Elizabeth Adda Robinson Ratcliffe
“Naushon Island”
`Naushon Island' water color by Edward W. Forbes

This painting was done by my boss, Edward W. Forbes, sometime before 1945. At that time, as the retired Director of the Fogg Museum, he had an office across the museum’s entire top floor, attached to a tiny mosaic workshop. In preparation for publication, he was collating the letters of Lidian Emerson, his grandmother, the wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Also he was completing work on his large mosaic copy of a Madonna and Child from Santa Sophia in Istanbul.

I had just graduated from Wellesley as an Art History major with special interest in Byzantine art, and although I was far from being a skilled secretary, he hired me in that capacity. My desk was in front of his. My jobs were various. Sometimes I wrote letters to famous people such as George Santayana, and Bernard Berenson, a friend from the days when he was collecting ltaltan art in Italy. My spelling, handwriting and typing were pretty bad, but he never scolded me outright, only sometimes from his desk behind me I would hear him pick up the phone and call Milton Worthly the restorer in the basement, telling him “to prepare the boiling oil for Miss Robinson”. There would be no further chastisement, but I knew that I needed to rewrite a letter. He always signed his letters formally: “Yours Sincerely, Edward W Forbes”, whether to his children or to some more official person.

Sometimes I packed up and mailed off his grandmother’s letters to a prospective New York publisher. Sometimes I crammed myself into the mosaic workshop where I sanded, shaped and glued into the unfinished background tessera made from the iridescent blue shells collected from Naushon, the family island. Often, I was asked to purchase simple birthday or Christmas gifts for his children. And a few times I accompanied him to Naushon when he needed secretarial help of one sort or another. All in all I was more “Girl Friday” than competent secretary. It was my first job and had something to do with my Art History major. I had fun and knew that Mr. Forbes liked me. It lasted perhaps 6 months.

In those early WWII days, women college graduates thought marriage was the appropriate next step. When I announced to Mr. Forbes that I would be leaving to get married, I could tell he didn’t like the idea. But having little choice in the matter, his good New England breeding took over and as a wedding gift, he said he would like me to choose one of his water color paintings. I choose this one of a sunny glade on his beloved Naushon. It turned out to be his favorite of all the unframed water colors laid out there in the Fogg Museum office. Earlier he had told me that his mother Edith Emerson Forbes had (in accord with those times) forced him to change his preferred left hand over to his right, something he always regretted as he felt that his BEST painting wanted to come down his left arm, not his right. He believed the Naushon sunny glade would have been even better, had he been able to paint it with his preferred left hand rather than the right. I felt that although he regretted losing this favorite painting, he did approve of my good taste in selecting it. That although he did not approve of my choice of marriage over working for him, he did approve of me as a person of aesthetic taste.

`back of `Naushon Island' water color: 
Elizabeth Robinson
Edward W Forbes
October 12 1946

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