I want to take a moment to thank all of you for the kind words and support for each of the paintings in this year’s Granary Gallery Show.
Both Pat and I have enjoyed reading your comments and I greatly appreciate those of you who have shared the images forward.
In this day and age, so many of us are self-employed, and sharing your support on social media increases the opportunity for success exponentially. It means a lot to those of us creative hermit types.
There is always a crazy rush here in the studio on the eve of our departure, and this artiste is feeling her age. So, in amongst this last minute multi-tasking, I wanted to take a breath and give you a look at all 15 paintings together.
I won’t get to see them this way until Sunday, when they are up on the walls of the gallery.
And we have arrived at the end… only to start at the beginning.
I owe everything Vineyard to my friend Lynn. She brought me here for the first time.
We would throw a box of spaghetti and some brownie mix into her car and drive from our shared apartment in Somerville out to the ferry and over to her beloved island.
It was ten years or more before I even knew there were towns other than Chilmark.
We drove straight from boat to bluff and left only briefly for the annual lobster from Larsen’s …and regular visits to Chilmark Chocolate.
Lynn had the biggest heart I’ve ever known and its core and depths were chiseled out of those cliffs.
Her honest and joyful humor was wedged in between every one of the giant stones she tended along her wall.
Her kindness and overflowing generosity live on in the daffodils that now soak up her spring sunshine.
Her friendship and her family have given me the closest thing to a home that I have ever known.
The monarch is for her. Actually it may BE her.
For me they always will be.
On the day I captured this light there was a very short window of this calm after the storm just enough time for the sheep to make their way across the field to where I stood and as the sun began to set she flew behind me and landed on this bend of grass and stayed until I turned around.
Her smile was exactly as I remembered it with that laughter and love come to share the moment which I had been searching for all those years as we had made a ritual of stopping at this turnout each time we left her camp to see if the sheep were there and the muses might be too.
After four decades … and with a wink and a nod from one happy dancing angel they did.
This is the last painting in the Hancock Mitchell House series, and for me it pulls all seven of them together. My working title for this originally was Advent because all those openings and passages reminded me of an advent calendar.
As if you could open each one and step through and back in time and pick a different century in which to explore.
I personally imagine doing that as the woodworker I used to be. With hatchet in hand and shaving horse at the ready, I’d love to work alongside all of the builders of this house. Learning from the masters who cut the massive timbers and swung the hewing axes. Listening to stories of sea voyages as they wove the wattles and mixed the daub.
I can almost feel the ocean breeze lift across the grassy plain, come to softly cool the sweat on my shoulders and back as we share in the splitting of lath under a steamy solstice summer sun.
Above the cry of a pond diving gull, I can hear the rhythmic swish…pull…swish of the planes as they fashion the moulded edges along the wide cabinet boards.
Across the wind swept meadow, along the road from the beach, I can see a cloud of dust rising as a team of draft horses pulls a sled of ship-wrecked planks, washed ashore and gleaned to live now… a landlubbers life of pantry shelf, mantelpiece or sill.
And from just over the treetops, on the next island farm, catching a ride on the early morning breeze, the remnant of woodsmoke drifts from the forge where its fire burns and builds to harden her irons.
Away and alas… here in this century I have put down my hatchet to pick up a brush…and quill…
From the depths of her shadows in the company of her years opens a new whitened door holding fast and proud to its first ever latch poised now to witness this next chapter of life for a quiet old house on a wild island plain and so it begins with a trickling thin line reddening apace of modest…new rust.
There’s a whole lot of maritime history to be witnessed in this little room
Hanging left and right are copies of centuries old nautical maps and charts which were discovered in the attic of the Hancock Mitchell House when the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation began its restoration.
Having recently trodden my own path along the rugged Wild Atlantic Way, I am choosing the map of the West Coast of Ireland to feature in detail here…
Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and New Bedford were at the center of the whaling industry in the mid 1800’s. Several whaling ship captains came from this homestead in Quansoo. One of whom was West Mitchell…
I have lifted these lines from a 2017 article by Alex Elvin in The Vineyard Gazette, click here for direct link to read the entire piece…HERE.
Capt. West Mitchell, who once lived in the house, was among those who weathered the whaling disaster of 1871, when dozens of whaling ships from the region became stranded in the Arctic. He was captain of the barque Massachusetts, which now lies at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.
Mr. Mitchell’s name remains scratched into a wall in the Quansoo house, barely visible above the stairs leading to the attic.
This one ticks all the boxes for me… centuries of living on the island talismans left for us to puzzle maps to point the way salt and brine soaked patina on wood worked by hand passages in and passages out and always and ever our return…to the sea.
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.
This is a wall of the oldest section of the Hancock Mitchell House which is one of the oldest houses in this young country.
Hand hewn posts and beams whose gaps are filled with wattle and daub to keep the rugged island weather out there on the plains.
From the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation –
Standing upon the sweeping outwash plain of Quansoo, the Hancock-Mitchell House is considered the second-oldest or the oldest house on Martha’s Vineyard. A classic, Cape Cod style home, the Hancock-Mitchell house is found on Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation’s Quansoo Farm property in Chilmark. The oldest portion of the house was built in the 17th Century. In this oldest section, the walls notably are made of wattle and daub –a mixture of mud and straw that is packed around wood-en rungs. The wattle and daub walls place the house among the very few such “first-period” structures still standing in the United States.
One reason the house still stands, even when faced with centuries of hurricanes and gales, is that the walls feature hurricane braces. The hurricane braces are boards that run diagonally across sections of the wall. The braces are mortised into studs and mortised into girts and rafter plates. In the oldest section of the house, the walls still contain wattle and daub. Inside the house, some of the timbers are exposed, while others are encased. Some timber edges bear “lamb’s tongue” chamfers, a decorative effect used in the 17th century and early 18th century.Some portions of the house contain pit-sawn boards.
Here’s a direct link to the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation site which has a complete layout of the house and more on the history of the people who owned and lived in the house during its over 300 years of occupation and notes about their restoration and plans for the future.
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.
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.
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…