Sunday, November 2, 2014
The Warner House
I was also particularly interested in the ethereal portrait of Polly Warner, above, age 11. Many family members have occupied the Warner House from the 1700's to the 1930's, and it was difficult to keep track of the many ladies of the house so I am not quite sure who Polly was in the Warner lineage. But she certainly captured my heart with her pet bird on a ribbon and her serene face. The painting was wall-sized and Polly peered deeply into my eyes as I stared back into hers. She was painted by Joseph Blackburn, a famous English portraitist who excelled in painting women's lace sleeves and elaborate dress textiles. He is especially well-known for capturing the beauty of shimmering silks, and was therefore, a favorite artist of fashionable women everywhere. I was quite dismayed to learn that sweet Polly died at age 20 in childbirth.
The house is extremely livable in that it doesn't have the small low ceilings and narrow hallways one sees in early 18th century homes. There was an airiness and expanse to the rooms and foyers and often I would glance down at the wooden floor boards and imagine the long sweep of a woman's skirt hem in flickering candlelight as she turned a corner from one of the many bedroom doorways that emptied into the large upstairs hall.
Eventually I spotted the lovely cream bedspread and viewed up close and personal the level of craftsmanship that goes into making such a beautiful thing. The knitting needles used must have been the very tiniest, the stitches so intricate and so abrupt in the turning and twisting pattern. As a knitter, I cannot imagine the time it must have taken to create such perfection and loveliness.
We moved onto the third floor where suddenly, my thoughts turned to Sara Crewe from The Little Princess and the cold attic existence she had to live when Miss Minchin banished her after Mr. Crewe was lost in the war. The only interest in the blunt rooms were the string of brass and iron bells flanking the top of one wall, very much like the ones in Downton Abbey's opening credits. It was clear, these frigid echoing rooms belonged to the servants.
I passed on climbing the curved and narrow stairs to the cupola, especially when I spied a bat's trap on the third step. Two of our party climbed the claustrophobic passage and were rewarded with a stunning view of Portsmouth Harbor and environs.