It’s much more! There is an evocative story behind this painting entitled Katharine’s Porch. “That’s Katharine spelled with an a!” as the late Katharine Aldridge Tucker would say. This painting has a special place in my heart. Every night before we go to bed I take a quick glance at the original painting that hangs over our bed and I smile.
What would make an artist buy back his own painting? It’s not that I think it’s my best painting. It’s not that we had extra money to burn. The answer lies in the painting’s back-story.
One day, very early in my art career, my wife Jen and I decided we would go on the Camden House and Garden Tour. For this charming little town of roughly 5,000 people, Camden, Maine, it is an event every summer. It is a chance to see beautiful perennial gardens and get a peak into some of the more lovely coastal homes of Camden. I took my camera thinking more like a tourist than a painter.
We followed the signs out Bayview Street in Camden and came to the next stop on the tour. We walked down the long inviting driveway to a beautiful home overlooking Curtis Island Light. I grabbed my camera and we toured the gardens out back along the harbor. It was a field day! I was taking pictures of the gardens and the rose covered lattice work leading up to the deck overlooking the lighthouse when all of a sudden there was a lot of commotion up on the deck. This striking woman was leading a bunch of followers out onto the deck, showing off her magnificent view when she spotted me with the camera. I look back at that moment and it reminds me in some respects of seeing Betty Buckley come out onto the London stage in Sunset Blvd! Instead of bursting into song and singing With One Look, this beautiful older woman leans over the deck railing with her arms wide spread and a big glamorous smile and exclaims “Anybody smell a ham?” She was basking in the spotlight of the afternoon sunshine, center stage, and couldn’t pass up a photo op as I took her picture!
Who was she? We soon found out. We went inside for the tour of the house. Kay put her arms around Jen, introduced herself as Kay Tucker and our lives changed forever.
She was born in rural Virginia, Katharine Aldridge, raised by her mother and three aunts. Her southern charm and natural beauty took her to New York where she became what would be known today as a super model, glamorized and featured on the cover of Life Magazine a record three times. She became a starlet in many Hollywood B movies, also starring in the first serial featuring a woman, entitled The Perils of Nyoka. She married, had four children, divorced and remarried. Upon our meeting, she was widowed and living out her golden years in Camden, Maine.
We became fast friends. We were invited to cocktail and dinner parties. She introduced us to half of the town. She regaled us with humorous and captivating stories of her past. For a short time in Hollywood she roomed with Jimmy Stewart. She told of a party at Humphrey Bogart’s house one night when Bogey saved her from a lecherous actor who wanted to take advantage of her. Bogey announced to the crowded room that to let it happen would be a crime and that “it would be like throwing a brick through a Rembrandt!”
She told us of how Salvador Dali wanted to paint her in the nude. Kay was taken aback at which point Mr. Dali exclaimed “Don’t worry, I will be painting a clock in your belly-button and it will look nothing like you.”
She would always let out a big laugh after telling her stories. She had a zest for life. She had a sparkle in her eyes. She was interested in everyone. “Where are you from?” Kay would ask. “What is your heritage?” Kay loved people and everyone loved Kay. She was the Grand Dame of Camden known for her welcoming personality. One of her favorite quotes was “Be kind to travelers and strangers, lest ye be entertaining angels.” Kay became family to us.
When Kay suddenly passed away we bought Katharine’s Porchback from her estate. It had way too much sentimental meaning to us to let it go. She loved her cobalt blue porch. If you look closely at the painting you will see the doormat that was needle-pointed for her. It depicts the front of her Bayview home overlooking Curtis Island Light. The Silver Shadow Rolls Royce parked in front was her and her late husband Richard’s car symbolizing the glamorous life previously led.
This painting sold early in my career. It is a fun painting, colorful, with an intentional, slightly forced perspective that creates a somewhat primitive feel. It hung over Kay’s bed and now hang’s over ours. We have a portrait of her done by her late husband Richard on the opposite wall. We have photos of Kay throughout our house. She was a special lady who affected our lives in an immeasurable and everlasting way.
Early on in our friendship she autographed her biography to us in her usual eloquent style and what she wrote back then means even more today. These are her kind and treasured words:
Very dear Jen and Bill,
My “charms” may fade but your great works of art will keep me “Katharine” and her porch and “points of view”, and “old stories” of her life always fresh and improved with time.
Lovingly always, Kay