Early 20th Century Boardwalk - Beaufort, North Carolina

Letter to Editor - Last Visit to Beaufort and Discovering "Porchscapes"

Carteret County News-Times
April 25, 2014
(Images have been added)


Falling in love with Beaufort-by-the-Sea and the special charm of its harbor, houses,
porches, chairs, wind blown live oaks and suntanned people of good will is a constant that grows in intensity.

Born and bred in Beaufort almost a century ago, I recently returned home for a month when my sister, Elizabeth Mace Johnson, and I were participants in a Living History Forum held in the restored 1796 Carteret County Courthouse, where as a residence my mother and her sisters were born and lived.

Once inside our courthouse home I sensed that something was missing. I had a very primitive early American fireplace rocking chair, that had been in the family home longer than any of us could remember, air-shipped from my retirement cottage in Connecticut to arrive on March 4, back where it belongs forever. 

This “Coming Home” introduction brings me to the point of this letter: Beaufort artist, Mary Warshaw’s first edition 2009 book, Porchscapes, The Colors of Beaufort, North Carolina – Three Centuries of History Woven Through Art and Words

For anyone interested in uncovering the true Beaufort it’s like finding a perfectly cut Hope diamond meticulously set in a sea of phthal’ocy’anine  blue velvet.

Ms. Warshaw’s book was included with the many unique items I purchased at The Old Beaufort Shop at the Historic Site and at Carteret County History Place. I did not have an opportunity to examine it in any detail prior to my return to Connecticut. What a surprise and delight. Porchscapes is everything its title claims and much more. Even veteran porch observers will discover new and heretofore unseen beauties. 

This artist was challenged to find the color of light even in dark shadows and this she does brilliantly. We see the real old Beaufort in captivating earth colors. She uses a limited palette of only a warm and cool of each primary color, plus white.

She interprets what she sees and feels and in the process brings to life the look of bygone days. As she searches for the truth we identify with her in our own search.

Fortunately for students of art and laypersons such as myself, Ms. Warshaw includes an artist’s note with each painting. This informality brings us closer to artist and subject. It is also fun and informative. She obviously enjoyed getting to know the inhabitants and/or descendants of those that lived here. She has captured and preserved the life and spirit of Beaufort as never before.

I was greatly disappointed, after a cursory glance at the book, not to find a painting of our home in the ’30s, the “Mace House” at 619 Ann St., which during my recent visit I saw from my bedroom window every morning at my niece’s home, Liz Borden Burke, at 614 Ann. But I was even more disappointed not to find any mention of the, now long gone, old Mace House, on the 600 block of Front Street, where my father and his sister, Laura Borden Mace were born. This modest but charming Beaufort style story-and- a-jump featured two side dormer windows and a big center room dormer jutting out over a six-rectangular columned porch facing the waterfront. It was next door to the much later built C.P. Dey three-story mansion.

Photo: F.B. Johnston 1936
But I soon got over my disappointment when I discovered the myriad of treasures, also to be found in the rich text including facts about my own family history. No one had ever told us, for instance, that William Borden Jr. (1731-1799), who built the 1768 Borden House on Front Street, had been a delegate to the Fifth Provincial Congress that had insisted upon a Bill Of Rights before it would adopt the Constitution. Or that the Borden brothers ran the stage that carried visitors and freight between Beaufort and New Bern.

I was, of course, alive as a child when daddy “built the private wooden toll bridge” from Morehead City to Atlantic Beach and collected 50¢ for each car going over to what was once called Borden Banks. This is not in the book.

But the extended title of the book includes Three Centuries of History Woven Through Art and Words. And does it ever. This 196-full color pages, coffee table sized book, opens with a fine introduction by architectural historian Tony P. Wrenn, who in his opening and closing paragraphs frankly acknowledges “falling in love” with Beaufort.  He prepares you for what follows and I quote his final words:

“In the 21st century Beaufort survives — simple, pure, friendly and aware. For romantics such as I, it is the sort of place one falls in love with. I will spend future hours with this book, learning much that is new to me — and dreaming. Memories will come back, and they will be good ones, for Beaufort is that rare American survival that not only endures, but has kept its soul.”

How lucky we natives are that Mary Warshaw came to Beaufort to find her voice and our soul. She has succeeded magnificently. Building on her formal training she was also willing to experiment and to risk failure, to start over, paint over, to try a new angle, a new perspective, a new light until she found just the right touch. She brought intelligence, artistry and passion to her mission in life. Thank God she persisted.

Although I have never had the pleasure of meeting her in the flesh so to speak, we are now in contact via email discussing her new book. Every home in Carteret County should have a copy of Porchscapes for its family and visitors to savor.

This vastly rewarding book is expensive to buy, but it took money to produce with integrity and respect for the essential quality of life that it has captured so beautifully. I have now lived up to my responsibility. Ask your bookshop or library for Porchscapes.