Posts Tagged ‘painting’

A holiday surprise for those who might still be subscribed to get Hope Street via email.

New Year’s Day in a new kitchen, and two people are doing what people do in kitchens on New Year’s Day.

ME, reaching up to the wall: “We have any need to keep this?”

MY WIFE, cradling her coffee: “Nah.”

I take the 2019 calendar — a lovely job, with artsy food illustrations — down off the wall and step toward the tall kitchen trash bin.

But as I do, I think about my family and calendars, and realize this might be a suitable moment for an update.

Since I last posted here two years ago, I have achieved my dream of returning to New England. I live and work in the Boston area, where I long wanted to be.

It was unsettled at first. My wife and younger son stayed in Pennsylvania for the first nine months while I lived in a small apartment near Boston that served mostly as a storage area for our boxes. Every few weeks I would make the five-plus-hour highway trip back to the Lehigh Valley to pack, clean, and try to be some sort of presence in the life of my family.

Once school ended in June 2019, they set sail and joined me; we managed to get our house in Pennsylvania sold; and now we are all in one place again.

My job takes me to Connecticut a few times a year. I don’t usually go any farther than Hartford, so I haven’t gotten to Stamford yet. But I suspect I will at some point, for pleasure if not for work.

Two weeks ago, while burning a week of vacation, I visited my grandmother’s birthplace of Keene, N.H. (as featured on Hope Street in June 2016). It’s got a cute little downtown; I wouldn’t mind going back sometime.



Just yesterday, I brought a special parcel with me on the train to work. It is a painting of my grandfather’s. I don’t have room to display it at home, so I figure it can enliven my cubicle.


I haven’t quite nailed down the best way to display it.


Accept no substitute.

So, the places and people of Hope Street are still with me.

But back to my kitchen in the suburbs of Boston, and back to the 2019 calendar. It’s in the trash now. There really isn’t a reason to keep it: My family does not put the calendar to the same vigorous use my grandfather did. We’re also generally less inclined to hold on to stuff, following a move to a much smaller home-space.

Still, I took a couple pictures as a farewell to a long and eventful year, and as a final recognition of the calendar’s good and faithful service. A good wall calendar is a very useful thing.

Though if you’re reading this, you already know that…




Best wishes to one and all for a happy and healthy new year (and new decade), until we cross paths again.


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At precisely this time of year in 1974, as summer gave way to the early chill of fall, you could have seen the artwork of Bill Blumenau prominently displayed in a public place.

If you’d cared to look up while filling out your deposit slip, that is.


September 30, 1974. Mets win; Yankees, who are only one game out of first, are idle.


October 30, 1974. The Mets and Yankees are on the golf course.

I don’t know how my grandpa connected with the State National Bank of Connecticut, but they were a pretty big deal in his area, back in the day — no two- or three-branch local player.

A 1977 document made available by the Stamford Historical Society indicates that State National had 42 branch offices at the time they displayed my grandfather’s work.

(I can’t guess at which office my grandfather’s paintings were displayed. But I’m betting it was in Stamford, as there is no indication on the calendar that he had to drive anywhere else to hang or pick up the paintings.)

State National, headquartered in Bridgeport, marked its 114th year in business in 1977. It claimed that year to have America’s oldest continually active national bank charter, tracing back to a bank founded in Stamford in 1863.

While State National reached historic milestones in the ’70s, it was also looking toward the future.

In 1973, the bank introduced what it called “the 25-Hour BanKey Banking Center,” a computerized device that allowed customers with personal checking accounts to perform any one of 12 financial transactions at any time in a secure vestibule.

Twenty-eight of these pre-ATMs were in place at the time my grandfather hung his paintings. Perhaps he bemoaned his luck: Just as he’d scored a nice public placement, the number of potential eyeballs on his work was dropping, because fewer people needed to come to the bank during business hours.

(This is very much a 21st-century perspective, of course. I’m guessing only a tiny percentage of State National’s customers in 1974 used the BanKey Banking Center as a regular, meaningful alternative to going into the bank and doing business with a teller. Times hadn’t changed yet.)

State National would go from celebration to resignation in just about five short years. In 1982, the company — then the fifth-largest bank in Connecticut — agreed to an $86 million takeover by the CBT Corporation, owner of the Connecticut Bank and Trust Co., the state’s largest bank.

If some Googling is correct, the merged CBT-State National later fell under the wing of Bank of New England, which went into bankruptcy liquidation in 1991. (An interesting New York Times article from 1990 about the foundering of Connecticut Bank and Trust can be read here.)

According to Wiki, the remaining Bank of New England assets are now mostly part of Bank of America.

Bank of America has several branches in Stamford — including one at 898 Hope St. — so it’s possible that, through all the changes, the bank office where Bill Blumenau hung his paintings might still be serving customers.

One other note: While my grandfather might have landed a nice setting for his work, he was still paying his dues.

On the first calendar entry shown above, if you look closely, you can see “W.C. Class #6” written in the previous week’s calendar entries (on Sept. 24, to be precise).

That would have represented a watercolor class. I find it kinda cool to think that, even as he was getting his work in front of people, he was still trying to learn.

I bet the people who noticed his work at the bank — and there had to have been at least a few — might not have guessed that they could find him there in town once a week, leaning over a canvas, taking notes and trying to get better.

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“APPOINTMENTS, MEETINGS & OBLIGATIONS,” the top left corner of my grandfather’s calendars chorused, month after month, year after year.

What we find him doing this week … well, it’s definitely an obligation.

My grandpa would often use the tops of his calendars to list chores to be performed at some point during the month. It didn’t really matter when he fertilized the dogwood or got his car tuned up, as long as it happened.

The tumultuous month of October ’73 — think war in the Middle East, an energy crisis at home, and worsening Watergate — found him going downstairs to a funky, long-forgotten part of Hope Street to do some dirty work.

(Or at least I will presume, for the sake of this tale, that he did so. He never crossed the errand off his calendar, so maybe it lingered into November. We know from a prior entry that he had something else on his mind for the first week or two of the month.)

The basement at 1107 Hope Street hasn’t been invoked much in this ongoing yarn. Mainly because it was dark, and seemed only semi-finished, and scared Young Kurt enough that he endeavored not to spend any time there.

I was fine with other people’s basements as long as the lights were on. My other grandparents elsewhere in Stamford had a big sprawling furnished basement that was essentially a first floor, and I didn’t mind that. But the basement on Hope Street seemed cramped and primitive to me, and I was never much interested in going down there.

It was also full of tools, paint and such, being my grandpa’s work space, and I have never had any aptitude for handiwork. Maybe that factored into my distaste for the place as well. Handiwork, in my childhood experience, was what made my dad get mad and swear at stuff; and who would relish that?

Even when I wrote a room-by-room tour of the house on Hope Street a year or two ago, I spent about a sentence-and-a-half in the cellar. That was about all I remembered of it, and all I cared to know.

It’s a measure of the cellar’s utilitarian nature that, try as I might, I cannot remember ever seeing a picture of it.

My grandfather was big on documenting his surroundings — you name it, from the tile in the kitchen to the icicles on the front porch — and he lived in that house for 40-plus years. But to the best of my knowledge, he never brought his camera into the basement. That was the boiler room, where the work got done.

My dad, who grew up in the house, has a few stories that shine more light on the basement than I can.

When my grandfather smoked (my grandfather smoked?), that was the only room in the house where my grandmother would allow it. And my great-grandma used to marinate the beef for sauerbraten by stashing it away in the basement.

My dad had long since moved out by the fall of ’73, when the work room apparently needed some work in and of itself. So he wasn’t there to join my retired grandpa in slapping a fresh coat of paint on the walls.

I was going to suggest it might have been smarter to paint the basement in the summer, so he could open the windows and air the place out.

But the basement on Hope Street was below ground, so I don’t think there were many windows to open. (There was a big metal bulkhead door he could have left open, if he didn’t mind inviting every squirrel in the neighborhood to come stay down cellar.)

That coat of paint in the fall of ’73 could well have been the last coat he ever put on, and thus the coat that was there when I went to visit.

I couldn’t tell you what color it was, though. Everything I cared about was at the top of the stairs, not the bottom.

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I find myself without words this week, and last week’s post leads nicely into a further discussion of the art of Bill Blumenau.

So — with the help of my dad, who took the pix — I’ll devote this week’s installment to a display of some of my grandfather’s paintings and drawings.

It’s possible that some of these were displayed in the 1975 art exhibit I wrote about last week. They might also have been shown in other exhibits in Stamford-area public places in the 1970s and ’80s.

Nowadays, they stay at home. But you can come into the gallery. You can even click the pictures to see ’em bigger, if you want.

Allegedly, the two kids are modeled on my brother and I, dropped into an unfamiliar setting.

Allegedly, the two kids are modeled on my brother and I, dropped into an unfamiliar setting. If you read this blog regularly, you’ve seen that red tuque before.

Here's another painting I've mentioned (but not shown) on the blog before.

Here’s another painting I’ve mentioned (but not shown) on the blog before.

No backstory on this one. Looks like something my grandfather might have photographed in Maine.

No backstory on this one. Looks like something my grandfather might have photographed in Maine.

I wonder where the inspiration for this came from. Personal travels in Stamford or Springfield, Mass., or maybe someone else's photo of New York City?

I wonder where the inspiration for this came from. Personal travels in Stamford or Springfield, Mass., or maybe someone else’s photo of New York City?

I enjoy the boringness of this moment in time - a guy doing his yardwork, perhaps, going into his crumbling back shed. I also love the tiny red splash of the handkerchief in his pocket.

I enjoy the mundanity of this moment in time. I also love the tiny red splash of the handkerchief in his pocket.

Dunno whether this was based on a picture or whether it just came out of my grandpa's imagination. I believe he usually painted from photos.

Always liked this one, myself.

This is based on one of the Keuka Lake pix taken around 1983 and mentioned, but not included, in this post.

This is based on one of the Keuka Lake pix taken around 1983 and mentioned, but not included, in this post.

This appears to me to be drawn, rather than painted, so I'll put it in for variety's sake.

This appears to me to be drawn, rather than painted, so I’ll put it in for variety’s sake.

One last from the coast. The ocean has probably claimed this place by now, wherever it was.

One last from the coast. The ocean has probably claimed this place by now, wherever it was.

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If you’d been in Stamford, Connecticut, around this time 39 years ago, you would have seen a side of Bill Blumenau this blog has never entirely captured.

In fact, if you’d really been on the ball, you could have picked up a Bill Blumenau original for your living-room wall.

Talk about lost opportunities.

September 19 and 20, 1975.

September 19 and 20, 1975.

My brother and I called my grandfather “Drawing Boy,” a name my brother coined to describe his artistic proclivities.

And he did draw: My parents still have a colored charcoal portrait he did in the 1930s, and he drew handmade birthday and holiday cards well into the 1990s. The card he did to celebrate my engagement is on display upstairs in the guest room as I write this.

He also won local awards for his photography, a story longtime readers might remember. He was more into photography than painting when my dad was growing up in the ’50s, by my dad’s recollection.

At some point — probably after his kids moved out in the mid-to-late 1960s — the balance of his artistic interest tipped more toward oil, acrylic and watercolor painting.

His calendars from the late ’60s on include several references to painting and art classes. His photographs from those years include landscapes and scenery that he shot with an eye toward turning them into paintings.

(Barns were favorites of his. Among his photos, there exists a decaying envelope full of snapshots of barns in various stages of collapse.)

And, as early as I can remember, the bedroom at 1107 Hope Street that used to be my aunt’s had been converted into a makeshift studio, with an aluminum folding table set out to hold his supplies and an easel pushed back into the corner when the kids came to visit.

A rocky coast in Maine, circa 1971.

A rocky coast in Maine, circa 1971. No barns, but plenty of painterly ambience.

It appears that, once he’d been working in a format for a while, my grandpa was not shy about putting his work in front of others to see.

His entries in the local paper’s photography contest, detailed in the blog post linked above, are examples. So are the local art shows and exhibitions that begin to pop up on his calendars in the late 1960s and continue into the middle of the next decade.

In the early fall of 1975, his work was on display at one of Stamford’s snazziest new addresses, One Landmark Square.

The building, also known as Landmark Tower (hence the “L. Tower” on the calendar entry), had been completed just two years earlier. At 21 stories high, it ranked as Stamford’s tallest building until 2009.

I’ve seen several mentions of the Stamford Art Association holding exhibitions there over the years. (I emailed the art association, trying to find out if Bill Blumenau was ever a member, but never heard back. Alas.)

My guess is that my grandpa might have had one or two of his paintings displayed alongside the works of others as part of a group art show.

That would make sense — bringing a touch of color and some more foot traffic to the new local skyscraper, while giving local artists a distinctive platform to show off their work. And certainly, my grandpa was not well-known enough outside of his own house to command an entire show of his own work.

I don’t know whether my grandpa sold any of his paintings from this show. My limited knowledge of such things suggests there is usually a price tag available for the art on display, and if an art lover wants to make an offer, free enterprise runs its course.

I like the thought that somebody somewhere in western Connecticut has a Bill Blumenau original on their wall, or even in their attic, as a result of one of these kinds of events.

My grandpa’s painting style was realistic, of the sort that would have pleased a general audience. I find it easy to imagine someone liked his work enough to want to bring it home. It is perhaps a long shot to think that one of his paintings is still up in someone’s living room … but I find it a pleasant thought.

A not-very-well-photographed sample of Bill Blumenau's work.

A not-very-well-photographed sample of Bill Blumenau’s work.

The same, only different.

The same, only different. This entry really deserves better photography … but.

At some point when my parents finally downsize, my house will be home to the world’s largest collection of Bill Blumenau’s paintings. Not sure what I’ll do then.

Hold an art exhibit, maybe?

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