"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 69: Great-Uncle George

Bishop’s next letter to her aunt was typed on 18 October 1960. She opened with an acknowledgement of receipt of a letter from Grace, the day she had send her previous letter: “Did you notice on the back of the envelope of my last letter that I’d written I’d just got yours at the P.O.?” This back and forth was not always in sync, but for Bishop, it didn’t matter when her aunt’s letters came, they were always welcome. Even so, it took her a couple of weeks to settle again to write to Grace.

The letter from Grace contained more “family-tree” material. Bishop was delighted and told her aunt that she was “going to try to put it in tying” (clearly Grace had sent more holograph) “and maybe even use some of it in a couple of N.S. stories I’ve been working away at slowly.” This batch of family material must have focused on the Hutchinson side of things because Bishop next expressed her delight in a photo that was included: “I loved the photograph of great-uncle George and dear Lily before the war.” This was of course George W. Hutchinson, the painter of “Large Bad Picture” and the “Poem” painting. Lily was George’s second wife, Lily Yerbury.
(George W. Hutchinson and Lily Yerbury Hutchinson, circa 1920s.)
George was still very much alive when Bishop began to travel to Europe in the late 1930s (he lived until 1942, dying just shy of 90). Twice, Bishop had been in England, near enough to visit, but never managed to do so. “I am so sorry I didn’t get to see him the two times I was in London before the war.” These visits to the land of all her ancestors were both brief and she noted that “the first time I was sick in bed most of the time.” So, she lost her chance to see one of her most intriguing relatives.

Bishop remembered a “nice photograph … of him seated outside his rose-covered cottage” and asked Grace if she still had it. That cottage was “Thelma” in Clacton-on-sea. In is later years, George loved growing roses. Bishop wondered, “who has all the paintings now?” These paintings have dispersed all over, some remaining with the extended Bulmer family, a good number of them in the possession of Pat and Graham Kench in England, some remaining with George’s direct descendents, particularly his great-grandson Matthew Hutchinson (the grandson of George’s son Ben and Ben’s son Marty). Some of George’s paintings are in the archives at Acadia University and some in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Bishop would perhaps be amazed by how widely dispersed his legacy is.

Bishop also remembered “one [Hutchinson painting] Aunt Maud[e] had — a sort of swampy scene with a gray and white sky — remember it?” Two paintings similar to this one, are located in the archives at Acadia. These ponderings prompted her to say, “Sometime I’d love to have one of his paintings if I could.” She was already in possession of “one tiny water color he did very late in life — not as good as the earlier ones.” Just what this painting might be is a mystery. It cannot be the “Poem” painting, which was done early in his life and is a tiny oil (this painting was sold in 2011 to Rachel Jacoff of Boston). As far as I know, it was not in Bishop’s estate when she died.

Perhaps it was the “Poem” painting that Grace sent to Bishop, to fulfill this request. In any case, Bishop noted, “as you can see — I’m in the market for any old souvenirs and I love photographs.” Her concern, however, was that she was “so far away and it isn’t very safe to send things.” And certainly, she wouldn’t want precious family mementos to go missing. She concluded that it might be best to wait until “when I do get to visit you….”
(George W. Hutchinson, circa 1890s.)
Before shifting gears to update life in Samambaia, Bishop asked one more question, about another uncle: “How is Uncle George?” meaning George Shepherdson, Maude’s husband. Bishop had somehow heard enough about him in Grace’s letters to remark: “I do hope he has given up driving!” In parenthesis she added, “And I want that watch, damn it.” She was referring to a watch that had belonged to her father that George Shepherdson was in possession of. This watch surfaces again, so perhaps Grace made the effort to act on this declaration. With such distance between them, it always took real time for exchanges to occur.

After all this family talk, Bishop turned to daily life up in the mountains, which will comprise the next post.

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