Cape Ann Museum II


Cape Ann Museum

27 Pleasant Street

Gloucester, MA




I recently posted a review of the Edward Hopper exhibit at the Cape Ann Museum (CAM). I liked it, but wasn’t blown away by it. 



Fitz Henry Lane


That said, there are reasons to pay a visit to the museum that will compensate if, like me, you wanted a bit more from the Hopper show. Know first of all, that the museum has been in Gloucester since 1875 and in its present location since 1923. During the 1930s the museum began collecting the work of Fitz Henry Lane (1804-65) and now has the largest repository of his work in the world. 




Lane is something of an enigma, so much so that it wasn’t until 2005 that art historians realized his name was actually Fitz Henry, not Fitz Hugh as he had been mistakenly attributed for over a century. He was born in Gloucester, lived in Boston and worked as a printer between 1832-45, then moved back to Gloucester for the last two decades of his life. Gloucester has long been a fishing town and Lane had a clear affinity for the sea and ships. He was particularly good at capturing changing weather conditions, as can be seen in his contrasts between calm and stormy waters. (Alas, death at sea is part of Gloucester’s historical legacy. Remember The Perfect Storm? It was one of many such tragedies.) 




Lane was such a keen ship-spotter that he could tell boats from afar without seeing their nameplates. If you’re a landlubber like me his boat canvases can wear thin after a few, but his obsession was no more unusual than the car aficionados or other enthusiasts of our day. 




Lane is considered a master of luminism, which as the name implies, is about representing light. Luminist painters are often instantly recognizable as their works exude an inner glow. It’s as if they are backlit by some hidden source. 


Brace's Rock by Lane


On a personal note, Emily and I have been attending Labor Day family clambakes on Eastern Point for many decades. It takes place in Brace’s Cove, so-named for a rock just offshore. Lane painted it and here’s my photograph of it in 2023.


Brace's Rock by Me!


Because Gloucester is indeed an ocean port, the CAM has lots of maritime objects and paraphernalia. Think everything from lighthouse lenses–see its large Fresnel bulbs–to mastheads, ship models, tools, and so forth. My favorite piece is the Our Lady of Good Voyage carving that once stood near the apex of the city’s Portuguese Church. It has a miracle associated with it. A group of sailors snapped their oars in rough seas, appealed to the Virgin Mary, and she supplied placid waters that allowed them to drift to safety.


Our Lady of Good Voyage


But back to painting. The Northeast coast has spawned art colonies, including one that hangs on in Gloucester’s Rocky Neck neighborhood. Artists often traveled between them–especially during the summer months–from Cos Cob to Old Lyme, Ogunquit, and Mohegan Island, if you will. With less intention than circumstantial familiarity, a veritable mobile New England school emerged that spanned the late 19th and 20th centuries. The CAM has outstanding works from Milton Avery, Cecelia Breaux, Stuart Davis, Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, John Sloan, and more. 


Avery, Front Porch Sitters

Davis, Gloucester Port

Stuart Davis

Rockwell Kent

John Sloan, Gloucester 1918


Alice Beach Winter


The lower level has some classic 1930s proletarian mural art from Charles Allan Winter. In the nearby auditorium you’ll find works that celebrated Cape Ann quarry workers.


Charles Allan Winter (ironic commentary!)


Leon Kroll, Babson Point Quarry Workers


 The CAM also maintains historical buildings and homes, including Lane’s, throughout Gloucester. You’ll probably have leftover energy to see some of them, as the CAM is a regional museum that whets your appetite rather than drowning you in gigantic blockbuster shows. I like museums such as the CAM; they invite you to linger and wander rather than fear you’ll miss something you were supposed to see.


Rob Weir


Doctor Rat and A Painted House: The Short & the Long


When I travel and have connecting flights, I usually download short novels that I can polish off around the time the first leg finishes and a longer ones that can read in spurts and stops no matter what delays and interruptions occur.




My short book for Boston-London-Geneva was Doctor Rat by William Kotzwinkle (1977, Bantam Books, 215 pages). He’s an unorthodox writer and acquired taste, but this one won a major fantasy award in 1977, though it was dismissed by the New York Times as “zoo-radical-chic.” I love a good controversy and came away understanding both the praise and the mudslinging. It has echoes of 1984 but is usually compared to Animal Farm, though Doctor Rat makes it seem like a petting zoo! Doctor Rat manages to be hair-raising, stomach-churning, and funny at the same time, but it’s definitely not for the squeamish.


It is set inside a research test lab in which animals are used for all manner of ghoulish tests. The descriptions describe factory-level animal torture and the lab head, dubbed “Learned Professor” by Doctor Rat, is a veritable Josef Mengele. There are obvious parallels to Nazi deathcamps, yet Doctor Rat supports the lab with Stockholm Syndrome-like fervor. Doctor Rat sees everything as advancing science, “writes” of one gruesome thing after another in his “newsletter,” and carefully “cites” sources. Those  include treatises about his own species such as “How to Roast a Rat.” When a quavering animal is removed from its cage, he shouts “death is freedom,” a distressing echo of “work sets you free,” the slogan above the gates of Auschwitz. Doc literally sings the praises of the lab. As we learn, he is intelligent but was driven mad from endless time in the lab mazes. Thus, Doc’s studies and writings are probably imaginary.


When a power struggle erupts between his own compliant species and rebellious dogs, you can guess where his loyalties lie. And Doctor Rat certainly wants nothing to do an interspecies alliance seeking to take over the lab and free its subjects. Brutal experiments and vivisection appear in more detail than most will wish to read–­skimming recommended­–but you can draw lessons about blind followers and discovery-at-any-cost science. Fascist metaphors abound, but back in the 1970s Kotzwinkle also intended critiques of the Vietnam War and unexamined nationalism. This book is horrifying, but the bigger question is whether his points are valid and his implied warnings important.


* * * * *



I wanted something lighter after this, though I only sort of chose my next book wisely. I don’t like John Gresham very much, but a friend suggested trying his non-courtroom novel A Painted House (2001, Dell, 466 pages). I won’t say I loved it, but it has parallels to contemporary American immigration issues.


On the surface the novel seems like The Grapes of Wrath: The Next Generation. It takes place in 1952 during a single Arkansas summer when Luke Chandler is seven-years-old. He lives with his family in Black Oak, a backwater cotton country dot on the map. His dream is to one day either play baseball for the Cardinals or become a road grader. That’s a strange combo, but his life his life has been defined by poverty, snakes, tornados, outhouses, family feuds, debt peonage, and disputes between Baptists and Methodists. He is supposed to hate Northerners, though he’s not sure why, and there is no telephone or TV. Luke sees a World Series game at the storeowner’s home, but some worry that “modern America was slowly invading rural Arkansas.” The Chandlers’ unpainted house and barn are symbols of a stuck-in-time existence.


Luke’s father is a sharecropper, needs to hire outside help to get the cotton picked, and doesn’t have enough capital to be choosy about whom he hires. He lucks out by securing a hard-working crew of Mexicans that includes “Cowboy,” who loves baseball almost as much as Luke. The Chandlers are unlucky in that they also hire the Spruill family, which includes the brutal Hank, one of the reddest rednecks in the region. The Spruills are down on their luck, but retain a sense of superiority over the Chandlers and especially over Mexicans. Old hatreds, barely hidden secrets, threats, and violence hang in the air like  sharp scythe about to severe hopes of a successful harvest. Not even baseball can resolve hate, but a painted house suggests a frail possibility of redemption. Re: the Spruills’ hatred of Mexicans, it’s like a 19th century French writer put it, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”


Rob Weir  


Be Dignified if You Work with the Public

Who gets the meme?


We’ve all felt frustration and have dreamt of letting the object of our ire know exactly what we think. If you deal with the public though, check those thoughts at the back of your teeth.  


A sad tale.


A recent example involved a Northampton police officer’s interaction with a woman whose first language is Spanish. Video coverage from his own body cam shows he was out of control before he left his cruiser. He approached her with a shower of F-bombs, something one should NEVER–mark it in capital letters–do in a job involving the public. He was breathing too much fire to comprehend that the woman he pulled over for a freaking broken taillight had only rudimentary English skills and that his actions–including having her handcuffed–were racist as well as inappropriate. Leave those F-bombs for the locker room, beers with your buddies, or screams in the closet. Do your job with dignity.


That’s basic. I once had a job selling appliances. My district manager was an older gentleman who insisted that the old saw that “the customer is always right” is the biggest crock of nonsense ever uttered. Quite a few customers, he averred, were complete idiots, but he added that you can’t say that to their faces.


I tried to remember that when I worked with juvenile offenders. Young people often act out and, sad to say, some never grow out of it. I know what the officer felt. It happened rarely, but I been cursed at and called every name I know, plus a few I had to look up. Once a kid threw a punch I deflected. But my job was to defuse, not elevate, bad situations with kids already in legal trouble.


As a high school teacher, I sometimes joined colleagues in gripe sessions about those who told us we had easy jobs: six-and-half hours a day with weekends and summers off. (As if!). We all had stories of classroom outbursts and parent-teacher conferences in which we were accused of being personally responsible for their child’s failures and all the ills of society. I remember one involving a math teacher sitting at a table across from me. He was asked by a father, “How’s he doing?” The teacher was flabbergasted, as there had been numerous conferences to address fighting, throwing things, truancy, threats, and non-existent academic achievement. The math teacher calmly reiterated those things. A blank face stared back and asked, “Yeah, but how’s he doing?” WTF! We all thought, “There’s an elevator that never left the basement,” but we said it privately.


There’s much that can go wrong in classrooms when you multiply 15-30 students by six periods by 180 days. Once I had a kid try to leap from a second-story window before another student grabbed him. I could tell from his eyes he was higher than a kite, but I made the mistake of saying so to his parents. They threatened to sue me. (The sad ending was that 16-year-old later fatally ODed.) Mostly, I was fortunate, loved my students, and most treated me with respect. But I’d be lying if I said I loved them every day, never threw a kid out of class, or imagined hurling swears at several of them. But no F-bombs. I could have been suspended for that. I could have done so with less fear as a professor instructing students considered adults, but why would I pour oil on a fire? I did have a condescending over-privileged student who deflected all efforts to mollify her. I called her out in clear-but-careful language and kept my real feelings in my head.


How about customer service and public relations professionals who get communications from individuals who might be mutant space aliens? Comic Don Novello of Father Guido Sarducci fame once assumed the persona of Lazlo Toth, a crank-letter writer. He published a hysterical book that’s also a textbook on how to write respectful responses to crazy people.   


It's hard to keep it together in all circumstances, but there are two hard-and-fast rules. One: Never drop F-bombs like a junior high school boy when approaching a member of the public. Two: Never lay hands on them unless you are physically endangered. The police officer flunked on both accounts. Get thee to anger management training or find another job.