My friend and presidential portrait artist, Jane Spalholz, invited me to ride with her up to Rhode Island from our town, Huntington, Long Island the other day, to visit the birthplace and museum of American presidential portrait artist Gilbert Stuart..
A likeness of Gilbert Stuart the artist, best known for his presidential portraits of
George Washington, and other founding fathers.
Jane was invited to exhibit her portrait of George in the annual fund raiser for the museum.
It is hard to start describing the site because there are so many things about this museum that held interest for me: the restored mills, the gardens, the pond, the interiors with historical artifacts, and just the tranquility.
This is the 18th century grist mill
used for grinding corn. ( A millstone on display)
Stuart's home and birthplace doubled as a mill also. His father was the first to grind local tobacco into Snuff in the new colonies.
The wheels are powered by the water coursing from the millpond.
The amount of water shooting onto the wooden waterwheels is regulated by a clever device.
The mill with its wheels and dam interfered with a local species of fish, the River Herring. The stream had an active population of fish which migrated from fresh water to salt water, as Salmon do. Because the mill dam was an obstacle , a "ladder" ( the Alaskan Steep Pass) was built to allow the fish to swim upstream to spawn in the pond. The water's action attracts the fish.
When millstones needed to be sharpened and since they were incredibly heavy, a crane with a special clamp was needed. A volunteer demonstrates a device that attaches onto a millstone, notching the pin ends into holes on either side of the stone. Looks like a giant ice pick.
Inside the 1750 birthplace, we entered into a front room with a self portrait of the artist
on the left of a period desk and chair.
The small room next to the entry is, according to documents, the birthplace of the artist. A charming image of a painting that Stuart did when he was only 13 years old hangs there as well. His subjects are two spaniels under a highboy.
Another bedroom holds a cannonball bed with a reproduction of the famous portrait which was used for our one dollar bill.
Near this bed is a cradle with a rope bed "wrench," used to tighten the supporting ropes under the bed's mattress.
The great room with
reproductions of several founder's portraits.
We climbed down the narrow stairs to the lower level where we saw
another cooking fireplace with a reflector oven,
brick bread oven, bellows, toaster, a crane loaded with iron hooks to hold the cooking pots, and bread peels.
A walking wool wheel and skeins of naturally dyed yarn.
The most amazing artifact of this museum is the mill for grinding Snuff.
It is actually a period grinder that was donated by a gentleman in Europe to complete the mill's restoration. The movement of a mortar and pestle along side the grinder, was used to illustrate how this grinder works on tobacco.
We were advised by the docent that a huge stone millstone was not necessary to grind tobacco into snuff. This unique round ball of a stone was the technology of the day to accomplish that task.
The hopper below collected the snuff as the ball made its rounds. It is said that because Gilbert Stuart father was the snuff merchant, and since he was exposed to the habit all of his life he was probably addicted to the the powder.
The day was perfect, the weather lovely,the gardens special. Here is a clump of Joe Pie Weed,
Cattalls growing in the boggy areas,
and other traditional perennials, lovingly planted around the museum buildings.
For all you birders, the feeder filled with sunflower seeds attracted American Goldfinches,
and the Hummingbird feeder was the center of interest for many, many greenish Hummingbirds frantically darting back and forth. They were unusually friendly and I got within inches of their flock at this feeder.
For information about this wonderful historic site click here.
There are picnic tables and benches under huge trees, so bring lunch for yourself.