Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on July 21, 2010 with permission of the Monhegan Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the Monhegan Museum directly through this phone number or Web address:
A Gift to the Island
by Remak Ramsay
Before I ever came to Monhegan Island, I knew something of its wonders. I had read the rave reviews in the correspondence of artists Robert Henri, Rockwell Kent, and George Bellows, among others. And I had been collecting American Art for more than 20 years, some of it made on Monhegan.
Jamie du Pont, a cousin of Phyllis Wyeth's, had already been to Monhegan. Both he and I were actors and we often crossed paths at auditions in New York City. I had had a fairly extensive theater career playing mostly British roles on and off Broadway, and Jamie inquired if I might be interested in doing a reading of the Noel Coward play Fallen Angels to benefit the Monhegan Museum with himself, Tammy Grimes, and Victoria Boothby on Monhegan that coming summer. I jumped at the chance.
It was the year that Julie Hudson had died. Julie and her younger sister Jacqueline, or "Jackie" as she was known, were daughters of the famous Monhegan painter Eric Hudson. No one ever painted a dory better than he. Jackie was herself a painter, and once the lighthouse beam had been fully automated and a keeper was no longer necessary, Jackie and Julie had been instrumental in seeing the keeper's home turned into the island museum. Since the proposed reading was to be a benefit for this museum, Jackie invited the cast to stay at the Hudson house, a great cube with a hipped roof right on the harbor shore, built in 1898 and full of art and island history.
The benefit was a huge success, thanks in large part to the participation of local talent in the persons of Marvin Oberman and Arline Simon playing a French lothario and a Cockney maid. They brought the house down, in this case the one-room schoolhouse where we gave two performances. When not rehearsing or performing, I roamed the island trails in amazement, was given a tour of their Rockwell Kent cottage by Jamie and Phyllis Wyeth, and was feted by Emily Kalur and Ruby Court, Moe and Arline Oberman, and Ed Deci among others. After less than a week, I was hooked on Monhegan as no place has ever hooked me before or since.
For me, as for many others, there is something magical about an island. One can be marooned on an island like Robinson Crusoe, exiled on an island as was Napoleon on Elba or St. Helena, or imprisoned on an island as Dreyfus was on Devil's Island. But there is also both the thrill and the safety of self-sequestration, of going to a special, almost private place apart, protected by God from the news of the Rialto and a too busy, too stressful world of mundane worries. It is why the Knights Of Malta went to Malta, why monks came to the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel in France or to the cloistered life of Iona off the Isle of Mull in Scotland. It helps explain the lure of the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence Seaway or places like Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Crete, and all the Archipelago of the Aegean Sea. Shakespeare, in his play Richard II, lovingly describes his native England as "This precious stone set in a silver sea, that serves it in the office of a moat, against the envy of less happier lands." That fits Monhegan just as well.
Monhegan remains relatively unspoiled because, hard island work aside, there is not a lot to do unless you are a player of games, a reader of books, a writer of poems, a taker of photographs, a watcher of birds, a hiker of trails, or a painter of pictures. It has never become a mecca for the super rich because there is no tennis or golf, no movie theaters or bars, no country club or nightclub. The ocean is too cold for all but the heartiest children in the shallowest places. You cannot show off your toys.
There are no cars allowed, and although the harbor is an occasional brief stopover for Bolshevik-making motorboats (or "stink pots" as I have always called them), they do not stay long. The harbor currents, tides, and sea swell make for more pitch and roll than can allow for a good sleep on most nights. When an occasional overnight tourist like myself asks me, "What do people do around here at night?" I am tempted to say "They go to bed so they can get up and be knocked out by the dawn." But that would be advice I rarely follow myself, being as I am a creature of the theater.
For most painters, it is about the light. Being twelve miles out to sea, the air usually has a lot of salt in it, which lends it a luminosity that can be truly dazzling. You almost always need dark glasses. For me, it is also about the rock formations. Monhegan came about, as did most of the islands of the Maine Coast, due to the shifting of tectonic plates, volcanic upheavals, and finally the carving out of the earth's crust in an age of ice. Nowhere in the Eastern United States is the coastline as dramatic, as gutsy and as muscular. Our Big Sur, Britain's Cornish coast, the Norwegian fjords, or the Irish cliffs of Moher all have their own magic, but Monhegan has not only this great power of rugged cliffs and pounding surf but also a lovely quietude of wood and trail and a charming rambling village. And all on an oval island a mile and a half long by three quarters of a mile wide, most of it protected against development by the Monhegan Associates, a land trust set up in the 1950s by Ted Edison, son of Thomas Alva Edison, himself a Monhegan regular in the early twentieth century. It is a place that you feel you can get to know, whose mysteries you can begin to unravel, and once you know it a bit and start to make it your own, you cannot get it out of your blood or your mind.
I have made many friends on "The Rock." I have, through the kindness of many cottage owners, been blessed to be able to rent the Deci studio, Bill and Eileen Cameron's Horn Hill house, the Gussow cottage, Bill and Jan McCartin's "Eyrie" (now the Pedersen/Dixon house), and through the enormous generosity of Jamie and Phyllis Wyeth, their beautiful Kent cottage for many years. I am blessed to come back to this island family each summer, and once I step onto the wharf, I don't leave unless I have to. It seems like a lapse of intelligence or judgment to want or need to "go to America" as some islanders refer to a trip inshore.
The artists represented in this catalogue were born as early as Alfred Thompson Bricher in 1837 and passed on as recently as Bill McCartin or Ruth Boynton in 2003. None is still with us. To avoid rivalries, jealousy, and bones of contention among living painters in this small community, the Monhegan Museum has wisely limited its exhibitions to the work of deceased artists, which is why it is often said that "Artists are dying to get into the Monhegan Museum." With Monhegan's artistic legacy, there are more than enough past masters to fill up the museum's walls year after year.
The drawings on view this year are few and varied: A George Bellows of a Cornet Player, part of the Monhegan Cornet Band that played at the island's Tercentenary Celebration in 1914; an Edward Hopper sketch of Manana Island across the harbor under a lowering sky, done sometime during his visiting years from 1916 to 1919; two drawings by Chauncey Foster Ryder, one of White Head on the "Backside" (i.e., east side) of the island and one of Manana with a sail-filled harbor a drawing full of gorgeous graphite hatching and cross-hatching by a master draughtsman; and an ink drawing by Alfred Fuller of a sprit-sail fishing dory at sea.
The prints include lithographs by Stow Wengenroth, one of America's very greatest printmakers. To start with one that is probably his most famous (it is on the cover of his catalogue raisonné), see Tower Door of Marshall Point Light which visitors pass as they leave Port Clyde Harbor on their way to Monhegan. There are three others: Quiet Pond of the Monhegan Ice Pond, once the island's only source of refrigeration; Forest Glade of Cathedral Woods; and The Captain's House, a view looking north over the village from near the top of Lobster Cove Road.
There is a linocut print by Leo Meissner "Crevasse" done in 1934 of rocks and surf. Two etchings by Sears Gallagher, one of White Head and one titled Heavy Surf, Monhegan as well as two prints by Jacqueline Hudson, one a black and white lithograph of The Harbor and one a colored monoprint called Moonrise. Jackie came to Monhegan as an infant, and at a very young age, through her painter father, she got to know Henri, Bellows, Kroll, and Davey among other prominent painters, seeing them on Monhegan as well as in New York where her family often wintered. Jackie spent virtually every summer on the island until her death in 2001. No one cared about Monhegan more, and I still miss her good company.
There is one pastel by William Partridge Burpee called Monhegan Spruce Forest. It was most likely done in Cathedral Woods along the Black Head Trail. Burpee was a native of Rockland, Maine who worked in Boston. When his studio burned in the Harcourt Studios fire of 1904, he lost most of his work. He returned to his birthplace in 1913, and judging by the more impressionist style of the pastel, it was probably done after that.
There is one photograph in the show, called The Haven by Bertrand H. Wentworth, a native of Gardiner, Maine. It was most likely taken in the 1910s or '20's when he returned to Maine after many travels and began to summer on Monhegan, which he continued to do until his death in 1955. He knew the island inside out. This photo shows two schooners moored in the lee of the rock known as Nigh Duck, north of the harbor.
In the area of watercolors, the earliest artist is Alfred Thompson Bricher. A native of New Hampshire, he was a second generation Hudson River School painter much influenced by the Luminists. His watercolor Rocks And Sea is a good example of what has been called "The Glare Aesthetic" with the tops of the rocks and the ocean surface ablaze with the light of the midday sun.
The British painter Samuel Peter Rolt Triscott was born in 1846, came to America in 1871 and started exhibiting in Boston three years later. He first came to Monhegan in 1892 with Sears Gallagher, got his U.S, citizenship in 1894, moved to the island full time in 1902, and stayed until he died in 1925 by which time he was so well known as an artist that he shared a joint obituary in the Boston Globe with the American expatriate (living in London), John Singer Sargent. Triscott's watercolor Woods, Monhegan Island, because of its large size, was probably done, at least in part, from the artist's photograph of the same subject, probably a view along the trail from the lighthouse to White Head. A gouache with flowering bushes is unsigned but attributable to Triscott as well. It is typical of his style, especially when, as here, he painted on top of a photograph, an occasional practice of the artist's. The view is of what is now the Trailing Yew, a hotel right across the road from Triscott's red house (now belonging to Donna Cundy). The distinctive ridge of Manana can be seen in the distance.
Henry Newell Cady was from Rhode Island and studied at The National Academy Of Design in New York. He was on Monhegan about 1915 where he did a number of pictures including Seascape With Rocks. He exhibited at the National Academy and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as well as at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.
George Schultz was born in Chicago in 1869 and studied at the Art Institute there. He was on Monhegan from 1895 to the 1920's. This fairly large watercolor, Monhegan Headland was obviously done late on a summer day with the low slanting afternoon sun falling across the top of Black Head.
There are three watercolors by Sears Gallagher; one called The Lobster Shack c. 1905, of the fish house now belonging to Shermie Stanley, a member of the six generations of the Stanley family on Monhegan. The shack was built for Thomas Horne in the 1780's and is now the fourth oldest building on the island. At the time this picture was painted, the building was jointly owned, the south half by W. S. Stanley and the north half by Walter Davis who is quite possibly the man in the picture. There is also a watercolor of Gull Rock done on the east shore of the island looking south. The third Gallagher, titled The Crows Nest from 1892 is of the spot where the crows have always lived and still do. It is at the south end of the island just above where the remnants of the shipwreck of the ocean-going tugboat, the D. T. Sheridan, now rest. Back when the picture was painted (see also the Frank Copeland watercolor and the Andrew Winter oil of the same subject), cows and sheep grazed much of the island and ate sprouting spruce before they had a chance to become trees. So in those days, artists such as William Trost Richards, Alfred Thompson Bricher, and Samuel Peter Rolt Triscott could paint the "bones" of the island, the rocky skeleton that is now mostly covered with spruce.
The watercolor by Maud Briggs Knowlton is simply titled Flower Garden. A native of New Hampshire, she studied at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston and later became the first director of the Currier Art Gallery in her native state where she arranged an early one-man show for Andrew Wyeth. She came to Monhegan in 1893 and was only the second woman artist known to have painted here. She had her studio cottage built right below Triscott's on the road to Lobster Cove, the house now owned by Bob and Carol Stahl. Bob is treasurer and associate director of the museum. Things sometimes move in circles here.
J. Frank Copeland's watercolor of the Crows Nest was probably done in the 1920's or 30's. His wife Eleanor was also a painter and did Monhegan subjects as well. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Copeland studied in Philadelphia and taught interior design there.
Olga Sears was on Monhegan in 1940 when she painted with great fluidity a moody watercolor of Manana, seen on a foggy day across the harbor and titled simply Monhegan. There is also a watercolor of the island by Stow Wengenroth, who seldom painted watercolors, especially if they were not preliminary to a lithograph. The "HW" denotes "Harriet Wengenroth" his second wife and executrix.
William McCartin's untitled gouache is the only abstract picture in the exhibit, and indeed was the only abstract picture in my collection. He was a native New Yorker and studied at the Art Students League on West 57th Street in the same class with fellow Monhegan painter Michael Loew. Bill and his wife Jan owned the house originally known as "The Eyrie" for more than 30 years. Jan's study of husband Bill done in oil pastel stick shows him sitting on their lawn, the Hekking house below to the south. A native of Vancouver, Jan, like Bill, studied at the Art Students' League. Their island friends were devoted and deservedly so. Bill was a truly charming Irishman, and Jan had a still and gentle kindness that always summoned an image, for me anyway, of a fully realized and benevolent Mandarin Empress. Bill had an outward smile of cheer, Jan an inner one of great wisdom.
Ruth Boynton studied at the Boston Museum School and the Massachusetts College Of Art. She and her family came to Monhegan regularly from 1948 onward (spending many winters in Asia and the Middle East) although Ruth herself first came 10 years earlier. Her small study of Pebble Beach at the north end of the island is by an artist who saw things in nature that others often missed, who knew the contours and surfaces of the Monhegan trees and rocks she loved as well as any painter on the island.
And finally to the oil paintings. The Chauncey Foster Ryder Monhegan c. 1908-9 shows a Banks Fishing Schooner in the harbor, painted with Ryder's usual confident brushstrokes. Ryder, a native of Danbury, Connecticut came a number of times in the 1910s and '20s. He became a National Academician in 1920.
There are three oils by Frederick Judd Waugh all of them rocky coastlines, the earliest dating from 1911, the year he was made a National Academician. Like the Wyeths, the Waughs were a three-generation artist family (Samuel Bell Waugh, primarily a portraitist, then Frederick, first a genre painter and then a marine painter, and finally Frederick's son Colton). Frederick became such a master of the anatomy of a wave that when, later in life, he moved to Western Connecticut, far from the sea, he continued to paint coastal rocks and waves from memory. He got to the point where he dispensed with boats on the sea, gulls in the air, and people on the shore. Waugh could churn out his seascapes almost by formula, probably as an easy source of ready income, and this facility may have ended up hurting his reputation through some less carefully done, more formulaic work. At his best, however, his art can be breathtaking and displays a feeling for the drama of the ocean as keen as Winslow Homer's.
The three principal Monhegan painters of the 1930s and '40s were Abraham Jacobi Bogdanove, born in Minsk, Russia; Andrew Winter born in Sindi, Estonia; and Jay Hall Connaway, born in Liberty, Indiana. Bogdanove came to the U.S. in 1900, worked as a muralist and studio assistant to Frank Millet and got his first commission in 1912, the year his teacher went down on the Titanic. Bogdanove came to Monhegan in 1918 and spent summers here from 1920 until his death in 1946. Winter came to the "Trailing Yew" in the 1930s, and lived year round on Monhegan with his artist wife Mary Taylor from the early 1940s until his death in 1958. He and Connaway both had studios at the famous Tenth Street Studio Building at 51 West 10th St. in New York City. Connaway came to Monhegan first in 1931 and recommended it to Winter. Connaway and wife Louise lived here year round from 1933 to 1947. Both he and Winter were well known for their snow and storm scenes and sometimes braved the worst weather to paint them.
There are three Andrew Winter oils in the show: First Set of 1936 shows lobstermen setting their traps on the opening day of the season. So as to be fair and even handed, all the lobstermen had to be (and still today must be) healthy and ready with their traps dockside before "Trap Day" can begin. Then, the rushing about to stake out favorite spots ensues. Today, of course, the boats are larger than the small ones with canvas spray shields seen in this painting, making for fewer trips back to the wharf to take on more traps. Trap Day on Monhegan is now set for October 1st, but when First Set was painted it was set for January 1st. Hence, the snow. An Andrew Winter of The Crows Nest, dated 1942 shows the rocks as bare as they are in the Gallagher 1892 watercolor and the later Copeland watercolor discussed earlier. The third Winter is of The Hekking House, now the Goldsmith house, just peeking above the rugged face of Monhegan's western shore. This house, now almost completely hidden by spruce, is the last house going south before reaching the Kent/Wyeth cottage at the southern end of the island. The painting is not really about the house so much as it is about rocks. And boy, could Andrew Winter paint rocks!
There are three Abraham Bogdanove's too, a small one of Crashing Waves, one of an eastern rig dragger, docked at The Wharf, Monhegan, and one a very boldly painted view across The Harbor to Manana. The small boathouse seen in the last two was where supplies were unloaded for the coast guard station on the south end of Manana. This small building was swept away in the Halloween Nor'easter of 1991, the one immortalized 6 years later in Sebastian Junger's Book The Perfect Storm and later still in the George Clooney movie of the same name.
There are three paintings by Jay Hall Connaway, one of Black Head, one titled Maine Sea from 1953 showing a burst of surf spray on rocks, and a dramatic night time painting from the 1950's called Fog Warning showing a man in a slicker next to the fog bell which was then on Manana. It has the drama of an N. C. Wyeth illustration and could spur any boy's imagination. The bell was later airlifted by helicopter to Monhegan where it now stands outside the museum on Lighthouse Hill. This picture was almost thrown out years ago when it was found in the attic of the Island Inn with a lot of junk during renovations. Luckily, somebody saved it, and it ended up at the auction where I acquired it forty-some years later.
Aldro Hibbard's Harbor is one of the many Monhegan Pictures he did although he is best known for his paintings of Cape Ann where he was also the man behind the artists' baseball team in Rockport. Baseball became popular on Monhegan as well, but with teams often made up of island children led by Rockwell Kent, their Pied Piper in his early days here.
A large view of the harbor, done from Horn Hill, is by Paul Strisik. I bought it years ago at auction and managed to reach Mr. Strisik afterward by phone. He asked if I had bought it at Skinner's auction house in Boston. I said I had, to which he said "Boy did you get a bargain!" I had to agree. I asked him the year in which he had done it, and he said "1950." The house in the painting now belongs to my aforementioned artist friends Marvin Oberman and Arline Simon, and the spot is not far from the island house and studio of Strisik's fellow National Academician, longtime friend, and frequent painting partner, Don Stone. Don's house and studio once belonged to Jay Connaway.
James Perry Wilson is also represented by three oils, all on small panels (I seem to collect in threes). All are views of the "Backside" of the island. Wilson painted on Monhegan during his vacations for a number of years in the 1920s and '30s, when his primary source of employment was as painter of the amazing dioramas behind the animals in New York City's Museum of Natural History.
There is a Leon Kroll called Sunlit Sea painted on the backside near Burnt Head in the great year 1913 when he was here with Bellows. There was a group that exhibited together at the McDowell Club in New York, all self-chosen by the members who included Henri, Glackens, Bellows, Kroll, Speicher, Sloan, Luks, Lawson, Davey (before he went to New Mexico), and for a time, Hopper. Kroll said in his Spoken Memoir that "Bellows was a wonderful man. We used to see each other all the time, and he'd spend whole summers with us. He'd come where I was, or I'd go where he was. We were very good and intimate friends for years until he died." One sometimes wonders who learned what from whom.
1913 was the year of the landmark Armory Show in New York, full of new "modern" art. Both Kroll and Bellows were well represented, and the bold gestural brushstrokes of their work must have seemed very daring and modern at the time. Both became National Academicians, Bellows the youngest ever so honored.
The Gustave Cimiotti, c. 1905 is also of the backside as is the oil of White Head by Rockwell Kent, which seems a somewhat updated version of the almost "Deco" style of Kent's earlier years. The composition is both simple and complex (look at the foreground), the whole made extra exciting by the burst of spray at the point. It was done sometime in the early 1950s, possibly during Kent's last summer on Monhegan.
The earliest oil in the show (and the smallest, along with the Ryder) is the William Partridge Burpee Coastal Sunset from about 1905. It looks across the harbor past the northern tip of Manana. It must have been painted from near the Alden Wincapaw cottage (which later belonged to Alice Kent Stoddard and now to Joan Harlow). Of all my Monhegan pictures, it seems to be everyone's favorite. Mine Too.
Over the past twenty years or so, I have put on a number of theatrical benefits for the Monhegan Museum with American actress friends such as Carrie Nye, Frances Sternhagen, Patricia Conolly, and Victoria Boothby. The posters for them were generously done by Marvin Oberman. I always closed those evenings with a poem that seemed singularly suited to this "Artists Island." The poem is by the British poet Rudyard Kipling and is not so well known as many of his others. So many people have asked me for a copy over the years (before Google), that it seemed fitting to include it here as well.
Before I close, I would like to express my appreciation to Bill Boynton and Jackie Boegel of the Lupine Gallery, Keith Oehmig of Wiscasset Bay Gallery, Dennis and Marty Gleason of Gleason Fine Art in Boothbay Harbor and Portland, Ira Spanierman of Spanierman Gallery in New York, Rob and Annette Elowitch of Barridoff Galleries in Portland, Kaja Veilleux of Thomaston Auction, and Jeff Cooley of The Cooley Gallery in Old Lyme, Connecticut, from all of whom I have purchased wonderful Monhegan pictures.
My appreciation as well to Marvin Oberman, Emily Grey, Ed Deci, and the Gleasons for much help in transporting pictures to the island, and to all the staff of the Monhegan Museum who have been of assistance over the years: Bob Bartels, Bob Stahl, Clare Durst, Tralice Bracy, and Pamela Rollinger, as well as background advisors such as Sherm and Shermie Stanley, Doug and Bill Boynton, the authors of past museum catalogues, Mary Beth Dolan for her help in finding me lodging, and Ruth Faller for her book on Monhegan's houses. A huge debt is owed to museum director Ed Deci for both his encouragement for and advice on this project, his Introduction to this catalogue and his wonderfully comprehensive Monhegan artist database. I also owe a large debt of gratitude to Jennifer Pye of the museum who is a veritable font of information on all aspects of Monhegan's history. She took and assembled photos of all the exhibition pieces and made available to me all the information from which I have worked. The book in your hands would not be there without the expertise and dedication of Ed Deci and Jenn Pye.
I sincerely hope the gift of this collection will give both island natives and visitors great pleasure and/or inspiration for many years to come. It is a small price for me to pay for all the beauty and pleasure that Monhegan has given me. My thanks.
About the Author
Over a period of years Remak Ramsay has donated numerous works of art from his personal collection to the Monhegan Museum. The above essay is featured in the catalogue for the Monhegan Museum's 2010 annual exhibition, A Gift to the Island: Pictures of Monhegan from the Collection of Remak Ramsay.
Catalogue Introduction to "A Gift to the Island: Pictures of Monhegan from the collection of Remak Ramsay" by Edward Deci
A Feel for the Island
Over the last twelve years Remak Ramsay has generously donated more than fifty-three works of art to the Monhegan Museum. This exhibition celebrates the beauty and historic importance of this collection. It is defined, quite simply, by Remak Ramsay -- by his refined collector's eye, by his feel for the island, and specifically, by his gifts of art to the Monhegan Museum. Numerous works highlight the power of the cliffs, the force of the sea, and the quiet of the woodlands, but just as many feature man's presence on the island and the bustle of daily life in the village.
The collection includes works by some of the earliest artists to work on the island in the nineteenth century, as well as more impressionistic and abstracted works from the second half of the twentieth century. However, the largest number of works represents the tradition of American Realism. Among the artists included in this exhibition are familiar names such as Hudson River School painter Alfred Thompson Bricher, American Realists Jay Connaway, Abraham Bogdanove, and Andrew Winter, Impressionist painter William Partridge Burpee, early Modernists George Bellows, Rockwell Kent and Leon Kroll, and watercolorists Samuel Peter Rolt Triscott and Sears Gallagher.
Remak has an outstanding eye for high quality art, as will be easily recognized when viewing this exhibition. But the collection also conveys that he has a genuine appreciation for Monhegan, for its incomparable natural beauty and for its community.
(above: William Partridge Burpee, Coastal Sunset, c. 1905. The Monhegan Museum. Gift of Remak Ramsay)
(above: Rockwell Kent, Whitehead, Monhegan. The Monhegan Museum. Gift of Remak Ramsay)
Resource Library editor's note
The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on July 21, 2010, with the permission of the Monhegan Museum, Monhegan Island, Maine, which was granted to TFAO on July 19, 2010.
The catalogue for the exhibition exhibition, A Gift to the Island: Pictures of Monhegan from the Collection of Remak Ramsay, published in 2010, is available through the Monhegan Museum.
Resource Library wishes to
extend appreciation to Jennifer Pye, Curator of Collections, Monhegan Museum
for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.
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For biographical information on artists referenced in the above texts please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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