What better venue to launch Annisquam: Pip and Me Coming of Age than in the heart of the village?

On short notice it was a big ask. Geraldine Herbert offered the Village Library. The word of mouth response meant a wise decision to move the event next door to the Annisquam Village Hall. Given strong attendance, that was the right move.

Steve Harris, Pip’s neighbor and friend, helped with logistics including setting up and providing a PA system. He made a video of the launch. Deciding on a format of audience participation a podium was set up next to the speakers which allowed  him to capture all of the testimony.

As Pip put out a generous spread of cannolis, pastries, cheese and fruit I perused the Hall that I hadn’t visited in half a lifetime. I recalled steamy summer nights of community theatre where local lobstermen and summer folk presented engaging theatre. The Hall was also the site for the renowned Wax Works or tableaux vivant during the annual Sea Fair with ancient origins.

Like a circus barker, during my teens, Mr. Brooks guided us through the montages based on history, literature and current events. It’s an honor to be asked to participate, but as I told the audience, I declined an opportunity to portray Saddam Hussein.

The Annisquam Village Hall has been splendidly renovated. Well designed lighting features the display of paintings by the artists of Annisquam.  It underscored the theme of the first three chapters of the book that document the significance of Cape Ann artists. Renowned artists like Winslow Homer, etcher Stephen Parrish and his son Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth and the students of William Morris Hunt. They summered in Annisquam prior to establishing communities in Rockport, East Gloucester and Rocky Neck.

As part of  Gloucester 400th Plus this summer the Cape Ann Museum is presenting “Edward Hopper & Cape Ann: Illuminating a Landscape.” In 1923, a century ago, the artist met and a year later married the artist Josephine Nivison. Hopper spent five summers in Gloucester and four of them with Jo.

While there have been glowing reviews in the Boston Globe and Washington Post the critics have presented Hopper as an isolated phenomenon. There has been little interest in embedding modern artists in the cultural terroir of Gloucester with. Major artists created in an ambiance of salt air, rotting fish and squawking gulls. That concern extends to the exhibition’s curator, Elliot Bostwick Davis. The museum’s lavish Rizzoli catalogue details in depth the artist’s formal development but fails to locate him within the social and cultural context of a grungy, rough fishing port a century ago.

It’s the hardscrabble Gloucester which I vividly recall from the 1950s. There was the evening spectacle of draggers returning to the Annisquam River from Ipswich Bay while flocks of gulls swarmed for scraps. Local skippers like Dr. Breed and harpoonist, Donnie Ross, set out for tuna. He often brought fresh fish for Mom.  It was a spectacle as the enormous tuna were landed and weighed at the Anniquam Market. Later the Moonies got in on the act shipping prized fish to the sushi markets of Tokyo.

The topography of Annisquam, a cul de sac, is a factor of its inbred isolation. You are not accepted as a true Squamer until the second or third generation. That invisible wall greatly impacted Pip and me when our family built a ranch house in 1949 that was out of sync with the shingle style cottages of Norwood Heights. We had different reactions to being shunned, which is a theme of the book.

There was a day and night difference when I took the bus to downtown Gloucester. The movie houses, North Shore and Strand, anchored Main Street. That’s where I saw Vincent Price in the 3-D House of Wax and bought my first rock 45 “Rock Around the Clock” with Bill Haley and the Comets. I was desperate to be the first to wear white bucks and a madras jacket to the Yacht Club dance.

Looking around the walls of the Hall there were stunning paintings. I knew the work of Margaret Fitzhugh Browne. Her house overlooked Lobster Cove. As I shared with the audience, the artist was the first to prevent parking in front of her studio. Now you see No Parking signs everywhere.

The other artists were unfamiliar to me but of remarkable interest and quality. It underscores the work yet to be done in documenting the many artists of Cape Ann. For this research we are indebted to artist/ curator/ historian Susan Erony who has created a foundation for this study. I asked her to come to the podium to share some of Annisquam’s artists.

Annisquam artists, 1896, by George W. Wood. Courtesy of Cape Ann Museum

Annisquam Village Hall

Artists in the front row

Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, Portrait, 1907

Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, Punch and Judy

Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, Fishermen

Elizabeth Roberts, On the Sand

George Noyes, Lobster Cove

Students of William Morris Hunt painted apple blossoms.

Pip at the podium

Pip read hilarious tales

Steve Harris recorded the event

Poet Jill Carter and Geraldine Herbert shared the podium

Actress Lindsay Ann Crouse talked about camp with Pip

Peter Littlefield recalled Punch and Judy.

Michelle Bacon Pip's friend from Bay View

Bob Cunningham

Jock Bourneuf shared memories

Cousin Charlie Flynn

Dr. Kaethe Flynn with books

Dinner with Charlie and Kaetha

Kaetha smiles

Artist and scholar Susan Erony discussed Annisquam's artists

How different and affordable the village was more than a century ago. There were three large inns of which only the venerable Brynmere on Cambridge Beach survives. Artists also rented  shacks and stayed at cheap lodgings like the Dew Drop Inn. Lobster Cove bustled with activity including fishing and boat building. 

To deal with the sense of isolation during the Covid epidemic Pip and I had long conversations. They turned to our memories of growing up in Annisquam. We jogged each other’s memories calling up details. At the time I was recovering from major spinal surgery. There was a heightened sense of our mortality. 

As Pip told the audience, she asked me to write her obituary as I am the one who knows her longest and best. I countered with, why don’t you write your own story? That was the spark that ignited the book. 

It was a long process as I kept asking “How’s it coming?” To which the answer was “It’s coming.” What finally arrived astonished me. The writing was vivid, heart-felt, and often hilarious. She was shocked when I immediately posted it. An intensely inward person she was not used to making her private thoughts public. 

Of course, I identified a natural talent and encouraged more. There were further conversations as we dug ever deeper. Often we were telling the same stories from different points of view including gender and a nine-year difference in age. We had similar but significantly different takes on coming of age. 

The narrative grew beyond Annisquam. After college Pip traveled in Asia and spent time isolated in a monastery. That changed her life and I insisted it was important to include. While her orientation turned spiritual mine was hedonistic and secular. I became an art, jazz and rock critic.

We became neighbors in Cambridge. It was walking distance from her condo on Memorial Drive and my basement cave on University Road in the notorious Murder Building. It’s where I hosted a famous blow out for Alice Cooper. 

We had dinner together each week. The magic word was “pesto.” Often Pip accompanied me to concerts and rock parties. I introduced her to a neighbor, Peter Wolf. “Pip this is Peter. Peter this is Pip” I said. 

We discussed the format for the book launch. It was decided that we would confine our remarks to 45 minutes. I spoke extemporaneously while she rehearsed two selections that would run for eight minutes. Then we invited the audience to take turns coming to the podium to share their Annisquam tales. That was a great success as there was a ton of collective oral history jammed into the room. We were eager to hear each other. The format was so successful that everyone wants to repeat it. 

The selections that Pip read about our neighbor, Clark Ross, the town gossip and unofficial Mayor of Norwood Heights, were hilarious. He was known to pick Mrs. Vance’s flowers, then ring her doorbell and sell them to her as a bouquet. There was the tale of how their “Indian campfire” almost burned down a neighbor’s home. 

As a squirt she and Lindsay Ann Crouse were in the summer camp of artist Mary Jane Gorton. Lindsay confirmed that cakes were baked for dog birthdays; which they gulped down candles and all. 

Geraldine Herbert was MC and joined with poet Jill Babson Carter at the podium. Jill talked about not having much success at sailing. Save the one race she won but hit the mark. Confessing to the race committee she was disqualified. During annual Award Night, however, Commodore Ben Smith presented her a trophy for “best sportsmanship.” 

The annual Punch and Judy Show, organized by Blake scholar, Foster Damon was a treasured highlight of the Sea Fair. There was a Browne painting of it in the Hall. Peter Littlefield, who has had a career in theatre and opera, discussed playing Punch. 

I howled in surprise when Bob Cunningham rose to speak. I wanted to know if he was “Big Ham or Little Ham” affectionate names given to the three brothers. 

It was a pleasure to see family in attendance; Sarah Tuvin sold books, my niece Augusta Cheshire and her daughter Ashleigh, as well as cousin Charlie Flynn and his wife Kaethe. Our artists friends- Gabrielle Barzaghi and Randy Carr as well as Susan Erony and Jay Jaroslav- sat in the front row.                 

We met with the Flynns a couple of nights later for dinner. Kaethe, a doctor of physical therapy, said that she had a story to tell but too many were more eager to get to the podium. “Walker Hancock was my patient, a lovely man,” she said. He was one of the sculptors of Annisquam and Lanesville which included Anna Hyatt Huntington, Paul Manship, George Demetrios, Al Duca and artist Leon Kroll. 

By prior agreement Gerry was to close it down at 9PM after a tight 90 minutes. Surely there were more Squam tales to tell, but, perhaps for another time.