Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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It Would Serve Me Right

December 19, 2012

A painting hangs in our dining room that might look familiar to many of you; it shows Claude Monet’s famous Japanese Bridge at Giverny. Monet painted a dozen versions of this bridge—all at different times of the day in an exploration of color and light—but he didn’t paint this one. I did, forty years ago. I say this not as a boast for having done a decent job of mimicking Monet’s style, but as a confession for a serious lack of judgment.


While attending UCLA in the early 70s, I landed a job as a shop assistant at Le Garage, a small gallery in Santa Monica owned by Chicago art conglomerate World Art Inc. I was hired because I was an art major and one of my tasks was to unroll canvases shipped to us from the home office in Chicago and staple them to canvas stretchers so they could be hung on the walls. Since these canvases were often rolled up when the paint was still damp, damage was visible when they were unrolled. I was given a box of oil paints to repair the damage so these paintings would sell.


Unfortunately, these paintings didn’t usually sell; most of them were production pieces whipped out on an assembly line in Taiwan and the Philippines. If it was a landscape, one artist would paint in the sky and a conveyor belt would then move the canvas down to the artist who brushed in the mountains. Another fellow would add the stream or ocean until the picture was completed.


In the evening when the manager had gone home and the gallery was empty I repaired many of these canvases and slowly began adding little touches to individualize them. With time my alterations became more pronounced. The gallery manager had no idea I was completely repainting some of these pictures, but she did notice that our sales were picking up.


Aside from Asian production artists, the gallery also showed the work of a few Chicago artists who specialized in nudes and still lifes. One fellow named George Barrel was dreadful. This guy didn’t know how to draw or paint and must have seduced the wife of the owner of WAI to get his work accepted. The manager even took to pronouncing the name with a French accent to peddle his work, referring to him as Barrél, but customers weren’t buying.


One quiet evening I was bored and looking for something to do when my eye settled on this dreadful Barrel still life—an improperly drawn bowl filled with pears that looked like hand grenades. This was by far the worst painting in the gallery. Before I knew what I was doing I’d removed the painting from the wall and was reworking it in the storage room. But I couldn’t confine myself to Barrel’s muddy colors and in no time at all I was slapping red and green and yellow paint over the still life, recreating a Monet I’d seen in one of my art books. When finished, none of the original painting was visible.


Barrel’s Still Life with Pears was priced at only $39.00, less than the price of its frame, and the canvas wasn’t missed when I brought it home. But over the years when I look at my Monet copy I feel a pang of remorse for my act of thievery forty years ago, even though I did make up for my indiscretion in a big way later on, but that’s another story.


In the meantime I still wait for karma to bite me on the butt with a newspaper headline such as: Masterpiece by world renown expressionist George Barrel fetches ten million dollars at Sotheby auction. It would serve me right.



I can't stand Monet's indistinct watercolor paintings. I dislike pastels. Give me bold colors any day. And resolution! I like resolution!
By: Michael Offutt on December 19, 2012
Now that's a great trick, and I doubt Barrel is going to get anywhere with his work. Well done~
By: Shelly on December 19, 2012
Monet is hands down my favorite artist. I would love to see all his originals. All. Of. Them. Love this post, but I doubt Barrel's work will every fetch more than $39.00. Just saying. Another delightful look into CC. Have a terrific day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on December 19, 2012
Did you ever retouch any of his nudes? Those assembly line painting jobs seem like they would Hell for any kind of real artist. Those seem like they have all the creativity of a paint-by-number set.
By: PT Dilloway on December 19, 2012
The only place those assembly line paintings belong is in a Motel 6!
By: fishducky on December 19, 2012
That is hilarious! Can't believe you did that. Wonder what ever happened to George Barrel. Google him lately?
By: Diane Laney Fitzpatrick on December 19, 2012

By: D on December 19, 2012
At the time, you were simply doing what you thought was right. I wouldn't be so hard on yourself. In fact, I suspect many are thankful.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 19, 2012
I love Monet...thank God for his poor eye sight! I think with some training even I could learn to paint sky. Fun post, but I'm confused...is the fake Monet in the post the reconstructed Barrel, and what sold for $39...I'm a little slow today. Nevermind, I just reread it..It was me, the post is quite clear.
By: cranky old man on December 19, 2012
Oh that's a fabulous story! And you did a great job on the painting.
By: The Bug on December 19, 2012
I think you were safe until you told us all! Now you may hear from Mr. Barrel--LOL! Heaven forbid he is still alive and googles himself. ;) Excellent job on the fake Monet. You did what you did and it couldn't be sold as "Still Life With Pears" anymore. All you would have owed them was the $39.00. And it sounds like you made up for it later. ;)
By: Rita McGregor on December 19, 2012
Well, at least you didn't paint over a Monet and make it into a Barrel!
By: Tom Sightings on December 19, 2012
I always wondered how those "starving artist" operations worked. Just curious....I wonder how many of those we consider today to be masters were "starving artists" in their day? S
By: scott park on December 19, 2012
The only Barrel I've ever heard of is Watney's Red Barrel, an insipid beer popular in the United Kingdom in the 1970s. So I'm confident your indiscretion won't land you in the sin-bin!
By: Bryan Jones on December 19, 2012
Karma may bite you on the ass. But it really won't hurt unless she's a pit bull or a rottweiler.
By: Uncle Skip on December 19, 2012
I remember a movie (not the title) where Sally Fields played one of those artists who touched up paintings ala assembly line. I was surprised they did that...but never did like those paintings.
By: Tabor on December 19, 2012
Actually, Karma is probably thanking you for covering up that dreadful still life! Love Monet, too, he was a good choice to imitate.
By: messymimi on December 19, 2012
I agree with messymimi.. Karma probably wiped out any negatives you ever accrued for making George look better than he deserved and fixing all the messes that came in that you made better. You are such a talent, Chatterbox.
By: Cheryl P. on December 19, 2012
I'm wondering why they kept on buying George Barrel's work? I'm a huge Monet fan and was lucky enough to see several dozens of his pieces at various museums in Boston and New York about 10-12 years back. I even bought a print of one of the Japanese bridge collection for someone back then. You did a marvelous job of recreating it. I'm anxious to hear the rest of that story.. how you made up for it. Fun post. How's your mom doing?
By: Hilary on December 19, 2012
Oh, I think you are probably safe from karma. You made something ugly beautiful and saved some poor schmuck from putting a Barrel in their house!
By: Kianwi on December 19, 2012
Roll out the Barrel? Maybe he would hold you over one... enough puns - you turned something terrible into art. for me that sounds like good karma. I have to say I'm not a big fan of the impressionists but i do like the bridge painting above
By: don't feed the pixies on December 20, 2012
Here's hoping Mr. Barrel doesn't read this and come to your house to punch you. Artists, no matter how execrable, are touchy about their work :-)
By: Suldog on December 20, 2012
The things we got away with when we were younger were incredible. Try doing that in this day and age and you would be sitting in the clinker looking out. I like it though. http://arewethereyettravelblog.blogspot.com/
By: Terry (Are We There Yet) on December 20, 2012
Boy, ten million dollars could sure buy you an awful lotta pears. In other words, it's a lot of "monet." Groan.....
By: Al Penwasser on December 20, 2012
I'm quite fond of Monet. I've never heard of what's his name, so I don't think you need to worry that his work will suddenly sell for fabulous amounts of money. Everything is okay. I have it all under control because I am The Queen of Grammar (and the rest of the world). Oi! Such a load on my small shoulders. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 20, 2012
I am actually a huge Monet fan and studied his paintings when I was younger. You did do a great job with the painting. Great story.
By: Crack You Whip on December 20, 2012
I actually never liked Monet's work, but you did a great job! Poor Barrel.
By: LL Cool Joe on December 21, 2012
I tried to join up on the new email thing you've listed but it didn't work. I added your url and it says they couldn't make a connection to your blog.
By: LL COOL JOE on December 21, 2012
what a hoot- you should not feel guilty at all- you did the gallery a favor and yourself too! We have been to Monet's garden outside of Giverney and it is so wonderful to see it in person- I love Monet's paintings and his garden is a work of art too.
By: Kathe W. on December 21, 2012
hey, i say better than you covered over a piece of awful art with something pleasing than what the lady in italy did when she tried to restore the fresco in her church and made christ look like an orangutan.
By: lime on December 22, 2012
Well, that frame is beautiful indeed.
By: Angela Ryan on December 25, 2012
I sure envy people who can paint. I also miss living in a state with a really good art museum.
By: Snowbrush on January 11, 2013

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