Maine - Portland

by Kimp 15. September 2018 19:28

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Portland Maine

Portland Maine is usually on the short list of the best small cities in America to live in, and often at or near the top of that list. That means unemployment is low, poverty is low, crime is low, average incomes are comparable with a good standard of living for that area, entertainment and festivities are ample enough to satisfy the needs of most of the populace, there are plenty of healthy activities to choose from, a variety of intellectual activities to choose from, and there are amble relaxation choices to satisfy the down time.

Other than automobiles and modern clothes, visiting Portland is like going back in time to the late 1800’s.  Instead of tearing a lot of houses and businesses down to build modern office complexes and sky scrapers, they choose to preserve much of what made Portland great. The modern improvements they have made, appear to be in very good taste to me. Meaning that improvements, fit and/or enhance the general feel of that period in time. In my opinion, it is nice to have a piece of authentic American roots still in existence. Some of the sidewalk have the original brick’s in them. All uneven, with grass reclaiming the soil in the cracks. I don’t believe that is from laziness nor lack of funds. I believe it is too keep it authentic.

It is clean, just a bit unkept. Not for everyone, but for me, that feel is refreshing.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The boyhood Home of famed author, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is in the old town. Built by Peleg Wadsworth (Henry's grandfather on his mom's side) in 1786 it looks a lot like a Philadelphia home. Peleg was a General in the Revolutionary Army and he had the bricks shipped from Philadelphia. He probably spent some time with President Washington in Philadelphia shortly before building this house.

This house was great, because of its history and I believe all of the furnishings were original to that house during that period.

Henry's Adult house was also in Portland, but it was torn down several years ago. I guess not as much interest in that house, given that this one has more of Maine's history.

Portland Observatory

This is structure that looks a bit like an old lighthouse, but it is on the top of a hill, a long ways from the water and in kind of an affluent neighborhood during the time it was built. Big, ugly, and painted to stick out, it upset many of the neighbors. It was used, so a lookout could use a telescope to figure out which ships were headed into port a long time before they arrived. Then he would hoist colorful flag's to communicate that to the port master. This was only done, if the owner of that shipping lines had paid the monthly service fee.

This was very important to Portland in those times. To stay competitive with Boston, they needed to have a port that had easy access, quick turnaround and easy egress. The shipping lines only pays Harbor fees for the amount of time their ship in the port. In those days, what was good for the Harbor is great for the economy.

Beside the historical sweetness of this structure, it is very good high ground for looking at all of Portland's old town and surroundings.

Portland Museum of Art

Every once in a while, I find a hidden gem. This would be one of those. The permanent art in this museum’s painted collection, is both overwhelming and mind boggling.

Portland did not have a permanent museum structure, until 1911, when a wealthy patron bequeathed her brick mansion to the museum society. On the same property, a new brick structure was opened in 1983.

Most art museums, are architected to simulate Ancient Greek Architectural Styles. Marble, grandiose, and very elaborate. Portland Maine’s, newest museum, is beautiful brick building. Very simple and artistic. I would call the building, a nice piece of brick art.

With his size city and location, it probably see’s about 100,000 visitors a year, contrasted to the Met in New York City that averages about 100,000 visitor’s per week. I didn’t expect much to be inside.

So I said to a local. “Wow, beautiful newer Art Museum building! Is there anything of interest in there?”. She say’s, “Oh Yes!!! There are some really beautiful pictures of turn of the century steam ships and outdoor seascapes of the area, like in the 1800’s.”. Sounded great, like it was probably kind of unique, so I decided to block off a few hours for a visit.

I go the info desk and ask them where the beautiful pictures of turn of the century steam ships and outdoor seascapes of the area, like in the 1800’s are located. She directs me up a flight of stairs, down a corridor or two, and kind of into the back.

Sam and I bee-lined directly for that location, but on the way something very colorful that we were passing, caught my peripheral vision. I turn and less than a foot from my face is a Monet painting. Monet, like one of the founding members, and the most notable of the impressionist era artists.  Not just any old run of the mill, Monet, but an 1880 classic. Monet’s wife died in 1879 and for the next 10 years he poured his life into painting. Any Monet in the 1880‘s, is considered his best work. In my opinion, that one painting alone is worth in excess of 40 million dollars and could go a lot higher if a bidding war started. Close by, are two of Renoir’s impressionist paintings, probably worth about 30 million combined. 

Impressionist painting started when painter’s first went outdoors to paint. Before that, they would sketch outdoors, but do all of the painting from memory, back in the studio. Impressionist’s started the painting outdoors, and finished the fine details in the studio. So their paintings came to life.

To me, Impressionist painting is about getting all of the season’s colors and light shades in one painting, using very simple brush strokes. So a long curve might be represented by many very short lines all going in a similar direction, or slightly varying the direction. Same with an object’s texture. It kind of gives the painting, a look of movement without blurring. One part of the painting might show more light than others, like a large cloud moving overhead, darkened parts of it. Impressionist’s kept the proportions and line’s true to what they were.

I think the painters were familiar enough with the area, that they knew what the Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall colors were, and they combined them all into the same picture. All are natural colors that would appear in a scene.  Kind of like looking at the whole year all at once.

Post-Impressionist’s like Vincent van Gogh dabbled with unnatural colors to highlight features, so he might have some Orange shading where there is no real Orange at all. Post Impressionist’s also exaggerated features, often way of out proportion to highlight the overall shape. In 1960’s counter-culture speak; a Post-Impressionist, is an Impressionist on Acid.

After the Post-Impressionist movement, came Fauvism. Fauvist paintings are often extremely colorful, somewhat solid in color, and several colors do not represent the real at all.

Pierre Renoir and Claude Monet were friends and often painted together in the early days of their movement. Renoir almost always featured people and Money almost always featured landscapes. It is really funny to see a painting that Renoir and Money painted at the same place, and at the same time. Sometimes they would be standing practically beside each other painting the same thing. When you look at Renoir’s painting you see a close-up of some of the people that were there. In Monet’s, it is a broad landscape that might not even include the same people Renior painted. Probably a good friendship, with both sticking to what they do best, and not stepping on the others work.

Renoir had some early success with a gallery, but fell out of favor with them, when he felt that they were not pushing his new art very hard. He and Money and a few others started their own Impressionist exhibition, which still struggled but at least they were pushing it hard.   Renoir eventually found a very good living painting commissioned portrait’s and migrated away from Impressionism. Monet stayed with Impressionism his whole life, and is one of its shiniest stars.

I used to like looking at Greta Garbo’s New York City Apartment. She lived in the same apartment for about 40 years and had lots and lots of painting’s in it. She had a few Reniors, but his later work’s, which were colorful, but not impressionistic in my opinion. Greta loved color, and she seemed to choose paintings just based on color alone. She also arranged them based on color, so a multi-million dollar painting, might be right next to a must lesser known, much less expensive painting. Gretta even had paintings on her walls, behind the drapes. As a whole, it looked fabulous.

So I was wondering where this museum got the funds for those modern classics?

Some moderate research turned up “Charles Payson”. Charles Payson was born in Maines, but highly educated elsewhere, and a graduate of Harvard Law School. Later, a very prominent lawyer in New York City. Charles married Joan Whitney.

Joan was from New York City and she inherited the Whitney fortune in 1927. As a business woman, she took that fortune to a whole new level. She loved baseball, and was a minority owner of New York Giants baseball team. When the Giants moved to California, she bought the expansion rights and started the New York Mets, then talked Wille Mays into coming back to New York to play for the Mets.

Charles collected Winslow Homer paintings. Homer is probably the biggest name in American Painters and American Art in general. Homer was a book illustrator in New York City who started painting there and showed a bit of promise. His mother raised some money to send him to Europe for more training, but he was sent to the front lines during the Civil War.  After that he when to Paris for a year of training, then spent several years in Europe and England. In England he started painting sea scapes. When he returned to the US in 1883, he bought a home and built a studio in Prouts Neck, Maine, where he created many of his masterpieces, over the next 27 years. Bill Gates recently paid about 40 million for a Winslow Homer. That same studio, was recently purchased by the Maine Museum of Art and renovated. It can be visited, but advance reservations are needed as they limit the number of people who tour it. Prouts Neck is a very small peninsula in Saco Bay about 10 miles (15 km) south of Portland.

Joan collected mostly Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.

When Charles died, since he was from Maine, he felt that was the best place for his Homer collection. He donated 17 of Winslow Homer’s paintings. In addition, he gave them money to build a new building for them, and I believe, several long term low interest loans to help them sustain. That prompted several other wealthy Maine natives, to pitch in and donate paintings and money as well.

I believe that the impressionist and post-impressionist paintings were donated by Joan’s family, but only for permanent exhibit. If the museum feels they cannot maintain them, then they would be given back to the Whitney family trust. Joan donated several of the most prominent pieces to the Met in New York City, but I would content that what Portland has, is very, very nice as well.

Besides the master’s, I saw many seascapes from great artists, in and around the Maine area. I love that stuff, so it all felt great.

I saw several Realist works. A realist paints something that looks like a great photograph. They were in fashion as both popular and commercial art, just before photograph’s took that over.

There was a special exhibit by Dunkin Hewit, a modern day American wood sculptor, who lives and works in Portalnd. He Sculpt’s and paints wood to such an extent that you would swear they were not wood, had you not looked, very, very close, and then you would still be unsure.

Rockwell Kent was an American Realist Painter who traveled to remote places and painted. His work is very nice, in a desolate, sort of way.

My all time favorite piece had an American controversial theme. It was painted by Harry Watrous. Harry an American Painter from San Francisco, who is famous for painting mythical figures of people, mostly Women, in high style. This one was painted in 1913.  It is called the "Drop Sinister - What shall we do?".  It was the first painting of an interracial family.  Looks like a white mother, a dark-skinned father, and an interracial child with slightly dark skin and bright blonde hair.  When I first saw this painting, I thought it was 1950's because of the clothes and hair. I was very surprised that style of clothing was available in 1915.  Drop refers to the common white man’s belief, at one time, that if a person had one drop of non-white blood in them, then they are not white, and will be treated unfairly. Although, that was never a political statement to my knowledge. The family is obviously fairly well off for the time. A professional father and stay at home mom taking care of the family. It is now 50 years after the Civil war which was supposed to end racial discrimination. A portrait of Lincoln, who freed the slaves is on wall. The saying above the mantle reads "And God said, Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness.". The father is reading a Christen newsletter and listening in frustration to his wife, who is likely complaining about how their child is being treated.  He is probably thinking, "IF God and Lincoln could not solve this issue, then what I am I supposed to do?".

I wish, I had blocked more time off for this visit.

My Maine History

I was first introduced to Maine in 1986. Just before I left the US Navy, I had sent a letter to the Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company in Wiscasset Maine, along with my single page resume, that I was struggling to fill up. Now I need about a page just to list everyone I have worked for.

I basically said that I believe that would be a great place to both work and live.

Apparently, they were interested, as they paid for my flight, plus four days of hotel and rental cars. It was only about a day and half of interviews, but I asked for an addition two days to have a look around the area. No problem, Mr. Kimpel, thank you for your interest.

About 6 to 8 weeks go by without hearing anything. All of a sudden, they pay for another 4 day visit. I thought it was going to be another interview marathon, but all it was, was a physical exam by their approved doctor, and I had one lunch with one of the executives. All we did was talk about non-work-related stuff. Not a single question or statement related to work.

So I left that second trip thinking that it was just a formality. Like Human Resources had a requirement to interview 3 people, and they had already selected someone else. Mine was just to complete the requirement.

By that time, I already had another offer that I liked, so I started with another company.

One week with the new company, and I get a call from Maine Yankee, “Mr. Kimpel, which day would you life to start?”.

I said, “Well, I would have started 2 weeks ago, but I just started with a new company and I not the type to burn an new employer.“.

All they had to do, was tell me that I was a strong favorite, about how long it might, and I would have waited.

That changed the course of my entire life. I traveled a lot with the company I started with. Set up lots of contacts who opened new doors and followed the path that seemed best at the time. It set up the semi Nomadic lifestyle that I lived most of my adult life.

Had I taken that job, I probably would have meet some super sweet outdoors Maine women, and stayed there my whole life, a very happy Maine man.

So about 10 years later, I was looking to settle down and I sent them another letter. That resulted, in another, fully paid, in-person interview. When I got there, I was surprised to find myself right back, interviewing with the same manager that had interviewed me 10 years earlier. She obviously did not remember me, so I said to her, “I am surprised that you gave me another chance, because I interviewed with you 10 years ago, you accepted me, and I turned you down.”. By the look, it was immediately apparent, that I should have kept that information to myself.

That was about 20 years ago, and I still haven’t heard back from them. That company no longer exists as a functioning unit, but they still have lots of Nuclear waste, that has yet to find a final resting place.

Portland’s History

The Portland old town is on a Peninsula that is a mile wide and 3 miles long. It is named after a small Island (about the same size), named the Isle of Portland, just South Coast of England. Portland Oregon is named after Portland Maine, but they could not be more different than they currently are.

It has a fairly violent history with lots of colorful Mayor’s, starting 1632 when Maine was part of Massachusetts. With many Indian territorial attacks on the earliest settlers in the 1600’s, culminating in a complete destruction of the settlement in 1690.

The Army returned some time later, and in 1716 the Army built an Ocean going port on the Eastern side, which created lots of jobs that grew the economy and population. A 110 miles North East of Boston, it is the closest Port to England, who was a major trading partner in those days. A 110 miles is a long way for a sailing vessel and this port was easier to navigate and probably much cheaper than Boston’s very busy port.

Lots of cheap wood in Maine, ideal for building the old wooden houses and structures, but not so good for the fires that plagued Portland Maine.

The British took all of the above to their advantage during the Revolutionary War in 1776, by surrounding and scuttling the whole town with artillery fire from their ships. Burning it to the ground. Most of the British homebased out of Halifax Nova Scotia, which was not that far away. The Revolutionary’s were frightened by the British Navy, which prompted the US to create a strong Navy when John Adam’s became the 2nd President of the United States. Before that, merchant ships under the direction of unwieldy captain’s like John Barry and John Paul Jones, hired out to fight the naval battles.

In 1786 the American’s rebuilt the town and named it Portland after a small island just off the southern coast of England that bears the same name.

Modern day Maine, was a prime target in the war of 1812. The British wanted to reclaim that territory and name it New Ireland. They succeeded, but after the war they retreated back to Nova Scotia. This prompted the people in Maine to want to declare independence from Massachusetts, as they felt, they had not been supported well during that war.

In 1820 when Maine claimed independence from Massachusetts, Portland became the capital of Maine. In 1832 the capital was moved to Augusta. If you think Portland is a bit small, take a trip up to Augusta sometime, to see what a really small town looks like. That could not have gone over very well with the people of that time.

In 1851 Portland was the first intro into prohibition, but they allowed liquor to be sold for medicinal and medical purposes. Seemed like there were a lot of people who needed medicinal and mechanical liquor in those days and a rumor started that the Mayor of Portland was profiting heavily from those sales. A riotous protest brought an end to their prohibition, but that idea seemed to live on elsewhere in the United States.

In 1853 a rail lines was built between Portland and Montreal. At that time, Canada’s most southern port in Nova Scotia closed for between 4 to 6 months due to heavy ice. This made Portland Canada’s east coast port of choice during that time, boosting both the economy and population of Portland.

In 1863 the Confederate Navy attacked Portland in Civilian sailing ships that they had commandeered while trying to escape the Union Navy. They managed to do a bit of damage to Portland, but left when the Army started to respond. The Mayor of Portland commandeered a steam ship, took out after the Confederate ships, torched them and gathered up the prisoners. The prisoners had to be transferred to Boston, because they were afraid that a riot was going to break out in Portland, over the prisoners.

The civil war ended in May 1865 and on July 4th, 1866 Portland decided to have a massive the 4th of July celebration, to celebrate the reunion of the states. This was topped off when the city caught on fire and burned about 2/3’s of it to the ground. All commercial industry was destroyed and 10,000 people lost their homes.

The city was rebuilt once again, but commercial buildings had to be brick. Homes could still be wooden. As a result many of the houses in the old town look original from the rebuild in the 1870’s.

Portland was Canada’s main Eastern port until around the 1920’s when decent ice breakers and ice going ships were able to use the port in Halifax Nova Scotia all year around. By the time commercial trade had started to decline World War I had started and Portland was the staging point for much of the US’s shipments in support of that war. Not far behind that was World War II, when Portland became the main port for repairing the United States Destroyers.

Modern Portland

After World War II, Maine, the port industry has subsided and they had to reinvent Portland and Maine as a whole. They decided to try to attract banks and finance into the area (a moderate sized financial headquarters is a lot cheaper in Portland than the rest of the East Coast) and move into the tourist industry for Southern Coastal Maine. Their current mantra is “Maine is Vacationland”, for good reason.  Most of the East Coast below Maine is heavily populated and less than a day’s drive away. Southern Maine’s coast is full of parks and quaint small towns that have a 1960’s feel to me. Mostly because the architecture, as there must have been a boom in that area around the 60’s. But also, because it is relaxed, low crime, open, and full of kind people.

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Thank you for reading.

I'll catch you next time,

Craig

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