Paint splatters in Frank Benson barn/studio

Everyday Abstracts: A Frank Benson “Splatter-work” (One-Shot Story)

In 2018, our friends Peter Engeldrum and Carol Keller invited Kate and me to spend a few days with them on Maine’s North Haven Island. It proved to be a more productive visit than any of us anticipated.

First… A “Found” Abstract

During a tour of the American Impressionist Frank W. Benson’s island summer home (now a museum), we poked into his huge barn/studio. And on its rear wall, found a large area where he blotted his brushes on old wood planks. I couldn’t resist capturing a tiny portion of it in the above “Pollock-ian splatter-work.”

Just feel the raw dynamism of Benson’s random jabs! Note his judicious pops of color (revealing the surprisingly limited palette he used in Maine). Or just admire it for what it is– a lovely accident of time, captured in a one-of-a-kind “abstract Benson print.”

And I don’t call the photo a “Benson” print simply because Frank painted it. It’s also a Benson” print because dat’s my middle name. So there! (Still, I wouldn’t be so foolish as to try to sell the photo as an original work. The museum director might have something to say about that.)

Then… a Film!

The North Haven visit also lead to my writing a script, shooting stills for, interviewing the model-airplane builder at the heart of, and narrating a very short documentary film about Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s pioneering 1931 “North to the Orient” flight.

Our friend Peter (an image-quality expert, photographer and now videographer) shot and found tons of supporting footage, historical photos, sound files and music… and assembled the result that’s now on the North Haven Historical Society’s website. (Scroll down to the film titled “Sirius 8– A Model of History.”) I think Peter did a really first-rate job!

NOTE: I shot stills of the society’s oversized Sirius-8 model using my Panasonic Lumix ZS100 travel point-and-shoot.

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass., writer and avid amateur photographer.

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6 thoughts on “Everyday Abstracts: A Frank Benson “Splatter-work” (One-Shot Story)”

  1. Dave, As I read your story I couldn’t have guessed what you would write about concerning the museum exhibit of the Lindberg aircraft. I watched the short movie to see what you had included about his trip to the Orient. I do photo restoration and about three years ago I had the priviledge of restoring photos of this very trip that your movie encompasses. The location was a stop-over in Churchill. I restored about ten shots and several had never been seen except for the family who has them in their family album. Their grandfather was a float plane pilot in Churchill and several images of him were also part of the job. The client wanted to do large scale prints of the restored originals and the final prints looked incredible. Charles Lindberg was an amazing man and his wife had an adventuresome spirit as well!

    1. Wow Bill… Thanks for the fascinating info! One of the people credited at the end of our film is a niece of Anne Morrow Lindbergh… who told us about the model’s “color check.” Maybe she still has some of your prints!

      A. Scott Berg’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning book about the Lindberghs describes one hair-raising example of their adventuresome experiences. Just before returning to the U.S., they did some mapping missions in Hankow, China. (Anne flew the plane while Charles sketched the lands below.) The British airplane carrier Hermes was their temporary base at the time.

      One day, the Yangtze current was too strong to safely moor the Sirius-8 in the water beside the ship. So its crew hoisted the little plane aboard. Next day, as the plane was lowered back into the river (with the Lindberghs seated in the cockpit), a battle arose between the hoisting cables and the river current. And the plane flipped upside down into the water.

      Fortunately, a boat downstream plucked Charles and Anne out of the river. But Anne was pretty stoic about it all… later observing that she swallowed “buckets of this Yangtze mud”!

      They had planned to repair the plane in Shanghai, but on reconsidering, crated and shipped it back to Lockheed in Los Angeles.

      Thanks again for your add, Bill!

    1. You’re welcome Gary! A big reason for the limited palette may have been the fact that the (now) museum was the Benson family’s summer home. And scanning through online images of his paintings, the vast majority appear to be of women and children in white clothes under bright blue summer skies. Maybe a little “rock brown” and “summer-grass yellow” here and there, but the largest areas were done in the colors I photographed. The stories such photos can tell!

  2. Being from old England, and having never visited New England, the blues and whites on those boards are exactly what I would have expected. Is it not also the case that this area is famed for it’s autumnal colours?

  3. Hi StevieMac!

    Yes, New England is justly famous for our autumn colors! And in a reply to another comment I noted that Frank Benson’s New England farm was the family’s summer residence. Hence the lack of fall tones. His favored technique over a period of around 20 years was to use a bright, high-key palette that he softened in places with “dirty colors.”

    Your question, though, made me do an online image search… where I found very few Benson paintings that obviously depicted fall. And interestingly, many of them were watercolors!

    I should add that we also encountered a bit of a mystery in Benson’s barn/studio. Three paintings hung side by side in an out-of-the-way hayloft. The large central one (an Arts-and-Crafts style portrait of an Asian woman) was flanked by two smaller paintings of a red-haired girl playing in what appears to be an orange field of grain. Are they “different” Bensons? I don’t know.

    We weren’t actually able to enter the museum to find out. The house was being readied for an afternoon wedding. And– rather surprisingly– I’ve failed several times to find the property owner’s email address. So for now, the mystery remains.

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