Sunday, August 8, 2010

New Book about Jonathan Fisher Released.

The Book

Last week, a new biography of Jonathan Fisher, , by  Kevin Murphy, Professor of Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a summer resident of Brooksville, has been published by the University of Massachusetts Press.   The first book about Fisher in over 40 years, it provides a fresh look at and new research about, Fisher's life and work.

Profusely illustrated, the book may be ordered from the Fisher Memorial for $49.95, plus $5.00 postage & handling.  Maine residents add 5% sales tax.

Kevin Murphy was kind enough to write a few lines about the experience of writing the book and discovering Fisher:

Kevin Murphy

An Embarrassment of Riches: Researching Jonathan Fisher

Research projects often take one of two forms: extracting meaning from a small number of documents, or trying to make sense of a vast collection of materials. Writing a new biography of Jonathan Fisher has been decidedly in the latter category. There are few historical figures from eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century America—apart from presidents, famous authors, and other illuminati—for whom there is as much documentation as there is for Jonathan Fisher. As you are certainly aware, he was a indefatigable diarist, essayist, and correspondent. (Letters between Fisher and the members of his family continue to surface.) Moreover, he is that rare artist whose nearly entire known output has been located. The one exception is the numerous decorative painting projects he undertook—signs, sleighs, and so on—that were not deemed worthy of preservation.

We know a lot about Jonathan Fisher’s life, and we know a lot about what he thought we should know about it, what he considered his important contributions to be. His previous biographer, Mary Ellen Chase, for whom I have enormous respect, did a wonderful job of bringing Fisher to life and Alice Winchester, whose monograph of Fisher’s art work remains the only book of its kind, contributed much to giving us a rich portrait of the man. But they essentially focused on what Fisher considered his major contributions, that his, his religious mission, his intellectual work, and his art-making. What I wanted to do in my own work was to situate Fisher in his home and community, to show how his extraordinary undertakings—writing, painting, architectural design and so on—were part of his larger effort to make a place for himself on the eastern frontier. Although Fisher possessed a level of education that nobody else in Blue Hill did, he shared a lot with the other settlers. He was not wealthy and made his living by cobbling together a number of different jobs, much like many Mainers today. With the help of his friends, neighbors, and family, he farmed and he made things for sale locally and farther afield, in addition to drawing his minister’s salary.

While other scholars have written about Jonathan Fisher’s various undertakings, nobody has considered until now how he managed to do all of this in the space of a house that was large by the standards of the time, but hardly spacious considering there were regularly twelve or thirteen people in residence, including family and boarders. Thus I discuss how Fisher’s projects were considered in relation to the space he had to undertake them; for example, he made small watercolors in the winter months and put off doing large oil paintings until the spring, probably because he could improvise a studio in the barn or some other outbuilding. Moreover, I talk about how Fisher operated within the larger space of Blue Hill, not only interacting with a wide variety of people but also working hard to help shape the new community about which he felt so passionately. I hope that in the book I have conveyed some of my fascination for Jonathan Fisher and that it will inspire others to consider how the multi-dimensional figures of history have so much to teach us about our own quests.

Corrections and Apologies.

One aspires to complete accuracy in the business of recording history, but apparently this writer had not had his morning coffee when he compiled the list of donors to the Orchard Restoration at the Fisher House in a May post.   Our apologies for the errors, and herewith the corrections:

Mr. & Mrs. R. Andrew Fletcher III
Pamela H. Holden in Loving Memory of Dr. Randall L. Holden Jr.

Again, we are sorry for the errors, corrected also in the original article, and are grateful for the donor's support.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The First Phase of Planting Completed !!!

After nearly three years of planning, tree cutting, more planning, earth moving, and more planning, the first  phase of planting the re-creation of Jonathan Fisher's orchard took place this morning.

Rufus Wanning planting a tree, in backgound, l-r, are Caroline Werth, Andrea Hendrix, Karen Anthony

Although the Fisher House has been open as a Museum for 55 years, displaying many of the arts and furnishing of the man, the two acre home grounds surviving of the original 300 acre farm were long neglected, and had overgrown with invasive bittersweet, bracken and swamp maples. As the board of directors started to take control of this jungle, the remnants of stone walls began to re-appear, and the 19th century lay-out became apparent. Fortuitously, Fisher's hand-drawn map of those two acres survives in the collection of the Farnsworth Library & Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, complete with a chart of the fruit trees planted there originally. The board of the Fisher House decided to bring the agricultural story of the property to the fore, and to recreate the orchard.

Jonathan Fisher's c. 1820 map of his home grounds, showing orchard and listing varieties (Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine)

Learning of the project, Fisher's 4 x great-granddaughter, Louise Fisher Abbot, who had studied landscape at Radcliffe, asked that she be permitted to fund the restoration of the fields, in memory of her three late sisters. (Jonathan Fisher had also had four daughters) With this generous gift in hand, the Fisher House board was able to proceed with planning. Enter at this point, the current Congregational minister, Robert McCall, author of the Awanjanado Almanac, who himself maintains an orchard at his parsonage. He brought to the committee Leslie Cummins and Tim Seabrook of Five Star Nursery in Brooklin, Maine, who have made their life work the preservation and propagation of early varieties of apples grown in Maine.

A page from Jonathan Fisher's Sketchbook, c. 1815, showing two apples, believed to be Golden Russets, on a pewter plate (watercolor, collection of Jonathan Fisher House)

Planning commenced. Fisher's chart was examined, the space available measured, practical considerations like budget and manpower available weighed, and a plan began to take shape. It was decided that a reduced scale adaptation of the orchard could be achieved. Amazingly, one huge tree, labeled on the original plan as a 'St. Germain Pear', survived from 1820, and now anchors the new orchard.

Detail from Morning View of Blue Hill Village, showing the Fisher Farm, orchard at right center.
Looking toward the house today. The 200 year old pear tree partially obscures the ell, with a newly planted section of orchard to the right.

Another fascinating feature of the orchard was that Fisher clearly intended it to be ornamental as well as useful (He often ventured from this post on the Eastern frontier to Boston, where he saw urban schemes and the new country estates then being built around Boston, and visited with relatives, including the landscape painter Alvin Fisher). Radiating out from the parlor windows of the house, splitting the orchard in two, he indicated a fan allee, widening from the house as it took in the spectacular view from his hilltop of Blue Hill Mountain, Blue Hill Village and Bay, and the mountains of Mt. Desert Island in the distance. This is probably the earliest known planned landscape feature in Maine. It was considered essential to duplicate this feature, although the view is long since lost to tree growth (and were the trees to disappear today, would focus directly on the rear of a supermarket a quarter mile away between Fisher House and the Harbor.)

  Tim Seabrook giving a demonstration for proper planting of the trees.

Fisher descendant Louise Abbot, turns the first spade of soil to plant a descendant of the original cherry trees

Rev. Rob McCall, Louise Fisher Abbot, and Leslie Cummins of Five Star Nursery plant and stake the cherry tree,

For trees, two of Fisher's original varieties, golden Roxbury Russets and a Pippin could be located. It was decided to also make the orchard a public home for other known pre 1850 (Fisher died in 1847 varieties that were known to have been grown locally. Additionally, cherry trees descended from Fisher's original stock of 'English cherries' still existed, handed down from his son Willard to Lawris Closson's father-in-law, and thence to the Gordon Emersons, who in turn donated scions to the Fisher House.. Lastly, scion wood was taken to be grafted from the Pear tree, to ensure continuity for years to come.

Cages are then erected around the trees to protect them from Giant Maine Hooved Rats, a marauding pest sometimes more picturesquely referred to as 'deer' by the tourists.

Which brings us to this morning. The trees were put up for 'adoption', and all were spoken for, and this morning, with apple trees in bloom, members of the community gathered and planted 'their' trees, in the spots where Jonathan Fisher had planted similar ones nearly 200 years ago. Rev. McCall spoke a few words to bless the trees, and with that, Fisher's great-great-great-great granddaughter helped to plant one of the cherry trees descended from those first ones, in the very spots where the originals had grown.

Over 30 people showed up to help, and the first 9 trees were planted in two hours.

Andrea Hendrix, with the tree she donated and planted in honor of her grandchildren

What remains is to bury a modern electrical entry wire, and to construct a picket fence in front of the house, and the appearance of Fisher's homestead will closely resemble the view in Fisher's famous painting of Blue Hill in 1824
Spring, by Jonathan Fisher, 1820 (Collection of Jonathan Fisher House)

Thank you to the Fisher house volunteers who made the day run smoothly, picking up supplies, planting and staking and caging the trees, and providing delicious refreshments (two kinds of apple cake, appropriately---recipe please, Marilyn)

And thank you to all the donors who made this ambitious project possible:


Louise Fisher Abbot
Mr. & Mrs. Daniel Dennett
Owen & Ruth Evans
Mr. & Mrs. R. Andrew Fletcher III
Millenium Communications Group


David Abbot, in honor of his wife, Louise Fisher Abbot
Anonymous Donor
Leslie Becker & William Loomis
Ellen Best & Geoffrey Anthony
Mr. & Mrs. Gordon Emerson
Andrea Hendrix, in honor of her Grandchildren
Pamela H. Holden, in Memory of her husband, Dr. Randall Holden, Jr.
Marilyn Heineman
Linda Hoskins & Rev. Theodore Hoskins
Seymour Lipkin
Mainescape Nursery & Garden
Members of the Board of the Jonathan Fisher Memorial
Sarah Pebworth
Ellen Werner, in Memory of her Father, Dr. Harry B. Werner 

William Petry, Caroline Werth, Jane Garfield, & Barbara Rossow


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fisher Orchard Planting May 15th

After 3 years of research and planning on this Saturday, May 15th at 10:00 A.M. the Fisher Memorial will begin planting it's restoration of Jonathan Fisher’s fruit orchard with historic varieties duplicating Fisher's original choices as laid out in an 1820 plan of the orchard.  The orchard is a major part of the design to reproduce the broader context for the house and furnishings of the first settled minister in Blue Hill whose tenure spanned the early years of the village until 1837.  Reverend Fisher’s famous 1824 painting “Morning View of Blue Hill Village” shows his orchard from the vantage point of Greene’s Hill.      
 Jonathan Fisher's 1820 plan of his orchard, including an allee from the parlor windows (Jonathan Fisher Collection, courtesy Farnsworth Art Museum & Library
 The heritage plantings, Golden Russet, Roxbury Russet, Ribston Pippin, have been grafted and nurtured by Tim Seabrook and Leslie Cummins of Five Star Nursery and Orchard in Brooklin, plus two cherry trees descended from Fisher’s original trees have been donated.  The field has been cleared and readied thanks to a donation from Louise Abbot, a great-great-granddaughter of Jonathan Fisher. On Saturday, in a wonderful bit of continuity, Mrs. Abbot will turn the first spade of soil for the hole in which will be planted a cherry tree directly descended from the 'English Cherry' that Fisher planted, in the original location indicated on his plan.  Reverend Rob McCall of the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill, an orchard keeper himself, will bless the orchard.
 The Fisher Farm, detail from 'A Morning View of Blue Hill Village, 1824, showing the Fisher house at left, with orchard below.
8 trees will planted this year, with 7 more to follow next year.  For a couple of years, the trees will have to be protected against deer and raccoons with rather unauthentic chicken wire and stakes, but we anticipate that in five years, the orchard will once again bloom in spring as it did nearly 200 years ago.
The Tree Planting Ceremony is planned for Saturday, May 15, at 10AM.  Refreshments will be provided and the public is invited to attend.  For those who wish to (support) become more involved in this project, a tree may be (adopted) purchased for a $150 donation to the Jonathan Fisher Memorial, Inc.  This will include the cost of the tree, planting, fencing and maintenance.  Or, any donation to this heritage project will be greatly appreciated.    

Monday, March 15, 2010

Remembrance of Winter Past

The last winter was the gentlest in years in this part of the world--so mild that one wonders what Parson Fisher would make of it in his journal.  However, before the snow disappeared completely, Carol Blyberg captured these lovely shots of the house, at rest for the winter.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

3rd Annual Fisher House Benefit Antiques Show Dates Announced

The Fisher House is pleased to announce the dates for our popular summer fundraiser, The Fisher House Antiques Show, back for a third season.

This year's show will be on Saturday, August 21st, open from 10 AM to 3 PM., with early buying admission at 8:30 for a charge of $15.00

Dealers desiring further information may download a contract here, or may email us at

The show is limited to 38 dealers, and we recommend that exhibitors sign up early to take advantage of booth discounts, and to insure a place in this always full show.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Whilst perusing the blog of former Fisher House board member Carol Blyberg, we came across this photo of a charming Christmas ornament depicting the Fisher House that her daughter Janet, designed and needlepointed for her.