Archive for October, 2012
John James Audubon China Cup, Formerly at Mill Grove, by Tasha O’Neill
On a scintillating autumnal Sunday, two Princeton friends and I recently crossed the Delaware, then the Schuylkill Rivers, on pilgrimage to John James Audubon’s first American home — Mill Grove.
Mill Grove, by Tasha O’Neill
Over near Valley Forge, this mansion (referred to as ‘farm home and barn’ in professional literature) presides high on a wooded slope over Perkiomen Creek. In these woods, John James Audubon, fresh from Napoleonic France, encountered and grew enchanted by the birds and animals of his new country.
Birds as Audubon Painted Them, formerly at Mill Grove, by Tasha O’Neill
One of our first (and often controversial) naturalists, this man remains our most superb avian artist. No one equals his composition, exact depictions of vital habitat, even drama.
Chair of Audubon’s Era, Formerly at Mill Grove — Tasha O’Neill
One autumn, in a cave on the property, this young man tied silver threads onto phoebe legs, America’s first bird-banding. He would watch in delight as the migratory silver-marked pair returned the following spring.
Here the graceful Frenchman successfully courted neighbor Lucy Bakewell, his lifelong love. As his wife, through her gifted piano teaching, Lucy supported John James throughout major physical and financial perils. Without her loyalty and persistence, letters of encouragement, and financial acumen, we would not have the spectacular The Birds of America. This double-elephant folio edition, in which John James rendered birds life-size, was engraved and hand-painted by brilliant colorists in London between 1826 and 1839.
Ice Skates of Audubon Era, Tasha O’Neill
Each set cost $1000, by subscription, in 1827-1839. Each set is, today, beyond price. One resides at Mill Grove, glowing like crown jewels in its locked glass case.
After John James’ (to me premature) death, Lucy went on to found the society we know as Audubon. She dared protest and bring to a stop the killing of birds to decorate hats, dresses. suits, and fill curio cases, of women of her time. With this petite, determined woman, preservation took a giant and reverberant leap.
Strung Eggs and Sketches, Formerly at Mill Grove, Tasha O’Neill
Mill Grove is a dreamy place, suffused with river mists, dappled by lofty trees. My hiking and birding friends and I began our Sunday visit with a peaceful interlude on what had been the front (waterway-facing) porch. Rocking, as John James may have, we scanned woods, water and horizon for winged creatures. After our long [Pennsylvania Turnpike] journey, we were granted timeless contentment. On John James’ porch, we were transported far from 21st-century strife.
Somewhere on the property are remnants of the lead and copper mine to which this young man was consigned as manager by his father back in Napoleon’s France. My theory is that the lad’s arrival on these shores was to keep him out of the Emperor’s ‘hands’ and armies.
Reading of Audubon’s voyages in quest of bird, and later of mammal subjects for The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, it’s clear that this man required the outdoors. It’s hard to imagine that immigrant, –famous for silks, satins and skating–, spending significant time in a lead and copper mine. As a manager, here and in Kentucky, he was not a success. But his images of birds and their habitat have never been surpassed.
Fireplace, Mill Grove, Audubon Bedroom, Tasha O’Neill
We were warmly welcomed in the outstanding gift shop; questions answered as needed before, during and after our visit; treated to a lively video setting the stage for Audubon’s Mill Grove existence. Particularly helpful is Nancy Powell, Senior Curator. Their Staff will even advise and/or send restaurant and hotel information (two excellent choices mere blocks from Mill Grove’s gate.) We came home with books, Audubon note cards, and handsome items of clothing, some portion of which sales support the Center’s preservation and education mission.
Former Set-Up of Audubon Bedroom, Mill Grove Tasha O’Neill
Many programs are run in all seasons to educate and delight the public. HIkes, lectures, Important Bird Area programs, Backyard Birding presentations, even birding-by-canoe on the Perkiomen, are among the possibilities. If I lived nearer, I would be at Mill Grove every month. They also present sequential art exhibitions by nature artists of today.
Tasha O’Neil’s splendid interior pictures render scenes from our early springtime visit some years ago. Photographs are not permitted inside, because of the fragile nature of this superb art. So I cannot give you my scenes of Sunday’s riveting interior experience.
Mill Grove literature informs that, due to a series of owners, nothing at Mill Grove actually belonged to Audubon. Today’s interior rooms are not set up as they were when Tasha and I were there, officially, for a journalistic assignment, with permission to photograph. The artist’s presence, however, remains palpable throughout.
This week, we were all enthralled with this aura, as well as the Center’s informative and even playful artistic and scientific displays on three floors.
Lively murals tell the story of Audubon’s travels in search of knowledge and images, painted by Philadelphia artists George Harding and John Hanlen in the 1950’s.
Kentucky Scenes, Upstairs Mural, Tasha O’Neill
The property belonged to the Herbert J. Wetherill family, until transferred to Montgomery County, PA, in 1951. “The Audubon Shrine and Wildlife Sanctuary” was rechristened “The John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove,” “a Montgomery-County-owned historic site under the daily management of the National Audubon Society”, in 2003.
Raptor and Large Strung (Turkey) Eggs by Tasha O’Neill
On Tasha’s and my visit, we were so enthralled by interior ‘richesse’, that we never had time for a hike. This time, we purposely accomplished the aesthetic/historic and the natural. We enjoyed dappled interludes in woods John James would have explored, although not on trails!
As birders, it’s gratifying to know that birds who had been injured and rehabilitated are utilized for teaching by the Audubon Center. Staff and volunteers have been precisely trained to care for and handle these birds, brought to them by licensed rehabilitators. Schools and other public settings are the richer for these avian experiences.
Tasha O’Neill Former Scene, Mill Grove, Turkey, Eggs, and Sketch
It is sobering though, –walking the woods between John’s and Lucy’s homes (though still present, hers is not open to the public–), to consider the significance of Mill Grove’s woods, waters and creatures. Without this site, the world have been denied John James’ spectacular art and natural history.
Species thriving today could well have vanished with the dodo and the passenger pigeon, were it not for the love of John James’ life, Lucy Bakewell Audubon.
John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove
Museum and Gift Shop Hours
Closed Mondays and Major Holidays
1201 Pawlings Road
Audubon, PA 19403
Double Brook Farm Autumn Zinnias by Tasha O’Neill
Those of you who know me, know [-- long before my own year in Provence --] that my favorite fragrance in the entire world is lavender. A close second, –with the added benefit of that pungent evergreen flavor–, is rosemary. When I lived in Cannes, lavender honey was the key treat of weekly visits to its marche/market. Fresh herbs were a given, in that land where the mistral infused the very air with rosemary. However, never did I expect to taste rosemary ice cream.
[As a food stylist in Manhattan, there was nothing trickier than photographing ice cream --Robin McConaughy's masterful image of their unforgettable new specialty: ]
Robin McConaughy’s Rosemary-Caramel Ice Cream!
I tasted this remarkable creation, –rich as Devonshire cream, darkly complex with caramel, redolent of rosemary–, in next-door Hopewell, at Double Brook farm. There is no better flavoring for lamb — but ice cream? Splendid, never-to-be-forgotten, and probably unequaled. Even Shakespeare insists, “rosemary — that’s for remembrance.”
Double Brook Farm Fresh Bean Array by Tasha O’Neill
Those of you who read D&R Greenway newsletters and the local media, know well that sustainable farming is alive and well in Hopewell, thanks to Robin and Jon McConaughy. This past Friday, friend and fine-art-photographer Tasha O’Neill attended Jon and Robin’s Friday farm produce sale, our first visit to the farm for that purpose.
Double Brook Farm Hot Peppers by Tasha O’Neill
(This energetic young couple had hosted D&R Greenway’s Down-to-Earth Ball a year ago. Their handsome cattle are carefully moved a prescribed number of times per day, from grass field to grass field, on D&R Greenway’s St. Michaels Farm Preserve off Aunt Molly Road in Hopewell.)
Double Brook Farm Tomatilloes, Tasha O’Neill
THIS day, Tasha and I encountered Double Brook Farm’s raison d’etre, FRESH LOCAL PRODUCE and salumi (exotic meats from their own tenderly animals — Tasha bought lardo and I soppresata) cameras in hand. She was kind enough to send her images this morning, so I’m sharing them with you.
Double Brook Farm Salumi, Slow-Food-Snail-Seal-of-Approval Tasha O’Neill
As we insist, over and over in these virtual pages, New Jersey is beautiful. She produces such spectacular produce, ‘right in our own back yards.’
Garden State Bounty, Double Brook Farm by Tasha O’Neill
Here is Double Brooks web-site — Robin herself could be a fine art photographer: http://www.doublebrookfarm.com/
Double Brook Okra by Tasha O’Neill
Put yourself on Robin’s e-mail list, so you’ll know when the farmstand is open again. When the store on #518 is fully restored and providing this sort of bounty year-round. When the restaurant, on #518, that exquisite red brick home, is brought back to life and its brick-lined paths trimmed and ready for visitors. Tasha and I and I had been invited to explore the flower paths, the herb gardens behind the soon-to-be restaurants. But we “had promises to keep…”, in another dear old NJ Town, Kingston. So we don’t have herb pictures for you.
Robin’s and Jon’s Rubies - Red Onions of Double Brook Farm by Tasha O’Neill
But we do have some of the essence of Double Brook Farm in these new scenes.
Succulent, Tender, Subtly Irresistible Shiitakes of Double Brook by Tasha O’Neill
I am awash in gratitude, as you know, to those who KEEP THE meaning of GARDEN in the Garden State.
Preserved Farm, Salem County, New Jersey cfe
I thank you for reading NJ WILD so often and so studiously. Last month’s statistics included 3500 viewers, most of you staying on for a page and a half, from virtually every country/continent. How can that be? Because New Jersey is beautiful and bountiful, and we’re lucky enough to live and farm-shop here!