Garden gone WILD

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

and after…

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…

ahhhh.

Yours in brilliant blazes of Mexican sunflowers, hovering hummingbirds…
and finally flying brushes,

Heather


The Flock

The Flock  –  48 x 92

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.

Thank you dear sweet soul.


New Rust

New Rust  –  24 x 37

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.


Map Room

Map Room  –  24 x 26

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.

Here indeed is that very mark…

I found more information on The Whaling Disaster of 1871 on Wikipedia…click here to read.

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.


Artifacts

Artifacts  –  20 x 24

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.

Look out world
here comes a damned fine human

…love ya kiddo.

 


Rough Hewn

Rough Hewn  –  30 x 40

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.

CLICK HERE


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.