A Sense of Place

gull

One of the things I found on this bluff was a sense of place.

During my early childhood we moved every two years or less.
From state to state, and coast to coast.
But I began my life on an island, Oahu.
On the other side of the planet.

It could only be a cosmic coincidence,
since I was barely 2 when we left Hawaii,
and lots of people describe the experience,
but maybe there is something on a cellular level
about an island,
that feels like coming home.

On a deeply emotional level,
this house, this land,
this ocean-side slice of the planet,
the friendship that first offered it,
the new ones that blossomed here,
the family that shared summer breezes,
and quiet moments of solitude,
the hours of creative inspiration,
and the deep inhalation of peace…

they have all been woven
into a marvelous tapestry of memories,
that echo through my soul
each and every day of my life.

When I walked through these empty rooms
for the final time,
with the house slated for demolition,
those memories washed over me
like a rogue wave.

Tumbling with the roiling tide,
amidst the laughter and song…
my heart thudded against remembered losses.

Loved ones whose hands we held
when the camp welcomed a sunrise…
and had to let go of too soon,
so they could walk into their sunset.

Saying goodbye to those friends,
again,
I was drawn into a melancholy
that stayed with me for most of
the winter months.

At home, in the studio,
I had planned to work on a series of paintings
from the camp.
A sort of final chapter with some favorite views,
and unexplored corners.
A way to lift me up and back to the happier times.

Then someone sent me a photo,
taken from Squibnocket beach,
looking back up at the bluff,
and when I saw the empty horizon,
I lost it.

In a paraphrasing of C.S. Lewis,
who was “Surprised by Joy”,
I was taken aback by the sense of loss.

I put aside the sketchbook of ideas
for the camp series,
and threw my energies into other compositions.

The hours I spent
painstakingly refracting the light,
of a Chilmark sunset,
through a larger than life woolen fleece,
and the challenges of making
the varnished and weathered
old wooden horses fly…
seemed to provide a cathartic
and creative release.

When the spring light started to thaw
the world outside the studio,
I was ready to revisit Camp Sunrise within.

And what I saw,
in the reference photos and sketches,
and in my heart,
renewed and refreshed
and waiting there all along,
was…the light.

Yes, she, the house,
had made old bones.
And yes, I absolutely love the patina
of that century of lives that marks her walls and floors,
and cherish having added my DNA  into the mix,
but take all those touchstones away,
and you are left with what was always there
surrounding us and holding us…
the island light.

So, that is what I painted.
The bare bones
of a sanctuary,
as we let go of her hand,
and she welcomed a new day.

 


A Secret Chord

A Secret Chord

I was going to post this later,
but after the madness of the violence this week,
I am searching for some kind of peace.
This is a study I did of Skip.The expression was so powerful,
intimate and human…
and maybe
somewhere in that mix
there is some common ground.
Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was my Favorite

this was my favorite

I always dreamed of being able to see the ocean
from this kitchen window,
while the bacon sizzled.
The last summer we gathered on the bluff,
this was the view.

I will remember this tiny galley space,
full of friends,
grabbing for pots and pans,
reaching behind the dish-washer,
who was sudsing away at the old porcelain sink…
criss-crossing some other arm,
in search of a knife for the cheese plate…
and the two of us who were wrangling the lid
on the about-to-boil lobster pot,
which took up three of the four burners on the little stove,
leaning to one side,
as the screen door came banging in,
and one or other of the urchins came flying by,
after being told to fetch the bug spray
for those who were re-applying after showers
and a day at the beach.

If you were standing in that kitchen,
looking out this window,
and turned to your right,
you would be enlisted as the “passer”.

The sliding window,
opened to the sun porch,
was the pass through for the ones
who were charged with setting the table,and relaying drink orders,
and hurrying the cooks along
as the hungry beach stragglers,
who had done the breakfast service,
were seated at the long blue benches.

So many meals,
so much laughter,
some dancing,
and not a few kisses,
we just simply lived love
in that space.

When first I visited this camp,
on the bluff,
at the edge of the world,
there were six.

The most perfectly weighted,
richly glazed,
smoothly worn,
ceramic mugs.

They aged with us,
but even with a crack or chip or two,
I could happily lose myself
in that deep marine indigo cave.

At the end
there was one
alone to remember,

with the patina
of all those morning hands…

the whispers of our days
lived by the sea.

 


A Sign

A Sign

Last October,
on a perfect New England Autumn day,
was the last time I saw the house,
perched on the edge of the planet,
in all her grace and glory,
before they demolished it.

We all knew it was coming.
The time when nature’s pounding would erode the bluff,
wearing away at the land,
until there was no where else for the houses to rest.

When I pulled the wobbly screen door open
and stepped into empty space it froze my soul.
The house had been emptied of all its touchstones.

All that remained,
perhaps all that would truly chronicle the human presence within,
was the patina of marks on the walls, the floorboards and the ceiling.

This painting looks from the main room,
back through the tiny sleeping nook,
through just a razor thin edge of the window,
onto the sun porch,
where beyond, lies the view of Squibnocket Beach.

New nicks, and old, adorn the lintel,
from generations of foreheads which bumped that coop-like low beam,
where a hundred layers of yellow paint,
outlined the symbol of a duck…reminding us to.

All these objects, and a hundred more …
they have been the keeper of our memories.

The sunny days, the stormy nights,
we grew up in that house,
on the bluff,
as she grew old,
and, in her weathered-shingled way,
became…
the things we are made of.

 


Swan Song – An Abstract Chilmark Aria

Swan Song an abstract Chilmark aria

This is Skip.

One of this world’s truly authentic selves.

A person for whom the esthetics of beauty
is the fundamental element of existence.

Someone deeply connected to nature’s expressions,
who finds art and music and dance
vibrating between all living things,
and whose joyful spirit,
when unleashed,
can fill an island with song.

Over a year ago I asked Skip to model for me.
I had some ideas.
Skip had other ideas.

We met and shared some croissants and coffee,
listened to each others’ stories,
talked about art, and Findhorn, and philosophy,
and listened some more.

Then we set out to seek the muses.
Skip pointed me down up-island roads that were hidden from maps,
we stopped for stone walls,
and wildlife,
wildflowers,
and whispers.

There were stories behind every corner,
pebbles on the road, on Skips’ journey,
and a few on mine, and new ones we were creating together.

Skip is a painter.
And one of the things we talked about was
including one of those paintings …in my painting.
We brought it along, and let the muses decide.

We ended up at the bluff, Camp Sunrise.
A melding of sacred spaces.
The morning sun had risen to clear October skies,
and the meadow was just waking up to the light.

This is the part where I get emotional.

Because the morning sessions I spent working with Skip
studying and working,
in that profoundly familiar space,
was the last time I saw the house,
perched on the edge of the planet,
in all her grace and glory,
before they demolished it.

We all knew it was coming.
The time when nature’s pounding would erode the bluff,
wearing away at the land,
until there was no where else for the houses to rest.

In my island time…
which began as the great gift of knowing Lynn Langmuir,
whose generous heart was deeper than the ocean,
and steadier than her beloved stone wall,
that very wall which wanders through this painting…
over the thirty plus years I have been coming to this bluff,
the chicken coop of a farm house,
had twice been moved back from that threatening edge.

It is hard to imagine,
in this painting,
that there is a 40 foot drop from bluff to beach,
just a mere five feet from the edge of her front porch.

And, still, this old Yankee stalwart ship-of-a-shack,
she stood proud,
holding her own,
and by that I mean generations of the Langmuir family,
and the many who were welcomed by them,
into the embrace of this enchanted space.

But the land…ran out.
And so, while the other, more modern structures
of garage and bunkhouse, were able to be moved
out back and beyond the wetlands,
to the farthest section of the parcel,
the bones of this old gal had been deemed too fragile for the move.

You couldn’t tell, from our distant vantage point,
that while Skip and I gamboled among the stones,
and communed with the muses,
the house had been emptied of all its touchstones.

The old wicker woven lounging chair was gone…
the daybeds stripped of their sleep-softened pillows,
kitchen shelves bare of the pastel colored fiesta ware,
paperback mysteries of Riggs and Craig,
no longer insulating the cubby-holed shelves.

Puzzles and kite string, checkers and cribbage…
amber eyed owls who lit up the hearth,
journals of writings from visiting friends,
with new chapters each year for us all to catch up.

New nicks, and old,
from bumps on the bedroom lintel,
where a hundred layers on the yellow painted symbol of a duck…reminding us to.

The tears in each sink from the iron and rust,
the old brown barn coat ever-hanging
on the white wooden hooks behind the green door.

All these objects, and a hundred more …
they have been the keeper of our memories.

The sunny days, the stormy nights,
we grew up in that house,
on the bluff,
as she grew old,
and, in her weathered-shingled way,
became…
the things we are made of.

This painting then,
for the house,
is her swan song.

Skip sings it for us all,
an aria as abstract
as the tapestry of souls
who have ducked to cross her threshold,
and sought refuge in her wings.

In thanks to dear Lynn…
Peace.


Dark and Stormy

dark and stormy

I suppose it is primeval,
to take shelter from a storm.

Simple survival suggest that the cave,
warmed by firelight,
will improve your chances
of seeing another sunrise.

But what of the sailors.
Whose haven of a bolt-hole
is but a speck
on the roiling maw of an ocean.

When the sails luff,
and the albatross banks away from their wake,
and the gale is upon them…
how deep in the belly
must they go
to find refuge…

An oil lamp,
a swinging canvas bunk,
the rhythmic sliding
of the heavy wooden trunks,
fore and aft… and back again.

Do they find comfort
in the murmur of sea chanty
marking time on the weather deck above.

Is there a story they tell,
of their island home,
where the boots wait by the door,
and a light burns through the night…

and all eyes,
search the horizon,
for their safe return.

Huddle close ye fellow sailors.
It’s getting dark out there.


Oversouth Willow

Oversouth Willow

As is true of so many of my paintings,
the muses pulled on some pretty wild threads
to bring this not-so-still-life together.

I’ll say it started with Jane,
because of the teacups,
hidden among the many other artifacts
which she and her sword fishing husband, Herb purveyed
in their antique shop in Menemsha.

This is Jane’s 40th year,
in that treasure shack, Oversouth Willow,
and the last season of her tenure behind the desk.

And that is where we found her, last summer,
the film crew and I,
when we were parading our cameras, and mikes,
around the island, and we stopped to visit with Jane.

The team of David and Barbarella Fokos,
renowned artists/writers/film makers/Emmy winners,
were setting out to make a documentary film
to add to their growing collection for the new website,

TAO – The Artist Odyssey.

The results of which are almost complete,
and Herself and I are picking out our gowns for the premeire !

(Check my blog for details)

While the crew set up and Pat and Jane chatted,
I searched around and found these three porcelain gems.
Jane told us the story of the “Blue Willow” pattern,
which I believe was captured on film,
but what I remember most clearly
was the sparkle in her eyes…and she in her element.

Fast forward a month or two and we are getting ready,
here in my Pennsylvania studio,
for the Fokos Team to arrive for another session of filming.
I needed to have a painting in progress so I brought out those blue vessels.
And then the muses stepped up.
They rifled through the linen prop drawer for something blue,
and the feather that Saren had brought me the day before
drifted down from the teacup shelf,
they fingered around in my back pocket
for the tiny shard of blue tile that I had found
in the pebbled lane the last time I walked up to Camp Sunrise,
and they sent me climbing up to the “old studio”,
the shed on stilts by the creek,
which is now the overflow prop room…
and I opened the door…

the blue door.

Bam, I’m in.

I had climbed those rickety stairs,
and opened that door every day for I don’t know how many years,
and inside was…my bliss.
My first real studio,
after 40 years of dreaming.
I remember when that paint was new.
Around here they were not sure how to mix Nantucket Blue.
There are a couple of paintings which feature the other side of this old door,
but if you stepped back far enough to get some perspective on the outside of it…
you would be swimming in the creek thirty feet below.

Opened to the inside,
with my hand on that wonderful doorknob,
and the light raking over the blue chips of paint…
well, that was interesting.
It was quick work to find something to use as a support,
and the red cover of the old faithful, “Iron Woman” book
was the perfect accent…think Jane.

When the Fokos’ arrived,
the painting was well underway,
but David wanted to recreate and film the set up part of the process.
You should have seen us cramming into the tiny space by that door
with cameras and crew…remember what I said about that one step backwards.

No one was harmed in the filming of this movie,
and now this painting has a great story to tell.

And I’ve got to go dye my eyes to match my gown.


Bring Him Home

Bring Him Home

I still miss him every day.
The studio has a few precious touchstones,
that trigger the corners and pockets of my memory,
and light up an arc,
between this world and the next.

An impossibly thin teaspoon,
made of coin silver,
a crackled golden holiday ornament,
dangling from an old fishing rod,
a shiny little porcelain figurine,
from the Red Rose Teabag collection…

and this card,
the last we got from Polly,
to thank us for a dinner we hosted,
which features a print of a painting Ted did of their house in Chilmark.

ted

Their spirits are free to roam now,
and while Polly visits her wind chime to keep me company in the garden,
Ted is right there on my shoulder, always,
tweaking the muses and directing the brushes.

On the island it is different.
I think it must be harder for their myriad island friends.
It’s a small place, and hard not to drive by their house,
to get almost anywhere.

Last year we all but drove off the road,
when we came around the bend and saw the old structure,
risen, like Lazarus, from it’s resting place,
and jacked up 10 feet off of the ground.

Renovations had begun,
and a skeleton remainedPeat black wooden ribs laid bare of their clapboard,
and scaffolded light pouring into the dark maw of a foundation…
the absolute void of the centuries of human life lived within.

Even my deep love of archeology and history,
and origin-of-the-species exploration that so enjoys a good treasure hunt…
was numbed, by the wave of grief and the smacked into realization,
that they were not, as I had comfortably come to fool myself…
still sitting, just there in the front room,
nodding in the wingchair,
beside the window,
with the light on.

That warm soft light
was a beacon for many a traveler.
I, for one, couldn’t bear that corner to be dark…
So, I painted it back on.


An Art Night Detour…

Sunset Skiff

Sunset Skiff  –  24 x 32

I was driving through Vineyard Haven,
on the way to our annual Art Night dinner,
and I could tell by the slowing of the oncoming traffic,
that there was some kind of light show happening in my rear view mirror.

So I ducked into the boat launch lot,
overlooking the Lagoon,
and turned back into the light.

It was October,
and, when the island slows way down,
and the air is crisp,
the wind has only a few stalwart vessels to buffet.

We often plan our gatherings
so we can share a sunset before getting down to the feast,
and the lively conversations about all things art.

On this night,
I knew they would understand,
if I was delayed in the hopes of capturing the details,
having been in exactly the right place to observe this tapestry of color,
reflected on two of my favorite muses.

Turns out we all had the same idea,
on our separate island roads,
with different mediums in mind,and came together,
as always,
fired up with that creative zeal,
which fuels our souls.

Stopping everything for a sunset…
what it means to be an artist.