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:

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