Monday, October 13, 2014

The Home Monthly Magazine comes to The Lobster Pot

Durkee-Web-Oct. Bee-with-flower
Insects continue to enjoy phlox into the fall. — Bryan Haeffele photo
The Sunken Garden in July   photo Susan Durkee

As summer shifts into autumn, yard work for many means raking leaves and moving the outdoor furniture indoors or covering it to withstand winter. Whatever color is in the yard comes from Mother Nature’s annual fall spectacular as the deciduous leaves change from green to reds, golds and oranges, the conifers retaining their green. Goldenrod continues to wave on some less tamed properties, and perhaps pots of mums provide bursts of color on patios and porches.

The Topiary Garden



One of many frog images that can be found throughout the property. — Bryan Haeffele photo

But the properties of passionate gardeners continue to delight the eye with a profusion of flowering plants — whites, pinks and lavenders still visible amid autumnal colors. One such garden belongs to Susan Durkee of Redding, who describes her 2.25-acre property as “a 30-year work in progress.”

While changing daily, in late September in addition to the last blooms of roses, the following were still in evidence: perennial ageratum, coneflower, black-eyed Susans, hardy mums, second flower phlox and beebalm, alyssum, hydrangeas, lobelia, late summer blooming daylilies, moonbeam coreopsis, burning bush, fall crocus (which are far larger than those that are the first harbinger of spring), obedience plant, gooseneck loosestrife, sedum, asters, foxglove, Long Island daisies, Russian sage, wood anemone, and annual bedding plants, including self-seeding cleome.

Among the shrubs, trees and groundcover that give the gardens texture are boxwood, junipers, rhododendrons, azaleas, ilex, pachysandra, andromeda, hemlock, conical arborvitae, and cedar.

“You’re more aware of the texture, such as tiger grass with its fluffy tassels, and cooler-colored flowers — not the hot colors of summer,” Susan notes, “and stone walls, gnarled branches and other things that provide structure are more evident in the fall.”


Property lines

The property has come a long way under her dedication. When Susan first became aware of the property and the small house on it — which had been built in the footprint of an old saltbox that burned down in the 1950s and had not been occupied in 14 years — it was part of a large, two-parcel offering that itself had been spun off of Mark Twain’s original 227-acre estate, Stormfield. The original house had been occupied by Twain’s social secretary, Isabel Lyon. Susan felt drawn to the property and knew the then-new owner had no interest in the house and asked if he was willing to sell it and the smaller parcel to her.

The property has come a long way under Susan’s dedication. — Susan Durkee photo

Standing on the raised stone terrace (there are pictures of Twain sitting on its stone wall) overlooking the backyard, Susan can only shake her head at the memory of what she first encountered. “The only thing here was the overgrown 80- by 30-foot sunken garden — and that had some grass in the middle and some struggling lilies in the beds, which had been overtaken by pachysandra,” she recalls. “Woods filled with prickly bushes went down to the road on the left, a field was on the right. There were two andromedas and some mountain laurel, as well as the remnants of an orchard.” Fruit trees now consist of three apples and “one very happy peach.”

Today, seven-foot-wide beds hug the stone walls of the sunken garden, offering blooms throughout the warmer months, with the spring profusion of tulips and daffodils, the June irises, peonies and poppies and July burst of lilies particularly stunning. In the lawn’s center, an elevated urn surrounded by boxwoods holds additional blooms and a seating area at the far end, backed by junipers that conceal additional gardens.

A long row of tall hemlock and conical arborvitae marks the shared property border — not much more than sticks when they went in — and hides the deer fence. A small vegetable garden — “the usual tomatoes, pole beans, lettuce, eggplant, zucchini, squash, and green peppers” — sits within an enclosure farther back on that side.

Walking the lawn encircling the sunken garden takes you past the junipers into an area lined with hostas — there are five varieties on the property, one still blooming in September — which when in bloom sway in the breeze and are interspersed with low pink and white flowers.


The large fall crocuses provide splashes of color as they lie close to the ground. — Bryan Haeffele photo

Mother Nature

With the exception of planting some trees and shrubs, Susan has done virtually all of the heavy lifting, planting and maintenance of the gardens. “I’ve always been athletic,” she notes, “and I consider gardening great exercise.” Plus, self-deprecating about her five-foot stature, “being low to the ground makes it easy to dig.”

A professional painter, primarily of portraits, she also acknowledges that working in a studio on the property makes it easier to do all the maintenance. “If I need a break or get stuck on my work, I can just step outside and be among nature, and then the solution will come and I go back inside.” She frequently deadheads — snapping off spent flowers, which encourages another growth — during such breaks.
And while she often photographs the gardens, she rarely paints them, noting landscape painting “has a different language of color and brushstrokes than portrait or still-life painting.” She is generous, however, in opening her property to other artists and gardening groups for tours.

Susan’s gardens have more evolved than come from a specific plan. “Plants have a determination of their own where they want to be,” she says. “Plus, when you start dividing things, you have to put them somewhere, and the next thing you know, you clean a space for them and have another garden area …”

The fall crocuses, which she continues to divide, were a gift 23 years ago, and offer splashes of color in a variety of spots. Her artist’s eye is evident throughout with the balance of sizes, shapes and colors, the addition of an arch, birdhouse or seating area to give the viewing eye a place to rest.

Pink Rhododendrons dot the property in spring — Susan Durkee photo

Behind the barn that serves as the studio and office of Susan and her husband, Terry Vontobel, is a boxwood and ilex shrub topiary garden that features both animal and geometric shapes, as well as a dozen frog figures. “When children visit this area, I like to ask them how many they can find. I also especially like this area in the winter when the topiaries are dusted in snow,” Susan says.

She also notes that if you want those potted mums to bloom again, don’t plant them now when they don’t have enough time to acclimate, but overwinter them in the basement or garage, cut back, then plant in the spring.

Love Bird Fountain in the walled Rose Garden 


Topiary garden as shown from the Studio Balcony  photo Susan Durkee

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dangerous Intimacy A Documentary Filming at The Lobster Pot and Redding Environs

There is so much interest in Mark Twain and so little known about his last years, that it is wonderful that recently  numerous books have been published about Mark Twain last years.  Also, with his last volume of his autobiography coming out in 2015...this will really focus and Mark Twain's time in Redding Ct, his last home, his relationships and his important last writings.

Twain loved Redding and built a Florentine Style mansion called Stormfield, on the acreage that once was my property, (aka The Lobster Pot). Mark Twain gave the old salt box, which he called The Lobster Pot, to Isabel Lyon, a woman that was his (controversial) companion for the years after Livy's,( Mark Twain's wife's), death. If you look on some of the other posts in this blog you will find a lot of information and pictures of Isabel Lyon, (my oil portrait of Isabel is shown below).

Below are photos of the filming of the Documentary  "Dangerous Intimacy"  produced by Richard Altomonte, based on the book by Karen Lystra. The full length Documentary film can be purchased at

Much of the Documentary was filmed at The Lobster Pot, also at the Mark Twain Library, New Pond Farm and Cindy and Brian Meehl's home in Redding, Ct. (which was also  part of the original Stormfield property). Cindy was very gracious to lend two of her precious horses for the filming, Red and Lilly. Cindy has a role in the film as Jean Clemen's riding companion when Jean had the train accident. Also, my sister, Deborah, plays Katie Leary, the Clemen's long time maid. There is a scene in the Doc. in the Lobster Pot sunken garden where Jean attacks Katy. 

In the Documentary I portray Jean Clemens..she is about 29 years old...obviously no close ups.....


  To see a 2 minute clip of this Documentary go to:

In these scenes at The Lobster Pot:  Top row we see Jean Clemens attacking Katy Leary in the sunken garden and Jean's fateful ride with her companion where Jean's horse is killed by a train and Jean breaks her leg.

In these scenes starting at top: Jean is at the Sanitarium missing her father and sister Clara, in center pictures Jean is having an epileptic fit, and bottom pictures Jean and Katy are setting up for the attack scene. (that's me and my sister in my sunken garden...what fun we had that day)

Jeans snow scene ride

Isabel Lyon, oil on linen 30 x 24,  Collection of the artist


This Documentary can be purchased thru Amazon

Please view other posts to find out more about Isabel Lyon  and The Lobster Pot

To see more art work by the artist and learn about The Lobster Pot visit:


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Lobster Pot Gardens, the Color of Fall

The Topiary Garden from the Studio Balcony

Woodland Anemone

Preying Mantis looking for next victum

The Topiary Turkey

Twain's Love Birds Fountain n the walled Rose Garden


Cappy Patrolling

Fall Crocuses

To visit the Lobster Pot Studio and see the artwork of Susan Boone Durkee go to:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Jim Thorpe Portrait and the Pro Football Hall of Fame

How exciting..My portrait of Jim Thorpe, The Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century, is now in the collection of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Jim Thorpe would be so very pleased to know that his portrait will hang at the Hall of Fame. Jim was truly an icon and an incredibly gifted athlete in every sport. He played for the Canton Bulldogs and was first president of the NFL (first known as American Professional Football Association).  In 2011, my portrait of Jim Thorpe, won the Founders Award at the National Art Museum of Sport. I am very honored to have my portrait of Jim at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.The portrait now hangs proudly just outside the Hall of Fame Inductee Room.

Jim Thorpe's portrait outside the Hall of Fame Room

"Jim Thorpe, The Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century"  

In this  award winning portrait I have placed  some of the sports he excelled at around his portrait and have added his Native American name, Wa-tho-huck, meaning Bright Path

Jim Thorpe's presence is everywhere at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Here in this photo is Jim greeting all that enter.

Standing with Jason Aikens, the Collections Curator with the portrait of Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe's uniform and championship silver bowl

Jim Thorpe's Football sweater

This sculpture of Jim Thorpe is in the center and heart  of the  Pro Football Hall of Fame

Jim Thorpe's Hall head sculpture in the inductee Hall of Fame Room

Jim Thorpe's Olympic jacket

The Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton Ohio

To see more artwork by portrait artist Susan Boone Durkee please go to her website: