From Saigon to Lambertville: a Conversation with Memoirist Sandy Hanna

In 2019 longtime Lambertville resident Sandy Hanna published “The Ignorance of Bliss: An American Kid in Saigon,” her remarkable memoir (available at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope and on Amazon) about growing up in Vietnam from 1960-1962. We talked to Sandy (visit her website) about her experiences and the history behind the book. Sandy will exhibit and discuss select artifacts from Vietnam at the Marshall House November 9-10 and 16-17.

Why is ignorance central to your book?  

My memoir is the story of a time when ignorance set the course of events for a small country halfway around the world, when propaganda and paranoia created the facts upon which decisions were based and actions taken in Vietnam. My father, “The Colonel,” asked me to write this book when he was in his late eighties.  When I asked “Why now? Why write a book about Vietnam so many years later?”, he said that in not understanding this history, the what and why of Vietnam, especially in the early years, the United States would be destined to repeat history in other countries. This is the ignorance I refer to in the book, because we were all like crickets in sheltered places. In not understanding the history of Vietnam—the culture, the politics and the people—our decisions were based on ignorance of this amazing ancient society and country.

As a 10-year-old you sold baby powder and Hershey bars in a Saigon black market.

Military kids are independent. We have to be. We are moved around the world without being given much notice that we are moving. We leave our friends, our schools, our homes and we never look back. We are BRATs (British Regiment Attached Transfers). In Vietnam I decided I wanted to get a horse and go to the Olympics. I’d never ridden a horse, but it became a driving force to what I ended up doing in Saigon for two years with my older brother. He’d been trading items he would buy at the Post Exchange before we went to the underground movie theater, a place our mother sent us whenever possible. He’d slip out and go to the black market to sell stuff then spend the rest of the time betting, playing pool, drinking beer—total freedom from us underlings and the parents. I blackmailed him one day by saying I’d tell on him, so he agreed to let me in on what he was doing. My products to sell on the black market were baby powder and Hershey bars. A little disheveled man would slide in between the other vendors and remain for as long as we were there. In Saigon everything was known–it was just my parents who didn’t know what we were doing. My brother spent his ill-gotten gain as soon as he made it. I squirreled mine away in a cigar box. Do I think Saigon made me independent and savvy…most certainly! Our life was our own and it was glorious! I did buy a horse when we became civilians but gave up the Olympics idea. I was just happy to have a friend I would keep with me for the rest of her life. She died in my arms in Yardley, PA, having joined me on every move I ever made thereafter.

You write that the Vietnamese have a different view of history. 

I was lucky to have the daughter of our cook Thi Ba, Lucy, struggle to have me understand the Vietnamese and how they viewed the world. “The Vietnamese don’t believe in death in the same way you do in the Western world. They believe there is no end. By being buried in the rice field, the dead continue to sustain the family. The body will become soil. All things are in harmony. There is a succession of life even after death for us.” To this end, there were innumerable holidays welcoming the dead back home. Tet was the major holiday to be with family and to honor ancestors. It was a great celebration that was prepared for over many weeks. Some of the attacks made on American facilities during what the Vietnamese called the American War were concentrated around Tet.

Besides you, there is a figure in your book with a link to Lambertville: Lady Bird Johnson. She visited Lambertville in August 1965 to see the operations of Project Head Start, the program to help preschoolers in low-income families.

Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson’s visit to Saigon in 1960 was to assess the situation in Vietnam. They were both going to make a speech behind the horse stables at the Cercle Sportif, our swim club. In true Vietnamese fashion, subtly reflecting the Diem regime’s real attitude toward Americans, a wooden stage had been built over the manure pile that was there. We kids knew what was under the stage, but I doubt most of the adults or the Johnsons were aware of it. We were snickering on the sidelines knowing what lay beneath. It was not a large group in attendance, but it was heavily guarded. Johnson said he had come on a fact-finding mission and said the usual “thanks for being here.” It is ironic in my relationship with the Johnsons that after my college years I would help build Adventure Playgrounds throughout Massachusetts for Head Start programs.

Your father was General Patton’s highly respected ordnance officer and helped design the Sherman Tank during World War II. He was a dedicated officer up through his time in Vietnam. But then he retired and even helped your brother avoid being drafted into the Vietnam in 1969. What changed for him?

The Colonel, that’s how my siblings and I refer to him, was Chief of Ordnance with MAAG (Military Aid Advisory Group) and had a counterpart, also Chief of Ordnance, with ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam). His name was Colonel Le Van Sam. Sam had been trained in ordnance in the United States and he and my father worked well together. They had become friends.  Sam is central to the story as my father listened and learned about the complex politics of the ancient civilization and nation of Vietnam. An odd incident had changed everything toward the end of our first year in Saigon. Mrs. Sam, Ngai, was a cousin of Madame Nhu, the Dragon Woman. Vacationing in Da Lat that summer, she saw Madame Nhu going into General Don’s boudoir. Madame Nhu saw her. She was the wife of President Diem’s brother and very influential. She also didn’t like anyone knowing what she was up to. Mrs. Sam told her husband what she saw.  He spent that night and the following writing an expose of the Diem regime, outing them as not being pro-American. He showed up in the middle of the next night to give this expose to the Colonel. He said he was afraid something was to happen to him and his family because of this sighting. I was on the staircase spying on them during this exchange. Sam feared he would be assassinated or imprisoned because of this incident. He was in fact imprisoned with false accusations. The Colonel got him out, but Sam had lost his position as Chief of Ordnance. He would later that year be told he was no longer in the Army. The ordnance efforts in Saigon fell apart with the removal of Sam—he was one of the only pro-American members of that division. Sam’s expose showed the regime for what it was and also helped the Colonel understand what was really going on there. The Colonel’s view, along with other military officers stationed in Vietnam, was similar. They believed it was a civil conflict, not a place where America should be intervening.

What drew you to Lambertville?

I bought a house in Lambertville in the mid-1980’s.  I had been consulting with Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) in New York on the theme park, Sesame Place, in Langhorne. I relocated to the area in 1980 to be the Educational Program Director and eventually the Marketing Director. I found the Boat House one day and met Jim Hamilton and was hooked by the stories of the place and the feel. I felt I’d found home. This is something all BRATs hope for but usually never find. I loved the town’s diversity, something that was a given as a military kid, as well as the town’s bent toward art. I am also a painter. At that time the town was still in the process of recovering from poverty. Stores were still empty, houses needed renovation, but I loved the older residents—their nicknames, their stories, their friendliness. It was a wonderful place. Lambertville is home and I’m still holding on tight.

Where is the nearest good Vietnamese food to Lambertville? Any dishes you recommend?

My favorite is in New York City on MacDougal Street called Saigon Shack. Small, inexpensive, with excellent Pho—my favorite dish. You could buy it from the street vendors in Saigon. They would make different sounds by knocking two blocks of wood together to tell you what they were selling that day. “Toc-Tap-Ticky-Toc” would be one of the sounds you’d hear as the vendor rolled down our street, Doan Thi Diem. The aroma and the taste of Pho takes me immediately back to the place I love so much, Vietnam, my second home. Phi Vietnamese in Doylestown and The Pho Spot in Princeton both serve Pho.

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J.B. Kline: A Caretaker and a Rock Star

On stages throughout the area, J.B. Kline is celebrated for his virtuoso guitar chops and his blues, R&B and acoustic performances. Lambertville’s native son and bard is also an accessible, warm neighbor and teacher, whether at his music store at 25 Bridge Street or on the sidewalks of the City. He recently released his fourth album, “Makin’ the Deal Go Down,” so we talked to him about his heritage and inspiration.

On each of your albums there are songs about Lambertville. What makes it worth writing and singing about?

It’s where I grew up and I know it really well. When you look around, there are emotions and pictures and scenery everywhere. Lambertville maintains a lot of the beauty from earlier generations, while having a thriving community of families and businesses. The river and hills surrounding us help keep it that way.

What is different about the new album compared to the previous three?

It’s a little more fine-tuned. It’s more about Lambertville than the others.

Who was the “young Lambertville James Dean” in the title track?

I grew up on Blair Tract up by the highway. When I was 12, I stopped at the corner of Coryell and Main. Across the street, in front of Sked’s Luncheonette [now The Laundry Room], leaning against the wall was a guy with the coolest haircut, pants and shoes. He was probably 19. Fred Bair. He made a big impression back then. And his grandson has bought guitars from me.

The backup singers are fantastic.

Yeah, Carol and Jeannie Brooks [watch them with some of their sisters in this video]. I’ve known them since high school, so we’ve come a long way together.

Talk about “A Summer Night (In Old Lambertville)”

Last summer I was walking around the neighborhood. I passed the Swan Hotel and turned up Main Street, taking notes of the images and sounds. I sat on the St. John steps and put the song together.

In the last verse, you sing that “the new always seems to crowd out of the old.”

Yeah, but you can’t freeze buildings or a town—they’ll die. You have to recognize what change is good, while preserving the history. My family has been in retail since 1875—you have to change to keep going. You can’t keep selling the same things to the same people.

On your previous album, “All of Your Love,” you cover a tender song about the area.

“Down By The River, Along The Canal” was written by Jerry Fiess, a student of mine who became a singer/songwriter. He played that song for me and I immediately asked, “Can I record that?”

On your second album, the song “Belvidere Line” is a crowd-pleaser. Through your guitar, you channel the train and “the sound that lives in my mind.”

The accidents I sing about really happened. You had to have respect for that big train—it could kill you.

The river and the canal can be dangerous, too.

Oh, I have lots of stories. Early one morning, two teenage friends knocked on my door, drenched. They’d gotten mixed up on Ferry Street and drove right into the canal. Later, at the store my dad told me there were lots of emergency vehicles and personnel dealing with the car and he thought they were looking for bodies. Once, my daughter fell into the canal while feeding the geese. We had to form a human chain to pull her out.

Are the recent four albums your only albums, or had you made some earlier?

They are. I’d always recorded songs but I just didn’t have my “act” together. I had to decide what I’m good at, what I’m valuable at. For me, it’s helping young people get started in music through instruments and lessons, and it’s being “a rock star from Lambertville.” I’m a caretaker. Twenty years ago, I started going to Nashville for an annual music industry conference. When I first went, I thought I was a pretty good guitar player and might find some opportunities. I quickly saw that the best guitar players from every state are in Nashville—and they’re better than you! I had to evaluate my place in the music business—“What am I?” I realized I’m a songwriter/performer/band leader. Most important, I realized no one is going to sing about Lambertville better than I am.

Who is J.B. Kline and who is Geoffrey K. Kline?

People had always called me “J.B.” because of the store, founded by my great-grandfather, Jacob Barndt “J.B.” Kline, and its prominent sign. I was performing locally a lot and my manager, who had booked me a gig to open for Johnny Winter, asked, “What are we going to call you?” We thought “J.B. Kline” sounded cooler than my real name, Geoff Kline, and it jelled with my stage persona. It all came together in the early 2000’s and it’s worked ever since.

What is the history of the store and building?

In 1875, my great-grandfather turned three adjacent houses built in 1820 on Bridge Street in Lambertville into a tobacco store and retailer of postcards and stationery. They made cigars and sold loose tobacco up until the 1970’s in the basement under what is now Tesoro. It still smells sweet down there. My grandfather, George R. Kline Sr., turned J.B. Kline and Son Stationers into a wholesale distributor of candy, paper goods, tags, labels and other small products. He delivered to stores like Mary Iatesta’s on South Main Street and as far as Flemington, Harbourton and Mechanicsville. He also built the buildings along Kline’s Court. I opened the music store in 1993. In 2007 Joe Hosey, Kevin Joy and I created the studio, Riverdog Recording, in the basement.

When did you live in New York City, when you played with Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and the Beach Boys?

I lived in Edgewater, NJ and in Manhattan from 1977-1982 at 26 West 27th Street and at 36th Street and 8th Avenue.

New Yorkers immediately love Lambertville. Why do you think that is?

Lambertville represents to them what a small town is supposed to be, mixed with more art and culture than most small towns have.

What brought you back to Lambertville?

The quality of life. We had our daughter, Kristin, and thought raising a family would be much better in Lambertville. At first, my former wife, Lynn, from Bayside, Queens, didn’t like it. We went to a function at the Moose Lodge and she said, “Everyone knows what we’re doing and they’re talking about me like I’m the new kid in town.” I told her she was right, but those people really cared about each other and about her. All these years later, Lynn is now one of those people.

You directly descend from New Jersey’s first native born governor, John Reading, and your father, George R. Kline Jr., was a Lambertville historian.

The book my dad co-authored [“Images of America: Lambertville and New Hope”, available here], featured many images from our store. My dad was a storyteller, a performer and even a playwright—I have scripts he wrote. He would dress up as Winston Churchill or FDR and do skits in the store. I care about Lambertville like he did, and I tell stories about it through music.

– From “A Summer Night (In Old Lambertville)” by J.B. Kline

And each old building holds a memory

People loved and died, worked and cried, inside each one, you see

Some went away, oh some are here to stay

Yeah people and buildings are a lot alike that way


And from the bridge the sunset is so vast

And I see a flag over in the distance, waving half-mast

And I hear voices and choices of people who grew this town

And I see faces and traces of people who knew this town

Listen to this song and enjoy images of Lambertville in the video on the home page of

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New Mural Presents Bridge Street, Wampum Belt Figures, and Collapsing Time

Since late summer, visitors to the Lambertville Free Public Library have been treated to a dazzling vision of Time, Nature and our sister river towns. Bob Heath Jr. sought a mural for the rear wall of his neighboring Exxon Station on Bridge and Main Streets. He engaged artist Graham Preston (visit his website) and the result is “Dearest Home, Sincerely and Quietly, Now.” We asked Bob and Graham about the story behind the mural and its compelling imagery.

Bob Heath Jr.

BH: I wanted people to see something really nice in that spot. I thought it was a great wall for a mural, so I talked to a few artists and then connected with Graham, who went to school with my kids.

GP: When Bobby first approached me about the possibility of doing a mural and showed me the wall, it was the scale of the project that attracted me to it. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity and personal challenge to create something that functioned outside the gallery arena. A public work like this has the potential to interact with many people daily.

BH: Kids have placed painted rocks in the garden in front of the mural, and it’s great to see they are connecting to the work. Honoring the history of Lambertville and New Hope was important to me—and not just for this mural. For a long time, I’ve given out DVD’s of the 1939 documentary that shows recreation in Lambertville.

GP: I’d like to think that “Dearest Home” is perhaps a gentle and loving nudge to my birthplace that stretches the boundaries of “beauty” for the folks who have a hard-lined preconception of what art is, based around American Impressionism. I’ve always viewed New Hope and Lambertville as one entity. In my mind, one doesn’t exist without the other, but more importantly, it’s my Home, the place that holds the memories of my family.

What stayed with me the most while making this work was the question of what Time is and what it means to use our time within this life in a way that attaches our physical bodies to a place that we identify as “Home.” I kept thinking about the stages of our lives and the choices that we make that in effect, make us who we are. I kept thinking about growing up, making a family, making a life, growing old, and dying in a small town while the town itself changes. I kept asking myself how that affects the places we occupy, how the changes in a place affect us, and how to portray those ideas, questions and feelings.

BH: There are details in the mural about tradition. The man driving the yellow Jeep is my dad, Bob, who owned the gas station before I did and drove a Jeep like that. The Atlantic service station represents the station that my grandfather, Russell, opened in 1935 on North Main Street. In 1946 he moved to Bridge Street on a plot that was part of the front lawn of the Lilly Mansion. The Exxon station was rebuilt in the early 1970’s and is also seen in Graham’s depiction of the buildings along Bridge Street.

GP: It was really important to Bobby that the Exxon station represent its history and also keep within the spirit of the mural itself. We thought, wouldn’t it be neat if we collapsed the progression of time to show everything that it has been as a business at the same time? So, we included details of each era in one space. The entire composition is loaded with symbolism of life, death, history, and focused on collapsing time into one 2-dimensional space.

BH: The stick figures at the bottom right are from images on the wampum belt the native Americans gave William Penn. 

GP: The Lenape Indians presented the belt to William Penn to signify the agreement to live and work in harmony while sharing the land. Sadly, we all know how that panned out. This was extremely important to me to portray, because it recollects a moment in history where the structure of our newborn society could have been molded differently. On the original wampum belt, made out of shell beads and animal skin, two people holding hands are depicted on a flat 2-D plane facing the viewer. In the mural’s version, the flat stick figures appear, mirrored against each other in classical two-point, illusionary perspective. The figures are contained within a fractured, floating prism. I like to think of this as a lens of history—imperfect, scarred, the reflective consequence of actions, presenting the possibility of another way in a metaphysical sense of time being non-linear.

BH: The mural makes people smile. It’s possible we may add to it in the future.

GP: I think it might be interesting to attempt to translate time and change with some of the other buildings.

Graham shared photos of the creation of the mural.

GP: Bobby Heath is a saint! I was originally hired three and a half years before the mural was complete. With the help of Bobby, an old family friend, C.L. Lindsay, and the entire New Hope Arts Organization, I got the mural panels built, prepped, painted and installed in three months. I’d say the mural took an entire village, a studio move, the death of my father, an incredible girlfriend, the support of many loving friends and patrons, and 9-10 months of working almost every hour of every working day.

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Restoring Lambertville’s Old Jail

Steps are underway to restore Lambertville’s old stone jail in picturesque Mary E. Sheridan Park, between the gazebo and The Kalmia Club. The Lambertville Historical Society is working with the City of Lambertville on the restoration, and we seek help and ideas from the community to best preserve and utilize the building. If you are interested in assisting our efforts or want to share memories of the jail or the fire department on the second floor, visit this page.

This past spring, members of the Lambertville Historical Society and the Masonic Lodge of Lambertville met with Mayor Dave Del Vecchio and architect Michael Burns to discuss the possibility of restoring the jail, which the City owns. Since the jail was closed in the late 1960’s, the building has been used by Public Works for storage, closed to the public. Significant damage to the roof required tarp covering that has been in place for several years. The interior has suffered.

Mayor Del Vecchio and the City agreed to replace the slate roof and repair or replace the soffit; they added the project to historic renovations of City Hall and the Justice Center. The roof replacement will begin shortly and is expected to conclude in October. Subsequently, the historical society will clean out the contents that are not historic and are easily discarded. We aim to create a plan for the jail’s ongoing restoration and future.

Inspections of the interior demonstrated the uniqueness of the structure and the challenges of restoration. In a metal-walled cell hangs a board with two headers: Do Not Release and Release. The calendar reads May 1971. To access the second floor, you must mount the exterior stairs; there is no internal staircase. The floor is compromised. Upstairs there are two large tanks, one of which may have fed air to the siren that was painfully familiar to many residents for years. On a desk sits a dust-covered device evidently used for transmitting emergency messages.

Old jails hold a certain appeal to residents and tourists. Ours is centrally located in a public park, making it a prime candidate for preservation. Moreover, there are few old jails in the area still standing and accessible. In the 1870’s, Lambertville’s jail housed itinerant workers—so many that residents complained in The Beacon. Much more research is required to appreciate the jail’s and the fire department’s places in our local history. We invite you to contribute to the building’s restoration and use. If you think it worthwhile, visit this page.

Main floor, used for storage


Metal cell


Cell management: Do Not Release / Release

Second floor, fire department

Emergency message device

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Steve Meserve on Shad Fishing, Lambertville’s Venerable Hobby

“History, family, environment and community” motivate Steve Meserve and his crew to fish for shad each year. On May 12 Steve hosted an LHS group on Lewis Island. In the iconic cabin, he reviewed Lambertville’s best-known tradition and his family’s stewardship of the shad fishery over 130 years. Afterward we watched a late-season haul.

Steve explained that the American shad is mainly an East Coast fish that winters in Florida and summers in the Bay of Fundy. When a shad matures, aged 3-5, it migrates to its natal river to spawn in fresh water. It takes 4-6 weeks for shad to swim up the Delaware and spawn near the headwaters by Hancock, NY. It does not feed as it swims upriver. Shad season starts around late March and ends around late May.

Before the colonists came to the Delaware Valley, the Lenape caught shad in nets. The Holcombe’s and other settlers in the early 1700’s caught shad; Richard Holcombe founded the shad fishery on Holcombe Island (Lewis Island’s original name) circa 1771. This was the era of “the colonial open-river fishery, when the shad provided residents of the region one of their most important food sources,” writes historian Charles Hardy III.

Bill Lewis, Steve’s great-grandfather, took over the fishery in the late 1880s. At that time, shad fishing provided good work for a season: Bill earned as much money shad fishing for two months as he did the rest of the year as a carpenter, Steve said. In 1896 more than 10,000 shad were caught at the busy fishery, which had three shifts.

The southern point of Lewis Island was paved first with stone, then concrete, to ease the haul and packing of shad, which was loaded on truck or rail. Before the paving, laying the fish on the ground got them muddy and made them less appealing to buyers.

In 1918 the Lewis family bought the island. In 1930 they built the first footbridge. Due to flooding and wear, there have been more than 70 bridges built since then, according to Steve. In 1931 the Lewis family built a golf course, complete with lights. During the 1930’s, the island hosted summer recreation programs and swimming lessons for the town.

The house was built in 1933 for seasonal dwelling. From 1948-1955 the Lewis family lived there year-round. In 2018 the house will soon host a wedding and it will again be occupied permanently. The first cabin, which houses the gear, was destroyed in a 1936 flood. Several have been built since then, increasingly raised up by design.

In 1935 the shad population declined so sharply due to industrialization and pollution that the fishery was no longer profitable. Accountants told Fred Lewis, Bill’s son, it was essentially a “hobby.” Senses of tradition and community service supported the continuation of shad fishing, as they do today. In 1943 all the commercial fisheries on the Delaware, except the Lewis Fishery, closed due to the low shad population. In 1953 and in 1956, no shad were caught at all.

These days, during shad season Steve and his crew fish at 6:00 pm on weeknights and at 10:30 am on Saturdays. They respect an old blue law that prohibits fishing after 2:00 pm on Saturday and all day Sunday–it provides a day off. Evenings tend to be more successful. Shad like to swim at shadows’ edges near the banks.

Lewis Island is home to unusual trees and flowers, Steve said. The local bald eagle likes to perch on branches and look out over the Delaware. The “secret garden” in the middle of Lewis Island was created and maintained by the late Cathy Berg, who was active in many areas of Lambertville life.

The shad population is a sign of the river’s health. Steve shares data about the fishery’s hauls with several agencies, including the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife. Per Steve’s 5/12 report from our visit, “We ended up with 1 buck and 9 roe. We returned 3 and also had 3 carp [the largest fish in the photo below] and 1 quillback.”

That day the real haul for our LHS group was a richer appreciation of shad fishing on Lewis Island, a tradition that is synonymous with Lambertville. We thank Steve Meserve and his crew for their decades of dedication, custodianship, and community spirit.

Photos from our visit

Steve Meserve

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Local Artists Discuss History, Technique and Inspiration – Part 3

Following is the last set of insights from artists participating in Plein Air Plus on March 10.

What is there about Lambertville and the Delaware Valley’s historic character that inspires you as a painter?

History and character of the area. I feel like I am doing paintings that are more meaningful and recognizable; a “since of place.”

Richard Hoffman 

The artistic events, the hustle bustle of the town, the friendliness of the people, and the natural beauty of Lambertville and the Delaware River area inspire me as a painter.

Pat Proniewski

Living in New Hope and the beauty of our area is perfect for a landscape painter. The beauty of Bucks County and Hunterdon County is my primary source of inspiration and my painting locations are all within a 10-mile radius. I look for everyday locations and examples of nature people often fail to see in their daily travels.

Roy Reinard 

Lambertville reminds me quite a lot of my hometown of Manasquan in Monmouth County at the coast of central New Jersey. It too is full of history and much of my childhood was spent outdoors near the ocean and surrounding waterways. Lambertville has the same feel to me.

Megan Lawlor

I’m continually inspired by all the various types of architecture the spans the decades, the quaint shops, restaurants and cafes and their unique signage. And with all the changing seasons, I’m always getting a fresh look at the area. Lambertville and the surrounding river towns bring me great memories and joy that I like to capture in paint.

Jean Childs Buzgo 

As a plein air landscape painter, I’m inspired by the wealth of landscapes–woodlands, streams, rivers, farm fields, gardens, hills and valleys– as well as the changes that come with the four seasons. The talented artists that live here generously share their art and inspire me to do better.

Jeff Charlesworth 

Born in Cuba and raised in a city in northern NJ, I came to Hunterdon County because of my attraction to its open landscape its picturesque towns and boroughs filled with history and a small-town charm. Lambertville as a destination town today has a close-knit community that attracts artists and their viewers. When I was a young artist I thought about living near the Delaware Valley and creating my work there.

Aida Birritteri 

The river and the varied landscape entice my eye. I see so many possibilities for new compositions, capturing with color the changing light, and the serenity of this region.

David Sommers

The river and canals, the light, the charming and unique small towns full of interesting people, buildings and landscapes.

Susan Twardus Faith

I’m inspired by the rich artistic history of Lambertville and the Delaware Valley…to know that I am painting the same landscapes that artists of the New Hope School painted is incredible. I’m walking the same paths that they did and viewing the same beauty that they did.

Cindy Ruenes

We hope to see you at Plein Air Plus!

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Local Artists Discuss History, Technique and Inspiration – Part 2

Today’s snowy weather would not have kept Edward Redfield, the renowned New Hope impressionist dedicated to plein air painting, indoors. He was known to stand for hours outside to paint his iconic wintry scenes. In advance of Plein Air Plus on March 10, we presented a quote by Redfield and asked for their perspectives.

Edward Redfield said: “What I wanted to do was go outdoors and capture the look of a scene, whether it was a barn or a bridge, but how it looked on a certain day. So I trained myself to set down what I saw all in one day, working sometimes eight hours or more. I never painted over a canvas again; I think it ruins them. Either you’ve got it the first time or you haven’t.”

Do you agree? What are your thoughts?

I agree. Once I’ve finished the painting in plein air, it’s impossible to go back to try to capture the same essence on a different day, even if the time of day and weather are the same. The feeling that I have and the connection that I have to the painting on a particular day is unique and therefore, it can’t be recreated.

Cindy Ruenes

Actually, I like to rework my paintings. Oil is forgiving. What I layer on top can bring out new details that I missed the first time.

David Sommers

I love the process and end result of plein air painting. I rarely rework a plein air painting.  You’re immersed in a landscape and develop a response to the site and light at that time.  It can be difficult to recreate the same response later.

Jeff Charlesworth 

Edward Redfield was certainly an outstanding painter, but how you paint, how long, where and when is at the pleasure of the artist. Whether it takes an hour or a year, plein air or studio, the final painting should reflect, not just the scene, but the artist’s reason for painting it in the first place.

Susan Twardus Faith

I agree with Redfield. It is usually something fleeting which captures my eye when I decide to paint a scene and it is never the same twice. The more I paint outdoors, the more I can eliminate everything but the essentials elements of what I’m trying to interpret…it is very intuitive on some level. The more spontaneous, the better, once I’ve got everything quickly blocked in.

Megan Lawlor

For me, yes. I paint alla prima meaning paintings are done in usually one sitting. The paint is applied to the canvas wet into wet. Most of the mixing of colors is done on my palette and canvas. After the first sitting I will go back a second day for fine edits. It is a very spontaneous way to work.

Roy Reinard 

I used to agree with that thought, but now I’m freeing myself to be open to many ways of painting. I have recently painted over old paintings that I felt were no good, and I felt it quite liberating. Sometimes I gesso over them and start again or sometimes I just paint a new painting right on top, letting some of the old show through. The texture of the painting underneath can be a fun effect to work with. I do however agree with not fussing over a painting and trying to complete a painting in one day to stay with the same intention you set out with in the beginning. Depending on the size of the work of course. But I’m very deliberate when I put down brushstrokes, so I can capture feeling and movement.

Jean Childs Buzgo 

I don’t like to go back into my work once I have abandoned it and will set it aside until I can look at it again with a fresh eye.  With watercolor you can turn your paper and work again on the reverse side but adding too many layers of color will dullen the work and lose the intensity of the color.

Aida Birritteri 

I prefer a sunny outdoor scene with great shadows which allow the merging of colors in watercolor. Historic buildings, street scenes, covered bridges and landscapes are plentiful in the Lambertville area.

Richard Hoffman 

Plein air painting is an exciting and inspiring process.  It challenges the artist to work towards spontaneity.  However, I believe studio work to be just as valid.  Neither is superior and both practices enhance the other process.

Pat Proniewski

More of these artists’ comments will follow in a subsequent post.

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Local Artists Discuss History, Technique and Inspiration

Plein Air Plus takes place March 10! In 2013 the Lambertville Historical Society launched this community-oriented fundraising event to draw upon one of the key themes that has defined the Delaware Valley for more than a century, namely art. Initially, it focused on painting en plein air (outdoors) and was tied to the House Tour: artists were asked to paint scenes of Lambertville the day of the Tour. In 2017, the geographic scope of the event was expanded to include the valley on both sides of the Delaware from Lambertville to Frenchtown. Studio art is now accepted in addition to plein air paintings—artists are encouraged to paint scenes of Lambertville the day of the House Tour, but they are free to paint whatever and whenever they wish, provided they draw inspiration from our region. These changes have attracted more diverse artwork, as can be seen by this year’s contributions. We asked the artists about their work and sense of history.

Does history play a role in your paintings? If so, how?

As a former picture framer and art restorer, I have worked on many of the works of the Pennsylvania Impressionists of the turn of the 20th century. Being that intimate with an artist’s work will certainly influence how you work. I have been inspired by the works of John Folinsbee, Fern Coppedge and Theresa Bernstein, to name a few for their choice of subjects, depicting the working class and backstreets of town, as well as their use of bold brush strokes, texture and colors.

Susan Twardus Faith

Yes, history plays a definite role. I am looking and searching with my work. Searching for a place to call home. As an immigrant, I am both bilingual and bicultural. I have not forgotten where I came from and I am searching to find my place in this world.

Aida Birritteri 

Yes, history does play a role in my paintings. One reason is the architecture. I am in awe of the stone constructed homes and large barns that grace our area. The other reason is that I also enjoy and feel proud living and working near Washington’s Crossing, which is full of history and is quite inspirational.

Jean Childs Buzgo 

The big names of the Pennsylvania Impression school have inspired me from the beginning of my art work.  I still look back at their work frequently.  (The Michener Museum in Doylestown can be a great source of inspiration.)  But I’m equally inspired by present day painters.

Jeff Charlesworth 

The rich artistic history of the New Hope Impressionists plays a huge role in my paintings.  I have learned from viewing their paintings and photos of their paintings and have tried to understand why they painted a particular place the way they did.

Cindy Ruenes

Yes, of course, I was exposed to so much art growing up. My parents took us often to New York to museums, galleries and shows. They were also avid readers so there were loads of books, magazines and newspapers to study from. I’ve always looked to history for inspiration and information!

Megan Lawlor

I enjoy painting in the historic areas of Bucks County for its obvious beauty, and feel especially lucky to be creating and exhibiting in this area previously established as an artistic community by the New Hope School Of Impressionists whose work I greatly admire. And to the degree that some of my subject matter records historic venues I would guess history plays a role in my work, although I don’t engage specifically in historic narratives.

Pat Proniewski

Yes, it provides more of a reason to paint an image that everyone can relate to and understand.

Richard Hoffman 

I like to paint landscapes that feature the natural elements of our area that have been here through time. Our river and streams, hills and mountains, fields and farms. I normally don’t pick a dominant formal point like, a famous building or object, but let the overall natural image speak for itself.

Roy Reinard 

It is the moment when the light and the shadows are optimal that draws me to paint a scene that is historic in nature. Historic structures and the tall trees that might surround them offer a unique aesthetic experience.

David Sommers

More of these artists’ comments will follow in subsequent posts.

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Touring Mount Hope’s Hillside with John Holly

In 1903 Sarah A. Gallagher, at the age of 81, Mt. Hope Cemeterypublished “Early History of Lambertville, N.J.” She concluded the work with a remarkable poem in which she contemplates the industrialization of her city “while resting on Mt. Hope’s green hillside.” With its view of the city beyond the headstones and memorials, the seven-acre Mount Hope Cemetery at Lambertville is still an appropriate spot to reflect on local history. Every day many residents traverse Mt. Hope, now restored after a period of neglect during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

John Holly, the cemetery’s president since 2001 (the first president was Mayor Samuel Lilly, M.D.), created the website that includes a map from the late 1800’s and burial records of more than 4,000 people. John gave us a tour, beginning at the northwestern entrance, where the terrain slopes steeply down toward Swan Street.


This is “Strangers Ground,” where the poor were buried in unmarked graves, with no caskets or records. We estimate 300 people were buried here over 80 years, beginning around 1848 when the cemetery was incorporated and its charter stipulated free burials for the poor. Mt. Hope was actually established in 1801 and there were burials here before 1848. The myrtle ground cover helps prevent erosion, as do the trees. Although there are no headstones, Strangers Ground is not an abandoned field—it is an integral part of the cemetery, and it must be protected. A fence and a sign about its significance would be welcome.

We start to walk up the hill.


This area is called Goat Hill. Goats were likely the original mowers here—the grass is the kind you would feed goats, a visitor from Johnstown, PA told me. We mow part of the grounds every day, as long as the grass is growing. Last year we mowed from April into November.

The first of Mt. Hope’s 14 “grand monuments” we see is the Boozer Bench. Ebenezer Boozer, who died in 1887, was reportedly a wealthy man who handed pennies to local children and lectured them about obedience, which the inscription on the bench emphasizes. Past that, there is the holding vault, where the dead were stored during the winter until they could be properly buried in springtime. The cemetery’s tallest monument is the Moore family obelisk, with an engraved tribute to “Charlie,” who died when he was 25. The Johnson family obelisk is massive, making one wonder how they hauled it up the hill. The Larison memorial is made of zinc. Asher Ege’s impressive monument reads in 1875 at the age of 43 he “died suddenly, yet prepared.” The Taylor mausoleum, built in 1900, features stained glass windows. I placed a contemporary sculpture between it and the grave of Jamie Fox, the prominent politician who died in 2017.

We look down the hill.


The cemetery is organized in an alphabetized grid of rows that were called “ranges and divisions.” There are intermediate aisles or “alleys” originally for horses and carriages—today we can use these spaces for new burial lots. Some of the lots still have intact copper piping that demarcates the space but makes mowing difficult. You see many shade trees here, which is unusual for a cemetery. Lots of ash trees and Norway maples.

We walk down the eastern side. 


JP Miller, who wrote “Days of Wine and Roses,” is buried here. A number of headstones feature the symbol of a chain link, which mark the interred as members of the Odd Fellows, the fraternal society very popular in the 1800’s. John Hart Ott’s headstone notes that his grandfather, John Hart, signed the Declaration of Independence. One gravesite is for a reputed witch who may have been exhumed—there is a faint pentagram on the stonework.

Erosion or vandalism have affected some of the lots, as you can see when the stones are toppled over or tilted. The cemetery doesn’t own the headstones—the families do—so we cannot correct them. Next to a black walnut tree, you can see the squirrels have used the nearby headstones as a table to crack the nuts. They have laid out the shells neatly, as well.

Four large birds walk to us.


These are the Guinea Fowl we keep here. They have a shed where they sleep. They are invaluable because they eat deer ticks, and we get a lot of deer. Other wildlife here includes groundhogs, skunks, foxes, and opossums. Years ago I saw a coyote, who snatched a Guinea Fowl. There have been many bear sightings, though I’ve never seen one.

We walk to the grave of Sarah Gallagher, who died in 1907, four years after writing her history of Lambertville, and had played and dreamed on these grounds before the canal and railroad were built. Another local historian and past president of the Lambertville Historical Society, Yvonne Warren, is buried up the hill. In touring Mt. Hope and seeing many familiar names of local families, you are reminded that a strong love of Lambertville transcends many generations. We thank John for the tour and his preservation of the cemetery.


I know what my headstone might say: “I certainly hope someone is mowing this grass.”

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Even More Holiday Memories from Lambertville Area Musicians

Sue Jaques



Musically, I grew up in the late ‘40s, 50s and 60s, so the holiday songs hard-wired into my brain are mostly from that period. My dad played his favorites on our “record player,” later a stereo, for as long as I can remember. He was a Big Band guy, came of age in the late 30’s, and loved Les Brown (I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm), Bing Crosby and Perry Como (I’ll Be Home for Christmas), Irving Berlin (White Christmas), and Andy Williams (It’s the most Wonderful Time of the Year), to name only a few.  Because he liked those songs and I heard them a million times, I like them too.

In our family, the radio was always on, especially WNEW and WOR (John Gambling’s morning show). I loved it when Milton Berle played Christmas songs on his uke.  I learned to harmonize from those radio songs. Later on, I sang hundreds of holiday songs in choirs and a cappella groups.

My absolute favorite holiday songs are: The Christmas Song (Mel Torme), Merry Christmas, Darling (The Carpenters), Baby, It’s Cold Outside, and O Holy Night.

Our choice this year, Hallelujah, is just a beautiful, rich song that feels a bit Christmas-y (or maybe religious-y) because of its biblical references (Samson & Delilah, David & Bathsheba). As Leonard Cohen said, “[The song] explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.”  I’d like to think that Lambertville people get that.

Laurie Vosburg

Laurie Vosburg and the Fa La La La La’s

“Deck the Halls”

Most of my family weekends growing up were spent with other large, musical families. I am one of five siblings who, including my parents, are musicians. My soon to be 90-year-old father can still pick out his favorite songs, play harmonica and keep impeccable rhythm, when most days his mind is a tad foggy.  My mother and sister have been teaching the angels to play music for many years now, but the memories of our childhood music-filled weekends still ring strong. At any given time, friends and family would visit our farm house, most would bring an instrument, sing, tap their feet or play the spoons. Music would go into the night, sunrise was the cue for new beginnings and more music.

Music transcends all, it facilitates many emotions and brings people together. I can’t remember a time there wasn’t music in our house, and it was always live. My mother could whistle any song—you’d swear she was part canary! Back then, Pop played guitar as well, but his harmonica playing is his first love. He taught himself while he served in the US Army. Simple people, simple lives. Holidays were the best at our house!  Christmas especially! Music was key and the focus of our day. We spent half the day at home, and the other at my aunt and uncles, with their nine children. Three sisters married three brothers, so all of us were pretty close. At one time or another we all did and still play music together. Our family reunions are stellar! Each year the younger family members perform on a pallet stage in the middle of my cousins’ farm… just like when we were kids. To watch my children continue on with the love of music and the connection they too have with family is truly amazing. Holiday music brings the warm and fuzzy out, from Rocking Round the Christmas Tree, Deck the Halls, River, and Winter Wonderland just to name a few warm my heart every time I hear or play them.

I know I can speak for the musicians I currently play with, that music brought us together, has gotten us through tough times, and keeps us pretty sane when life is too busy, especially at this wonderful time of year. I love the “warm fuzzy” feeling when we all get together and can just put aside this crazy world and sing, harmonize and play music together. See you on the flipside! Merry Christmas from all of us past and present band members! So fun to be a part of the Lambertville Historical Society CD!

— Laurie, Kevin, Ben, Vern, Mike L, Chris, Sher and my brother from another mother–JBKline

Both Sue and Laurie will perform at our 12/13 concert from 7:30-10:00 pm at The Birdhouse Center for the Arts, 7 N. Main Street, Lambertville.

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