Brigantine

Brigantine  –  24 x 32

The most exciting artifacts discovered in this house are on…and in…the walls.

Tucked into planking and stairwell are all kinds of hand carved symbols and signatures and…ships.

I knew that. Adam Moore had pointed out a few of them on his tour and the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation site explores this in their literature…

Inside the house, one finds plastered walls and various kinds of decorations. The plaster was made from a mixture of crushed oyster shells and horse hair. Some walls,such as those in the Borning Room, are inscribed with intricate carvings of ships. Other walls, such as those in the attic, bear drawings of lotus-flowers, drawings which a child might have made with a compass. In the Pantry,old bottles and canning jars line the curving shelves. Some jars, still sealed after many years, contain perfectly preserved tomatoes and peaches.

And when I was working on this composition it was all about the pantry light for me.
And the magnificent blue paint. And the way the newly shored up timbers had shifted the old baseboard to reveal the startlingly bright original color of that blue and a mystery slice of yellow.

After a bit of sketching and watching how the light was changing with the moving sun, I got up to stretch and moved the door, which had been opened wide against the wall, and this is what was hiding behind it…

I know. Under how many generations of paint, and at either a child’s height or a seated adult’s, was this little gem of a carving.

There were many ship’s captains who owned and occupied this house over its hundreds of years so they and the loved ones watching the horizon for their returns would have had a vivid understanding of ship design.

As does my pal Captain Morse so I queried him about the type of vessel we might have here. His best guess has become the title… mostly because I love the word itself.

There will be many many more Captains at the Granary Gallery opening for this show and I guarantee I’m gonna hear just as many theories as to what manner of ship this be.

I can only say that I have remained steadfastly true to the verisimilitude of this particular hand carved vessel…and leaned heavily on the more romantic essences of the rich and dreamy maritime for my title.

Sail on little one.


A soft day on Black Point Pond

A soft day on Black Point Pond  –  16 x 24

This one is for Herself.

My stalwart champion
protector and defender
lover of the ocean
lover of straw hats
lover of me.

If you stand in front of the painting, The Study House,

look out the front door
and use your zoom lens
you will see the barest sliver
of Black Point Pond.

When I was working on this painting spring was in full bloom.
The studio garden was soaking up the warming sun, with spinach,
buttercrunch, land cress, hakuri turnips, cherry red radishes,
and purple sprouting broccoli filling our salad bowls with life itself.

One fine day Miss Pat came over to fetch a bowlful of spring
and poked her smiling face into the studio for a visit.
She noticed a photo tucked into the shelf behind my easel
and asked could she see it please.

It was a snap shot of the pond’s edge
with a woman strolling along
in a straw hat.

Oh, I LOVE this.
Are you going to paint it next.

No, I said, that’s just something the camera caught
while I was photographing the front yard through the door.

But I REALLY love this.
It is such a soft Vineyard moment.

And…there ya go.

My love
AND
My Muse.

This one’s for you Babe.

 

 

 


The Study House

Study House  –  26 x 36

This is the Hancock-Mitchell House.

On the island of Martha’s Vineyard there is an organization, The Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, which is dedicated to…”Conserving the natural, beautiful, rural landscape and the character of Martha’s Vineyard for present and future generations.”

From their website…
Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation is the local land trust for the island of Martha’s Vineyard. We protect 2,900 acres of land across the island. We own 72 distinct preserves comprising 2,075 acres, and hold 42 conservation restrictions over an additional 825 acres. We own land in each of the six towns on Martha’s Vineyard.

On a small island, an organization like this makes it possible for those of us who love it but do not own property there to follow those trails to some of the planet’s most magical places. A well worn map of theirs lives in my car all year round. The HM house which sits on the plains of Quansoo in the town of Chilmark is part of a recent acquisition to the foundation.

There is a vigorous debate over in which century the house was built, added on to, and who may have lived in it and when. But early in this century the house and 150 acres of the farmland surrounding it was donated to the foundation by it’s last occupant, Florence B. “Flipper” Harris.

And ideas for a grand restoration began.

The first I heard of this was reading an article by, Mike Seccombe, in the Vineyard Gazette. I’ve been following their coverage of the progress of the restoration over the years as the historians, architects, archeologists and carpenters peeled away layers of wallpaper, clapboard, shingles and paint.

There are several places on the web which reference the process and the discoveries and I’ll link you to them in the upcoming notes.

There are seven paintings in this series and I want to start it off by letting you take in what the house looked like when I first walked in.

On one of our Ted trips, and after a wild and somewhat harrowing adventure of a ride, Katie and I drove out of the spiderwebbed Ichabod Crane like woods and into a wide open landscape. All sky and endless fields of grasses, a sliver of blue pond, and far in the distance a low line of sand dunes with the promise of an ocean beyond.

And sitting tucked along the wooded edge…a simple island house.

Adam Moore, is the Executive Director of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation and he met us there for an introductory tour. I could hear in his voice the excitement and devotion he has for this ongoing project. He explained that the goal is to bring the house into a stable and safe state but not to renovate for contemporary occupation. Rather, it will be restored to the architectural equivalent of somewhere in the middle of its 1700’s lifespan. And then offered to islanders, academics and interested others as a Study House.

In the coming days I’ll give you an in-depth look into each of the rooms and let them tell the stories of the builders, the ship captains and the generations of women and children who called it home.

None of them brought fancy modern inventions like electricity…or running water in to spoil her bones. So, like the richly weathered decking on the whale ship the Charles W. Morgan, there’s an honestly earned patina on every hewn surface.

And enough beauty in the sunlit robin’s egg blue reflections from the milk painted wall boards…to last…thanks to some supremely dedicated islanders… for centuries to come.

 

 


Travelers

Travelers  –  30 x 48

This painting started out with a shaft of light and the better part of a house…

I had been trying my damnedest to bring two elements into this composition which in the real world are hundreds of feet on either side of this little red pump. The old lamp and sign pole, and the old station owner’s house.

Along the way I was listening to “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles, when a phrase jumped out at me…”over the bar hung four studies of gas stations by Stuart Davis”. So off I go to look up said paintings. Which lead to a refresher course in early 20th century American art  and in particular his cubist-ic like paintings of the new elements of modern urban life.

My aim was a bit less wild but referencing the same era as I wanted to bring a corner of the iconic white New England clapboard house in to balance the tall slender light pole and play around with an Edward Hopper-like isolation of the lonely gas pump on an up country road. Standing now as a relic but hearkening back to a heyday when it and the cars it fed were shiny new and the light from the top of that pole would beckon wayfaring travelers.

But all the proportions were wrong. It wasn’t a problem to muscle my artistic license around and re-arrange some elements. The problem was the pump. Which is what I really wanted to shine. Think of an overall clad mechanic wiping grease off his hands before lifting the handle to fuel up the Ford, then folding a wing on the top of the pump and leaning in to say hey.

Right, the pump is actually…short…compared to the 20 foot pole and the porch of the house which sits up on that grassy yard behind the stone wall. To get them all in and have the pump large enough so that I could get out the tiny brushes and show you that the price was 49 and 1/10 cents…

well it would have meant an enormously large and dis-proportioned panel. Maybe someday I’ll revisit that. It’s still rambling around and every once in a while, like right now, the Muses kick that ball back onto the playing field.

Instead I went to another era of Art History and pulled my Albrecht Durer books off the shelf to study his “Great Piece of Turf”. A 16th century marvel that has always brought me to my knees. I played loose and free with the positioning of some of that vegetation but all of the passages of jungled vines do live nearby the pump…

and boy did they fight their way into becoming star players in this painting. No blending into the background sea of foliage for those gnarly twisters. They pushed aside that dappled light and danced.

So I whittled the composition down to its essence.

An old red pump
a deep woods county road
a tire rutted turnout
an ancient fieldstone wall
and a traveler.

There are treasures to be found
along every Vineyard road.

Mr. Morse sent me down this one
which was sorta fun.

 


Night Watchman

Night Watchman  –  22 x 36

Vincent has returned…

But it started with this sketch drawn last summer
on the first night he showed up for duty…

Then came this “Study for Nightwatch”,
painted to keep the image fresh in my mind
and to play around with the light…

Once I got that worked out, I was ready to go…but…
You see I had to wait for the sunflower to grow up.

The back story of this bunny’s journey from early spring garden bed
to his position on studio night watch
was chronicled in the Painter’s Notes for the study.

I’ve copied them here for you to read…
but you already know the ending…

Painter’s Notes for Study for Nightwatch

You know that first warm sunny day
when you understand that winter has
at least one more round in her
but damnation you are going
to clean out a garden bed…any bed.

On just such a day last March
we both huddled in our warmest fleece,
Herself putting her boots up in the sky chair
and myself blowing the cobwebs off of my weeding bench,
we passed a lovely hour or two
warming old bones in the afternoon sun.

I was hoeing away happily
when I saw something odd.

Just under the drying stalks
of last year’s hyssop
was a layer of what looked like fur.

I often throw the leavings of Finn’s coat
after her weekly brushings
out into the garden
or on top of the nearest snowbank
during the coldest months

So that was my first guess.

Then the fur moved.

Ok yes,
I screamed.

Woke Herself up actually…
and then she screamed.

Not ten minutes before
while I had been weeding the adjoining bed
I had said to Pat…
Now I’m going to be really careful because this is where
those bunnies were nesting last year.

So…the synapses fired up…
and collided.

Approaching cautiously
and much calmer now
I moved aside the covering layer of dry grasses
and peeked under the grey and white blanket of fur…

and sure enough
tiny baby bunnies
nestled in a hollow
the size of a teacup.

Oh the tenders
and gawd…
I had been hacking away
had I nicked one before the discovery ?

I tried my best to restore order to the nest
but I had removed almost all of the weedy
canopy that had made this new spot seem promising.

So, I added some leaves to the top
and found a wide wicker basket
and laid it over the nest
and offered up a prayer to mother nature for their souls

For the next two mornings I stood over the nest
and looked for signs of life.
Both times I saw the slightest rise and fall of the leaves
and the next day Kory came.

He’s helping me with the yard work and
as far as I can tell…so far
he has no fears.
Ok a slight shimmy in his step when he happens upon
a large spider…
but otherwise he’s a rock solid go to guy for wild animal taming.

Kory lifted the basket
and the leaves
and the fur
and sure enough
there were three living breathing bunnies
curled up in their teacup.

As anyone who knows me well
will tell you
they all got names.

Seeing as they were born in my herb bed
I dubbed them, Hyssop and Thyme and Vincent.
The last just in the case I had, accidentally mind you,
nicked one with the ancient Japanese weeding tool.

A few days later they were gone.

A week after that two of them jumped out of the way
of the string trimmer I was just about to swing along
the stone edging of the hydrangea bed.

Then, every afternoon for a month,
all three showed up at my new bird feeders,
which I have moved right outside of my easel window.

One of them kept lingering
later and later into the dusk
after siblings and squirrels
finches and doves
had long since gotten into their jammies
and been tucked into their beds.

On this night
as I was waiting for him
the sunset sent extra long low rays
through the bottom of the fence
and shooting across the tops of the grass.

And like that
the bunny hopped into that shaft of light
and stood completely still
for hours
keeping me company
as if he were on guard.

Then one of his ears twitched
and caught the fading light
and I saw the notch.

Now I am waiting for my sunflowers
to grow tall enough to pose
as the source of those angling rays
in the big portrait I want to paint…

of Vincent.


Mercy,, Mercy, Mercy

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy  –  22 x 26

It was the 80’s.

I was working at the Harvard Coop which was then quite a hopping place. In the middle of Harvard Square was a tiny alley paved in colonial cobblestone called Palmer Street. At the top of that alley was a hole in the wall music cafe called Club Passim. If you are of a certain age and had a soul that craved folk music then you already knew that.

I went to their website just now to get my facts right and it would appear it first came on the scene the year I was born, 1958, in the form of Club 47. That’s sorta fun. In 1969 it was established as the Club Passim that I came to know and love. It boasted the likes of Baez and Dylan taking the postage stamp of a stage. In my era I saw Tom Rush, Suzanne (New York City) Vega, Shawn Colvin.

But I had a unique view of that musical mecca. Literally.

Just across the alley and up one floor was the closet of a frame room which I managed for most of that decade. And for the first part of that tenure it was a windowless workshop. Until…while on a muffin break, I came up the stairs from the basement club and looked up. Huh. I never really gave it much thought but there are windows up there…where my desk was…only I faced plywood when I framed.

There was always a big turnover in that frameroom…think young college students and musicians needing work to bridge the gap until the rest of their lives came calling. On that day I had a particularly crazy group of framers who actually did go on to become musicians. Look up Sluggo…I dare you. He is a founding member of The Grannies.

A band which I am too musically challenged to classify but I can attest to the fact that Dug, excuse me Sluggo, was and is one of the grandest humans in the land. Big big heart that guy. It gives my own heart tremendous pleasure to add that he now owns and operates FRAME, voted 2017 winner of best frame shop in San Francisco.

So, with all that burgeoning creative energy working around me, I hurried up the back stairs to the closet and started pulling things off the makeshift shelving in front of what I now knew was a window. We began with a drill. A very small hole. And the light poured in.

Over the course of what I remember as a few days we enlarged that hole and waited to see if anyone discovered us. Then we got out a saw. A very small saw. After which we had a  deck of card sized hole. Waited a bit more but at this point we could actually see the weather. The next phase brought us what I remember being a horizontal rectangle about the length of a pair of my reeboks at the time. And that’s where Club Passim re-enters the story.

I could now see the top of their steps.

Where I once saw Nanci Griffith ( big fan ) leaning against the brick wall with one elbow on her guitar case and the other one lifting a cigarette to her lips. We could watch the lines form for evening concerts and the occasional film crew that came through. One famous actor (Follansbee would remember his name, Gene Wilder and Sidney Poitier come to my mind) had to run through the alley carrying a dozen eggs which he bobbled and splattered on the cobblestones. They had to clean the whole mess up after every take of which I saw three.

And here’s were the painting comes in…

I could also look down from my peep hole perch and see…my saxophone goddess.

Her name I have forgotten but not her long curly red hair…and her chops.
She would throw her case open and lean into some sweet jazz that wafted on the salty Cambridge air straight up to our window and into my heart. When I saddled my nerve I tossed a quarter in her case and asked if she gave lessons.

In my brief career as a sax player I learned two songs. As Time Goes By from Casablanca, and Cannonball Adderly’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.

The instrument has traveled with me lo these many decades since and somehow the muses found it this winter and brought it down from the old prop room as a dare.

As you see, I called their collective bluff, but it started, as many paintings do, with a simple gesture…

Our renegade window did eventually get spotted. Some big wig saw the light emanating from it as I worked late one night. I got all kinds of yelled at and we had to cover it back up, which may or may not have been a clandestinely removable patch.

In my dreams now it is open and I can see the stars above the chimneyed rooftops.

And I have told Herself
that if I go first
she will know
every time she hears a saxophone…
it’ll be me.

 

 


Night Philosopher

Night Philosopher  –  20 x 30

No single painting can tell the whole story.

Hell, even a story can’t tell the whole story.

Having Peter Follansbee for a best friend for over half my life has been pretty damn great.

A lot of people know him now,
he’s a famous woodworker, teacher, and …philosopher.

But what most of those people don’t know…
is that his mother Mary was a rock star.

I never knew anyone who didn’t think the world of Mary Follansbee, and I wouldn’t want to spend five seconds on a park bench with anyone who says otherwise.

She held a family of five kids together after her husband died way too early and ruled that roost with an iron skillet of a soul and a Boston Irish yell the memory of which can still make my spine snap right on up.

She challenged her righteous catholic faith openly, had little time for sarcasm but had all the time in the world to listen for the truth.

Her devotion to civil rights was on a cellular level and love was the solid core from which she moved through the world.

I miss her…her fierce abiding love…and her popovers…every day.

Those of you seeing this painting, or reading these notes, will know how important birds are in Peter’s life. He’s as fanatical about them now as he used to be about the Boston Celtics. No painting of Peter would even try to tell the whole story without an ornithological reference.

But what you may not know is that it was Mary who taught him to love those birds.

And the very first bird that she taught him to recognize was…the cedar waxwing.

So she’s there
just over his shoulder
his biggest champion
who would be mighty proud
to know that his children
can spot a cedar waxwing
from a country mile away.

 


A Little Night Knitting

A Little Night Knitting  –  18 x 18

On those long winter nights
alone on an island
pining for her captain

the rhythmic click click clicking
of the long metal needles is heard

as they catch the moon beams
dancing over waves

that somewhere
oceans away

have lapped along the starboard side
of a weathered wooden ship.

As she knits
and purls
and knits
and purls

the tips of those needles
wave a tiny patter of light

a private message
in a language of their own
sweet and sacred semaphore.


 

Ok,
now I see it.

The muses are leading us into a story of their own making.
I stumbled upon that while writing the Painter’s Notes just now.

Apparently the captain has left his mitten back home
onshore, with her.

As she plys her own ribbing
by the light of an island moon,
I wonder for whom do they knit ?

And from where is that nuthatch pulling her strand ?

Above is the original sketch I found in a pile of sketches.

I never know where these ideas come from,
but I have learned to jot them down forthwith.

It’s interesting to see the twists and turns
that happen along the way
from a spark of idea
snatched out of the ether
and set aside to percolate.

I’m curious now…
The brushes and I are in for the ride.


Granary Gallery 2019

It has become a tradition to unroll the new paintings for the annual Granary Gallery show here on the blog. The work flow has evolved along with the technology and I now use the time spent focusing on each painting, loading them individually onto my website, as the time I also write their accompanying Painter’s Notes.

So, for the next fifteen days, picture me in the studio office, sitting in a comfy chair,
this is my view…

And let me say right off the bat…
the best part about this view…
this week…
is that it is air-conditioned.

I wrote in the last blog post about adding the photographing of each painting into that aforementioned work flow. After shooting, the files get brought here at the mothership to be processed in Photoshop. That tech part I am comfortable with and once I have an archivally satisfactory image stored on my hard drive I can begin getting them up on my website.

So, with no further ado…I give you…

GG 2019

Captain’s Log  –  18 x 24

This painting is all about the mitten.

For the featured summer shows, the staff at the Granary Gallery do something a little extra to bring each  artist’s work to life. They masterfully reflect the essence of the art work by arranging  antiques, props, artifacts and flowers subtly positioned to add depth and often whimsy to enhance the patron’s experience.

They stay late on the Saturday night before the openings and make all the decisions about hanging and arranging with a keen collective eye to design. So it is always a fun surprise to walk into the show on Sunday afternoon and see, for the first time, what they have created.

On one such occasion, tucked amongst a pile of some wooly and maritime artifacts which were displayed under one of my paintings,
I remebered it being one of the sheep
but it may have been the spinning loft
or quite possibly the black Irish horse Macy
anyway on this occasion…
I spied the mitten.

All of three inches, it was held to a tiny ball of yarn by four shiny steel needles thin enough to put inside the stem of a spring violet. I was in love. Honestly, to hold this gem in the palm of your hand and see the impossibly small stitches took this knitters’ breath clean away.

They said it had been found in an old sea captain’s chest. OK well there you go…I’m hooked. I begged to take it home to show the Muses and, now leaning against the window frame by my easel, it has become a powerful talisman. My imagination soars when I ponder who worked those triple ought sticks, who spun that finest of wool, for whom was it stitched, and on what fateful voyage.

Because it is what I do, I have begun to work some of these scenarios out… in paint.

There are two in this year’s show. So that probably means the Muses have a series in the cards.

The Captain’s Log let me play with some old favorites among the prop shelves. And I found some of my earliest homespun yarn which was almost as thin as that used by the captain…or was it his wife…or perhaps the harpooner…with which I tried a tiny ribbing stitch to get the feel of the needles.

Ouch. Those babies are surgically sharp. I had spent this last winter twiddling size one needles around while knitting socks, and my fingers had the callouses to prove it, but the Captain’s sticks are wicked barbed wee deevils. I have a new respect for the men and women of the Aran Islands shown in old black and white photos flying those same steel shafts around at high speed while simultaneously tending their flocks and seeing to supper and minding the bairns lo those centuries ago.

Ah…when idle hands…
and magical gallery moments
meet on the easel…

whatever will come next…