At the Lake

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The following account writen by Helen Ireland Hays from 1976 is found in the Bransom Collection (no. 9) in the Archives of American Art:

 

 
Paul and Grace Bransom during the summer of 1908 when they were staying on the South Shore of Canada Lake

 

Paul Bransom, often spoken of as the "Dean of Animal Artists", first came to Canada Lake in 1908. He and Grace, through their friendship with Betsy and Claire Dwiggins rented, for the whole summer, a little cottage right next to Dwig. At that time the cottage was owned by Dr. Granger.

In a letter (no. 3) to Paul Bransom dated November 16,1913, his friend, Charles Sarka, fills him in on the happenings in the local politics of Caroga Lake. Uncle Cy refers to Cy Durey, a local businessman, land owner, and politician at the time. Plus ça change, plus la même chose in the world of politics.
 

 

In 1917 the Bransoms built their own camp. Paul and Grace lived there from the first of May until after Election Day each year. They voted in the Town of Caroga and Paul continues to do so --but now, with an absentee ballot. Canada Lake is his legal residence.

Paul Bransom at work in his studio at Canada Lake about 1921.

 

George Chappell built the Bransom camp and his son, Floyd (or Pat) still takes good care of it. This fascinating place is filled with mementos. The present living room, lighted by a huge north window, served as both living room and studio for many years. Today the studio is a smaller room, lighted by a skylight. A big drawing board dominates the room. The chair which Paul has used for many years is, of course, directly in front of it. Brushes and colors stand conveniently on a low table at the right. This vital little room, in which so much work has been done, holds sketch pads filled with reference material, Paul's own pictures, and pictures and pieces of sculpture given to him by his friends, a collection of mounted birds --so many well-loved objects! Sometimes Grace used to say, "The walls are closing in!"

Paul, as we all know, is a very successful artist. He has illustrated some forty-five books and made covers and illustrations for many magazines. He says that during the 20s and 30s thirty-five magazines used animal stories withl illustrations and also covers with animal subjects. Paul worked for thirty-three of these thirty-five periodicals. Of course, he had to meet many deadlines. When the pressure was great Grace would put a sign on the back door saying, "Please, no visitors until after five o'clock."

All these drawings had to be shipped to various publishing houses. Paul often speaks now of how much Francis Arnst, when he worked for the American Express Company, helped in getting these drawings off with the greates possible dispatch.

Paul and Grace have been greatly loved. They made many friends at Canada Lake and in Fulton County. Both were loyal supporters of this neighborhood. Paul has given copies of a number of the books he illustrated to the Wheelerville School. He has also been more than generous in giving his pictures to a wide circle of friends.

The time came when Charlie and Grace Sarka, whose camp was a little east of Paul's, spent only a few weeks, late in the summer, at Canada Lake. Years before, when they first came to the lake, Charlie had planted several apple trees which, over the years, bore few or no apples. One year, as a special surprise and welcome, Paul tied dozens of big, red apples on the Sarkas' trees.

Paul is young in spirit and a great raconteur. He thoroughly enjoys telling of an incident which happened a few years ago.

One sunny morning he was sitting on the steps back of the camp when two linemen arrived to install a new transformer on the pole near the road. They were speaking of Paul's place and the man on the pole asked the groundman a question which he relayed to Paul.

Walking a few steps down the path the lineman addressed Paul, "Good morning, we were just wondering when this camp was built and who built it?

"1917 and I built it," Paul replied.

The groundman called back to the man on the pole, "This old gentleman says he built it in 1917."

Paul turned around to see who the old gentleman was.

View from the Bransom porch looking west.

 

Fiddlehead Ferns

 

Painted Trillium

Woodland Deer Food

 

Paul Bransom was not just attentive to the wild life, but he was also very observant of the foliage and wild flowers. Emerging fiddlehead ferns, blossoming hobble bush, and painted trillium establish the context of early spring in these Seagram's Calendar images. The drawings, from the Archives of American Art nos. 25 & 27, are clearly based on his direct experience of early spring at the lake.

 

"Degree Day"

 

In June 1974 Weber State College in Ogden, Utah gave Paul the Honorary Degree of "Master of Art." Paul and his niece, Althea Bond, flew out so that Paul might receive this honor in person.

The pictures which Paul had given to Weber State College were hung temporarily for that occasion. Soon they will be hung as the "Paul Bransom Collection" in the new wing which is added to the college's library.

For a number of years neighbors at Canada Lake have given a party for Paul on his birthday. Sometimes there has been a theme. On July 26th 1974, the theme was "Degree Day for Dr. Bransom." A suggestion was made to the guest, that if they wished, they might write a verse or two on that subject. A cap and gown, adorned with Paul's own doctoral hood, hung on the back of the fireplace. Dozens of "diplomas" were suspended from the living room ceiling by threads and moved with every breath of air.

After dinner our host invited the guests to read their poems. Every single family had written a loving tribute to Paul. One of the most entertaining poems was written by Dr. Malcolm McMartin, who had, several times, ingeniously rhymed "handsome" with "Dr. Bransom." Everyone felt this was richly deserved.

The great moment came when Bill Van Voast, for several years a resident of Caroga Lake and a participant in the affairs of the Town of Caroga, rose and said that instead of a poem he would like to present Dr. Bransom with a Resolution from the Town Board of the Town of Caroga. This was a matchless moment! Possibly no Town Board has ever done such a thing before!

The Resolution was rolled like a diploma and tied with a ribbon. The text was ably worded in correct legal phraseology by Emma Krause, a Supervisor of Fulton County and Head of the Town Board.

Diane L. MacGregor, clerk of the Town for Caroga, lettered this document using handsome rustic letters for certain parts and sprigs of evergreen, in color, as decoration.

The Town Board expressed thanks to Paul for his many years of residence and fine influence in the neighborhood and wished him a Happy 89th Birthday.

These sentiments, we are sure, all of us, his many friends in this community join in extending to our good friend and neighbor, Paul Bransom.

 

The "Degree Day Poems"

On August 23, 1979, the Caroga Historical Association held a special program and an accompanying small exhibition organized by Barbara McMartin honoring Paul Bransom who had passed away the month before, a week before his 94th birthday. The core of the program was the series of poems written by friends on the occasion of the "Degree Day" Birthday celebration of 1974.

We have gathered together
In midsummer weather
And well before autumn or fall
To get up some verses –
Of which this the worse is
To honor just plain Uncle Paul.

But now we must scan some
For new Dr. Bransom
He has a degree
From Weber Varsity
They’ve built a museum
Where you can go see ‘em
What put on his easel
The wolf and the weasel
The gnu and the tiger
Swimming the Niger
The horned rhinocerosis
Across the Kayderossuos
They’re worth a king’s ransom
Those paintings by Bransom
O! Doctor Bransom
Is very handsome!
And honorable too.
It is my considerate view
That he would never,
At least hardly ever,
Peer over a transom—
Would Doctor Bransom.
And neither would Paul
At all, at all.
            Malcolm and Judy McMartin

 

Poem written and read by Marion Sturgess:

There is a lake in upstate New York,
Canada is its name,
That through the years that have gone by
Is steeped in deeds of fame.

There was a Scout that brought it fame
And he was sure a loner –
Though legend makes him quite a guy –
His name was just Nick Stoner.

Now as the years have passed us by
Upon the near horizon,
A new name blazes cross the trail:
This name is plain Paul Bransom.

His many talents make his fame
Spread out across the nation.
His paintings of God’s creatures all
Make him the Art Sensation.

Now his friends are gathered round
To wish him well, thank heavens—
The Hays, Overback, Sturgesses
And then, of course, the Evans.

So raise your cups on high tonight
And wish him many more
Of God’s good things he knows so well—
He sure does know the score!
            John and Marion Sturgess

 

Poem written and read by Margy Van Voast:

There was a young drummer named Paul
Who painted an animal too tall
When he ran out of paper –
Just for a caper-
He painted its’ head on the wall!
            Bill and Margie Van Voast

 

Poem by Eleanor Burts:

FOR THE ANIMAL MAN

In the painting of pictures
He is King of the Brush

In making of music
He equals the Thrush

In the hearts of his friends
He is cherished by all—

So

We gather together
In gay celebration

We feast and are very merry
In great jubilation

We say it –we sing it—
Every word – mean it –

HAPPY BIRTHDAY – HAPPY BIRTHDAY
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Dear Paul
            Eleanor Burts

 

Poem written and read by Don Sawyer:

The old trees are to my liking.
Tender young saplings
Are brash in their newness
While they solicit my protectiveness.
It’s the ancient tree,
The one that has survived
Displaying a grandeur
With trunk rugged and thick,
Limbs grown knarled,
Changed in direction,
Been broken off then heated
To go on again
Whose silence speaks to me.
Its pattern gives me hope,
Its being alive top the changing seasons
Carries me on its shoulders
To loftier thoughts and hopes
Often lost on younger trees.
            Don Sawyer

 

Poem by John Charleton:

 

Poem by Malcolm McMartin:

In caves of Altamira
On cliffs in Kalihari
It’s always been a mystery
Who drew way back in history
Those animals upon the wall.
But now we’ve solved the mystery
That’s puzzled all of history
The artist was our Uncle Paul.
But if that makes him seem antique
He is –if I know of what I speak,
Though many birthdays him befall,
In outlook, plans and projects new
With fresh creations come to view—
He’s far the youngest of us all!
            Malcolm and Judy McMartin

 

Conclude the birthday party with two poems by Helen Ireland Hays:

For P.B.

Cape Sable’s nearly washed away
The Everglades are drying
Deep chaos rules on Biscayne Bay
The kittiwakes are crying.
Unmeasured floods of Bourbon flow,
Satiety’s in reach –
And all this rout –because we know-
There’s a lion at Palm Beach!

He flicks his brush, the colors fly,
He whirls the world around him
As it eagerly, repeatedly
Crowds nearer to surround him.
That gold coast and gold sun
Gain stature through his stay.
Now Royal palms, one after one,
Hang limp. He’s gone away.

Returning to his old, damp nest
Where noisy friends disturb his rest
He finds that once again, here too,
Everyone likes to “h’ist a few”!
            Helen Ireland Hays

 

You’re fall of charisma!
Maybe that’s why
Friends call you “the apple”
Of your Mother’s eye—

First drawings for patents
And rolling gear too,
Then “Bugs” for the Journal,
A studio at the Zoo –

The “Post” took four covers
When you chose to “free lance”
Also, gave you a story –
A well deserved chance.

1906 brought success
And a lovely wife.
Fortune smiles on you,
You enjoy, “the good life”!

You’ve hitched your horse
In front of your cart
You are now a distinguished
Doctor of Art.

You draw people to you
And tonight we all
Wish you a happy birthday—
Happy Birthday, Dear Paul!
            Helen Ireland Hays

 

At your heart you’re a Hippie
So –like I say—
The Flower Children greet you
On your birthday.
Down with the Establishment!
Down with every square!
We believe you’re with us,
We know you care—
For under a hemlock
To our great satisfaction,
You were seen painting
A Neo abstraction.
Remember how you felt
When you twanged that guitar?
Man, your beat is better
Than even Shan Kar –

Just loads of love
Right toward you hurtle
From your old friend, Doug
And Mikinak the turtle.

 

For more on Paul Bransom and his friends at Canada Lake see: John Widdemer, "Remembering the Art Colony Gang at Canada Lake, The Echo, 1996, pp. 20-24.

See also: Barbara McMartin, "Write Place, Write Time," Adirondack Life, August, 2001, pp. 58-63 and her Caroga: An Adirondack Town Recalls Its Past (1976, revised in 1998).

These two annotated sketches of sunsets were drawn from the Bransom dock.
https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/paul-bransom-papers-8933#586525+-ref329-ref333-ref337 nos. 9 & 10.

 

Reflection (no. 16), at the age of 92, Paul Bransom wrote the following:

The winter wears on and I am impatiently waiting for the time we can return to Canada Lake. I've reached that age when like an old automobile --various important parts begin to wear out and cease to function correctly-- but unlike the old car-- the old body is not quite so easy to repair and to install "new parts"! especially the eyes --so important to an artist. However, what with visits to various Doctors who specialize in all the different parts of the human body, I manage to get over to my studio almost every day to work on pictures which greatly interest me and I hope to finish!

 

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