Two of Us: Robert and Marietta Cleasby: So Many Camp Ground Summers, This Couple Has Stopped Counting
He plays music and conducts; she draws. for both, the camp ground is the center of their artistic life. Robert C. Cleasby is director of programs at the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association in Oak Bluffs. During the summer he conducts the Wednesday night community sings at the Camp Ground. He is retired, though active in teaching private music lessons. His wife of 42 years is Marietta. Friends call her Bootsie. She tutors high school education and art at the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston, R.I.
They spend their summers in a house on Commonwealth avenue on the Camp Ground that was bought by his father in 1965 for $5,200. They have three grown children: Meredith, Andrew and Jonathan. On Saturday morning, the couple celebrated the birth of their second grandchild, Alison, to Jonathan and Nicole Cleasby.
Interviews by Mark Alan Lovewell
Marietta (Bootsie) Cleasby:
We met at Boston University, where he was a music student. I was a business student and I worked at an arts store. We met in that art store. We met in our freshman year. It wasn't until our junior year that we started dating.
After we started dating, he said I want to show you something. He took me into a closet in his apartment. The closet was stacked with paper. He said to me: "You know when I came into the art store, I either bought M&Ms or paper. I ate all the M&Ms, but here is all the paper."
That whole closet full of paper represented him trying to get up enough courage to ask me out. That is who he is.
He is a lot of fun. What I really liked about him were his hands, because he was a conductor. He had beautiful movement of his hands. He was majoring in organ music, voice and he was also a conductor.
His family has been on the Vineyard since, I believe, 1920. He had been coming here every year of his life. First time I came here was in 1964, when we were dating. We might have been engaged. We visited with his family. We have been here every single year.
It is nice to go to the community sing, because I can sing and nobody says anything. I am not good at that.
He is not good at art. When we were first married we went to Rockport. A friend and I were going to do some art work. We went drawing. We went out to the end of Rockport Motif #1. He sat down at the beginning of this jetty going out.
When we had finished our drawing, I came back and I saw him sitting there, drawing and drawing and really concentrating. I looked down. I saw that he had drawn 55 little circles. I asked, what is that?
He said: "Rocks."
We laughed so hard. He never drew again. We have a truce. I don't do music, he doesn't do art. He goes to galleries with me, and I go to musical events with him.
He taught music for 32 years. He taught in Smithfield, R.I. I think for 26 of those years, he did a Gilbert and Sullivan musical every year, a fully staged performance, and it was just the highlight for everybody. You ask anybody from Smithfield. When he retired, people came from literally different parts of the world to attend his retirement. And they put together a final farewell performance on the phone; so they performed it that night.
I am his biggest fan. He is fascinating. He is a wonderful musician. He is a terrific sailor and we have a boat. He is a wonderful sailor and he can fix anything. If I ask him, "How did you fix that?" he'll say, "I don't know, don't ask me how I did it. I just do it."
He can fix really anything.
I know where those red pants came from. He knew [that his predecessor] Phil Buddington had worn a red jacket [whenever he ran the community sings on the Camp Ground]. He didn't want to do the same that Phil had done. The pants were kind of like a transition. We went down to Bermuda for a vacation. He found these red pants.
I just think the Camp Ground is part of him. He has been here every year of his life. He has a great respect for the history and the tradition. He loves being a part of it.
You know they say a woman marries a man like her father. My father, Charles Tierney, ran restaurants and was a terrific cook. My husband is the same way. My father was not only a businessman and a chef, he was also a musician. He played the cello, piano and was an artist. Since we've been married, my father used to come here for weekends and we'd get together.
[Robert] can look in the refrigerator and just come up with something. He can make sauces out of nothing. He made this great meatloaf. We didn't have anything like crackers, or bread crumbs, so he rolled up cheeses, fantastic. He is just an imaginative cook.
Robert C. Cleasby:
We got married at the chapel at Boston University. We were both B.U. students, we were both living in Boston, I did a recital there. It was a nice place.
I was in the fine arts building. And there was a little supply store in there that sold art supplies, pencils and candy. It was almost the size of a closet. She worked there and I would go in and buy M&Ms, so I would have an excuse to talk to her. She worked there, it was a her part-time job in college. That is where we met.
I had a closet full of M&Ms for years. I always bought tons of writing paper. It was an excuse.
We would go do things. I like transportation. So I liked to go out to Logan Airport. We would go out and watch planes.
She tried to get me to be artistic. We went to Rockport, and she planted me down and said: "Look at this beautiful vista. It was beautiful. There was a stone pier that goes out into the harbor. There was a building on it, boats in the harbor. I looked at it all over and I said to myself: the hardest part of drawing this is going to be the rocks, so I spent what seemed to me like a lifetime, may have been an hour, probably was two, trying to capture the rocks. At some point she said we got to go.
And she picked up what was finished, and I had some very sad-looking rocks. That was my last artistic attempt.
Her enthusiasm is almost fanaticism. She doesn't take a break. Most need a time out, she doesn't have time out. She is nonstop, she has three or four paintings going on at the same time, depending on where the sun is.
She does these little miniatures which have been very successful for her.
She started out self-taught. Her father was an artist and he did portraits, and she started out doing portraits. She went from pencil and charcoal to colored pencil and then she went into the other things. But she never stops doing it.
On the Camp Ground, turn your head and you have a painting. You don't have to leave the chair and there is a painting there. We had all the clothes hanging out on the line, back here, and she said that is a great painting. So we left the clothes out on the line for a long time. She did a marvelous painting which I still have at home, of clothes on the line in Oak Bluffs.
She would have a major bout of depression if she didn't get here every summer. She would go crazy if she didn't get here. She works in a jail. In one building there are 17 doors that close before she gets where she works.
This is the freedom and beauty that doesn't exist there, in the jail. She works a split shift, she works two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon and two hours at night. She does her art at night; the other times she is teaching high school [general equivalency diploma] class.
She is spontaneous. She brings an agenda that is mind-boggling. I have to add the order to what she wants to do. I bring the order. She brings the agenda.
She brings high energy, an intensity. I can shut down. She keeps going.
She cooks comfort food. She does wonderful things like American chop suey, a farmer's stew. We had a wonderful Italian neighbor across the street, at our home in Cranston, who did her own spaghetti sauce. She got the recipe. It takes nine hours and it cooks slowly.
When the kids were home, she could cook things like that. Now when you are cooking for two people, and the recipe calls for making a big amount, you have plenty left over or you give it away.