Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mark Twain and The Lobster Pot an interview on WSHU PUBLIC RADIO

WSHU  NPR PUBLIC RADIO archived interview: Copy and Paste link below

 Alison Freeland visits portrait artist and "Twainiac" Susan Boone Durkee at The Lobster Pot, property once owned by Mark Twain.

To meet the Artist and visit The Lobster Pot Studio, please click on the link below to see a delightful 4 minute film created by PBS Director/Producer James Nicoloro


See below paintings by artist Susan B. Durkee and photos of The Lobster Pot

"The Redding Mark Twain" 

This original oil on canvas portrait of "The Redding Mark Twain" is now available for sale as a limited edition print, for more information please  contact the Artist.


Mark Twain and Friend oil on canvas by Susan B . Durkee

This original oil on canvas portrait of "Mark Twain and Friend" is now available for sale as a limited edition print, please contact the artist for prices and sizes.



  Mark Twain and Isabel Lyon

Isabel Lyon

Collection of the Artist, oil on linen 30 x 24

Mark Twain and Isabel Lyon
An untold Story

By Susan Boone Durkee

Isabel Van Kleek Lyon

The relationship between Isabel Lyon and Mark Twain has basically been kept a secret for nearly 70 years. How can that be? Here is a woman about whom Twain himself said he knew most intimately in all the world -- with the exception of his wife, Livy.

Mark Twain first met Isabel Lyon in 1892, when she was 29 and working as a Governess for a Hartford family. He encountered her at a party while he was playing charades, and he was so charmed by her that at the end of the evening, when invited to return, he replied: “I’ll come only if I can play with the little Governess.”

When Isabel Lyon first came to work for the Clemens family in 1902, Twain described her as “slender, petite, comely, 39 years old by the almanac, and 17 in ways and carriage and dress.” A charming woman, hard working and competent she soon took responsibility for the entire Clemens household.

After Livy’s death in 1904, Isabel became Mark Twain’s secretary, bookkeeper, household manager, social companion, literary critic, and holder of his power of attorney. For a period she lived at Stormfield with Twain.  Supposedly her bedroom was next to his and her office was located just inside Stormfield’s  front hall on the left.

Intelligent, and sensitive, Isabel worshiped Twain, referring to him as “The King.” He, in turn, called her “The Lioness.” Isabel staggered under the demands that Twain placed on her. As Twain described her,

“Miss Lyon runs Clara, and Jean, and me, and the servants, and the housekeeping, and the house building, and the secretary work, and remains as extraordinarily as competent as ever.”

In her diary, Isabel records:

“I have been so busy, for there is this house to look after (The Lobster Pot), and the Tuxedo house to think and plan for, and the Redding house to be after too, and Santa (Clara) to love and be with when she was here and do for, and Jean to be anxious over and to help if I can, and her doctors to see, and the King’s social life to look after – for in these days he is very lonely and reaches out for people — and people he must have, so now I am planning parties for him.”

Although it is said that Isabel had designs to marry Twain, she ended up marrying married Twain’s business manager, Ralph Ashcroft, in 1909. It was an unhappy marriage and ended in divorce in 1920.

There is no evidence that Lyon ever betrayed Twain, even though she was paid poorly and treated badly at the end of her service -- Twain even took back the “The Lobster Pot,” her  “darling house,” which he had given her as a Christmas gift in 1907. Still, Isabel remained devoted to him. Many years later, she would refer to the situation as, “we had a falling out.” A young actress friend, Joyce Aaron, who lived next to Isabel when Isabel was in her mid-nineties and living in Brooklyn, told this to me.

What really happened between Twain and Isabel? Was it Clara’s jealous prodding? Was Twain jealous that she married Ashcroft and no longer devoted to him? Did she really try to steal from Twain?  Did Mark Twain just lose interest in her companionship, or did Isabel know too much about the family dirty "secrets"?
We may never know for sure.

So why has this relationship been kept secret?

After Twain died, Clara Clemens and Albert Bigelow Paine removed virtually all record of Isabel Lyon’s existence. So as far as the public was concerned, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon never existed. 

Isabel died in 1958. She willed her diary and photos to the Mark Twain Papers collection at the University of California, Berkeley, with the condition that they not be open to the public until after Clara’s Death. So I guess you can say that after Clara died, Isabel was reborn.

We all owe a lot to this woman, Isabel Lyon. Because of her diligence in keeping a sequence of detailed journals and photos the last years of Mark Twain’s life can now be better known to all.

The Lobster Pot Studio

History of Lobster Pot

 The Lobster Pot, in Redding, Connecticut, is the original property that Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, purchased in 1906.  He bought the farm property sight unseen, under the urging of his biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, who lived nearby. The original Lobster Pot consisted of a circa 1720 saltbox on about 248 acres, with numerous outbuildings and barns. Mark Twain built his Italianate mansion, Stormfield, his last home, (and the only home he actually owned and lived in besides the Hartford house), on part of the acreage. It has been said that Mark Twain called the old farmhouse, The Lobster Pot, because it was a frequent destination of his “Aquarium” and the Angel Fish Club.  Mark Twain gave The Lobster Pot along with funds for renovation to Isabel Lyon, his secretary, social companion and household manager, as a Christmas gift in 1907.  When not staying at  Stormfield, Isabel Lyon lived with her mother in The Lobster Pot.

 In July 1909, Mark Twain regained ownership of the property after the Ashcroft/Lyons scandal. The old saltbox burned in 1953, and the current home was built on the foundation. The original patios and gardens and stonework still remain. Even today, there is a Mark Twain magic to this lovely property.

The Lobster Pot as it was when Mark Twain purchased the property in 1906

The Sunken Garden

Spring time view of the "Huck Finn" Shed

Love Bird Fountain

The Lobster Pot Gardens



The Lobster Pot and patio  circa it looks just the same!

"Mark Twain and Friend (Danbury)"

 22 x 28 oil on canvas

Giclee prints available for sale at  Mark Twain Gallery at

Mark Twain at Stormfield   (giclees available for sale, please contact the artist)

"Mark Twain dreaming of his Library at Stormfield"

 34 x 28  oil on canvas, Private Collection

"Mark Twain with Captain Stormfield"

56 x 44 oil on canvas, Private Collection

( In the portrait details: the little gold oval frame holds a picture of Mark Twain's beloved wife, Olivia Langdon, the books are Huck Finn, Captain Stormfield goes to Heaven, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court. That is his actual pipe and that big fat cat, is mine, his name is Captain Stormfield...a twenty two pounder! He helps me every day in the Studio)

"Mark Twain and Jerry"

45 x 36 oil on canvas,  Collection Mark Twain Library


"Mark Twain and Stormfield"

Showing the events and relationships during his time in Redding

"Dangerous Intimacy" a documentary film about Mark Twain's  last years and his relationship with Isabel Lyon. Produced by award winning Documentary film maker Richard Altomonte, and based on the book "Dangerous Intimacy" written by Karen Lystra. Much of the Documentary was filmed at The Lobster Pot and the artist, Susan Boone Durkee portrays Jean Clemens in the film.

The Documentary is available for sale on

Here are some photos of the filming of Dangerous Intimacy at The Lobster Pot and the Meehl property in Redding Ct. In the film I portray Jean Clemens, Mark Twain's youngest was great fun to to all that exciting horseback riding...thanks to Cindy Meehl and her horses Lily and Red.

Charcoal drawing of Mark Twain by the artist

Private Collection

To meet the Artist and visit The Lobster Pot Studio, please click on the link below to see a delightful 4 minute film created by PBS Director/Producer James Nicoloro

To see more artwork by Susan Boone Durkee visit:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Painting Malcolm Baldrige's Portrait for The Baldrige School of Business, Post University

 Painting Malcolm Baldrige's Portrait



In July  I was contacted by Post University to paint a portrait of Malcolm Baldrige for the newly named Malcolm Baldrige School of Business. What an honor to paint such a fine man of such integrity. 

Malcolm "Mac" Baldrige, Jr. was the 26th United States Secretary of Commerce. He was highly regarded by the world's most preeminent leaders. Congress named the annual award  Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award  for product quality in his honor. The Baldrige Award is the only formal recognition of the performance excellence of both public and private U.S. organizations given by the President of the United States. On October 17, 1988, Baldridge was presented, posthumously, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.

When I saw the black and white the reference photo that Post University gave me to base the portrait on. I was immediately struck by the intensity of Malcolm's gaze. He looked like he could look right thru you...I was, this was going to be an exciting portrait to paint. Then, in doing my normal research about my subject, (before I begin to start the portrait process), I soon realized that I was not painting an ordinary individual. This man was a true leader. A man of  immense values, integrity and commitment.

The world today, would be a much better place with more people like Malcolm Baldrige!

Malcolm Baldrige

The Malcolm Baldrige School of Business,  Post University

oil on linen  20 x 16

                                                                                                     The reference photo

I was very pleased that Post University was so happy with my  oil portrait of Malcolm Baldrige. Here is a comment by Bob Sembiante at Post University.

Susan, it looks LOVELY!  If you think about it, the fact that I engaged you simply from your website is astounding.  But the work you showed there was quite exceptional, and you’ve done it again. I’m sure the Baldrige family will be thrilled that you’ve taken this black and white photo and made it come to life in full color!

Many, many thanks…not only for your professionalism, but for putting so much heart into this effort.  It is a joy to work with you!

Bob Sembiante 

Communications Associate

Post University



Dear Susan,

 On behalf of the Post University and the Baldrige family, thank you so much for painting such a magnificent portrait of Malcolm Baldrige and for joining us at our recent celebration. It was an honor to have you there.

Please know that your painting will be a very special part of the Malcolm Baldrige School of Business for years to come.

Again, I’m so glad you were able to join us at this special event.



Tom Samph, Ph.D.

President of Post University


The artist at the unveiling

The unveiling was a wonderful and exciting event.  Post University President and CEO Tom Samph, Ph.D., was joined by “Mac’s” daughter, Molly Baldrige; members of the current Board of Trustees; Harry Hertz, Director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program; Don Mroz, Provost and Dean of The Malcolm Baldrige School of Business, and Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, among other invited guests, at this special event in honor of Baldrige’s commitment to business excellence. 


 Here is a  link regarding the event


To meet the Artist and visit The Lobster Pot Studio, please click on the link below to see a delightful 4 minute film created by PBS Director/Producer James Nicoloro

To see more artwork by Susan Boone Durkee visit:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Welcome to my Studio Blog


To meet the Artist and visit The Lobster Pot Studio, please click on the link below to see a delightful 4 minute film created by PBS Director/Producer James Nicoloro

Thank you for all visiting my world… and my Studio Blog…



The Artist, Susan Boone Durkee, in her Studio, called The Lobster Pot, so named by Mark Twain who owned the property at the turn of the Century

 I spend 7-10 hours a day in the Studio…and usually even weekends.

 I have been painting for over 45 years.. I am primarily self trained, as you will see by all my art books and my many painting studies of the masters.   Being an Artist is a life's devotion…a devotion to truth, honesty and and spiritual awakening...and very solitary, especially for  a portrait artist… so I sacrifice the carefree lifestyle with one of discipline, dedication and concentration. 

 My reward is that with each portrait, I capture the beauty and immortality of a unique individual's spirit.

Dr. Kevin Hicks, Former Head of The Hotchkiss School, Collection The Hotchkiss School

Lilyan, Collection of the Artist

"Dominick Protomastro" former President & CEO  of  Phillips Medical

Portrait painting is the hardest of all fields of painting…You have to capture the spirit and likeness of the person……you have to constantly concentrate….look…think…and never give up ….!!!! Your mind and your spirit become one with your subject. The main principles about portrait painting are:  values (how light or dark how warm or cool a color is), edges, and accurate drawing…constantly using a plum line to measure the placement and angle of each feature… All aspects of portraiture are very exacting...when you put that final touch, the catch light in the eye, your subject comes alive! 

 I know I have finished my portrait..when the portrait  becomes alive and begins to talk to me...

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, 38 x 32 oil on canvas

Collection the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, wife of secretary-general of United Nations, Ban Ki-moon,

                          Collection Mr. and Mrs. Ban Ki-moon, New York, 18 x 14 oil on linen



Peter O'Neill, former Head of The Hotchkiss School, Collection The Hotchkiss School



Phoebe Dey, 

Collection of Choate Rosemary Hall School, 18 x 14 oil on Linen

Mariano Rivera, The greatest Closer of All Time, collection of the Artist

Woman with a Pearl Necklace, Anna Jansson Sharkey

"Vincent A. Gierer, Jr." former  Chairman of UST Inc.  Stamford, Ct

(all the small  painted details around Mr. Gierer's portrait...nearly drove me to drink!)


"Diana Kulkarni" private collection Boston, Mass.

"Helen Coley Nauts"  founder of the Cancer Research Institute

Collection Cancer Research Institute, New York

 Paul Newman (Sketch) Private Collection

Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp Fund Raiser

The Redding Mark Twain

Collection of the artist

"Katherine" private collection Scarsdale, New york

"Kaye and Sal Pepe"   Greenwich, Ct

Pepe Family Collection

"Anticipation"  award winner of The Margery Soroka Memorial Award Salmagundi Club 2011

Exhibited in the  Annual American Women Artists National Juried Show 2010

Private Collection, New York


Innocence, 16 x 12 oil on linen


President Ronald Reagan, Study, Collection of the artist

Anna  Jansson Sharkey (Detail)

Director Barclays Capital 




"Mark Twain at Stormfield" private collection

 "Saleel Kulkarni"  Private Collection

"Honor Fraser"   collection of the artist

photo courtesy of David Siedner

Peter Trippi Head Study

Editor of Fine Art Connoiseur Magazine

Collection Peter Trippi

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

Winner of the Founders Award National Art Museum of Sport 2011

Collection of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton Ohio

The Bouvier Children

 Bouvier Family Collection

Liza, 24 x 30 oil on canvas

Muhlfeld Family Collection

This is Captain Stormfield, a 23 pounder, he helps me every day in the Studio

photo Courtesy of James Nicoloro


"Lucille Lortel"  collection of The Players Club, New York

Malcolm Baldrige,

former Secretary of Commerce

Collection Baldrige School of Business, 

Post University, Waterbury Ct.

To meet the Artist and visit The Lobster Pot Studio, please click on the link below to see a delightful 4 minute film created by PBS Director/Producer James Nicoloro

Captain Stormfield posing, photo courtesy of James Nicoloro

To see more artwork by Susan Boone Durkee visit: