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Newport’s Architecture and History: An Artist’s Impressions

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Richard “Dick” Grosvenor was one of the most beloved of Newport’s gentlemen, a celebrated artist, longtime educator (St. George’s School for 40 years), and historian with broad interests that included building his own plane. Our paths crossed many times in this small town and his alert, genial demeanor and “taking things in stride” attitude were always refreshing. Graciously generous, Dick’s art donations to our annual fundraisers always gave a boost to the proceeds.

Dick and I also had two personal connections. His granddaughter, Amanda, and grandson, Sherwoode, were invaluable members of my Private Newport team in the early days. Secondly, Dick and I had, almost simultaneously, gone through the challenges and joys of writing and producing a book on Newport. His love of Newport’s heritage was another common interest we shared. It is in his memory that I write this post.

A supra talented artist, the images from his  handsome publication, Newport: An Artist’s Impressions of its Architecture and History, will provide the visuals for this piece; I’ve then invited Amanda Grosvenor, as Dick’s first grandchild, to bring her special perspective to recollections and memories.

Marble House, 1892, Richard Morris Hunt, Bellevue Avenue.

Growing up, I took my family’s quirks and idiosyncrasies for granted. Surely I wasn’t the only girl whose grandfather hand-drew whimsical homemade greeting cards on birthdays and holidays, or took his relatives painting early on weekend mornings, or showed us how to fly homemade gliders from the deck of the house he designed and constructed on top of a massive rock near Almy Pond. The house itself was a like a tangible embodiment of Grandpa’s good-humored and eccentric personality, full of triangular windows, sloping rooftops, and walls set at angles that obviously weren’t 180 degrees. He built it during the 1970’s with help from his four children, my father Rick, John, Jim, and Holly, as well more than a few of his St. George’s students.

Vernon Court, 1898-1901, Thomas Hastings.

Grandpa always carried a pencil in his jacket pocket, whether he was teaching, tearing up the dance floor with my grandmother at a charity event, Margot, or serenely instructing us how to watercolor en plein air overlooking one of Newport’s stunning natural vistas—he never knew when he might need to jot down some historical notes or doodle an impromptu sketch. He always brought his art supplies while traveling, and once even foiled a pickpocketing attempt in Europe; the thief stuck his hand in grandpa’s pocket, only to nearly impale himself on a sharpened pencil and howl in pain. Over the years, I have met several artists who told me that they probably wouldn’t have pursued their craft seriously, were it not for his encouragement.

Beacon Rock, 1890-91, McKim, Mead, and White, Harrison Avenue.

There is one particular moment of personal encouragement that will always stand out from the rest for me. As a shy fifth grader, I would escape into imaginary words through reading and writing. One night, my parents salvaged a piece of homework I had thrown away with a poem about flying scribbled on the back. They showed it to Grandpa, who always had a passion for aviation and had even built and flown his own small plane. He liked the poem so much that he decided to take me flying with him.

Kingscote, 1839-41, Richard Upjohn, 253 Bellevue Avenue and East Bowery Street.
Lansmere, 1852-53, Alexander MacGregor, Webster Street.

Taking off from the air field in Middletown in a small, two-person aircraft might intimidate some people, but I was exhilarated. I’ll never forget soaring above Aquidneck Island and finally experiencing the bird’s eye view that Grandpa loved so much. At one point, he asked me to take the wheel and steer the plane for a bit; after some hesitation I nervously accepted, incredulous that he would entrust me with such responsibility. “What are you going to hit way up here?” he laughed.

William Watts Sherman House, 1875, Henry Hobson Richardson, Shephard Avenue.

After two or three more decades of living, I have learned that individuals who wholeheartedly encourage us to be creative explorers are in fact quite rare. My grandfather lived an inspired, fearless life, generously sharing his infectious spirit with everyone he met, always with a humble chuckle and a sparkle in his eye—which, I should mention, would not have been possible without the unwavering support of my fiercely intelligent and patient grandmother. Although he may be physically gone now, his creative legacy will live on in the hearts of Newporters and the artwork gracing so many walls in town.

Gates on Bellevue Avenue.

Inspired by Dick’s sense of humor, I like to think of this painting as perhaps the gates of heaven, which Dick entered last August, surely in search of new scenes for his artistic talents. He truly was the dean of Newport’s contemporary artists.

Thank you, Amanda, for those treasured reminiscences.

All artwork by Richard Grosvenor.
Published by ©Applewood Books: Commonwealth Editions.
Featured Image, The Breakers, 1892-95, Richard Morris Hunt, Ochre Point Avenue.

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

3 thoughts on “Newport’s Architecture and History: An Artist’s Impressions

  1. I really enjoyed this post! We visit the grand houses 2 summers ago on our first visit to Newport. What a wonderful spot!

  2. Beautiful tribute to Richard Grosvenor, thank you for sharing it with us. He was a truly passionate artist with a great joie de vivre, an inspiration to us all!

  3. Beautiful article! Love Dick and Margot! This is what makes Newport Special and great!
    Thanks, Bettie, for a beautiful article!!

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