Total Pageviews

Monday, May 20, 2013

Robinson Jeffers Tor House Garden Party Part 1 - Tor House Garden



The first Sunday of May is the day set aside for the Tor House Garden Party and the only day when photography is allowed beyond the gate.  The preservation of Tor House, the gardens, and the literary legacy of Robinson Jeffers and his muse, Una Call Jeffers is made possible by the Jeffers family and the Tor House FoundationTours are conducted hourly year round Friday and Saturday, beginning at 10AM.




May 5, 2013
The Tor House Garden Party
26304 Ocean View Ave
Carmel-by-the-Sea



A Celebration of the
100th Anniversary of the Marriage of
Una and Robinson Jeffers



Garden 


The stone fence that surrounds Tor House was built by Robin Jeffers with two gates.  The one we enter now to the east off Ocean View Avenue, which the Jeffers referred to as "moor gate," and the one to the west, we will discover later in this tour, they called "sea gate." 


Tor House Moor Gate photo DSCF1239_zps0b3b3579.jpg
 

One of the first things you will notice, after taking in the spectacular sea view, is the abundance of what appear to be randomly placed unusually designed stones. Well, one thing is for certain, nothing around Tor House has been placed without purpose.

Stone Trinkets

Look just about anywhere in the garden path or in a rock wall, and you will find items that just don't seem to belong.  But they do. These are stones, statues, or trinkets; all precious jewels with a treasured memory that Robin and Una or one of their many friends or family members would bring to Tor House for its final resting place.  They were reminders of adventures taken, places visited, a famous person, or just local history. 

After entering the moor gate look for the fragment of green ceramic from the Temple of Heaven in Peking.  It is hard to miss the blue and yellow Italian tiles,  


Tor House Italian Tiles photo DSCF1286_zps628ba636.jpg

or the four colorful tiles from Mexico.  The gray-green stone with the Celtic cross Una found discarded in an alley near the Clondahorky church yard, in County Donegal, Ireland.  She just had to have it, so of course Robin picked it up and brought it home. 

Tor House found near Clondahorky Churchyard County Donegal, Ireland photo DSCF1321_zps4172b181.jpg
 

All of those large gray slabs of slate, most of which make up the entrance to the East Wing were formerly the tops of the billiard tables in the Fort Ord Officers Club.  Robin thought they would make a wonderful walkway. They do actually.

Tor House pathway to East Wing path made of tops of billiard tables from Fort Ord Officers Club photo DSCF1318_zpsb924adbe.jpg
 
The lintel of the door over the entrance to the east wing is from the High Sierra forest ranger station near Mono Lake.  Garth brought it to the house as a memento of the time he was stationed there.

Tor House Entrance to East Wing photo DSCF1291_zps375e2b00.jpg  
 

Rock Hounds will be fascinated but the array of rocks and minerals embedded throughout the walls of the property.  Just inside the moor gate is a piece of obsidian from Glass Mountain, California, a fossil from the Tassajara Hot Springs, black lava from Hawaii, and Jade from near Big Sur.

Tor House Garden Wall Obsidian photo DSCF1322_zps51632597.jpg
 

The little boy and the dolphin has an interesting story.  It is a Roman statue that originally belonged to an American artist, John Singer Sargent, who kept it in his garden at 31 Tite Street, London before giving it to Julie, one of his students, who then gave it to Robin and Una.

 photo DSCF1332_zps3b7e41b2.jpg
 When excavating for their foundation, Robin and Una discovered that the land they were building upon was originally inhabited by the Ohlone. In honor of the Ohlone they placed a stone mortar and pestle found in the Big Sur area on the top of the gate posts that lead into their main courtyard. 

 For the garden party they are adorned with flowers.
Tor House Indian Mortar from Big Sur, California photo DSCF1324_zpsc6bcc3d8.jpg
Also in the main courtyard is a large mill stone of gray lava.  Robin and Una brought this from one of their numerous trips in the 1930's to Taos, New Mexico to visit friends Tony and Mabel Luhan.  As with everything else on the tor, there is a story and many times a poem.
Mabel Luhan was "obsessed with the idea of the artistic perpetuation of the New Mexico country.  She was responsible for the folio of photographs by Ansel Adams, printed by the Grabhorn Press."  Mabel had "willed" the English writer D. H. Lawrence to come to Taos and write of the country. He did so only sparingly, so "she then "willed" that Robinson Jeffers should come to New Mexico and take up where Lawrence had left off." (1)
Though the Jeffers traveled many times to New Mexico between 1930 and 1938, Robin wrote only one poem on Mabel's beloved Indian country. 
 New Mexican Mountain 
I watch the Indians dancing to help
 The young corn at Taos pueblo.
 
The old men squat in a ring and make the song,
 The young women with fat bare arms, and a few
     Shame-faced young men, shuffle the dance. 
The lean-muscled young men
 Are naked to the narrow loins,
 Their breasts 
and backs daubed with white clay,
 
Two eagle-feathers plume the black heads.
They dance with reluctance,
They are growing civilized;
 The old men persuade them. 
Only the drum is confident,
 It thinks the world has not changed;
     The beating heart, the simplest of rhythms,
It thinks the world has not changed at all;
It is only a dreamer, a brainless
     Heart, the drum has no eyes.
These tourists have eyes,
The hundred watching the dance,
 white Americans, hungrily too,
With reverence, not laughter;
Pilgrims from civilization,
Anxiously seeking beauty, religion, poetry;
     Pilgrims from the vacuum. 
People from cities, anxious to be human again.
 Poor show how they suck you empty!
  The Indians are emptied,
And certainly there was never religion enough,
 or beauty  nor poetry here
     ...to fill Americans. 
Only the drum is confident,
It thinks the world has not changed.
     Apparently only myself and the strong
Tribal drum, and the rock-head of Taos mountain,
Remember that civilization
Is a transient sickness. (2)


  
Main House
Besides the writing of her husband, Una loved the works of Irish poet William Butler Yeats and Irish novelist and poet George Augustus Moore.  Anything associated with Yeats or Moore that crossed Una's path managed to make its way back to Tor House. And that is exactly what happened to the stone set in the paving outside the front door with the words "Moore Hall, County Mayo."


This stone came from George Moore's manor house that was burned during the "Troubles" of the early 1920's.  The words were not carved into the stone until the Jeffers had returned with it to California.  Robin then hired a gravestone carver out of Monterey by the name of Maddox to carve this and other stone work throughout their property.   
What looks like a bench under the front window, also has a fascinating story.  One day Robin got word that part of a stairway in Monterey was being demolished and that the cement from this stairway had at one time been a ballast on a ship which traveled around Cap Horn from New York to San Francisco.

Feeling that this would make an excellent addition to their ever-expanding collection of "gifts" from around the world, Robin brought the ballast home and it became the bench under the window outside the living room. I believe there is also one of these ballasts outside the dining room window facing the sea.
On top of the bench is what looks like a Buddha,
but it is actually a Chinese goddess of fertility.

Just to the left of the front door is a plaque.
Tor House is one of two properties in Carmel
listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 




The other is "Outlands on 80 Acres"
better known as Flanders Mansion


  
One last thing to notice before entering Robin and Una's front door, is the block-and-tackle pulley system at the upper left of the door. Robin devised this to lift the heavy loads of stone up to the third and fourth floor of Hawk Tower during construction.  Robin and Una's ingenuity is absolutely fascinating.


"The lingering scents of hearthfires
 and dried petals remain
in the west sitting room.
Beyond the original wavy glass window
panes, the Pacific continues its ceaseless
murmur and motion - now as then, when the
Jeffers family gathered for evenings of music,
reading, chess, or conversation with friends
." (3)


Living Room
Once inside notice the ceiling, this was purposely built low to keep the heat in on many a cold night. The interior walls were made of redwood, because apparently termites do not like redwood. 
On the wall  to the left is a framed map of Ireland with little red circles.  Each of the circles represents the location of a round tower in Ireland, confirmation of Una's obsession with Irish round towers. This map is hung over one of Una's treasured melodeon organs. 
As Una played her Irish music,
Robin would doodle on the page around the music.

On page 71 Robin has drawn William Butler Yeats
 tower and cottage at Ballylee.


Una usually "sat in the same chair
by the table in front of the fireplace, 
with a green eye shade she always wore when
sewing, or making the little moccasins."  
(4)
Robin commonly sat in the settle. 
 Near the settle is the wood bin,
plenty of wood was necessary
 to heat the house which did not have
gas or electricity until 1949. 
The cabinet above the living room fireplace was a pistol cupboard, but instead of finding a pistol behind the door, a skull was found.  Robin's son Garth thought it might have been because of Una's interest in   the supernatural, or it could have been from the time Robin studied medicine at the University of Southern California in 1907.   
The fireplace (one of 11 to heat Tor House) had pipes behind it to heat water for cooking and laundry. The furniture, mirror, wall sconces, and just about everything that ones sees while touring this home is original to the family.  This is clear when you compare the black and white photo shown at the beginning of this blog, which was taken in the 1930's to the existing room.  You can almost compare the contents of the shadow box in 1930 with that of today's. 

Behind the locked shadowbox is a chess set from Bavaria and a Red unicorn - besides Irish round towers, the unicorn was another one of Una's fascinations.  If you wonder how her name is pronounced it is UNa as in UNicorn. 

Though Robin and Una were visited by many famous people at  Tor House, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sinclair Lewis, George Sterling, Charlie Chaplin, Dylan Thomas, Noel Sullivan, James Cagney, Judith Anderson, Jane Addams, Martha Graham, Charles Lindbergh, Leopold Stokowski, and George Gershwin to name a few, most of the days and nights at Tor House were spent quietly. 
After dinner, the Jeffers family sat in the living room by the fire. Robin read aloud to Una, Garth, and Donnan poetry as well as all of W. H. Hudson's novels, ten novels from Waverly and Thomas Hardy, three works from Dostoevsky and many others.  Una would sew or mend cloths for the family, make moccasins for Garth and Donnan or play the melodeon. 

The chair with blue upholstery by the fireplace is unusually low to the ground (not visible in this picture, but take my word for it).  Called an oven chair, it was the perfect height for sitting in while tending to your baked goods in the oven.  I had never heard of this but when I goggled "antique oven chair" I believe I got the 1960's version.

Robin and Una collected numerous books that were piled high throughout their home.  In 1970 when inventory was taken 2,000 books were counted.  Today the books are stored on the shelves of the home.  The grills were added by the Tor House Foundation for security. 
The Round Tower and Ancient Architecture of Ireland shown above contains handwritten notes by Robin. This book may have been a "How To Guide" for Robin while he built Hawk Tower.   

You can not miss the 1905 Steinway, a prized possession from Una's marriage to Ted Kuster, 

which sits predominately in front of the west facing window to the sea.
Yes that is the Butterfly House, but this wouldn't have bothered
the Jeffers until 1950 when it was built.  


 We can probably be sure the George Gershwin sat at this bench when he visited, as the scenery and environment would have been irresistible for a piano man. If you look just right you can block out the Butterfly House. 

On the wall near the Steinway is a striking portrait of Una Jeffers, Donnan's daughter, painted by a local artist, Sam Manning.  Robin was so taken by the portrait that he wrote, as he always did when he was moved by something, a poem. 

Granddaughter 


And here's a portrait of my granddaughter Una
When she was two years old: a remarkable painter,
A perfect likeness; nothing trickery nor modernist,
Nothing of the artist fudging his art into the picture,
But simple and true.
She stands in a glade of trees with a small inlet
Of Blue ocean behind her.  Thus exactly she looked then,
A forgotten flower in her hand, and great blue eyes
Asking and wondering.
Now she is five years old
And found herself; she does not ask any more but commands,
Sweet and fierce-tempered; that light red hair of hers
Is the fuse for explosions.  When she is eighteen
I'll not be here.  I hope she will find her natural elements,
Laughter and violence; and in her quiet times
The Beauty of things- the beauty of transhuman things,
Without which we are all lost.  I hope she will find
Powerful protection and a man like a hawk to cover her.
Daily Ritual

Robin had his schedule to which he rarely deviated.  Each morning after breakfast, he would go back to the attic loft and write until Una called him to lunch.  After lunch he would go down to the beach to find suitable granite boulders for whatever addition he was building.

Una also had her daily ritual, she did not have a servant, she was responsible for the early education of Garth and Donnan, along with doing all the housework herself, cleaning, cooking, and sewing. "Very early she would jump out of bed and light the air-tight heater to make the room warm up for the twins.  Then Una would take a cold bath!  For some reason she thought this was an important thing to do. She would roar like a lion all the time she was taking it.  I [Edith Kuster] used to wake up in my room [the Guest Room] and start laughing at her self-torture.  The next move was to get a huge bowl of corn flakes and milk with three spoons...After this, the twin's bath...After this Una made Robin's breakfast...Una made the beds, swept, washed the breakfast dishes and several times a week washed the clothes for the family." (5)  
Nook 


 The shelves to the left of the front door held books dear to both Una and Robin, Yeats and Moore alongside Swinburne, Mallarme, Synge, Flaubert, O'Neill.  Next to this book shelf is a tiny nook which contains Una's desk.  


 It was here with the light filtering through the window by day, or lit by a kerosene lamp at night, 
 Una would write numerous letters, sometimes half a dozen a day.  

Una's desk is surrounded by photos of things she loved most, round towers, her favorite poet other than her husband, Yeats

 her husband Robin, 


their precious sons as infants, 


and young men, Garth in the military
and Donnan in the tweed jacket



and the first gift ever given to her by Robin -- while they were in Miss Borthwick's German class in 1905 Robinson gave Una an etching of a cottage on a tor by the sea.  Was this a foreshadowing of the home they would build together 14 years later?  

Watching over Una's shoulder in the oval frames are Robin's maternal grandparents,
Edwin Rush Tuttle and Evelyn Sherwood Tuttle.


Sitting at her desk Una could look at the steep steps that led to the attic loft.  Una brought these stairs from the farmhouse in Michigan where she lived as a child.


We are not allowed up the steep steps and through the trap door but this is where the family slept, Robin had his writing desk and Una one of her melodeons. 
"Upstairs, under the eaves, was one large room encircling the chimney-vent in the center of the room.  In four niches were the four beds, one for each of the Jefferses.  By the east window overlooking the courtyard was Jeffers' desk and the heavy old chair made, some sixty years before, from plank taken from the ruins of the mission.  This room was heated by a Franklin stove that Una had brought from Michigan." (6)

The Bed By The Window
I chose the bed down-stairs by the sea-window for a good death-bed
When we built the house; it is ready waiting,
Unused unless by some guest in a twelvemonth, who hardly suspects
Its latter purpose.  I often regard it,

With neither dislike nor desire: rather with both, so equaled
That they kill each other and a crystalline interest
Remains alone.  We are safe to finish what we have to finish;
And then it will sound rather like music
When the patient daemon behind the screen of sea-rock and sky

Thumps with his staff, and calls thrice: "Come Jeffers." (7)


Guest Room
Off the living room is the guest room. Many used this room, and Robin chose this as his bedroom after Una died from cancer in 1950.  On January 20, 1962, during an unusual dusting of snow on the Monterey Peninsula, Robin died in his sleep, in the bed by the window, thirty years after he wrote the poem about this very same bed.  


Una was very fond of motto's.  In the wooden beams over the bed, Robin inscribed lines from The Faerie Queen, "Sleep after toyle, Port after stormy seas, Ease after warre, Death after life does greatly please." The words are no longer visible, heavy smoke that filled this room from the fireplace covers the beams.   


On the wall to the left of the dresser is another motto,



this one written in French, which translated says, "Do well and let them talk." On top of the mahogany dresser is a photograph of Una taken by society photographer Arnold Genthe in 1910 and a sketch of one of their beloved bulldogs.  The pastel portrait of Robin reflected by the dresser mirror, was done in 1919 by Hamilton Achille Wolf.  


Next to the bed is another one of Una's melodeons.   

The doll in the cradle is wearing the Robin's baptismal gown of which Annie Jeffers wrote on April 30, 1887, "Today being the anniversary of our wedding we thought it a very appropriate time to have the baby baptized.  After considerable thought and discussion pro and con we decided to call our boy John Robinson.  Cousin John seemed pleased, and shows his appreciation in various ways; one was by sending him a beautiful new dress for his baptismal robe.." (8)


From the bed or while sitting on the window seat Robin would have been able to enjoy his front garden and the ever changing sea.  He probably watched with great interest the building of the Butterfly House in 1950.

Today, Reid Woodward, a plein air artist, takes a break from working on his watercolor of Hawk Tower.

A Garden Tour

 
 Next:  Robinson Jeffers Tor House Garden Party Part 2 Tor House
Part 1 Family Background
Part 2 Robinson Jeffers - The Early Years
Part 3 Robinson Jeffers Meets Una Call Kuster
Part 4 Robinson and Una 

____
Credits and Photos
Black and White photo of Una, Robin and Haig in their living room 1930's.  Black and White photo of Robin at his desk in the attic in 1948.*

All color photos except the one of the mill stone are by L. A. Momboisse May 5, 2013.  The photo of the mill stone was taken by Tor House Docent, Lorna Claerbout.

(1) Melba Berry Bennett, The Stone Mason of Tor House - The Life and Work of Robinson Jeffers (The Ward Ritchie Press, 1996),  137.



(2) Edited by Tim Hunt, The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (Stanford University Press, 2001),  380.



(3) Text and Editing, Jean Ritter-Murray, A Tour of Tor House Home of Robinson Jeffers (The Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation), 3.
(4) Edith Greenen, Edited by James Karman, Of Una Jeffers - A Memoir,  Story Line Press, 1998, 51. 
(5) Greenen, 45-46.
(6) Bennett, 92.

(7) Hunt, 376.



(8) Bennett,15.



* Black and White photos on wall in Visitors Center Tor House 

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete