The Road of Photographer Constance Stuart Larrabee: A Conversation with Author Peter Elliott

For those who remember Constance Stuart Larrabee, particularly those living on the Mid-Shore, it will always be gratifying to know that at the very end of her life Constance knew there was a high degree of attention paid to her photography.

While the native South African had been living on the Mid-Shore for more than forty years, she was intentionally reserved on talking about her work as a documentary photographer in the years before marrying a former military attache, Colonel Sterling Loop Larrabee, in 1949. If locals knew anything about Larrabee, it was for her reputation as a successful breeder of Norwich Terriers, not as South Africa’s first female World War Two correspondent. She clearly preferred it that way for reasons still not entirely known.

It was only when she was seventy that a close friend, Ed Maxcy, convinced her to share her portfolio of images from her visits to rural South African villages, the war, the streets of Johannesburg and, later, Tangier Island on the Chesapeake Bay. She began working with such distinguished institutions such as the Corcoran Gallery, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Yale’s Center for British Art, Washington’s National Museum of Women in the Arts, as well as our own Washington College and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, through much of the eighties and early nineties on several well received exhibitions. All of which gave Larrabee the certain knowledge that her lifetime contribution to photography had been well-noted before she died in 2000.

But for those who have never heard her name, or seen her stunning images, there is good news to be had. Almost twenty years after her passing, fellow South African and author Peter Elliott has just completed a new biography of Larrabee after two years of extensive research.

Elliott, retiring to the South of France after a distinguished career as a London-based corporate attorney, began his new vocation as a writer on history and art, and had stumbled on Larrabee’s war photography while researching South Africa’s role in World War II.

Awed by their composition and warmth, Peter has meticulously tracked down every one of Constance’s documentary projects as well as applied a critical appraisal of her work, including a few myths she created along the way on her technique, in the newly released Constances: One Road to Take: The Life and Photography of Constance Stuart Larrabee published by Cantaloup Press.

Through the wonders of technology, the Spy interviewed Peter via Skype from his home in Languedoc, France to talk about Constance, her photography, and the lasting legacy of her work.

This video is approximately twenty-eight minutes in length. Constance: One Road to Take: The Life and Photography of Constance Stuart Larrabee can be purchased at the Book Plate in Chestertown or on Amazon here.



Tradition, Speed and Grace: The Log Canoes of John C. North II

For many on the Mid-Shore, it’s not hard to remember the moment they first saw a Chesapeake Bay log canoe. These majestical floating museums of Bay history, with their simple design lines and overwhelming white blankets of sails, is a remarkable sight on a summer day.

Once hooked, most devotees can never seem to get enough of the images, history, racing, and cultural influence that come with this fleet of remaining log canoes on the Bay.  So it will be a great relief for them to know that Judge John North has just completed a masterful documentation of these unique qualities in the release of Tradition, Speed, and Grace: Chesapeake Bay Sailing Log Canoes, published by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

With the help of the CBMM historian Pete Lesher, photographer and artist Marc Castelli, and the encouragement of friends like Alexa and Tom Seip, Judge North has pulled together a classic summary of the log canoe’s role in Mid-Shore history and current life on the Chesapeake Bay.

The Spy jumped at the chance to talk to Judge North on this remarkable project. In his interview, which is also essential oral history, we focus on the four log canoes that are a special part of the North Family; Island Bird, Island Blossom, Jay Dee, and Persistence.

This video is approximately twenty-two minutes in length. The sale proceeds are to be donated to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.  The book is available for purchase at the CBMM store, the Trippe Gallery in Easton, or one can contact CBMM Guest Services Manager Sara McCafferty at to arrange a copy to be shipped.

Mid-Shore Profiles: Ron Liebman, Spiro Agnew, and Rachel Maddow’s “Bag Man”

Given the legal discussions now taking place over the Bay Bridge in Washington, it is easy for those of a certain age to have flashbacks to the early 1970s as the drama of Watergate began to unfold, and the future of another sitting president was in doubt. But for many in Maryland, it was the fall of Richard Nixon’s vice president, and  former governor, Spiro Agnew, that comes to mind as law experts once again ponder if a sitting president (or vice president) has prosecutorial immunity from felony charges while in office.

In the case of Agnew, local Baltimore prosecutors, under the leadership of Republican state attorney George Beall, had overwhelming evidence that the sitting vice president had taken bribes for almost a decade, including the acceptance of tens of thousands in cash while in his White House office. The question was not only whether they could indict him, but could they do so in time before Nixon was thrown out of office, hence opening the door for an Agnew presidency.

It just so happens that one of the local Baltimore prosecutors in the center of this remarkable storm is Talbot County’s, Ron Liebman. This fact surfaced recently when Ron and his two other colleagues were the stars of the highly acclaimed “BagMan” podcast by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that turns the Agnew case into a first-class legal thriller.

After retiring as a partner from Patton Boggs, he and his wife, artist Simma Liebman, moved to Easton to begin what has been a extraordinarily successful second career as a legal mystery writer himself, with his fifth book, Big Law: A Novel recently published by Penguin.

The Spy caught up with Ron at the Bullitt House this week to talk about this surreal moment in American history.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. To hear Rachel Maddow’s “Bag Man” please go here



Profiles in Spirituality: After Pittsburgh with Rabbi Peter Hyman

Given the daily pounding America is getting with its unending breaking news cycle, it might be helpful to recall that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting only took place only five weeks ago. This horrific attack at the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation left eleven dead and seven injured in its aftermath, and left the country, and particularly its Jewish community, shocked and grieving.

That sense of disgust and outrage came very quickly to the Mid-Shore as well.  With the region’s new growth and pride of its Jewish community, this news was greeted with even heightened sense of concern for its neighbors and friends. There was also a desire for many to process this senseless act, which might be one reason that over 500 people gathered at Temple B’nai Israel shortly after the massacre to honor its victims and hold hope for the future.

The Spy thought it would be a good time to check in with B’nai Israel’s Rabbi, Peter Hyman, who also directs the Satell Center for Jewish Life on the Eastern Shore, to help understand how a community recovers from such a painful trauma.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Temple B’nai Israel or the Satell Center for Jewish Life on the Eastern Shore please go here

A Neurosurgeon Treats a New Patient: The Chesapeake Skipjack

In this new world of redefining what “retirement” means, it probably comes as no surprise that a Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon would retire to the Eastern Shore and start an entirely new vocation related to the skipjacks of the Chesapeake Bay.

That’s precisely what Dr. Randolph George did when he eventually retired from the operating room and embarked with his brother in law, Allen Rawl, on the restoration of a skipjack named Martha Lewis.  And as Allen was doing much of the physical work on the boat, Dr. George began to explore and document the boat builder, his family and the many stories that surrounded the Martha Lewis.  It also led him on a journey to discover every remaining skipjack on the Shore.

All of this is now documented in a new book that Randy has authored entitled “Memory of the Skipjack,” published by SaltWater Media.  It not only records the unique history of the Martha Lewis but documents the fifty-two remaining of what was once a fleet of 700 iconic examples of the Chesapeake Bay’s distinctive heritage.

The Spy spent some time with the author at Bullitt House a few weeks ago to chat about the book.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information or purchase “Memoir of a Skipjack” please go here 

Mid-Shore Hospice Care: The Special Needs of Vets with Deborah Grassman

It’s hard to think of anyone more qualified to talk about the needs of war veterans as they enter their final stages of life than Deborah Grassman. A nurse practitioner by training, Deborah has had a remarkable record of working at the Veterans Administration specifically focused on hospice care for 30 years, and has directly participated in the final days of over 10,000 veterans.

Those experiences led Grassman to start her own organization, Opus Peace, to educate family members and hospice volunteers to be more aware of the very different emotions many aging vets have at the end of their lives when wartime memories involuntarily surface after years, sometimes decades, of suppression.

That was the primary reason Talbot Hospice invited Deborah to the Mid-Shore so she could share those stories and what she learned a few weeks ago. The Spy sat down with her before her evening lecture to talk about the extraordinary coming to terms to take place with many veterans as a come to the close of their lives and what families can do to help facilitate an honorable and peaceful death.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about Talbot Hospice please go here

Taking Stock: The Cambridge Hyatt Economic Development Project at 16 Years Old

It seems like ancient history now, but in the early months of 2002, there was a dramatic addition to the city of Cambridge when the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay officially opened. A few visionary leaders in Dorchester County, DC developers, and most importantly, the Maryland Economic Development Corporation made good on their plans to construct a 400 room, 650 acres, hotel and resort on the shores of the Choptank with the goal of providing a long-term benefit for the then economically struggling center of the Eastern Shore.

At the time, this multimillion-dollar project was seen by some at the time as a remarkable risk. Cambridge was not known as a tourist or conference destination, even though it was located near some of the most remarkable natural resources on the East Coast. It also did not have the advantages of being in a major city, near a major amusement park, or benefiting from a tropical climate. Why stop in Cambridge, the story went, when you could drive another hour and arrive at the beachfront communities in Delaware and Ocean City.

But now that the Hyatt has been in place for sixteen years, The Spy thought it would be a good idea to check in with its general manager, Joel Bunde, who has a unique perspective on this economic development project. That is because Joel arrived in 2005 to be part of the executive management team to run the property for four years, and has now recently returned from another tour of duty to become its general manager. It is that arc of experience that made the Spy interested to hear Joel’s general observations about the Hyatt, the remarkable renaissance of downtown Cambridge, and the collateral soft and hard benefits that have come with the then $155 million investment in the Eastern Shore’s future.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Additional aerial video content by Micah Berkley.  For more information about the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay please go here.


Making the Case to Save Tilghman Island Elementary School

It is typically the sad case these days that small, underpopulated elementary public schools are frequently being closed by their school districts.

Through the gut-wrenching process of what is now called “school consolidation,” these districts are faced with the terrible task of closing down these cherished local assets as a result of dwindling student enrollments and the financial consequences that come with those lower numbers.

This trend may be the fate of Tilghman Island’s only elementary school, which has a capacity of 150 students but currently has only 62 children in attendance. While the Talbot County Public Schools District has not made any decision on TES yet, there was a clear warning given that the Tilghman school would either need to increase its enrollment or undoubtedly face closure down the road.

That’s a hard thing to do for a community that is thirteen miles from the nearly town.

But before that fateful decision is made, the citizens of Tilghman, the teachers and parents of the elementary school, and the active role played by the Tilghman Community Youth Association is going to make damn sure that doesn’t happen.

And one of those remarkable people leading this fight could not be better prepared to do so than volunteer Jay Shotel.

With his long tenure as a professor at George Washington University in the field of education, Jay is extraordinarily in his comfort role as he takes on the role of advocate, cheerleader, and admissions counselor to make sure that Tilghman’s elementary school not only continues to exist but eventually becomes one of most unique schools in the state.

We talked to Jay a few weeks ago at Bullitt House to understand more what Jay and his colleagues of the Tilghman School Facility Utilization Committee are doing find new students to fill those desks.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information on saving Tilghman School please go here

Mid-Shore Craftsmanship: McMartin & Beggins on Making Historical Furniture

My village of Wittman has a variety of creative residents-Grammy award-winning authors, artists and the furniture makers of McMartin & Beggins. Both partners are named Jim, both began their careers as boat builders, and both artisans have a passion and respect for wood.

Every piece is created with benchcrafted techniques out of locally sourced wood. Their work ranges from transforming part of the famous Wye Oak tree into a desk and podium for the Governor of Maryland to furniture restoration for historic houses to contemporary designs.

Jim McMartin moved to St. Michaels from Annapolis and opened a furniture making shop in the Mill Complex. When Jim Beggins arrived in St. Michaels by boat, fate led him to Jim McMartin. After working together for several years, they became partners. They complement each other beautifully and work seamlessly on every project. Jim McMartin’s artistic talent is illustrated by his meticulous drawings of each piece of furniture made in the shop. Jim Beggins’ analytical style and attention to detail ensure quality control. Their favorite period for furniture is the Federal (1790-1830), with its clean, classic lines and delicate forms that highlight the beauty of the wood. Pieces in their showroom would be right at home in any museum period room.

Their 4,500 square foot complex houses a showroom, office/reference library, workshop and storage sheds where slabs of local wood species such as cherry, maple, syrup poplar, red cedar, walnut and white oak rest on spacers awaiting their turn for a new life in the hands of these master craftsmen. The logs are milled on site and are carefully stacked on spacers to dry slowly. The “stacks” are a reference library so Jim or Jim can find the right slab with the wood grain needed for a particular design. In their workshop you will find both modern machinery as well as the same period tools that Hepplewhite or Sheraton would have used years ago. Just like those famous forebears,

McMartin & Beggins work by hand meticulously and slowly on pieces made to order that will become heirlooms.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about McMartin and Beggins, please go here

Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.

Tony Hiss has a Plan for the Delmarva

It should be said up front that Tony Hiss’s family has long been familiar with the Eastern Shore well before he was born. With his famous and controversial father, Alger, and mother, Priscilla, frequently staying in Kent County to visit friends and their older son at camp in Quaker Neck, or, with his uncle, Don, a partner at Covington and Burling, having a second home in Talbot County, the roots to this area and its landscape are deeply felt. But his desire to ecologically and culturally protect the Shore is much more tied to his professional life as a writer, first with the New Yorker and now as an independent author.

With such well received books such as The Experience of Place and In Motion: The Experience of Travel, Tony has a impressive history of being intrigued by humans interacting in the city, the countryside, and in the wilderness. And that includes new ways of planning and managing these immediate and often overlooked places.

All of this has made a perfect background to support Tony’s new quest to refine the entire Delmarva Peninsula by designating it by the federal government as a national reserve, very similar to the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve with its 1.1 million acres. Hiss believes that by  re-identifying the region as such will lead to the kind of thoughtful planning seen with the Pinelands as it protects landscapes, manages growth and ecologically protects enageranged species from unnecessary extinction.

The Spy sat down with Tony in the White Swan Tavern’s living room to chat about what the Delmarva could really be in the future.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length

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