of Summer. When I first moved to Newport in 1974 I lived just up the street and would come here to watch the sun set behind the Newport Bridge and watch the lights on the bridge turn on. I often had long conversations with a nun from the Carmelite chapter house that used to be across the street from the park; she was there for the same reason I was. The Carmelites are gone now, and the nun I talked to was verging on ancient in 1974, so I'm sure she's long gone too.

Touro Park on Bellevue Ave. is another one I hang out in frequently. You've seen it on this blog before, at Cherry Blossom time and showing pictures of the Old Stone Tower in all seasons. Since this is atop the highest hill in downtown Newport, there's always a pleasant breeze here, as well as benches under shady trees, so it's a nice place to hang out. A note on this photo: I took this on April 27 of this year. I took the identical shot on May 9 of last year. That really drove home to me how early everything's been blooming this year - about 2 or 3 weeks - due to an unusually warm Spring and early Summer.

Rovensky Park is at the opposite end of Bellevue Ave., just south of the famous 19th Century "summer cottage" mansions of the robber barons. In fact the park is owned and maintained by the same organization that has restored and runs those mansions now as museums - the Preservation Society of Newport County. Rovensky Park serves as a sort of arboretum; it's full of a wide variety of trees from around the world, all labeled and identified for the education of visitors who seek it's shaded paths and comfortable benches. The ocean is not far away both to the east and to the south, so there's also usually a pleasant breeze here, too. [Note: If I seem to be obsessed with shade and cool breezes in this post, it's because we're undergoing a looooong stretch of heat and high humidity; cool ocean breezes and shade have become objects of much fervid longing these days!]

Music videos time! And we get to join Mr. Peabody and Sherman and climb into the Way Back Machine to travel back to the '60s, when there were some really groovy songs about parks. The first is especially apropos, as it involves some local talent who got internationally famous. Yup, I'm talking about the Cowsills, and they were indeed from Newport. And "The Rain, the Park, and Other Things" (also known as "The Flower Girl") was their first hit in 1967. And here it is, with an appropriately psychedelic visual to go with it.

Speaking of psychedelia, here's a tune you had to be stoned or tripping to really enjoy, written by Jimmy Webb and a huge hit for Richard Harris in 1968 - "MacArthur Park". Yes, the cake is still melting in the rain.

And last but not least, another bit of psychedelia from 1967, all about getting high in the park and seeing beautiful, dreamy visions - Small Faces and "Itchycoo Park". "What did you do there? I got high, yeah!" Oh my, another song we had to hide from our parents! Enjoy!

Photos & text © 2008 & 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

PS - Check out the new blog on the block. Citizen K has started a new blog called 365 Days of Emmylou Harris, featuring photos and music videos of, you guessed it, Emmylou Harris. I'll be contributing to this as well (although my first posts won't be debuting until next week). K and I have a mutual obsession with Miz Emmylou and her music, and we figured this would be a good outlet for it; it was either that or jail time for stalking, and this just seemed safer!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Deep-Summer Asters

In the course of going from place to place making my usual rounds today, I ran across these fine examples of the deep-summer members of the Aster family in full bloom. From the top - Purple Coneflowers (and did you know that these are the Echinacea touted as a cold cure in herbal remedies?); Purple Coneflowers and Jerusalem Artichoke; and Black-eyed Susans. Yup, it's July alright!

© 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Precarious Perch

This Snowy Egret came zooming in over Hazard Rd. looking to land in the Gooseneck Cove salt marsh when he saw me standing there in the middle of the road and decided he needed to figure out if I was a threat or not. So he landed atop this Red Cedar and ogled me from up there for a while before deciding I was safe, and then proceeded to fly down to the Cove to do some serious fishing.

© 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Now That's Different!

I found this cutting through the Common Burying Ground on the way to someplace else (click to enlarge).

The human form

respected for its honesty

and known 53 years

by the appellation


began to dissolve in the

month of February 1789

That has got to be the weirdest epitaph I've read yet. And on a plain domed slate slab undecorated except for those two simple border lines. It almost reminds me of some of the funerary traditions that sprang up in Europe in the wake of the plague in the 14th Century, dealing with death as an end and depicted as corruption. Gray's Elegy also springs to mind:
The Boast of Heraldry, the Pomp of Pow'r,
And all that Beauty, all that Wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable Hour.
The Paths of Glory lead but to the Grave.
I wonder if Christopher Ellery or his heirs had read that?

© 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Odds & Ends

Some shots from today's path through town.

A Little Wood Satyr butterfly in Ballard Park.

A budding young acorn on the White Oak in the middle of the quarry meadow in Ballard Park.

Turk's-cap Lilies on Carroll Ave.

Some kind of Katydid/Grasshoppery critter in Morton Park.

© 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Theme Thursday - Help

This one gave me a pause until I finally had an idea yesterday. So on my way to various errands and such yesterday, I got some shots of the various public agencies that provide help of one sort or another which lay along my route.

Music video time. Whoever posted the theme for this week used the Beatles's "Help" as the example, so I decided to search out alternative "help" songs. How's about we start out with Alvin Lee and Ten Years After doing the old blues classic "Help Me"?

Of course when mentioning songs named "Help Me", the next obvious choice is Joni Mitchell.

But in the end, we come back to the Beatles, but with another help song, "A Little Help from My Friends". But instead of the Beatles version I figured I'd go with the one that defined how the song stuck in the heads of those of us old enough to remember - Joe Cocker at Woodstock. It doesn't get any better than this. Enjoy!

PS - Please go visit the article I posted yesterday. I'm always afraid to post something important on Wednesdays because of the possibility of it being overshadowed by Theme Thursday, but I had to get that one out and in the public.

Photos & text © 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ghosts of Newport Past - Selling Myth as History

There's a romantic tale told in Newport about one of the town's early artisans; you hear it told on several of the historical walking tours and read it in several books about Newport, and on websites dedicated to African-American history in Newport. It goes like this:

Once there was an African named Zingo who became a slave belonging to famed Newport gravestone carver John Stevens II. Mr. Stevens, in the custom of the time, renamed his new servant Pompey and taught him to carve gravestones. Seven years after JS II's death Pompey was freed (in accordance with JS II's will) and retook his African name of Zingo. He became the premier carver of gravestones for the local African-American community and often incorporated African cultural elements in the ornaments and soul effigies on the stones he carved.

A very romantic tale, isn't it? Unfortunately, not a word of it is true. Evidence shows that Zingo and Pompey were actually two different men who were owned by two different Stevens brothers who had their own separate business establishments. And while there are actually two stones signed by Pompey Stevens, there is no evidence at all that Zingo was a carver, and the stones attributed to him were actually carved by John II's son John III. Yet despite the evidence (and we'll get to that in a little bit) most of the historical entities in Newport sell this romantic tale as actual history. Well, the tale itself is very tempting, isn't it? And oh so very politically correct!

In fact, I'll admit right now that for several years I was an ardent devotee of this tale. But there were some things that opened my eyes. The "bible" of colonial era gravestone carving in Newport is Mallet & Chisel: Gravestone Carvers of Newport, Rhode Island, in the 18th Century, by Vincent F. Luti (2002). Chapter 11 - "The Case for a Black Stone Carver" (pp. 297 - 300) - goes into Luti's research and discoveries into the identities of both Zingo and Pompey Stevens. The other, further source of evidence, much of it based on Luti's work, is Caitlin GD Hopkins's website Vast Public Indifference and her paper, posted online with Google Docs, “This Stone Was Cut by Pompe Stevens”: Memorial Art and Public Memory in Newport, Rhode Island. The paper is here, the illustrations here (because Google Docs couldn't accomodate the photo files), and two other relevant blog posts are here and here. These are all well worth your time after you read my brief take on this particular subject. And if you're at all interested in New England gravestones and history, Caitlin's blog is well worth subscribing to!

The chief problem in this tale is the conflation of the two African men, Zingo and Pompey Stevens. In her blog post "Will the Real Pompey Stevens Please Stand Up?" Caitlin Hopkins says:

The first problem — the conflation of Pompe Stevens with Zingo Stevens — may have begun as a simple misunderstanding. In her 1927 book, Gravestones of Early New England and the Men who Made Them, 1653-1800, Harriette Merrifield Forbes tentatively hypothesized that Zingo was owned by famed stonecarver John Stevens III and “perhaps . . . helped him in his work.” Though this speculation was both limited and reasonable, subsequent attributions have been less restrained.
It seems that from that one fairly vague and tentative statement things gained momentum and speculation was added to speculation until it became the current legend.

The problem is that Zingo Stevens's life is fairly well documented, and it doesn't intersect with a contemporary African servant named Pompey Stevens at all. First of all, Zingo was the slave of John Stevens II, not John III. And contrary to the legend (that his master renamed him Pompey and that he reclaimed his African name of Zingo after his manumission seven years after John II's death), he was known, according to John II's last will and testament and the journals of local clergyman Ezra Stiles, as Zingo well before his manumission (a full inventory of documentary references to Zingo Stevens can be found in Luti, p. 299). Most important of all, though, is this from Luti (p. 299):
Finally, from Zingo's will of 1809 (recorded on 5 May 1817) we learn that he was a bricklayer. He left no tools in his estate inventory that suggest stone carving. Nothing whatsoever, then, even suggests that Zingo Stevens ever carved stones anymore than any other helper (there were many in Stevens's shop).
So much for Zingo Stevens as stone carver.

As for Pompey Stevens, there's not much of a record at all, except for the signed work he left behind. According to Luti and repeated by Caitlin Hopkins:
We know much less about Pompe Stevens, but what is known does not fit Zingo’s life story. The first time Pompe’s name appears is on the gravestone of a one-year-old boy named Princ[e], the “Son of / Pompe Stevens / & Silva Gould,” who died on July 4, 1759. Six years later, a carver identifying himself as “P.S.” executed a gravestone for two-year-old Pompey Lyndon, and in 1768, he emblazoned his name on Cuffe Gibbs’ epitaph. (Note: The only other known Newport carver with the initials "P.S." was Phillip Stevens, who was murdered in 1736.) Though there is no record of Pompe Stevens after 1768, and he was probably dead or absent by 1783, the year in which Silva Gould married Cudjo Vernon.
If you compare the above dates with the dates given for the various events in Zingo Stevens's life on p. 299 of Vincent Luti's book, and especially when you consider that Pompey seems to have died somewhere between 1768 and 1783 while Zingo Stevens died in the first decade of the following century, there's quite a generational gap evident.

And what is evident from the carving he left behind is that Pompey Stevens worked for William Stevens, who had his own business on separate from the business founded by his father and carried on by his older brother and nephew. William had his own distinctive style, and Pompey's work is very much of that style.

Which brings us to a neat segue to the subject of artistic style in the stones in question. The photo at the top of the page is of the Cuffe Gibbs stone, about which there is no question as to the creator of the work as he names himself in the epitaph. The quality of the stone is poor and it's difficult to read; the same is true of the Pompey Lyndon stone, which Pompey Stevens also signed. To give you a clearer look, here are images of rubbings from the 1950s of both the Cuffe Gibbs and the Pompey Lyndon stones in the Farber Collection.

Compare these to these stones carved by William Stevens:

(Click on the pictures to see the full-size versions). The Peter Buliod stone (left) and the Nathan Townsend Jr. stone (right) are classic examples of William Stevens's work in the 1750s through the end of his career in 1775 (he moved to Philadelphia in that year and nothing more is heard from him after that). And Pompey Stevens's work is most definitely the work of a pupil following his teacher - the head shapes and wing designs in the soul effigies and the fig-and-lily pattern borders. The lettering is different, but then that's usually the unique distinguishing characteristic of individual carvers working in the same shop.

What especially distinguishes Pompey Stevens, though, is the uncharacteristic naming of himself in the epitaph on his brother Cuffe's stone. This was a bold stroke, especially on the part of an African-American slave in colonial times. As Caitlin Hopkins says in her paper:
Other gravestone carvers signed their work, but Pompe Stevens’ integration of his own authorial statement into the text of the epitaph, rather than relegating it to an inconspicuous corner, is practically unheard of in the New England stonecarving tradition. By emblazoning his own name across an enduring, public memorial, Pompe Stevens created a monument to his own life, as well as to his brother’s.
The last task in this post (yes, I'm almost done; you can return to your regularly scheduled program in just a bit) is to address the artistic ownership of the stones most often pointed to in the Zingo/Pompey mythos as carved by him. What emerges from a study of this is that the stones attributed to Zingo Stevens were actually carved by John Stevens III, the son of Zingo's former master. John III's work is unique and exquisitely beautiful. Both he and contemporary Newport carver John Bull were, in my own not-so-humble opinion, the most artistic carvers in America at the time. They didn't just carve gravestones, they created art.

The stone most pointed to as the work of Zingo Stevens is the gravestone of his wife, Phillis Lyndon. The stone has deteriorated dramatically over the years; this is the best I could do with the soul effigy in the tympanum:

And now compare that to these stones signed by John III:

(Again, click on the images to see in greater detail.) The three-quarter profile, clouds in the sky, and especially the African features - broad, flat nose and curly hair - are all similar, and are a mark of the stones carved by John III for the African American community. There are also other designs on these, like jewelry, clothing, and markings on the tympanum borders, which suggest West African cultural survival, which have led some writers (including yours truly several years ago, before I learned better) to point to these as works by Zingo Stevens, even though the Dinah Wigneron (left) and Pompey Brenton (right) stones are signed by John III; I even had a tour guide point out Pompey Brenton's stone as carved by Zingo Stevens until I showed her the "Cut by J. Stevens Jnr" carved into the base. In any case, Caitlin Hopkins addresses just this point in her paper:
What, then, of the gravestones from the 1770s and 1780s that do seem to exhibit African survivals? All can be positively or stylistically attributed to John Stevens III, a talented young carver whose flair for portraiture is evident in the stones he carved for both white and black Newporters. Every detail of the stones dedicated to Pompey Brenton, Dinah Wigneron, Violet Hammond, and others with purported African cultural elements conforms to the style of stones signed by John Stevens III (figures 11-13). Unlike Pompe Stevens’ signed work, which boasts deep, plastic carving and haphazard word spacing, John Stevens III embraced an airy aesthetic with meticulously spaced lettering and neo-classical aspirations. His use of fine-grained blue slate, his light incisions, and his fondness for the three-quarter profile are all features of the supposedly African-influenced stones (figure 14). As of this writing, no scholar has attempted an investigation of John Stevens III’s relationship with his African-American clients, but the extraordinary objects he produced suggest a level of intimacy and collaboration not evident in the older slaveowner-commissioned gravestones.
There's no question that John III carved these stones; the question is where he got his inspiration.

So what's the point of bringing all this up, anyway? What does it matter? For Caitlin Hopkins, the point is clear: " focusing their attention on Zingo and the misattributed stones, they overlook the very real, identifiable, and important work of Pompe Stevens." To that I say Amen! But I have a further concern: intellectual integrity and the importance of critical thinking. the ability to examine evidence free of preconceived notions and prevailing contemporary "wisdom". To hold to a myth in the face of evidence is troubling; to do so in order to make the myth fit a prevailing cultural/political agenda strikes at the very heart of personal integrity.Look, I'm a total sap, a romantic from way back. I tear up at Les Miserables and Ursula K. LeGuin's Malafrena and The Dispossessed; I dream of manning the barricades when the Revolution comes. What the heck, I believed the Zingo Stevens tale when I first came across it because it fit all my romantic visions. But I can't hold onto a myth if honest, clear evidence proves otherwise. No historian should be able to do that and still call him or herself a historian; the individual's intellectual honesty and integrity is called into question if that's the case.

And there you have it. I hope I haven't bored you too terribly. I just had to get that up and posted because it's been weighing on me ever since the last historical tour I took where the myth was propounded. You can all go back to your dinners now.

© 2010 by A, Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday by the Water - Salt Marsh and Surfing

Today was the biweekly bird walk, but July is birding doldrums time around here, so there wasn't much interesting on today's walk. Afterward I went down to Ballard Park only to be driven out by swarms of Deer Flies. But Gooseneck Cove had beauties to bestow; it was close to high tide, and in July the lush green rising out of tidal water is somehow very moving for me. No matter how harsh and bright the light, this aspect of a salt marsh always looks so much softer.

After that I went over to the Cliff Walk at Ruggles Ave. There was a high surf advisory up, and the waves looked good when Mark and I drove by Sachuest Beach on the way to the bird walk. So I hopped over to Ruggles after all my other wanderings to see what the gang was up to on the waves. I'll have to admit they weren't particularly awesome waves, but some people were getting some good long runs, and the surf provided enough drama for three of my kind of surfing shot - lots of splash and lots of movement. And that handsome lad in the first shot is my good buddy Marty Casey, looking every inch the cool dude that he is. Enjoy!

© 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger