I get to know Northampton, a small city in western Massachusetts, as my daughter started her college last year. She goes to University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Amherst, a neighboring city of Northampton and we always pass by Northampton before reaching Amherst by car or train. My first encounter of Noho, the city’s nickname, was an eye-opening. The city is so charming with rows of 19th century buildings along its main streets. The downtown area especially, oozes that charm. For someone who has never come here, let alone heard about Northampton, I was in awe and felt dumbfounded. Every time we come to Amherst either dropping-off or picking-up our daughter from her dorm , or me having a solo trip to attend UMass Symphony Orchestra concerts (our daughter plays violin with them), I’d make sure I’ll visit Northampton and strolling down its beautiful downtown area. My love for old buildings, history and architecture find its way in this city. Thomas Cole, my favorite landscape painter who established the Hudson River School, painted the Oxbow in 1836 depicting a romantic panorama of Connecticut River Valley after the thunderstorm as viewed from Mount Holyoke in Northampton. It showed how he loved Northampton and its environment.
The city was called “Norwottuck” or “Nonotuck” by the native inhabitants of the area which was the Pocumtuc. The name means “the midst of the river” and Northampton is situated by Connecticut River. Its splendid surrounding has attracted many, including the “Swedish Nightingale” – Jenny Lind, a famous opera singer, who thought Northampton as “Paradise of America”. That’s how this city’s other nickname is the Paradise City. Noho is known as the city with cultural, arts, educational and historical background where Christian revival, slave abolitionist, artists and people with eclectic lifestyle thrive. Clarke School for Hearings and Speech was established here in 1867 which was United State’s first oral school for the deaf. Alexander Graham Bell was one of their school leaders. Other educational establishment founded in Northampton is Smith College, a private liberal art college for women, founded in 1871. Their famous alumni are Julia Child, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan – both were US first ladies, and also American poet and writer, Sylvia Plath.
When I feel like it, I sketch. Often times though, even when I brought along my sketch book, set of pencils and pens anywhere, I had to have a certain mood to really want to sketch. Sometimes my hand was already tired from doing a lot of chores, that even when I set my heart to sketch, my hand seemed abstaining from doing anything. So I might ended up sitting somewhere with my sketch book open and blank page. But when those moments came, I could sit for the longest time to sketch. Who would want to care for the dirty dishes or unprepared meal anyway? (Wink).
These are three of my latest sketches and I intent to make as many as I can and create a sketch journal. But I know my limit and my mood, unfortunately. I did my first sketch after my kids, their friends from the music camp and their teachers had a picnic. I cooked some fried rice for them and the picnic went so well and everybody was happy. A friend of mine who also a mother of a student at the camp, and her daughter, and I kept on picnicking under the shadow of some trees at Yale Cross Campus after everybody else went back to their activity. We had a wonderful time chatting and after my friend and her daughter left, I did my sketch. My object was the building of Calhoun College. A few months back, there was a protest wanting the school (Yale) to replace the name of Calhoun College due to the character behind the name, John C. Calhoun, who was a statesman who believed in slavery. Calhoun was a former US vice president.
The sketch book that I use now is my second sketch book. It’s thinner and smaller than the first one that’s already full. The book has red cover. I fell in love with it when I saw it at the arts & craft store. I did my second sketch during our visit to the beach. We live quite near the beach and I promised my younger daughter and son to go to the beach when the weather became cooler one late afternoon. Summer has been crazy for us with several days of heat wave. So while my kids kept themselves busy by playing frisbee and walking to a small island that we could only reach when it was low tide, I sketched. Basically, I was left alone minding my own business. My sketch object was part of the Bradley Point that has several big trees with benches under them.
When one day I took my younger daughter along to find a “good place” to sketch, I told her to bring a book. At first, she was bored, but then she sat nicely reading her book and watching the people who passed by us. We chatted and laughed at some people who looked silly or did something awkward. We were sitting on a stone bench near Sterling Library at Yale Campus. The weather was fine that day. I decided to sketch the Harkness Hall because I wanted to learn again about drawing perspective. It’s been a while since I sketch or draw something in perspective. My skill kinda dull at the moment. By the way, I chose sepia colored pens to sketch because it reminds me of old photographs. I sure hope I will continue to sketch more and create another journal to share.
Battell Chapel is the largest chapel in the city of New Haven in Connecticut. Since my eldest daughter has several orchestra rehearsals dan concerts in this chapel, I became aware of its grand stained-glass windows. From the outside, Battell Chapel looks like another ordinary stone building in downtown New Haven, which was the first planned city in America. New Haven became a city in 1784 and has thrived because of Yale College (now Yale University), the 3rd oldest college in United State. Battell Chapel was established through donations of Joseph Battell and his family who dedicated the chapel as a memorial for the Civil War. The style of the chapel is High Victorian Gothic and designed by Russell Sturgis, Jr. I love being inside the chapel admiring the glass works that are shown around it. The designs, motifs and colors of the stained-glass windows are stunning. I usually didn’t stay inside while waiting for my daughter practicing, but the last time the orchestra had a rehearsal, I tried to take as many pictures as possible of the stained-glass windows. My favorites are the windows that I’m putting first in this journal. Among the stained-glass windows that adorned Battell Chapel, one of them was created by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the master of the stained-glass art (the last picture). Battell Chapel almost always open for public everyday. People can come and astonished by the interior inside this historic building. When the sun shines at certain angles through some of the windows, it’d create a dramatic scene that you don’t want to miss.
One day, I walked pass by the street in Manhattan and saw the Chrysler Building almost two hours before sunset came. Sunlight reflected on its gleaming metal body creating a pink hue. I was mesmerized. Standing on the edge of busy Manhattan street, I took several shots of the building that its luster lasts through century. A friend told me how she loves Chrysler Building and wants to visit it someday and I promised her to take some shots if I ever near the vicinity. I went inside a store that lines up Fifth Avenue without caring about the change of scenery outside. Darkness fell and it seemed making Manhattan subdued. The footsteps of some tourists and people coming home from work became less and less. Meanwhile on the other part of the city, people flocked in Times Square where neon lights were the attractions as if moths to the flame. Chrysler Building and its twinkling lights seen from afar, like a lighthouse guiding some weary and tired people, like me, towards another destination to reach home, Grand Central Terminal. I walked down an alley where I heard the tinkling of utensils and glasses from a restaurant nearby. I saw a couple set up a tripod and took some pictures of the Chrysler Building. The mix smell of dust, old buildings, weather and pee wafted in the alley way. Between the light and the dark, people can get lost in its mystery.
As I typed this journal, I remember a discussion between me and a beloved one about sleeping in the dark. I need a sliver of light, just a small source of light, to be able to sleep. I’ve tried sleeping in the dark and it’s hard for me to concentrate. The mystery of the dark makes my mind working on a weird scenario. He said, sleeping in darkness makes his other senses more apparent. I suppose he’s right. I listen attentively when I slept in the dark and sometimes I chose to stay in the dark when migraine hit me. During the full moon, I let the curtain open a little bit to let the light get into the room and it felt somewhat calmer. Back in Manhattan, where the wind blew strong and picked up some strewn papers and plastic bags, I saw a man sleeping in front of a closed store. He covered his face with his hat, perhaps wanting to hide from the Manhattan lights that can be blinding to someone who just wanted to have a goodnight sleep.
In this part of Tarrytown, you won’t find the Headless Horseman mentioned in Washington Irving’s story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In this part of Washington Irving’s story is his Sunnyside home and what an exquisite home it is. I took the kids on one weekend to this small cottage that garnered the artsy-touch of Washington Irving. The house is nestled behind some wooden area behind the gift shop. We were welcomed at the gift shop with the rest of the visitors to buy the ticket admission. Then at a certain time, a tour guide wearing a hoop skirt in small purple flowers motif and a knitted hair cap with two long purple bows, greeted us and took us to Sunnyside. Along the path that we walked through, we passed a huge tree that is more than 300 years old. It guards the surrounding like an ancient grandfather. The short distance that we took was filled with the guide’s stories and informations, not to mention, the twittering of the birds.
The house that Washington Irving called home used to be a farmhouse owned by a Dutch-American man, that he bought in 1835. When we came upon the house, I was stunned. Sunnyside is not as sunny as I thought it would, perhaps it’s because of the wisteria vines that draped the house that Washington Irving himself chose to plant. When we came, the wisteria has already bloomed, so what we saw was more like overgrowth rather than something beautiful. The entangled, crisscrossing vines, toppled on top of another, give the house an added flair of an antique building. The influences of Dutch-Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival and Scottish Gothic, was proof of how deeply Washington Irving understood about the architecture of Sunnyside. The guide took us inside the house and we went into room by room, including Washington Irving’s study where he acknowledged as the Father of American Literature. Sunnyside is a quaint house with a beautiful view of the Hudson River, that one time noted Charles Dickens as its guest. Each corner of the house possesses its unique story just like the master of the house, the great Washington Irving.
When I was about 8, I knew a new word of “an architect”. I was curious of the meaning and my mom told me an architect is a person whose work is to design a building. I said to my self,”Wow! To design a building?” Since then if someone asked me what I wanted to become when I’m older, I would say,”I wanted to become an architect”. But unfortunately, I’m not really into formulas in math or physics, whereas those two are needed to study architecture. Oh well, I’m more leaning towards the art of the design itself, rather than building a structure. I enjoy looking at a building in details and feasted all the nooks and crannies of it to my heart content. I become a fan of an architecture study. I learn about the style of a building, which era it was designed and how the custom and art background from the architect influenced it. My amazement at an architecture of a building sometimes implemented in the photos I took wherever I go, but lately I wanted to draw it rather than take some pictures of it. That’s what I did and I want to do it more often, if I have plenty of time to absorb all the details that I see from a certain building.
I drew the first sketch during my son’s ensemble class. The class is on the 3rd floor of the music school where our kids have been studying for years. The big window in the class overlooks an old building that I could see from where I sat. It was Fall and the scenery was beautiful with the falling leaves on the ground and the leafless trees. The building itself is one of a landmark building in New Haven, Connecticut. Its called the Kingsley & Havenmeyer House that was built in 1850. Then weeks after that (I drew other images instead meanwhile), I sketched one of the building at Yale University campus. My object was a building called the Street Hall that was built in 1864. The red stones that becomes a significant of the building looks contrast comparing to other buildings that over all are in grey. While drawing the Street Hall, my son and I were having lunch at Panera Bread across the building. My son became restless, because he didn’t want me to finish my sketch. So I asked him to join me drawing whatever things he saw. Sure did, it worked! That became our first drawing session. Then another chance came to sketch another building, when I took my son to Yale-British Art Gallery. From the huge window on the 3rd floor gallery, I could see the street below and Yale Art Gallery across the street. We decided to sit before the window. My son and I were actually enjoying our second drawing session with some chats and jokes. I added more details at home as much as I could with the help of some pictures I took with my cellphone. I was ecstatic with the image of the bridge that connected the Old Yale Art Gallery with the Street Hall. Nowadays, I can’t wait for another time to just sit and sketch somewhere, admiring a building as an artwork, as of admiring a painting. An architect is somewhat an artist too.
The Kingsley & Havenmeyer House, circa 1850 seen from the 3rd floor of Neighborhood Music School
Street Hall – Corner of Chapel St. & High St., Yale Campus, circa 1864
The bridge of the Olde Yale Art Gallery to Street Hall over High St., circa 1928