Bryant Stove and Doll Circus

I don’t have to tell my fellow New Englanders that this spring has been one of the wettest  on record. What to do on these dreary days?  Just read the title of this post and you’ll know we found the perfect outing.   From our starting point in Appleton Maine, we drove through Liberty and then Freedom to get to tiny Thorndike. As we pulled into Stove Pipe Alley (yup, that’s the listed address) and parked the car, it was pretty obvious we had arrived at our destination, The Bryant Stove Works and Doll Circus:IMG_20190514_094454This forlorn assemblage of stoves and dolls which flanked our parking space did nothing to prepare me for glories of what lay inside the Stove Works and Museum. We opened an unassuming door with a plastic-covered welcome sign, and entered a darkened structure that we could see, at the very least, was packed to the gills with dolls. Impressive!

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But wait! My friend, intrepid fellow traveler, and on this occasion, my guide, Abbie, asked “Are you ready?” She flipped on the light (and sound) switch and here’s what presented itself:

We entered the wondrous world of Joe and Bea Bryant’s Doll Circus.

In every nook and cranny there’s more spinning and clatter:

Dancing and merriment:

And dolls coming oh-so-creepily to life:

 

Somehow I garnered great satisfaction in seeing that Ken is the wallflower here–despite his well-developed pecs: (Hello, Ken–that’s not the only thing the gals are interested in… could you please button up your jacket–geez!)

In a rare departure from dancing dolls is this lovely ode to the Slinky:

All of this was assembled, designed and engineered by Joe (who sadly passed away in 2018) and Bea Bryant, owners of the Bryant Stove Works (Don’t worry, I’ll get to the Stove Works).

The Bryants very sensibly fled to Florida every winter to escape the harsher climes of northern New England. (I am not kidding, they lived in the town of Zephyrhills. What I really want to know is whether they chose the town for its name or whether the town chose them. By the way, if you click on the link for Zephyrhills, THE Official town website,  you will note that one of the three things “happening” in Zephyrhills this year is a traffic light relocation.)  Anyway, the Bryants settled in nicely to winters in Zephyrhills and they just needed a little project to while away their hours. (I mean, really what’s there to do when there’s no snow shoveling?) Then they met Henry Stark…

Joe Bryant found a kindred spirit and fellow engineering wizard in Zephyrhills resident, Henry  Stark, who became a good friend. I can picture Hank and Joe brainstorming the mechanisms for the Doll Circus in their Florida basements.

Stark’s mini mechanical marvels are now housed in Room Two of the Bryant Museum:

Here is Joe Bryant’s lovely write up and portrait of his friend, Hank:

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As we were  taking in the whirls and twirls of the Doll Museum and testing every one of Stark’s little engines, in walked Bea Bryant!

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Bea said, there’s more! Oh so much more! And she led the way through the next door into a humongous Quonset hut which housed the stove (!), antique car (!!), and music machine (!!!) museum.

First of all, I was so overwhelmed by the stoves I hardly took any pictures of them, but here’s enough to clue you in to what I had not known before: Back in the day, stoves were gorgeous pieces of sculptures:

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Bea was very rightly proud of the fact that one of their stoves was borrowed and used as a stage prop in the 2012 Spielberg film, “Lincoln“.

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And yes, antique cars are tucked in here and there, comfortably cohabitating with whatever creatures roam about.

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We could see that Bea’s pride and joy were the music machines which she both demonstrated:

and invited us to try our hand with the cranking.

 

The Bryants bought this magnificent Wurlitzer from a 98 year old gentleman in Connecticut. They towed it themselves back to Maine, completely restored it to working order, added a bubble machine and entered it in many a parade.

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The Wurlitzer in action:

There are player pianos:A_IMG_20190514_111035

with rolls and rolls of tunes. Multiply this image by ten and know that you are not going to have to repeat a tune no matter how dark and dreary your winter is.

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And adorable toy pianos. (really, you MUST click on this toy piano link–it’s a YouTube video of a VIRTUOSO toy pianist!)  Plink, plank, plunk:

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Not enough stuff for ya? Luckily for us, Bea had too much time on her hands while Joe and Hank were working out the complicated mechanics of carousels. So she took up button carding. (how did you and I not know that was a thing?)

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If you’re wondering where Bea got her work and fun ethic read the fine print above her father’s portrait:

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I don’t want to make you worry and fret, but Bea made it clear she is worrying and fretting about the fate of the Bryant Stove Works and Doll Circus now that Joe is gone. I just know some of you are heading up to Maine this summer, you might want to turn up Stove Pipe Alley and have a look around.

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Heart Achingly Beautiful

Enthusiasts of this blog who live in the Boston area should head over to the National Center for Afro-American Artists, an underappreciated museum in Roxbury. smaller_img_20190106_140917Hurry, over, in fact, because the beautiful objects on display in the current exhibition, “Inmate Ingenutiy: The Cell Solace Collection” are scheduled to depart the museum at the end of January 2019.

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The twenty or so exquisitely crafted handbags, boxes, and other vaguely utilitarian objects are on loan from Roxbury collector, Antonio Inniss who first saw one of these creations as a boy when family members received two bags as gifts from an incarcerated friend.

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His enthusiasm for these objects encouraged more gifts of bags to Antoinio Inniss. Eventually his appreciation evolved into a passion and his passion evolved into a collection. The works shown here span from the 1930’s to the 1970’s.

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Look closely at the lyrical abstract patterns to discover the source of the materials:

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Cigarette wrappers and cartons!

When smoking was banned in prisons, stamps found their way into the craft:

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There’s more to see–but I’m telling you–just GO!

OK, now in the “ya never know when you’ll meet someone interesting” department:

As we were oohing and aahing over the weaves and patterns, into the gallery popped a man with a sparkle in his eye who offered up some insight into the collection. I could tell he knew a thing or two not just about the about the museum, but about LIFE. It was Ras Ben Tau, who has been Artist in Residence (and museum caretaker) at the Center for Afro-American Artists for over 30 years! I asked if we could see his work and he happily brought us downstairs to see several of his creations which ranged from metal work:

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to abstract painting:smaller_img_20190106_134510_1

to this magnificent portrait of Haile  Selassie:

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We learned many things from Ras Ben Tau, including the existence of PurBlack, which I assumed, when peering into his little jar, was a paint pigment. True to its name I had never seen a blacker black!  I thought I was being shown the richest black known to man, a wonderous, light absorbing material to coat a canvas or sculpture. But no! Ben scooped out about a 1/4 teaspoon and swirled it into his teacup to drink. And as he sipped he recounted the most amazing stories of PurBlack’s restorative powers along with his own story of near death experiences and rebirths. One sniff of PurBlack (a rare mineral pitch found on trees in the Himalayas!) was enough to convince me of its powers.

Before leaving we stopped in to visit the museum’s extraordinary burial chamber of Nubian King Aspelta, on permanent loan from Boston’s MFA:

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thus nicely cementing our feeling that we had stumbled onto magic at the Center for Afro-American Art on what had started out as a dreary day in January.

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This beautiful head of Boston sculptor John Wilson greets visitors to the Center for Afro-American Artists in Roxbury, MA