In my element…

“All poems…art, begin as a lump in the throat”

                                             Louise Penny paraphrasing from a letter of Robert Frost’s

The long way home…

I’ve been on this planet for 60 years.

The first 11 were scattered about, but our family came to rest, for a slightly longer spell, when I turned 12 and we moved to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. An oasis within the post war suburbs of newly poured concrete,  it was a small town of cozy tree lined neighborhoods and Quaker sensibilities. It gave my teenage angst a comfortable cushion to flail about on, and a community of friends who helped me learn to trust.

And it gave me Jim Gainor…

The high school art teacher, who famously taught us to…”Paint the air and not the chair”, and who was a powerhouse of creative energy, and humor and light, and he is here, in this story, because he took me to the beginning…

It was the early 70’s, and all that free spirited flower power was echoed in the open-air curriculum at Swarthmore High, so why not throw a class of teenagers on a bus, and drive them a few miles west on Route 1 to the sleepy crossroads of Chadds Ford.

Mr. Gainor would send us out on our own to wander the fields and the farms and paint. I remember one afternoon in particular, when I collected water from the Brandywine Creek and perched on a hill and lost myself in the painting of a spring house. It was an awakening and, from this distance, I can see those youthful hands, holding a paintbrush, and know that is where the fire began to burn.

I knew that the Wyeth family lived and painted there. His paintings were well known in our household, and I found out recently, that Andrew had begun to secretly paint his young muse, Helga Testorf, around that same time. She would not have been much older than I was as she was helping to nurse and care for Andrew’s friend and muse, Karl Kuerner, who lived on the farm…just over that other hill.

My journey was soon to bend far away from those farm roads,
with many miles traveled over the ensuing decades, but…

Forty years after graduating from Jim Gainor’s lessons,
I once again found myself dropped off in the middle of Chadds Ford…
at the long tree lined entrance…
to Kuerner’s Farm.

The Brandywine River Museum was established in the old Hoffman’s grist mill at the crossroads of Chadds Ford…just about the time I was experimenting with those first watercolor strokes. It exhibits and archives the works of the many generations of Wyeth family artists.

The museum, under the Brandywine Conservancy, which works to preserve the local environment and it’s history, has since acquired the paternal Wyeth family home, where NC Wyeth lived and painted, Andrew’s studio, and The Kuerner Farm and has opened all three spaces for tours. The groups are small, with information provided by docents, who  each offer a unique perspective and background about the working environs of the artists and their subject matters.

We have visited often, but last year I got an opportunity of a different sort.

The museum has opened the Kuerner Farm, for a few days each year, to a limited group of artists of any stripe. They call them Plein Air Days and they offer access to the farm and buildings for an entire day. Which is how I got to spend a glorious day last October…in my element.

My journal notes from that day, remind me that, back then, we were freshly off the boat from Ireland, a bucket list trip which had my mind seeing green and left my body racked for weeks with flu.  I did more or less crawl there, but once we were set loose to roam…that fire, which had been kindled just a few hundred yards from the farm, but oh so many years ago…well it sparked once more… and I got straight to work.

About the farm, Andrew has said,  “I didn’t think it a picturesque place. It just excited me, purely abstractly and purely emotionally.”

I understand that. They have done very little by way of renovation, the place still has the patina of working farm, and I have my own carpet bag full of emotional connections here, but on that quiet day in October, with visions of ancient ruins and wild Donegal fairies recently planted in my head, I came to experience the Kuerner Farm as a thin place.

Where the spirits of his paintings shimmer just above the surface of the dirt and dust in the barn, and float over the mill pond, and whisper through the pine boughs…

so…he’s there,
there are touchstones to his body of work from this farm everywhere you look,
which is after all… our way in…

and, however the arc of my life has circled me back, I was standing there, on a clear fall morning, with sketchbook in hand, as a mature artist, who has a dusty old toolbox of her own tricks, a few hours of daylight and time enough to find her own way in.

My first thought was to head in to the barn. The metal bucket still leans on the iron pipes in the spring room in the middle of what is the ground floor. I had seen it there before, and wanted to start there. Negotiating the dirt and hay strewn floor, I followed a few other artists into the maw of a cave that darkens by degrees as you walk deeper into the lowest level of the barn. The tiny room had a small light on inside, and a photographer. He had already set up a tripod and begun to work. He and that tripod were shoehorned in there and fixing to linger. So, I moved on.

I spent the next couple of hours just orienting my senses and studying the space and the light. My only goal was to listen. To be open to the muses. I kept my pencils and my camera quiet, and walked through the house, sat on the front porch, watched the two little goats playing behind the wired fencing, strolled up past the barn to the old carriage shed, watched as a red tailed hawk soared over the upper fields, and then I went back into that barn.

The space was empty, of humans, and, as I peeked around the door frame, I heard those pesky muses laughing. What had been a dull dusty space, was now alive with color from a high raking light. The old panes of window glass dividers had an eerie teal tint that glanced across the water, spilled down to the edge of the concrete basin and bloomed into a rainbow as it spilled in divided rivulets over and onto the cracked drain in the floor.

The sunlight somehow was angling back in through the opened barn doors and lit up what was left of the chipping red paint on each of the dutch stall doors. And, there was some kind of magical metal dance playing across the bucket. I was in.

Now I mentioned the closeness of the interior there, right. So, I was extremely cautious about my footing, and the proximity to an oil tank and some other machinery and bottles and the odd sharp metal bits. When my eyes had adjusted, and my camera shutter finger allowed that that light just might hang out a bit longer, I took a gingerly step to the right and looked back toward the doorway and saw that mirror. And the raincoat. And that was sorta fun.

It wasn’t until I got home,
and let all that dust settle,
that I saw the rough pencil lines
of the math equation
where Karl must have been keeping track of his herd
someday very very long ago.

Now, stay with me in that spring room.
And remember the gift of that raking light,
and turn around.

This is your next treasure.

It is here that I need to mention that I returned to the farm, on another of their plein air days, on a cloudy close weather day in May. I had captured this light back in October, but I was unsure of just exactly what that hanging metal contraption might have been used for. It had just the teensiest sinister edge about it’s countenance.

By that time I was already 6 months into the body of work that was becoming the Kuerner Farm series, and I had a list of questions to ask of the docent upon my return. First one… whatever was that used for. I had the good fortune to be spending the day with Melody, forgive my not having written down her last name please, who shared a wealth of details and background on everything from the rich family history to the architectural foibles and the names of the cats who own the place. But question one, well it stumped her.

Another good fortune, was that later in the day, Karl the third showed up. He is an accomplished artist in his own right, who runs workshops on the farm, and has carried forward a commitment, in conjunction with the Conservancy, to open the land up to other artists, allowing the creative inspirations to be accessible to future generations.

So Karl had come to drop off some donated cat food. And he knew exactly what that iron was for. His grandfather raised milk cows. The rig hanging in that room was attached at the top to a long iron carrying beam, which would have allowed the workers to sling a big old milking pail from the stalls directly across the barn, over to the cooling spring. Not so sinister after all. I fell completely in love with it at that point, and though the light on that day in May never reached the dramatic levels of October, the second visit gave me a chance to dig deeper, and to see the composition through new filters.

The cobalt blue…
it still makes me swoon.

In her letters, Willa Cather talks about a passage in her novel, The Professor’s House, where she had been describing the aging and depressed professor in his foreboding attic writing room, which he shared with his wife’s dour black clothed dress forms. She wrote that she wanted the transition to the next chapter, which takes place in the brilliant arid sun of the deserts of New Mexico, to rattle and transport the reader, as the professor would have experienced, after flinging open the tiny attic window to escape his despair, and go soaring into the brilliant warm light and openness of a freshening wave of freedom.

And, so we now step, dear reader, out of the rich peaty darkness of the barn…
and… turning back…
have to shade our eyes from the source of that raking light,
and what mystery is this.
The title for this painting is The Cardinal.
So let’s take a closer look.

When I first walked down the hill, from where we parked out back of that distant shed, I noticed the gate. I could do an entire series just of that gate. I spent a lot of time walking around it, this way and that, asking the gate, as master woodworker, George Nakashima was fond of asking a log…what might you want to become.

While I was carrying on that conversation, the cat, who I have come to know, from Karl, is named Lioness, was weaving through my legs and round and round the sketchbook, which I had leaning against that stone wall. I thought she was dear, but…the gate.

I approached and retreated from this composition a dozen times during the day to scope out how the changes in light angles, and shadow play, might bring out the best in that rust. On my final pass, coming in from behind it, I caught the tiniest glimpse of something red. Up close and personal…it turned out to be a cardinal feather. I brought it home in that envelope and let the muses play for a while.

It was their idea to let the hawk in.
I was rooting for the Lioness.

The first treasure I found, on that morning in May, was this tiny egg shell. It was white, but some shadow from the spruce trees gave it a faint teal glow.

It reminded me of the wash of paint in the main room of the farm house…so I started there.

The story goes that, when Karl the first lived there, the house was divided into two halves, in order to accommodate two families, or maybe the owner’s family and then the workers. Somewhere along the way, the central wall was removed, which left two fireplaces side by side.

Though the soft pastels are muted now, by years of hard living, their gentle hues reminded me of that chambered nautilus. You know the one. Betsy’s nightgown could have been used to paint these walls.

The shell is mine,
from an island far from these pillars,
but the shadows belong…ever…
to Anna.

Now turn around…
once more

You’ll know this kitchen.
and that ground hog day long ago.

The museum has done a marvelous job of recreating portions of the antiquated wallpaper pattern, which had been worn away over the years, but was revealed, anew, for the next generation, when they went to move that corner cupboard.

They also strove for verisimilitude by dragging a big old log out there, complete with fanged hinge.

What you can’t see is all the commotion behind that wall to the left.
A flurry of photographers had been camped out on that side of the kitchen all morning.
They were smitten by the chair, and the light, as was I. But their preferred angle of composition crammed them all into a small corner by the old kitchen stove. I don’t like crowds.

And I found this view to be pretty spectacular in it’s own right.
Even after one of those dodos walked into my shots,
and moved the chair a quarter turn to the left.
The force was strong in that room.

Now follow that bright white light coming from the transit,
and step through the screen door onto the wide front porch.

The first thing you don’t see is the spruce tree Karl planted to remind him of his boyhood days in the Black Forest of Germany.

When I first visited the farm, right after they opened it for tours, that tree was so large that it completely obscured the front of the house. When you stood on the porch back then, you couldn’t even see Kuerner’s hill.

The next time I was there, on that first plein air visit, I had made my way onto the porch, while I was waiting for that photographer to finish up in the spring room, The first thing I noticed was the bucket hanging from the gutter. Andrew painted it at least once that I remember, so it was another of those echoes, placed, or not, by the museum, or by Karl the third perhaps. No matter, it fits.

I sat myself on the stuccoed ledge opposite this window and took it all in.

It seemed to me that, if I had lived a good life… to borrow from my friend Follansbee, the sun might just cooperate and sweep over to the right in an hour or two, and cast some manner of interesting light play across those well weathered surfaces of paint.

I waited a long time. Sketched a bit. Rested my eyes. Listened. Hiked up to the truck for a snack. And back down. And there it was. A slow creeping at first, and then a full blown blast of light that would have made Rudolph weep. Full power.

So, I began to document at high speed. Thousands of shots, zooming in and out as first one paint drip cast a shadow, and then a different edge of framing snapped to attention. The reflections interested me and the dark shape in the lower right slowly resolved into a tree. I turned around to look again. Sure enough, there was a young tree planted right next to the giant stump of the old one. The new light was also coming to play on that spruce tree, outlining each needle, and the wind kept rearranging the branches so I that I would have lots to work with.

Then I felt something on my arm. A lady bug.
Then two more.
And on the nearby post…dozens.
They had arrived with the light, and were having a merry old time.
I knew at once that all would be well…it was Ted.
He had a special gift for me.

I focused back on the window…
and saw the pine cone.
Chills actually went along my shoulders.

The last remnant of Karl’s forest was tucked into the wing of the shutter hinge. When I took a closer look, there was the faintest trace of paint from the brush of whoever had most recently whitewashed the moulding.

Slayed, by a whisper of grace.

There were many moments like that.
Throughout the painting of this series, which I know now, is only about halfway completed.

These last few months have been hard, for most of us.
As November collapsed into December I felt psychologically, and spiritually threadbare.
It was a brutal time to show up in an art studio each day and try to connect in a creative way.

In the two months since that first October farm day, I had tried several times to find my way in to the reference work I had done “en plein air” . The work felt serious and intense, which echoed my mood, but I felt heavy and dark, which was the opposite counterpoint to the richly positive energy I had experienced while working there.

So, I carried on with other work, and re-read Louise Penny’s brilliant series of mysteries that take place in the fictional Canadian town of Three Pines. It’s a deeply honest, warmly sentimental, mischievously humorous place to hang out. All her readers harbor intense fantasies about living there. And boy, did I need to believe that a place like that might still exist right about then, even if it was only in storyland.

When I got up to her book, The Long Way Home, the challenges she had written for her characters felt very close to home. The artist, who had lost his way. The one whom he had left questioning hers. The intensity of their struggles, and the power of her prose…“Fear lives in the head. Courage in the heart. The job is to get from one to the other. And in between is the lump in the throat.”

“The poem – art – begins as a lump in the throat.”

I wrote those words down…

and got out my sketchbook from those days at Kuerner Farm…

and picked up a brush.

 

Click here to view paintings on my website…


Painter’s Notes

I’ve spent this stormy day working on the Painter’s Notes for the new paintings.
If you are of a mind to spend some time away from the news of the ongoing apocalypse,
and would welcome some detours down the pathways of this artist’s musings,
follow this sign…

On my website…http://heatherneill.com/
Under the menu tab…Portfolio
You will find, sorted by year,
all the paintings I’ve ever done.

As I have been loading the new works onto the website,
Small thumbnails appear when you open the window for 2017…
http://heatherneill.com/portfolio/year/2017/

When you click on a thumbnail there,
you open up the larger format image for each painting.

There you will find info like size, and which gallery it is currently exhibiting the work.
Down there, at the bottom of each of those pages, is that quill and teacup logo at the bottom left.

When you click on that…POOF !
It takes you to the Painter’s Notes.

I started writing them when I had my first solo show back in 2001.
I had been a chairmaker for a decade or more,
so I could make money,
so I could paint.
That was a whole lot of work,
and scads more fun,
but a creative reality check.

Turns out, 16 years later,
it was a better bet to try this painting gig out,
so I could carve spoons in my free time.

At that first show I wrote some journal like notes with each painting to help my chairmaking patrons understand that I was putting the handtools down and picking up brushes.

These notes have become an integral part of the painting process for the patrons who took that leap with me, and I offer them for anyone who might be curious about where my mind was wandering when I was at the easel.

We’ve got some new people checking in, hi there,
so I thought a review was in order.
For you well-seasoned followers…
this is just to send a nod and a wink,
and all the thanks in the world.

I’ve written the PNotes for all the new paintings I’ve launched so far.

Tomorrow I begin to document the last six of the new works.
They are the beginning of a substantial body of work that has taken me full circle,
back to the core of my artistic soul,
from the very first brush strokes,
and all the halting stages of creative adventures in between,
to the cascading circles of how I’ve gotten to here…
to the painter, who walks into the studio each day,
wondering what does it mean to be a mature artist.

Who picks up the brushes,
with aging hands,
and trusts that the muses have her back.

Stay tuned.

 


Celeste envies Ruth…

So, here’s the thing…

The way my brain scampers about these days,
I need to take notes.
Okay, I’m being generous with the “these days”,
I’ve always taken notes.
Journals full.

With scraps of paper and napkin corners
and dog-eared pages of old magazines,
I have jotted and doodled
hundreds and hundreds of ideas for paintings over the decades.

Sometimes just a few gestures,
often a phrase run across while reading,
or listening to music,
or watching a movie.

Two or three times a year,
I gather the sketchbooks and journals
and thumb-tacked notes,
and review.

So, there I was,
in review mode,
when I remembered that there were notes…
on my phone.

Been a long while since I was in a place without a pencil,
but there have been the odd times when I had to use my phone app to jot down an idea.
Some of those pencilless moments must have been in the middle of the night.

For the life of me, I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote…

Shackled and dilled
Walker
Jigsaw pieces
Exploding from the center
Tomatoes

Anway,
Two entries from the bottom was this sentence,

Celeste speaks well of Ruth but secretly envies her aprons

A perfect jewel,
which there is no way I thought of myself.
No reference, just that rarefied run-on of perfection.
I instantly ran to the teacups,
searched the studio for my two favorite aprons,
and got to work.

Here is where I must beg forbearance,
from whomever I am so shamelessly plagiarizing,
I thought enough of your playfully glorious words
to save them in my “Painting Ideas” folder,
though I have absolutely no idea where they first crossed my path.

The Muses made certain that the sentence stayed hidden
until the precise moment I was ready, or rather,
THEY knew I was ready.

So…
tag me for the steal,
and thank you from the bottom
of my Aunt Imy’s wedgewood,
and wait for it…
I may catch Celeste and Ruth
in some future,
dare I hope…compromising,
compositions.

 


The Tempest

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

From Emma Lazarus…
The New Colosus…
on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty…


Sankaty Sails

After a loooooonnnng day of firing up the old framing muscles,
and after an arduous winter, lifting tiny brushes,
and bowing to hard driving muses,
it is sooooooooo nice to look at this painting,
the ferry docks at Wood’s Hole,
and know that in just a little over one week,
we will be right there.

With a car full
of freshly framed oil paintings,
two tired but happy old women,
on board a great iron vessel,
steaming for home.

I never tire of that 45 minute trip.
Even the passages which I have spent deep in the bowels,
catching a few last zzzzz’s on the 7am boat,
before the long drive back to Pennsylvania,
or the one’s where I chose to shelter
from the raging winter storms,
and look out over the freight boat’s rail,
while knitting those fisherman’s patterns,
in the warm and cozy cab of the truck.

For those, and all those other trips,
when the summer sun was shining,
or the October fog blanketed the sound,
when the passengers played with the following gulls,
and the benches left our shorts wet from the waves,
and my camera caught
just the right raking light
on a rigging of canvas sail
that was carrying some other sailor
home from the sea…

I owe all of that magic,
all of those memories,
all that the vineyard has become in our lives,
to that very first voyage,
can it be so close to 40 years ago…
with my friend Lynn.

Sail on silver girl.


Visions revisited…

Last year at this time,
I was polishing up the tiara,
and mirror ball,
for the opening of …

Since then, the dynamic creative production duo of David and Barbarella Fokos,
aka Salt and Sugar Productions
have been dividing their time between studio work, filming and editing of new productions for TAO, The Artist’s Odyssey (check out their updated website),
oh…AND enjoying awards ceremonies at International Film Festivals.

Indeed, news that Visions of Home
was an official selection of NOVA Fest — the Northern Virginia International Film & Music Festival (http://www.novafilmfest.com), came across the airwaves back in March.

Then comes news this week, that TWO of their films will be included in the
Oceanside International Film Festival 2017, next month !!!

Yep, that’s me at the easel again…still painting that blue door !

So, as I am in final production for my next show, at the Granary Gallery in only a couple weeks, I have been given the opportunity to provide my readers and viewers with a special chance to see the movie, Visions of Home, in all it’s seaside glory, here from my website.

For anyone who might have missed it the first go round,
or who may be new to this site because they saw it at some film festival without knowing beforehand who that old woman with the paint all over her shirt was,
and for the rest of you who just simply cannot get enough of watching paint dry,
and do not let me overlook Finnegan’s fan base…

Anyway, David has made a lovely page dedicated to the movie where you can see the trailer and watch the full film and get some backstory, with the wonderful blog post that Barbarella wrote about last years’ debut screening and some of the process behind their process, which alone is worth the read…and he’s included the article which The Vineyard Gazette published around the time of the opening in which they interviewed Barb and David about the making of the film.

So grab a bowl of popcorn,
pull up your lawn chair by the kiddie pool,
put a straw in some cool beverage,
set your favorite viewing device to this link…

Visions of Home

and Herself and I will welcome you into our lives…
and our hearts.

 


Betsy’s Gift

In honor of the 42nd anniversary of the opening of the movie Jaws…
I give you Betsy’s Gift.

These dear lads had spent a glorious afternoon fishing up and down the dock in Menemsha. I sat outside of Larsen’s eating my steamers and enjoyed their serious minded focus and the simple pleasures of the day.

At one point the blue shirted boy came running out of the back door with that blue bin
and brought it over for the others to inspect…”Look what Betsy gave me !”

The boys were excited and immediately set to work cutting up the bait fish.
If you had been there, I think you would have smiled along with me.

And then you could look to your left,
just there around the basin of fishing shacks,
no more than a hundred yards
from where these young fisherman are standing,
and…using your imagination,
and a healthy dose of nerves,
you could see where Steven Speilberg himself
directed, from the dock out back of the Galley,
lo those 42 years ago,
as they filmed that epic sea drama.

I’m heading home now,
the pizza has just arrived,
and it’s time for the annual viewing.

Yes, we are going to need a bigger boat.


Ana of Inisoirr

At the top of the craggy hill,
inside of the stone walled gate,
is a small patch of Irish green,
a few wooden picnic tables,
with heavy stones in their centers
to keep the ever blowing wind
from sailing the menus up and across the burren
and out over the wild Atlantic sea,
and blue aproned Ana,
who serves the best fish chowder
Herself has ever tasted.


Tomas of Inisoirr

Ah, yer ever so kind…
such a warm and hearty response for Macy,
and I’m humbled, for my sins, by that.

This then, is Tomas.
He who lets Macy take the lead
as they welcome travelers to their tiniest of the Aran Islands.

This week, the annual Bodhran festival is taking place there.
On my bucket list, it is.
When they throw open the barn doors,
I’m certain Tomas and Macy
can hear all those drums a’ beating.

Brilliant.


The Granary Gallery Show

It’s been right there,
over my shoulder,
for lo these many seasons gone by…

I’ve kept my head down,
brushes flying,
and creative fires burning
all the days in between this and my last post.

And just like that…
the summer show at the Granary Gallery is HERE !!!!!

Sunday July 30 is the opening reception
I’ll be rolling out the new work on this blog and on Facebook and Instagram,
so I’ve got lots of fidgity computer work to fit in between the last few brushtrokes
over the dwindling weeks in the next month. Gulp.

I just wanted you to know I’m still here.
So,
to get us started…I give you…

Black Irish  – 32 x 48
This is Thomas’ horse Macy.
They both live on the island of Inisoirr, off the Wild Atlantic Coast of Ireland.

I’ll fill you in on their story,
and ours along the way, so stay tuned…
for now,
it’s back to the easel.