Friday, September 21, 2012

Whimsical Portraits..A portrait concept outside the box"

   I have thought for years what fun it would be to have a portrait done as a personal fantasy......sometimes when I speak with clients...they sort of feel vain or self indlugent in having a formal  oil portrait done...but this idea sometimes hits home..they can put themselves in a historical instant relative from colonial days..that  also happens to look just like them...or  a total fantasy, along with a pet I created in the " Rob as Zeus" combining personal objects in an adapted  Ingres painting...
Anyway, certainly a conversation piece.... especially for someone who seems to have everything!
Here are some past custom whimsical portraits along with a recent postcard.

Author Keith Jones as the Revolutionary War Officer

Dr. Richard Paulding as  the "Americana Primitive Style Circa 1860" Country Doctor

Terrance Vontobel as the Duc D'Orleans (After Ingres)

Rob as Zeus (adapted for an Ingres painting)

Miss Hoyt in 1800's dress with her dog


To see more of my  traditional portraits, please visit my website:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mark Twain on my mind

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

Sometimes I feel like I am haunted by Mark Twain ...or is it  Isabel Lyon....Anyway...I guess that is what you get when you live on the original property, which Twain called "The Lobster Pot".

 Here are some projects and portraits I have painted of Mark Twain, most are in private collections.

"The Redding Mark Twain"

I created this Portrait of Mark Twain with the dramatic coloring because I thought it expressed the  personal and family turmoil of the years he spent in Redding Ct. living at Stormfield, his last home.

Prints available  of this painting, please contact artist for more information.

"Mark Twain at Stormfield"

(Giclee print available for purchase)

"Mark Twain and Friend (Danbury)

(Giclee prints available for purchase)

                             "Jean Clemens" oil on canvas 

           collection of the Mark Twain Library, Redding, Ct.

"Mark Twain and Captain Stormfield"

This is a very large portrait which hangs in a private collection. The cat, Captain Stormfield, is mine...a big boy...23 pounds! He helps me every day in the studio..if you watch the short utube video, (see link on blog), you will see him helping me in the studio. I added the small vignette of Livy on the table along with 3 of Mark Twain's famous books: Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and A  Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

"Mark Twain at Stormfield, Dreaming of his Library"

Private Collection

Mark Twain founded the Mark Twain Library, and dedicated it to his youngest daughter Jean, making it officially the Jean Clemens Memorial Library...(in this painting I painted a small picture of the Library top left corner).


"Mark Twain"  pencil drawing Private Collection


"Mark Twain's Passions" I was inspired to create this oil on linen painting to

express Mark Twain's four major passions: writing, cigar smoking,  whiskey drinking, and Halley's Comet, (represented by the day lillies). Mark Twain was born under Halley's comet and he said it would be the biggest disappointment in his life if he did not go out with it!

Available for sale, collection of the artist

Isabel Lyon at Stormfield

Isabel Lyon, Jean Clemens, Mark Twain and Jean's dog, Prospero.


Isabel Lyon, oil on linen 24 x 30, collection of the Artist 


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 worshipped 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 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 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 not him? Did she really try to steal from Twain? Was Albert Bigelow Paine jealous of her control of Twain?  Or did Mark Twain just lose interest in her companionship, or did Isabel know too much of the families dirty secrets?
We may never know for sure.

So why so little known about this relationship?

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.





  Isabel Lyon and  Ralph Ashcroft of the Lobster Pot Patio 1908

                  The Lobster Pot before renovation 1907 (above)

                        The Lobster Pot after renovation (below)

                   The Lobster Pot sunken garden in bloom (lots of day lilies)

Back of the The Lobster Pot, circa 1909, looks the same today!

 The Lobster Pot Studio work entrance

"Mark Twain and Jerry",  Private Collection

Lobster Pot Studio weather vane

"Mark Twain and Stormfield",  a limited edition print, available for sale, that shows all the events that happened to Mark Twain when he lived at Stormfield, this print comes with a detailed reference guide.

This documentary, by Richard Altomonte, was filmed in Redding,

               much of it at The Lobster Pot, and is based on the book,                          "Dangerous Intimacy" by Karen Lystra

I designed this "Mark Twain Trail Map" showing all the sites in Redding Connecticut that were connected to Mark Twain during his time in town.

(available for purchase at The Mark Twain Library, Redding,Ct)

The back of the Mark Twain Trail Map with descriptions about the different Mark Twain  Redding history locations




This is Captain Stormfield, so named for "Captain Stormfield goes to Heaven " a book that helped finance the building of Twain's last home Stormfield here on Mark Twain Lane. "Cappy" is a 23 pounder, a really big boy and proud of it! He helps me every day in the Studio...I take his advice very seriously! photo courtesy of James Nicoloro


To see more pictures and learn more about the history of The Lobster Pot property go to: 


Monday, September 10, 2012

The Lobster Pot's first Studio Garden Event

On Saturday September 8th, 2012 The Lobster Pot was full of activity.
The first Studio Garden Event was hosted by Amita Kulkarni and artist Susan Durkee. We had about 20 attending and enjoyed a tour of the extensive Gardens, The Lobster Pot Gallery, and an informative Studio portrait presentation given by Susan.
 The event concluded with a  viewing of the Documentary, "Dangerous Intimacy" based on the book by Karen Lystra about Mark Twain's Last years and his relationship with Isabel Lyon and his daughter Jean.