Thursday, March 18, 2010

Summer colony

A couple weeks ago we had a lecture at Clinton Academy about the Thomas Moran family and their life in East Hampton. Moran was a famous and respected America artist even in his time and painted the beautiful renditions of the Grand Canyon that hang in the Capitol Building in Washington DC. His paintings of the canyon, along with others of Yellowstone, are credited with convincing Congress to create the National Park system. So he was an important figure in American history and he spent his summers in East Hampton. A few years ago his house, which has only been in the ownership of one other couple since it was sold by the Moran's heirs, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now in the process of a badly needed renovation.

Anyway, the Morans were early members of what we refer to in East Hampton as "The Summer Colony" - the beautiful, grand homes at the southern most end of the village that were only occupied during the summer months years ago. And a peek at their lives is a glimpse into a world of life out here that most of us will never know.

The Morans loved to entertain, and they did it with flair! The put on costume balls where everyone came dressed as a famous character from the past, like Marie Antoinette or William Shakespeare. They covered their lawn with rugs and tents and sometimes the party lasted well into the next day.

They also liked to present "tableaus" for the public. These were recreations of famous works of art, with each character dressed to match a character in the painting and every detail painstakingly met from furniture to background. Then the characters would get into place on a stage and be framed with a huge frame to look like a large masterpiece. They would remain perfectly still in place for about ten minutes, then the stage would be reset, costumes would be changed, and yet another painting would be done. The work that went into these recreations was considerable as fancy dresses had to be made and hairstyles had to be created along with the search for the perfect props. Obviously the enjoyment was in the preparation!

Theirs was a life if frivolity and privilege in East Hampton in the late 1800s. At the time, my ancestors in East Hampton were busy shoeing other people's horses and making hinges and door latches at their blacksmith shop. And cooking and cleaning too. I wonder if those two divergent worlds every met?

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