Finding My New Running Dog Guitar

I’ve been thinking about a smaller guitar for some time, to take my music in different directions and to help move beyond what has been a rather long plateau of musical mediocrity when it comes to playing.  But the time was never right, the funds were always tight, and I had other priorities.

A couple of months ago I broke through a personal logjam, and in the process started focusing more on enjoying my music.  (I am good enough to know that I’m not that good, but I decided not to worry about it anymore.)  Candice and I talked, and I told her my dream of getting a new guitar.  She said, “Let’s go for it.”

Of course I had a plan and even discussed it with some friends.  I had a builder in mind and even sought out some of their guitars to test drive.

But then I stumbled across a beautiful Running Dog guitar and decided to seize the day.

Two weeks ago we were in New England with our twins for college visits.  With a couple of hours before the tour, we saw a nice little sidewalk cafe where we headed for lunch.  I noticed a sign for The Fretted Instrument Workshop and mentioned to Candice that I might go up and play a few guitars after eating.

I climbed the stairs to the second floor shop and instantly saw three small O and OO-size Martin guitars with slotted headstocks and 12-fret necks.  Just what I was looking for!  I played through all three Martins, and while I liked them the necks weren’t feeling exactly right.  The shop’s owners were watching carefully, and one headed to another room and came back with this beautiful guitar.  He said, “Try this and see if the neck feels better for you.”

Thirty seconds later, I knew I had found my guitar.  As I played, it just felt right in my hands.  The curly koa back produced a warm sound.  It was beautifully balanced.  I loved the look of the Parlor guitar, based on an 1896 size O Martin.  And as I played I thought about a friend who passed away tragically and suddenly just a few days before, still relatively young and in the prime of enjoying an active retirement.  As a friend likes to say, this isn’t a dress rehearsal.  It was time to act.

Candice finally came up to find me.  She walked in and I could tell by the look on her face that she knew what I was thinking.  With a great amount of love and understanding she said, “Let’s do it.”

But before I pulled the trigger, I had a college tour to take.  I told Tony and Mario that I’d be back in 90 minutes.  And then I quickly emailed a couple of colleagues, including one who is a collector.  I said, “I’ve never heard of Running Dog guitars.  Can you do some quick research while I walk around learning about student/teacher ratios and the renovation of the historic dormitory?”  In less than a minute Carl replied with, “I’m on it!”  Within 15 minutes he was emailing me all about the beautiful bracing and craftsmanship of Rick Davis’ work and ended with, “Buy that sucka!”

And here, dear readers, is my new 2001 Running Dog Parlor guitar (pictures courtesy of Claire).  The first photo is of the full front, where you can see the beautiful, traditional shape of the size O guitar.

Next is the headstock.  We’ve now decided that the running dog going across the headstock is Lilly (yet another reason to buy the guitar!)

The curly koa back, with the matching sides.

Here’s a fun and quirky feature.  The original owner of the guitar was a Civil War reenactor.  You can see his allegiance by the custom design on the back of the headstock.  The owners of the shop heard my Southern accent and asked if I would have a problem with the “Union Forever” sentiment.  I laughed and said that 1) I was in historic preservation so I loved the additional connection to history and 2) I was smart enough to know that the right side won the war.

Back at home, this has become a familiar spot for me.  I have two sessions scheduled tomorrow to play this guitar with friends.  I can’t wait.

More to come…


Eating Our Way Through New England

From Blue State Coffee in Providence, where Claire and I are enjoying a couple hours relaxation after an early morning wake-up and drive, here are some reflections on the good food found in New England on our trip.

Sorry Blue State, but the best coffee we found – hands down – was at Bard Coffee in Portland, Maine.  (That’s not really fair to Blue State, since neither Claire nor I are actually having coffee here…she’s into a great blueberry smoothie and I’m having a delicious iced tea, so we’ll rate them best smoothies and tea…but I digress.)

We had breakfast at Bard two days in a row and our various cups of coffee and pastries were terrific.  Everything is fresh and the staff is incredibly friendly.  Plus, when I came in on Thursday, they had Nickel Creek’s The Fox coming out of the speakers, and on Friday, it was Old Crow Medicine Show followed by Alison Krauss and Union Station playing the great Jerry Douglas tune We Hide and Seek.  How can you not love a coffee shop with a morning playlist like that!  (As another digression, check out the terrific live version of The Fox in the video at the end of this post.  It is the version Claire and I saw at Merlefest a few years ago and features a detour into Subterranean Homesick Blues for you Dylan fans.)  Finally, in another bit of good news Bard appears to be holding its own against the Starbucks across the street.

We spent part of yesterday in Rockland, Maine and I had the best (well, truthfully, the only) lobster lasagna I’ve ever had at the Rockland Cafe.  I’ve been lobbying for a meal at a diner this entire trip, and the cafe was the closest we came.  Rockland’s Main Street is pictured in the photo at the top of the post and we had a great time visiting that revitalized commercial area as well as the one in Bath.  (Only the state of Maine has problems with naming Main Streets…you’re never sure if you are on Maine Street or Main Street.  The problem is compounded in Brunswick, where Maine Street turns into Main Street.)

After walking off our lunch in Rockland, we landed at the Thorndike Creamery where we immediately filled our bellies with some great Gifford’s ice cream.  I had the superb Maine Deer Tracks flavor, described on their web site AND by our knowledgeable and chatty server as rich espresso ice cream with crunchy Heath Bar candies and tracks of thick chocolate fudge.

Believe it or not, Candice and I also got a date night to ourselves on this trip, when Andrew and Claire decided they wanted pizza.  We sent them off to fend for themselves in the Old Port Historic District in Portland and we had a sumptuous dinner at The Salt Exchange, a “small plates” restaurant also located in the Old Port District.

Finally, for those in the Boston area we took the advice of our friend Mary Lane Jackmin and tried out the Diesel Cafe located on Davis Square in Somerville.  The food was great, the decor was fun, and the staff was among the friendliest we encountered during a trip where having a bad wait-staff experience was an anomaly.  Their turkey sandwich even gave Amy’s Bakery Arts Cafe in Brattleboro a run for its money!

So, we have one more day before heading home, and Candice has a great restaurant in her sights for this evening.  If it is as good as advertised, I’m sure there will be an update.  Check back, and remember to take in the amazing Chris Thile in the video below.

More to come…


The Most Ignored Building on Campus (Tours)

Quick Quiz:  Name the most beautiful building on any college campus that student tour guides do their best to ignore.

Answer:  The College Chapel.  (I know, the picture at the top gave it away.)

Based on my experience now with 17 campus tours in the past year,  colleges are doing everything possible to ignore their chapels when selling their schools to prospective students and their parents.

We’ve seen it time and time again on our most recent northeast tour as we visit some of the most beautiful and well-maintained campuses this country has to offer.  These schools just ooze heritage.  We’ve toured an amazing adaptation of an old swimming pool into a state-of-the-art concert hall.  We’ve seen an old field house turned into a lively student union.  Two historic structures on one campus are under complete renovation as they become 21st century academic buildings.  In every instance – no matter the school – we’re given the full fire hose of information about the reuse of these older buildings.

But when we pass arguably the loveliest historic buildings on campus – the chapels – our gregarious and perky tour guides turn into stone trolls unable to speak.  The presentation usually begins, “We use to be affiliated with the Episcopal/Presbyterian/Congregationalist/Quaker/choose your own denomination, but we aren’t anymore.”  They quickly add that the chapels are now used for multi-faith services (something to celebrate, if you ask me) and other very important and useful community-outreach activities.  And yet their body language says, “You’ll have to shoot me before I’ll take you inside to see these beautiful spaces.”

I know, I know.  Students don’t give a damn about the chapels, and most of their parents don’t either.  When you are working to capture the essence of an institution in an hour (the ideal time frame for a college tour from a parents’ point of view, by the way), you have to talk about the selling points of your school…and historic chapels are far down the list for a significant majority of the visiting population.

But then there’s this historic preservationist in the group who just wants to see these buildings.  So after figuring out the pattern, I’ve started wandering off with my camera.  I know there will be something worth seeing.

Today was like so many others on this trip, but the difference is I ended up getting inside and reveling in special spaces that contribute so much to what makes two very fine colleges unique.  I want to highlight one of them.

The chapel at Bates College was a two-fer:  a beautiful building AND three organs, including a small historic one and a modern mechanical-action organ.  When we arrived, the chapel was empty and was semi-dark, so it was the perfect place to spend about 15-20 minutes and gather one’s thoughts for the day.

Though it was built in 1913, the Bates College Chapel remains to this day one of the most architecturally interesting buildings on campus. Financed by Mrs. D. Willis James and dedicated on the eve of World War I, the Chapel’s design came from the Boston firm of Coolidge and Carlson, but the inspiration for its Gothic construction came from the King’s College Chapel at Cambridge University, which was built in the fifteenth century by Henry Vl. The structure is English Collegiate Gothic in style, and the seam-faced Quincy granite used in its construction gives the building its distinctive light coloring. Two aspects of the exterior are particularly interesting: the porch entrance based on the Galilee Porch of a cathedral in Durham, England, and the Tudor arches, which add to the basic Gothic style of the rest of the building.

The interior pews and floors are of wood, and the ceiling is crossed by heavy beams which give the chapel much of its distinctive flavor.

I got really excited, however, when I saw two of the organs in the Bates chapel.  As regular readers of More to Come… know, I am a big fan of mechanical action (or tracker) organs.  As soon as I turned around to face the rear of the room, I exclaimed to Candice, “They have a modern tracker organ here!”

The organ located in the rear gallery is the third instrument to occupy the Chapel. It was installed in 1982, replacing the Esty organ, which underwent a major restoration in 1953. The present organ was built by Hellmuth Wolff of Laval, Canada, and its Renaissance-style case of stained white oak was inspired by the organ in St. Geroen, Cologne. The pipeshades, of hand-carved butternut wood, reflect some of the wood carvings found elsewhere in the Chapel.

The organ is a thirty-six-stop, mechanical-action instrument of eclectic design. The pipes in the facade are speaking pipes, made of an alloy of tin and lead.

It is a lovely instrument, that no doubt gives great pleasure to the Bates College community.

The chapel also has a sweet little historical organ at the front of the room (seen in the left of the photo  below), which according to the college website was built by Henry Erben in 1850. Erben was the finest of the mid-nineteenth century American organ builders.

We all loved Bates and the beautiful campus.

Not that anyone asked, but my advice to admissions officers and college tour guides is to simply ask if anyone would like to see your historic chapel.  You may not have any takers, but when you do, you’ll know you can showcase one of the loveliest – and most interesting – places on campus that speaks eloquently as to who you are.

More to come…



Snapshots (visual and otherwise) from the road, including…

#1 – We all laughed when we saw the bumper sticker pictured at the top of the post in Brattleboro, VT – that hot bed of liberalism – which reads, “Caution!  I don’t Brake for Right Wing Nut Jobs!”

#2 – The best food in America is being served in small, independent cafes and restaurants.  Our two-week streak of not eating in a chain restaurant is intact!

#3 – Just about the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever eaten was made at Amy’s Bakery Arts Cafe in Brattleboro.  The turkey was perfect, and the cranberry chutney and sourdough bread only made it better.

#4 – After hearing about the wonderful Ragged Mountain Club in New Hampshire from our friends John and Bizzy Lane for decades, we finally made a visit and found out they were right on the money.  What a great place to spend a summer!  Andrew swam across the pond, making that the second body of water he’s crossed on this vacation (the first being Lake Mohonk in New York).  God, I wish I could swim like my children.

#5 – We’ve just arrived in downtown Portland, Maine, and what a great place! The Old Port Historic District is hopping.  We’re staying at the wonderful Portland Regency Hotel, located in a historic armory.  The Regency is yet another terrific member of the Historic Hotels of America group.

#6 – It made my day when the lovely young server at Mornings in Paris handed me two beautiful cups of cappuccino this evening, and then smiled at me and said, “Damn, those look good!”  She was right.

We’re down to the last four college visits, plus the Maine coast.  I’m having a lot of fun!

More to come…


A Few (More) Observations from the Road

Two years ago today, I was blogging during a tour of the American Southwest and made a few short observations from the road.  This year we’re touring New England and I have a few more observations to share.

Observation #1:  Our family tends to gravitate to the food choices in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die. I wrote a few days ago that we visited Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven.  Today we found Lickety Split ice cream store in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  I’m not sure how long our waist-lines can stand this focus of our travel.  Luckily, I’ve also found the fitness room every day along the way.

Observation #2:  The Porches Inn in North Adams (pictured above and also listed in 1000 Places) is just about the coolest property of the 200+ hotels that are members of Historic Hotels of America (HHA).   The twins and I stayed here about 2 1/2 years ago, and we couldn’t wait to get back and show it to Candice.  As the marketing materials describe it,

Porches is the most visible manifestation, to-date, of the changes (in a revitalized North Adams) sparked by MASS MoCA.  Its 50-plus rooms of retro-edgy, industrial granny chic ambiance makes a spirited lodging statement in New England and beyond….The interiors mix striking, colorful style with homage to the generations of mill workers’ families who lived here.

We love it.

Observation #3:  There are still many traditional New England landscapes and villages to be enjoyed as one travels.  Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with the venerable Red Lion Inn where we stayed last evening, is just one example.  The Red Lion is another terrific HHA and the look and pace are pure 19th (if not 18th) century!

Observation #4:  Chesterwood, the summer home and studio of Daniel Chester French, is one of the most beautiful and unknown National Trust Historic Sites in the US.  We toured this magical place yesterday with director Donna Hassler and her staff, and loved the museum, studio, and wooded landscape.  If you get a chance, check out the Contemporary Sculpture Show at Chesterwood, which is up through October 11th.  If you are there this weekend, stop in to see the first working sculptor in the studio since Margaret French, Daniel Chester French’s daughter who left the property to the National Trust.

Observation #5:  If we had a cheat sheet telling us which buildings were used for what purpose, any one of us could give a pretty fair college tour by now!

I’m actually joking on that last point.  We’ve met some wonderful (and wonderfully perky) young men and women over the past few days who obviously love their schools.

That’s it for now.  We head off tomorrow to visit dear friends in New Hampshire, so we have a one-day break from the college visit routine.  But we’ll pay for that when we work in four over the last two days!

More to come…


Just Another Wonderful Visit to Mohonk Mountain House

Any year is special when one has the chance to visit Mohonk Mountain House twice in a twelve-month period.  That makes 2010 a great year!

I was last here in April for a business meeting, and I wrote about the experience on More to Come…. This weekend, it has been all pleasure with the family on their first visit to this unique place.

So rather than write, I’ll just post pictures of the buildings and landscape around Lake Mohonk along with photos of the family enjoying the weekend.  We’ve been bouldering (well, Andrew and Claire took the hike that doubles as rock climbing), enjoying the fantastic spa and fitness club, touring the beautiful gardens, swimming in the lake, hiking to the tower where the picture at the top of the post was taken, and eating more gourmet food than I care to remember.   Luckily, if you can hike, run, and swim you feel you’re fighting back against the expanding waistline.   I think we’re ready to tackle a second week of college visits!

So here’s my final post from Mohonk in 2010, written in a rocking chair on the porch overlooking the lake.  Let’s hope 2011 is another special year.

More to come…


Architecture Old and New

Too often college campuses can be poorly designed landscapes for a hodgepodge of mediocre buildings.  So when you come across good – or great – buildings in the academic setting it is a real treat.

On this year’s vacation/college tour, we’ve seen some of both, but I’m pleased to say we’ve been fortunate in visiting colleges that through the years have been thoughtful about their buildings and their settings.

We’ve now become old pros at the campus tour.  Andrew and Claire head off with one tour guide so they aren’t intimidated (if they ever are) by having the folks in the same group.  Candice and I then follow a second guide.  Candice pays attention to what the guide is saying, while keeping her eye trained on the design and maintenance of the buildings.  I take pictures of the architecture and any landscape feature that strikes my fancy.  We all come together at the end and share what we’ve seen and heard.

Hey, it works for us!

At the end of week one, we’ve seen some great buildings and several beautifully conceived and landscaped campuses.  While you would expect that I’d have my eye on the historic buildings, there have also been some modernist structures that caught our attention.

The photo at the top of the post is of Frank Gehry’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College.  It was raining the day we saw this building and the photo doesn’t do it justice.  But this is a very good piece of architecture that works well in its setting – something that’s important for Gehry’s sculptured designs.  I think Boston Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell got it right in describing this as a performance piece that works once in this setting.  The brushed stainless steel covering is beautiful – even in the rain.

When visiting the Yale campus, we certainly saw what some critics call “one of the nation’s richest sites for modernist architecture.” While driving, we turned a corner in New Haven and came upon the David S. Ingalls Hockey Rink, one of the best known buildings of Eero Saarinen.   Much has been written about this 1958 building, but at first look it doesn’t disappoint.  Saarinen’s swooping roof certainly captures the motion of ice skating in a unique and unforgettable way.

I’ve shown it in an earlier post this week, but Gordon Bunshaft’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale is worth a second look.  Andrew and I toured around the building and inside as well, and were both surprised and taken with the translucent marble that allows beautiful, low-level light into the library.

Yesterday was my first visit to the Vassar campus, which is a treasure trove of good design, both old and new.  The Main Building – a National Historic Landmark which once held every element of the school – was designed by Smithsonian architect James Renwick, Jr.

The Cesar Pelli-designed renovation in 2003 of the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film (shown below), which preserved the original 1860s facade of Avery Hall but was an entirely new structure, may not be every preservationist’s delight.  But along with the Ferry Building, designed by Marcel Breuer, and Pelli’s Lehman Loeb Art Center, the campus has certainly made a name for itself with modernist architecture.

But, I must admit I’m a sucker for great libraries and the Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar didn’t disappoint.  The outside is fine early 20th century Gothic, but the inside is terrific.  I could study here all day!  As a friend of mine said in response to an earlier post, these really are cathedrals for learning.

The first week of vacation has been an architectural treat.  From this point on, it may be more about the landscapes…which isn’t a bad thing to look forward to from my perspective.  Just keep an eye open for more over the next few days.

More to come…