Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 1, 2019
Clock collection displays the many faces of time
by Anne Berleant
“What is time?/Is it something to touch like a/table or boulder?”
Castine resident Robin Mass quotes from Phylllis McGinley’s poem, The Question. In her hand is the Viking Moon Glo, one of 19 clocks from her collection displayed last month in the Witherle Memorial Library exhibit case.
The poem and many of the time pieces are legacies handed down by Mass’s mother.
“My mother and I were really close,” Mass said. “[She] loved clocks but she also loved poetry.”
From the simplest timekeepers—a sun dial, or sand trickling through an hourglass—to the Movado Black Quartz Desk Clock, circa 1985, with a 1947 Bauhaus-influenced dial face in the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the clocks show the many styles in which humans mark time.
Mass recalls her father’s gift of a Terry clock, for her mother—Mass’s part was to sneak it into her house from her father’s truck unseen. Her father set it to chime at the same time as their cuckoo clock—the family’s first timepiece—prompting her mother to search for the clock.
Seven of the clocks displayed are wind-ups, from the basic, stainless steel-encased model produced by the Western Clock Company, to the Swiss wind-up with a sterling silver case to the Renova musical alarm clock.
“I love this clock so much I have two of them,” Mass said, turning the Renova’s tiny knob until notes floated through the library.
But what about the Viking Moon Glo? One of six electric clocks exhibited, this 1934 time piece is lit by a 7-watt incandescent bulb that illuminates the clock face’s grainy pattern, meant to resemble the “gentle glow of a full moon,” Mass said. Other models are a 24-karat gold plated Jefferson Golden Hour clock and a red Bakelite encased General Electric Clock. A chiming mantel clock from the Ansonia Clock Company of New York (1880-1929) is the sole representative of key wound clocks.
To complete the exhibit, Mass spoke on her collection, time and time-keeping at the library on July 23, opening her talk by turning over an hour glass and reciting The Question. She ended with McGinley’s The Answer, which begins, “What is Time, then?” Among the many answers in the poem: “It’s what we remember and what is arriving or going./It’s a wave which is flowing/Past an invisible shore.”