From the “Nature finds a way” division of the Ledge…
When, way back in January, or was that February, we, meaning Kory… with me directing from without, frantically threw everything in the studio kitchen out onto the studio porch after finding yet another round of rodential invasion…
the bench filled up with things that were destined to live in the garage… but needed to be sorted… so that never happened.
Herself has been wanting to clear it off so guests could have a place to sit.
But we don’t get many guests, and now…well… we have had to implement a staging area for decontamination of deliveries from the big bad world.
You may be able to imagine my surprise when upon reaching for the blue bag our resident wren flew up and at me and, with a powerful shrillness, bade me to step away from her nest.
Twice in the days since I have impulsively reached for that bag. And both times I swore at my forgetfulness… almost as solemnly as she swore at me.
So yesterday I decided a tactile barricade was needed.
Not for her, but for me.
A quarantine within the quarantine.
It takes a village. Take care of each other out there.
Here’s a very early piece, so early that I was still painting in my old studio… and it was Gulliver by my side.
A Dissembling Breeze – 2002
My studio is on stilts. Telephone polls really. Sixteen feet in the air. We live in a flood zone by this gently flowing creek. During hurricane Agnes in the early 70’s the entire cabin was under water. The single foot of it’s chimney remaining above water gaining mythological proportions. So when they rebuilt the washed away garage it had to be above the highest flood level.
The supporting beams and joists underneath my tree top studio are exposed. For the last two seasons an industrious couple of sparrows have been constructing a condo under there. Massive in scale I suspect them to be former hippies ever redesigning the commune. Celebrating diversity, they have woven in feathers from every visiting species and a generous helping of wool from Pat’s grandmother’s hooked rug which rests on the steps beneath.
The other day, on our fifty foot commute to work, Gully and I found the nest fallen to the pavement below. A treasure for me… at some cost to the dear ones.
For months thereafter we heard them busily knocking about below our painting feet. The subsequent structures lacked some vital element because they lasted only an average of a few days.
It has been a dry hot summer. I don’t expect them back until spring now. In the meantime I am collecting a pile of feathers and pine needles and dog hair at the base of the studio steps. We are not expecting rain.
The apprentice patiently awaits our next delivery…
I’m a bit behind. Been putting out insurance fires, medication issues, juggling tax documents, cooking perishables, and monitoring the stock market.
No, are you kidding I don’t know squat about the stock market but apparently I like to watch disasters in the making or the ticking I actually gave over dozens of minutes of my precious life to watching those numbers bounce around in free fall this week.
Mesmerizing, I was interested to learn about the internal brake thing which automatically stops trading. That stopped my heart when it happened in real time. And, because we have a tiny little bit of our savings tied up in those numbers some how…
I quickly took the advice of experts… and snapped right on out of that window.
And went outside. The distractions and emergency shut downs that have shaken our worlds have also put me a bit behind in the gardening department.
I keep a running journal to help me remember what to plant and when. Last year I dug deep, as it were, and invested, with Kory’s help, in building new beds and starting my Ruth Stout Garden, and now I have a journal full of useful information to be going on with.
As we saw in the first ledge post, there was good news to report about the soil under all that hay. Some pics from last season show how I used boxes filled with compost to provide some fertile growing medium while the ground beneath, which had been lawn, was slowly being converted, by the creatures within, to something more conducive to garden ready soil.
Made me happy in this lock downed moment to see all that green again…
At the end of the season we raked all of the remaining organic matter flatish, and made a footpath of wood chips then covered it all with a fresh foot or so of hay.
Where we had compost, roughly chopped up plant material and cardboard…the soil is now beautifully decomposed. There was one area in the back where I only had hay on top of last year’s soil and that is still anaerobic, sticky mud. We’ll see if the potatoes object because I planted some of them in that muck.
Yesterday Herself and Finn and myself enjoyed the ridiculously hot weather…76 degrees…and planted the Greens Bed.
This is what remained from the winter under cover. Beets in the back are probably not going to form but I’ll give them another week. Carrots are in great shape. Spinach which I’ve been enjoying all winter looks better after a heavy cleaning but I’ve got new seeds starting in other beds so this batch, which is very leggy, may be retired.
With 6 typed of lettuce seeds planted and some radishes as well, the whole thing got a blanket thrown over it.
They are just fine as painting models… but seem to be unsatisfied with the sunflower seeds I have been providing them all winter. They found the pea seeds which we had planted on St. Pat’s day and ripped that bed up. So…I threw more seeds in and put up the dreaded tunnel.
Hopefully they will get the message.
In October I noticed they were spending some time in the herb bed. I thought it was to bury nuts but no, they were eating the Chard. Since I had planted that for winter harvest I decided to cover it over. The plants didn’t produce much so I lifted the fleece and let the sun rain down.
The squirrels rejoiced and this is what is left. Eh, it’s time to start new plants anyway.
In that same bed, on the farside, is a magnificent crop of Cress.
It grew uncovered all through our mild winter-that-wasn’t and now it’s feisty and fiery flavor of pepper and spice is a brilliant addition to every dish. Somewhere I read it is one of the most densely vitamin and mineral rich plants. Double the benefits. This is a land cress variety which likes shade. It loves hanging out behind the grape arbor. I’ve got extra seeds if anyone wants to try some.
And so far, the squirrels don’t seem to have cottoned on to this delicacy.
Later on today we will start another flat of the seeds I need to catch up on and some of the hot weather lovers like tomatoes and peppers.
But as for my day job.
I guess it is appropriate to pay homage to some of my more squirrely Muses…
Stay frosty out there everyone…and be kind.
Squirreled Away – 2016
Last year it was the Cardinal, His Holiness Wolsey the basher of windows.
This winter, it was Sir Squirrel, the chomper of walnuts.
He who kept me company, through the snowy storms, perched on the air-conditioning unit, just outside my easel window, flaunting his propitious, hoarding prowess, and watching.
We watched each other actually. Watched out for each other may be more accurate.
When we got that Nor’easter, which dumped 4 feet of fresh snow, on the already whitened studio yard, it took me three days to dig out a path for Finnegan to get to her privy.
I noticed that Sir Sq. had been a no show and made a wee annex to Finn’s run from the arbor vitae to his window perch.
The mere work of a teaspoon, but it sufficed for him to re-surface and check back in to make sure I was ok, and able to lift those tiny brushes after all that shoveling.
Sitting there, sporting new pairs of both snow shoes and sunglasses, and chewing on a particularly prodigious nut, he must have noticed I was looking ever so slightly famished, because, after devouring a full three quarters thereof, he reached out to offer me a nibble…
See, that’s what I’m talking about…
it takes a village.
A Little Night Knitting – 2018
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.
Living with six feet of separation… in the hopes of staying on this side of the garden… which as you can see has just begun…
And potatoes newly nestled in Ruth’s bed…
I’ve been thinking a lot about how lucky I am, as an artist, to actually enjoy working at home. Social distancing is my norm. The creative life is not always lived in isolation, but art often begins there.
Making art is about making sense of the world around us and within.
The irony is not lost on me in these early days when artists of all types are filling the airwaves with song and words and paintings…
Spontaneous acts of generosity offering touchstones to beauty portals of peace that simply reach out to remind us of the importance and precious value of our common human existance…
When, for the price of a presidential golf trip, how many schools could bring back the stolen art and music education to teach new generations to make that art.
Maybe that will be one new thing that we change after so much tearing down that is to come.
So, yeah, I feel very lucky to still be able to walk over from the log cabin each day and walk around the studio yard with Finn as the sun rises over the hill and know that my easel awaits and the brushes are ready…
I am very scared. Anxiety and raw fear blend with the persistent vulnerability of aging so that those familiar edges have now become ledges.
But, so far, the Muses have not wavered.
They greet me at the door. Remind me of our new family motto…
So I’m going to join the chorus and start sending out little postcards from the studio.
To share some of what is still so good in our world some paintings that speak to me of that and the constant reminder that the garden gives me that grace abides.
I begin with Skip…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.
As squalls of snow flurries surround the studio, the artist within is happily ensconced in her hermitage and the brushes are flying. Had a bookend of visits with Peter Follansbee last week so his painting gets the pride of place here today.
I’ve been away from this portal for so many months that there is a towering pile of posts waiting to be written. Look for me to promise a regular flow of entries, but I’d hedge those bets. My energies and attention span tends to be hyper focused at the easel when I return from weeks away.
While the weather freezed me out of the garden, and the darkness deepens into the solstice, the dust collects on every other corner of the studio except where I and my brushes are at work.
But I’ve taken a quick break to visit the office today because I need to give you a heads up about the prints offered here on my site.
Due to the increased costs of paper and ink the price of prints will be following suit.
Figure I would return the kindness of your years of support by giving you all a heads up…so I’ll wait another month or so and make the price changes take effect on January 31, 2020.
The small prints will go from $95 to $125 The large prints will go from $195 to $225 And I will be charging a flat shipping rate of $12 for all tubes, multiple prints can be shipped in one tube and will only be charged once.
The Menemsha Basin and Strider Prints will remain at their current prices for now.
OK, that’s done.
Now back to my snuggly spot by the heater in the corner with my Muses.
Stay frosty out there and thank you all for being there. H
It’s beginning to look a lot like fall around here. We have been home a month since our Vineyard visit and Granary Gallery show. A great time and very successful show was surrounded by a warm and positive energy which has been riding in my back pocket ever since.
And we needed that to get through some stressful weeks with a string of those unwelcome but generally benign hiccups that lurch your well laid plans into a different gear…or reverse in this case. Extreme heat kept me out of the garden, silly germs kept us all sick and snotty for Zoe’s camp Gran and Mima, the blue screen of death on the studio computer meant a week of tech gurus replacing one motherboard after another, and then there is…( and here I will allude to, but not elaborate on because I have a strict “NO politics in the studio rule”… the mother of all shit storms that is the current state of the nation and the planet )…but worst of all our dear Finn has been plagued with one infection after another.
None of the usual anti-depressants were working.
Putting all the bags of yarn on the daybed to plan out the coming winter of knitting…didn’t help. Getting out all the spoon carving tools and making pile after pile of shavings on the porch…wasn’t helping. Planting flats of seedlings for the fall garden and weeding out the old for the new…was hampered by the summer’s sauna.
I just couldn’t shake the blues.
As of today, most of those bumps in the road have been worked out but they wore this artist down and sent some old dragons a’ knocking at the door.
Alas, I caught them on the whisper… and realized that in spite of all the things I was trying to do to pull myself up and out of that negative space…what I really needed to do was to get myself back to my day job.
The second I sat down at the easel I felt better…lighter…centered and safe.
I have come to understand that this work that I do, the art that I create, the focus that is demanded of the process of bringing a painting to life…it is all of me. It has become what I am not just what I do. And it has an intense and powerful connection to something that is much bigger and vitally more important than Mercury going retrograde and blowing up the schedule.
It is no longer quiet listening, but a fierce reckoning with truth, and finding where it lives at the core of my soul, and then looking hard for where it lives in others. The closest I’ve come to labeling it is that “common ground”. I catch glimpses of it now and then, like a pixie winking from behind a garden shed. And more often when I stand behind someone studying one of my paintings and watch as they step closer. The noise in the gallery shuts off, and they are pulled in to a very private place. Sometimes, when they step back and notice me, they will take me where they went. Sometimes there are no words. But the recognition is there, between us, that there is some common ground.
I can think of it as a portal. Through which there is a tapestry of threads, more like live wires, and we, the artist and the patron, have found one or two that we recognize as familiar, that are alive in our own paintings as it were, and we come to see that we are not alone.
Well that is starting to get a bit tingly…like I said…the universe..or is it those muses… is shifting things around here in a most unpredictable and frustrating way…which is when I know to step out of the stream and go to a safe place.
OK I’m back now. This started out as a quick peek at the burgeoning fall garden, which is plugging along all on its own tingly threads in spite of the heat and my profound neglect.
And since, I have already articulated that the best place for me to be right now…with a tiny brush in my hand…and not playing in the dirt…I shall simply throw out these pics of this morning’s garden.
Beginning with a before shot of the Ruth Stout Memorial Arch to compare with the opening photo of today’s vining mess. You will see that the black eyed susan vines are finally thriving but the morning glory (mostly on the right) are insane…with nary a blossom.
Here it is again…before
In general I am very pleased with the RS bed experiment so far. I will elaborate in future posts but here are some random updates…
WE HAVE A LUFFA !!!
Finally. You can see how showy this vine has become. It has smothered the tunnel and begun to invade the lower forty…
looking back it is on the right
Here it frames the now almost cleared potato run…as it waddles on over to make an annex out of the old pea trellis.
Back at the far end of the bed you get a whole lot of rotting tomatoes and a fair supply of peppers showered by Pat’s zinnias…
A row of bags and boxes are mostly cleared of the failed onions with some lingering leeks…
Walking outside and into the raised bed area it’s the sweet potatoes that have taken the lead…
Three bags full, they hold some promise but it will be a month or more before I peek. The second planting of cucumbers are fighting off the squash bugs and going strong…
The beans have only now begun to provide enough for a meal for two…
Underneath that tunnel are some newly planted carrots and broccoli …
And the brussel sprouts and parsnips are roaring in the back bed…
On the backside of this very large array is the sad state of the strawberry beds, I am flummoxed at the heavy invasion of grasses and weeds which have taken over every single bed. I’ve weeded this bed intensely 4 times this summer !!! and look at the mess.
Back in civilization…
the new herb beds are doing well…
and the salad bed is once again producing lettuces and spinach…
After taking this pic I pulled a couple of those radishes, and then I yanked them all because I found cabbage worms on each one and a heavy infestation of baby aphids. They all went to the bucket of death. Now Herself can come and pick her lunch in peace.
And that leaves the best part of the garden for last…
Miss Finnegan is starting to feel better. These cooler mornings are just the ticket for a Bernese Mt. Dog. She lays here on the shaded cement and supervises my ramblings while she waits for her buddy to come over and take her for a ride around the neighborhood. Her favorite thing is to turn left out of that gate and jump into the car.
As I write this she and her buddy are getting ready for the tennis finals. Finn lays in front of the TV and as soon as the ball is hit she follows it. She got bored with all those double faults in the match last night but has a special fondness for Nadal, so she’s looking forward to his forehand.
And there we have it. A winding look into the labyrinth that, for my sins, is my world this month.
Now I’m headed to the kitchen for some lunch, and then up for one more cone at Reeser’s, and then back to the easel…
Yours in brilliant blazes of Mexican sunflowers, hovering hummingbirds… and finally flying brushes,
If you peer in closely through the blue doorway and into the pantry you will see shelves lined with artifacts.
Treasures unearthed and discovered behind walls an old clay pipe horseshoes and coins bottles and bricks.
What you won’t see that I can is Katie in there studying them.
She was the navigator on the day I first saw this place.
I mentioned before about our wild adventure on the bouncy bouncy dirt lane as we searched the wilderness getting closer and closer to the isolated homestead.
At one point I think it was seeing giant spider webs glistening with heavy dew under that medieval forest of low branching oaks at a moment when we were particularly lost that we both looked at each other to gauge the fear factor.
Yep it was creepy.
But, as ever with Katie, so much fun.
Her young strong legs climbed the stairs before me to test if they would hold and her brave confident self looked behind the darkest of dusty corners to spare my heart.
She’s the one who opened the lid on the oval roaster and found the shells then played apprentice moving them in and out of the crawling sunlight.
It’s going to be harder now to coordinate our Ted Trips because she went and grew all up and graduated and is going to step right on out into the big wide world any day now all by herself.
I have a feeling though that there will be a few more adventures a painted cormorant now and then a little bit of knitting together and listening and the occasional snapshot of that dimply smile.
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.
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.
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.