Saturday, January 19, 2013

Filming a "Mark Twain" Documentary at The Lobster Pot

               Another day of filming for the Documentary, 

 "The Redding Mark Twain" at  Mark Twain's Lobster Pot

               by PBS Producer and Director James Nicoloro

Producer/Director James Nicoloro setting up for the Isabel Lyon-Lobster Pot sequence, for the Documentary, "The Redding Mark Twain".



The artist, Susan Boone Durkee, blocking in the early stages of Isabel Lyon's portrait

Photo credit: James Nicoloro

 During the process of painting Isabel Lyon's portrait

Photo credit: James Nicoloro

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


“Isabel seems at ease. We know there are secrets hidden behind that smile: The Clemens family secrets and her own. She took most of those secrets to the grave. This was her public face. The one she wanted everyone to see. And if those are Twain's dead wife Olivia's stones hanging about her neck she was confident in her position with Twain to wear them in public. It was only Twain's daughter Clara who complained about Isabel wearing her mother's jewelry.  This oil painting is based on a photograph of Isabel taken on December 21, 1908 by Alvin Langdon Coburn at Stormfield, Mark Twain’s last home, and may represent her last moment of calm.  She married Twain's business manager Ralph Ashcroft in March 1909 and the next month Twain fired her for "high crimes and misdemeanors".

 We'll never know the real story.”

James Nicoloro

Distingushed PBS Director and Producer, James Nicoloro,  is currently working on a Documentary “The Redding Mark Twain”.



This 24 x 30 oil on Linen painting of Isabel Lyon was created by portrait artist Susan Boone Durkee.  Isabel Lyon was Mark Twain’s companion, household manager and social secretary for 1904-1909. Twain also granted Isabel, for a period of time, Power of Attorney over his affairs. Coincidentally, Susan lives on the property called The Lobster Pot, which  Mark Twain  gave to Isabel Lyon as a  Christmas gift in 1907.


Isabel and Mark Twain in Bermuda, 1907 

Isabel Lyon at Stormfield 1908

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  left inside Stormfield’s front hall.

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 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 bruised his ego? Did Isabel really try to steal from Twain? Was Albert Bigelow Paine jealous of her control of Twain?  Did Mark Twain just lose interest in her companionship or did Isabel know too many of the family secrets?

We may never know for sure.  So why has this relationship been kept hidden?


After Twain died, Clara Clemens and Albert Bigelow Paine removed virtually all record of Isabel Lyon’s existence. Twain's image was the utmost importance. So as far as the public was concerned, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon never existed.  Isabel died in 1958 at the age of 95. 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 daily journals and photos the last years of Mark Twain’s life can now be better known to all.

The Lobster Pot's  80 foot Sunken Garden

The Lobster Pot Studio  viewed from the Rhododendron walkway

The Huck Finn Shed

The Lobster Pot  Studio garden entrance

"Mark Twain and Captain Stormfield"   Private Collection,  56 x 42 oil on canvas

Here is Captain Stormfield, who helps me every day in the Studio. He is a 23 pounder!

Photo courtesy of James Nicoloro

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 the blog post about another Documentary filmed at The Lobster Pot called "Dangerous Intimacy" click on the link below after the filming photos. This Documentary is about Mark Twain's last years, his relationship with his daughters and Isabel Lyon, his controversial companion and secretary. The Documentary was mostly filmed in Redding Ct. at The Lobster Pot (see photos above), the Mark Twain Libray and New Pond Farm. In this film I portray Jean Clemens, Mark Twain's youngest daughter.  

        To see more portraits of Mark Twain and the  artwork of              Susan Boone Durkee visit:


Mariano Rivera's Portrait is finished! The Greatest closer of all time is captured in a double portrait

Painting  Mariano Rivera's Portrait

New York Yankees legend, Mariano Rivera with portrait artist Susan Boone Durkee
photo credit Joe Heinzmann


The Famous New York Yankee Pitcher and Closer

  I really enjoyed creating this portrait of such a legendary individual, not only on the field as one of the best Pitcher/Closer in Baseball history, but also as a wonderful person.

 When ever I mentioned to a client that I was painting a portrait of Mariano Rivera, the first words of comment where what a "spiritual"quality human being Mariano is. Consequently, from the first planning of the portrait to the final touches I had this wonderful warm creative inspiration....

 I choose the double portrait format because I felt this would give an intimacy with the viewer in the close up portrait vignette  and in the action pose I was showing Mariano doing what he does best on the field...closing the game and throwing his famous "Cutter".

In laying out the composition I worked from a composite of 7 different photos. I felt it was very important to add the strong light coming from above right to symbolize  Mariano's strong religious and spiritual beliefs.  

I also painted Mariano's actual glove shown in the portrait vignette shows the words Phil: 413, a biblical passage which says: " I can do all this through him who gives me strength".

Mariano Rivera, The Greatest Closer of all Time, oil on canvas

"Mariano Rivera, The Greatest Closer of all Time", detail

"Mariano Rivera, The Greatest Closer of all Time", detail

Mariano Rivera signing the prints. photo credit: Joe Heinzmann

250 Limited Edition  prints now available in 2 sizes:

Please contact the Artist for more information.

Shipping and handling, and tax extra 

Please contact the artist for  more information.


The Original 45 x 30 framed oil painting is also available now for sale. Please contact the artist for more information.



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

Susan Boone Durkee working on her portrait of Mariano Rivera in The Lobster Pot Studio.

   Visit  to see more portraits and artwork by   Susan Boone Durkee.