Audio Postcard: A Celebration of E.E. Cummings at Silver Lake

E.E. Cummings is one of the most beloved modern American poets. But he was also an enthusiastic painter, and his favorite subjects included landscapes from his summer home at Joy Farm in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. Word of Mouth Producer Molly Donahue brings us this audio postcard from a weekend celebration of Cummings’ legacy.

Click here to listen.
And here is an E.E. Cummings poem for your day.



High Tea at Joy Farm made for a delightful afternoon.

Dining room at Joy Farm

Dining room at Joy Farm

Tea at Joy Farmtea table

There was quite a spread upstairs ….
and a spectacular view of Mount Chocorua.

view from Joy Farm


A leisurely afternoon of good food and good conversation was enjoyed on E.E. Cummings’ porch.Nancy Bob and Dana

Bravo! Friends of Madison Library for a wonderful E.E. Cummings at Silver Lake Celebration Weekend July 10 & 11, 2015.


The PoetandPainter of Joy Farm


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A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.
This may sound easy. It isn’t.”

Many people do not know that E E Cummings’, the well-known poet who lived part of the year near Silver Lake, in Madison, NH, first ambition was to become a painter, not a poet. Born on October 14, 1894, most people know E.E. Cummings the writer. As a poet, Edward Estlin Cummings was very popular throughout the 20th century and received widespread critical acclaim. Less well-known is Cummings’ accomplishment as a visual artist.

Born to a pair of genteel Cambridge parents, Estlin’s parents (he preferred being called this) were anxious that he have the best education and environment he possibly could to be a successful and happy man. Schooled at home nearly until he enrolled in Harvard at sixteen, his parents were willing participants in enacting plays, costumed, with great drama. Many of the drama props are on view at the Madison Historical Society.

Cummings thought endlessly about visual art and its relation to the other arts. He devoted a tremendous amount of time to his art, writing copious notes on his ideas about painting, color theory, the human body, the ‘intelligence’ of painting, and the Masters. He spent several years in Europe and studied all forms of art in museums.

His father was a minister of the Unitarian Church and a teacher at Harvard, where Estlin always had access to the best educators of the times. Estlin himself never became a devout churchgoer, but more of a transcendentalist in the tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who constantly apprehended spiritual truth through intellect, nature, and reading. His numerous studies of Mount Chocorua, while in the tradition of Cezanne, suggest an endless search for the truth—that of the ultimate ‘eyeball’—seeing and understanding all—which Emerson referred to in his essays.

At an early age he showed promise as a writer and an illustrator, creating his own storybooks that he also illustrated. These “ twin obsessions”—painting and poetry—were the focus of his life, but by the 1930s, he was recognized most for his poetry.

There were four major aesthetic concerns of Cummings’ adult work: perception, three-dimensional form, motion, and the interrelation of the arts were his focus in the early part of his life. Expert biographer Milton Cohen characterizes him as a ‘poet, cerebral aesthetician, and lifelong painter.’ Cummings was always struggling to earn a living, and owes much to a group of wealthy supporters who were happy to commission him to paint.

Cummings painted primarily in oils on canvas, canvas board, particleboard, cardboard, and sometimes burlap. His painting is generally divided into two phases. Between 1915 and 1928, he produced large-scale abstractions that were widely acclaimed.

Noise #13

Some of his early successes were a series entitled “Sounds” in which he portrayed sounds. These intrigued his cerebral friends. He was fascinated with color and often counterbalanced the colors of the color wheel in his landscapes. One of his favorite gifts as a young man was his own color wheel.

Then a tectonic shift in the focus of his art was near simultaneous with the deadly car accident that his parents experienced one winter night at a railroad crossing in Ossipee, NH, in November of 1926. His mother survived but his father did not. This is not to suggest causation, but often great trauma does signal dramatic change in a person’s life. His life, once he retired to Silver Lake, was generally divided into two parts during the day: painting in the morning, and poetry in the afternoon.

Between 1928 and 1962, Cummings created primarily representational works including still lifes, landscapes, nudes, and portraits.

cummings oil on board note reflection

He produced highly popular drawings and caricatures that were published in “The Dial” journal, printed by the Dial Press, a publishing house founded in 1923 by Lincoln MacVeagh. Dial Press shared a building with The Dial and Scofield Thayer worked with both. Both were friends of Cummings.

Known for cutting a dramatic though small figure when he swept through Silver Lake, his long duster swirling about him, gloves on hands, hat on head, he made an impressive figure. The gloves, of course, were to cover his highly chapped hands which were exposed daily to turpentine.

Once he settled in Silver Lake, his painting routine took the form of Mount Chocorua studies in its many attitude, poses, color, shade, and angles. They are a delight to the Chocorua lover.

E.E. Cummings-Chocorua

Cummings’ touchstones of expression were his erotic poetry and line drawings which are favorites of the collector. They are inspirational, illustrating the depth of his emotion and understanding of the nature of life and the human form.

MM-Gray-GreenLater in his life, he was an invited speaker and found great success with the dramatic delivery of his poetry. These were a terrific effort for him, but he enjoyed the attention and money that they brought him.

Cummings spent the last ten years of his life traveling, and producing speaking engagements, and living at his summer home, Joy Farm, in Silver Lake, New Hampshire. He died on September 3, 1962, at the age of 67 in North Conway, New Hampshire of a stroke.

His line drawings and aphorisms highlight his resistance to instruction of any kind:

“The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself.”

Get to know E E Cummings through the Friends of Madison Library’s Cummings at Silver Lake Celebration Weekend, July 10 & 11, 2015. On Saturday, visit his favorite landscapes and see the view from his beloved Joy Farm. View the Cummings’ Family Collection at the Madison Historical Society and the Mount Washington Valley Arts Association art show and silent auction at the Madison Library. On Friday night at 7 pm enjoy the “nonlecture” of music, art, readings and discussion at the Madison Elementary School. All proceeds from the weekend benefit the Madison Library. Tickets are available through the Madison Library or through the Friends’ website

Cynthia Melendy, PhD.

Cynthia lives in the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire and has a MA degree in American Studies and a PhD in History.

What is a well sweep and how does it work?


A well sweep is an ingenious device used to bring water up from a well.

well-sweep-watering-at-the-well-sweep-1927The only materials needed to construct a well sweep were wooden poles, usually obtained locally, and a heavy weight of stone or clay. A vertical post, often with a Y notch at the top, was mounted by the well hole. The post held a horizontal pole, or sweep, which was heavier at one end and rested on the ground. A long, thin pole with an attached bucket or pail was placed at the other end. A person would pull the thin pole and bucket down into the well and fill it with water, and the sweep’s weight would then lift the bucket up. The term, “sweep” refers to the long pole which is lowered until the bucket on the end goes down into the well and fills with water. Because the pole is anchored in the middle on another pole, creating a fulcrum, it can be counter balanced, thus making it easier to raise the pole, and lift the bucket from the well. When correctly balanced, the counterweight will support a half-filled bucket, so some effort is used to pull an empty bucket down to the water, but only the same effort is needed to lift a full bucket.


Originally developed in Ancient Egypt, a drawing of such a device appears on a Sumerian seal of c.2000 BCE.  Well sweeps are still used in many areas of Africa and Asia to draw water. Also called a “shadoof” or “shaduf”, they remain quite common in Hungary’s Great Plains, where they are known as “gémeskút” (literally, “ heron wells”) and are symbols of the region. In France, where sweeps were still widespread in the countryside in 1986, they are called “balancing wells”.

In Gascony-silent witnesses to the past- old wells.

The bucket ( or skin bag or coated reed basket) can be made in many different styles, sometimes having an uneven base or a part at the top of the skin that can be untied. This allows the water to be immediately distributed rather than manually emptied. The short end carries a weight (clay, stone, or similar) which serves as the counterpoise of a lever. When used for irrigation, with an almost effortless swinging and lifting motion, the waterproof vessel is used to scoop up and carry water from one body of water (typically, a river or pond) to another. At the end of each movement, the water is emptied out into runnels that convey the water along irrigation ditches in the required direction. Well sweeps in New England were more common one hundred years ago or more and came to be replaced by pulleys and cranks and eventually by mechanical pumps.Joy Farm

The well sweep in clearly visible in this 1905 photo of Joy Farm, summer home of the American poet, author and painter, E.E. Cummings.   Buddy well sweep at Joy Farm

Bud Shackford and his brothers, Meyhew and Loren, replace the Y shaped fulcrum pole at Joy Farm sometime in the 1950s. Cummings also had an iron hand pump in the kitchen. Joy Farm_038

The well sweep at Joy Farm has been repaired many times over the intervening years, most recently by the current owners, although they no longer use water from the well.

Visit Joy Farm and 7 other locations in the Silver Lake area as part of the Cummings at Silver Lake Celebration Weekend, July 10 & 11, 2015. Tickets are $15 per person prior to July 1st and $20 after that date.

Visit Joy Farm



The Cummings at Silver Lake Celebration Weekend is only a month away and tickets are selling fast.

Due to space constraints at Joy Farm, there is limited seating for the Friday afternoon Tea. This event is now sold out. However, the Saturday tour included access to Joy Farm.

Please join us for the Friday night “nonlecture” at 7pm at the Madison Elementary School and for the Saturday Tour of 8 locations around Silver Lake. Tickets for the weekend are $15 if purchased before July 1, 2015 and $20 after July 1.

Open the Window on E.E. Cummings


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The Friends of Madison Library open the window on E.E. Cummings at Silver Lake with a Weekend of Celebration.

Join us for a weekend of art, music, poetry and history exploring the relationship between the American poet and artist, E E Cummings, and the people and town of Madison, New Hampshire. Friday night will feature a “nonlecture”, art show, Cummings’ poetry set to music and discussion. On Saturday visit 8 local sites, including the Cummings’ Family Collection at the Madison Historical Society and the poets’ beloved “Joy Farm”.

Tickets include both the Friday night events and the Saturday tour. Box lunches will be available for sale at the Madison Library on Saturday. Tickets are $20 per person or $15 if purchased before June 30, 2015. All proceeds benefit the non-profit Friends of Madison Library.

Joy Farm will host an afternoon tea with limited seating by separate additional ticket purchased in advance. Tickets for the tea are an additional $10.

A Celebration of People and Place


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Our new Cummings at Silver Lake website and blog are intended to celebrate the people and places which inspired and informed the art and poetry of Edward Estlin Cummings, known throughout the world of letters as “e e cummings”.

The culmination of our efforts will be the Cummings at Silver Lake Weekend July 10 and 11, 2015.  Please join the Friends of Madison Library as we open the window on E. E. Cummings at Silver Lake.

There is lots more to come. In the meantime, skip around, check out our new site and please let us know what you think. Do you know these people and places?

Cummings at Silver Lake Weekend July 10-11, 2015

Silver Lake, summer home of the poet and artist E.E. Cummings, is a division of the Town of Madison. Located in the beautiful Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire and incorporated in 1852, Madison has a long and interesting history as a farming and tourist community. Town tax records reveal that there are approximately 50 barns in Madison which are over 100 years old, including Cummings’ Joy Farm. Friends of Madison Library held a wonderfully successful fund raising Barn Tour in July 2014. Watch this site for information about the Cummings at Silver Lake Weekend July 10 and 11, 2015. Friends of Madison Library is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Our mission is to encourage and support the resources and services of the Madison Library, to co-operate with the Library in developing services and facilities for the community, and to receive and encourage gifts, endowments and bequests to the library.

We need and welcome your financial support of our programs.

Barn Tour Retrospective

Paige, it was so nice to finally meet you at the Barn Tour. Your blog is one of our favorites and this one is so well done. Thank you for so beautifully portraying Madison and our barns.

[ stories from a small village ]

Photo Jul 12, 11 16 18 AM (Large)

Madison County, Iowa has its bridges; but here in Madison, New Hampshire, they have barns – lots of them. Today the Friends of Madison Library sponsored a Barn Tour – I’ve had it marked on my calendar for months.

My reason to get excited about barns? Well, I’ve always liked them – as a kid we played in the hay and swung from ropes and sat in the loft looking out over our childhood kingdom. They also make great subjects for photography. But my main reason for going on the tour today was prompted by a comment left on one of my previous blog posts here.

Photo Jul 12, 1 53 35 PM (Large)

Awhile back I came across the bit of information that my favorite poet, e.e. cummings, lived in Madison. Since it is very near my house, I was thrilled – I had to go find it. I made the trip only to realize that…

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