‘Twas a lovely surprise a few weeks back, to receive…by way of a thank you of sorts…a package from Matthew Stackpole. He, by way of Martha’s Vineyard and Mystic Connecticut, and a lifetime of service to both seafaring villages and museums and maritime history everywhere.
He had sent me a copy of the book, The Charles E. Morgan – The Last Wooden Whaleship, written by his father Edouard A. Stackpole. It’s a lively in depth history of the ship and her adventures published in 1967. I’m only part way through and it has me hooked. Great sky chair reading. Thank you so much Matthew.
Matthew and his brother had the run of the Morgan when their father was at the helm of the Mystic Seaport Museum.
So he had fond memories to share when looking at the paintings I had done from the museum and the ship for last years’ Granary Gallery Show.
The Martha’s Vineyard Museum opened the doors of their new home this week. Here’s a bird’s eye view nearing completion from their website…
DCIM100MEDIADJI_0292.JPG photo credit probably Denny Wortman but I’ll check.
It’s an exciting time for all who have supported the dream of transforming the old marine hospital into its newest reincarnation as home for the MV Museum and its collection of island history, artifacts and lore. The Museum, as a collective, is a living breathing vibrant organization which brings archived island history to life for each new generation.
Readers will remember that way back in 2013, can it be that long ago, I worked on a series of paintings, Reclamation, which explored the Marine Hospital building as it then stood, abandoned and restless, on the hill overlooking Vineyard Haven harbor.
The MV Museum had just purchased the property with the goal of converting it to their new headquarters. And, after five years of hard work and visionary grit, the board, staff, construction workers and volunteers have realized their dream.
As part of the opening exhibit in their space devoted to Island Art, “Lost and Found, The Marine Hospital”, the museum has curated examples of artwork inspired by the original building. They managed to round up, and have included, several of the paintings from my Reclamation Series, and Adam Smith sent me some photos of those paintings in situ from the show…
The 2008 painting of Strider’s Surrender, which was donated to the MV Museum by a supportive patron, has now found a home in its permanent collection. Chris Morse, owner of the Granary Gallery, sent me a photo of the crew installing the piece…
And Adam caught it again at the opening…hello from the studio to Phil Wallis, MV Museum’s Executive Director, down along the hallway there…
The Painter’s Notes for both the Reclamation Series and Strider’s Surrender fill in some of the inspiration and back story for these pieces and can be read by interested parties by clicking on their highlighted names in this sentence.
It is both personally and professionally kind of amazing to see these paintings hanging in the new museum.
As artists… we churn our days away at the easel challenged by the muses tossing paint around with tiny brushes grounded, as far as our left brains will allow, and working primarily in the present.
It is humbling to see one of those creations hanging in a museum which is grounded, as far as any good mission statement will allow, in the past.
In preserving the past.
I don’t often get to see where my paintings go after they are sold. If I’m brutally honest, it is sometimes so emotionally difficult to put so much of my self and soul into the creation of the artwork only to let it go and never be seen, by me, again that I have to compartmentalize that bit into a dusty corner of my heart.
If I had a gratitude journal… today’s entry would be this blog post.
I am grateful for all those whose support has given these paintings a new audience to tell their stories to…and I am looking forward to getting to see them again…in person soon.
Beautiful December sunrise light bouncing all around us as Finn and I made our icy commute from log cabin to studio. She opted for an early morning nap while I sat at the kitchen table and clicked the knitting needles and gave the muses plenty of open space.
Last night I put the last touches on a portrait of my pal Peter. It was wonderful to come over these last few days knowing I would be spending it with him. But now, time to move on. Usually, and by that I mean 99% of the time, by the time I am winding down one painting there are at least two or three others competing for the easel. But by the time Herself came over mid-morning she found me roaming aimlessly around the studio…still pondering.
We sat together at the table and she listened as I rambled and a few ideas did start to pop. She reminded me to write them down, so I made some quick doodles, and the energy lifted. She left to do some shopping and I sat down at the computer and began playing with some of the thousands of photo references on file.
At sixty, I know that it takes more than a list of subjects, or a collection of still life objects to start working on a composition. In order to sustain the energy required to give my total attention, over the course of the days and weeks it takes to create a painting, I must feel the spark. My way in. It can be the challenge of a new subject, or the challenge of rendering a familiar subject in a new way, or a particular emotional connection, or the whimsy of finally telling the story behind a few words, which held the promise of a great title, and had been scribbled on a, now well worn and dog-eared, slip of paper taped to the easel.
I KNOW it when it clicks… and so far today… nada.
I keep telling those who ask, that being a mature artist means I know when to get out of my own way. After six hours of sitting here at the computer scanning for that spark, and sketching and re-working a new composition which I originally had thought was going to be a sure winner, one which would be easy to tweak and get to the panel quickly…I can see now how I fell right down the rabbit hole and into that old trap..quite firmly planted directly in my own way. If the muses don’t show up…there ain’t gonna be a ball game.
When Pat came home from her errands I was hopelessly lost. I explained what I thought the problem with that composition was and asked for her fresh eyes. Eh…no sparks on her end either. So, I threw in the towel and decided to pour my vapid thoughts all over this page.
What I’ve come up with, whilst writing, is that this current crisis of creativity is yesterday’s problem.
I’ll set the stage…
I had an hour to fill while I waited for Katie’s Women’s Study class to call me for a facetime thingy…something about which I was very nervous. They had been in the Granary Gallery last week using the artwork there as fodder for a discussion about gender in art.
Here’s a shot, which I believe one of the gallery associates took, of them studying my painting, Celeste envies Ruth.
After their sojourn, Katie thought it would be interesting to pose their questions and thoughts directly to the artist. I got a tutoring session on how to make the technology work and we scheduled a date.
So, while my nervous self was waiting for the phone to ring yesterday morning, I picked up a pencil…and BAM the Muses snuck up behind me, grabbed the pencil and in minutes they had fleshed out one of those old dog-eared notations-of-an-idea which had laid dormant, after several failed attempts to work out a solid composition, on other fractalled days like today when I had tried to show up for work without them.
You probably won’t see what I see here, but this is the sketch…
Five minutes later the phone rang, and I had a grand old time answering their questions and listening to their thoughts. I particularly loved them pondering which apron was Ruth and which Celeste, and their takes on why. They sure left me thinking, and that may have been why the Muses were exploring their own interpretations of gender roles in art.
Originally I had just a title, A Boston Marriage.
I’ll leave it there for now, it’s entire evolution won’t be complete until this fat lady sings… but armed with this new sketch, and the lingering energy of the collective Woman’s Studies class, I was eager to get to work.
I already had my models in waiting…and waiting..and waiting…since I first approached them with this request over two years ago. And we have plans to see them for dinner this weekend…but scheduling modeling time now that the Muses have arrived means postponing the fun of digging into this painting for potentially days or weeks.
And there you have it. I needed a workaround. Alas, I stepped all over the creative flow with today’s failed attempts to “fill in” the gap between that project, for which I have found the spark, with something equally compelling that will be the work of days rather than weeks.
Frustrating to waste one of these precious days when I have nothing but lifting brushes on the agenda. This month has far too many interruptions on the calendar to allow me to pull up the drawbridge. That will happen the minute the new year bells chime.
So, rather than call this day a complete wash, I have now used you dear readers to help me work through this…
And Herself, who has just texted me this from her snuggly sofa in the cabin…
“What painting are you working on ? Asking for a friend (insert red heart emoji)”
My response… I’m writing a blog about NOT coming up with a painting idea.
The Vineyard Gazette had a photo, which I can no longer find, of someone hanging the sign on the Derby Headquarters along the Edgartown Harbor. That photo, which I still can not find even on line, reminded me of the day I spent this winter painting a teeny tiny replica of that very sign.
I was able to find a replacement photo for you, courtesy of the MV Times files, which was attributed as…Derby weigh master Roy Langley rings in the Derby in 2015. — MV Times file photo..sorry I can’t credit the photographer.
I also found a reference to Mr. Langley in the 2017 Derby Souvenir Booklet which is available to read on line…click here. There is a nice tribute to him, written by Ed Jerome, on page 96 as Roy was retiring his morning weigh in duties, which mentions that, “at the age of 89, he (Roy) will no longer place contestant’s fish on the scale to be weighed. However, he will continue to gather morning baked goods for volunteers and coordinate the disbursement of the fish to the Senior Citizen Filet Program.”
Everything I love about the Vineyard is in that sentence.
So, back to that painting…
You remember this one ?
Here’s a pic of me working on that derby sign…
Let’s zoom in a bit…
Keep your eyes on the left hand side …
It’s a bit tricky to read, which is why I hunted for that stock photo, but here’s the closest I can get you…without standing in front of the painting with a magnifying glass…
My sign is about a quarter inch wide. The door is closed between morning and evening weigh-ins, but the rods were reeling away at the public wharf…a little further over to the right…
This painting, Anchored in Autumn has found a new home this week. Reports are that it may even be able to catch its own glimpse of the harbor from the new resting place.
We are making plans to return to the island soon, and I’m looking forward to finding a spot on the bench alongside the Derby Headquarters and parking there with my sketchbook to collect some notes as the winning contenders are brought in to be recorded.
Well, tomorrow at this time we will be pulling into Mystic for our first stop on the way to the island. And so it is fitting to use this last blog post before the show to catch you up on the investigation into that carving on the spinning wheel at the Mystic Seaport Museum.
THIS JUST IN…
Remember this painting…
The Spinning Loft
And do you remember the detail shot of the carving on this large wheel in the foreground
Well, Follansbee and Co have uncovered some information that brings us closer to solving the riddle of who might have carved it and what building would it have been.
I’m a food historian who consults with museums, film producers, publishers, and individuals.
My training is in archaeology and cooking, and I enjoy applying the knowledge of past cooks and artisans to today’s food experience.
My work is exploring bygone pathways of food history and culture, through building, experimenting, playing, and eating.
I’ve known of her through Peter, and following her on social media, but we haven’t yet met.
So Peter reaches out to his Plymouth pals and they do what they do best…research stuff. I’m going to copy the thread of their discoveries here, with permission of the author, and then the caveat that she made me promise to include will be there at the end. Clearly these people are driven by brilliant minds, and their super powers are curiosity.
From Peter then Paula,
PF -So the question is: Is the graffiti scratched into this equipment at Mystic, originally from Cordage park, real? Is that a building somewhere around Cordage?
Who would know?
PM -I will want to read her blog later carefully—but yes what mystic exhibits is one third of Plymouth Cordage’s rope walk.
PM -The builidng in the graffiti (which IS fascinating) looks to be a wharfside structure, right? The ell to the right is on pilings over the water. Plymouth Cordage was situated to take advantage of Plymouth’s best natural channel—a piece of relatively navigable water called the Town Guzzle. Certainly long gone by the time of this image around 1900:\https://digital.hagley.org/AVD_1982_231_016
If you look at this map, you can see how the walk was situated….(here’s a clip) I would guess that the building pictured would be between the place it was carved in the ropewalk building and the harbor.
There are other 19th c images I’ll poke around for later
Then Peter assumes he has satisfied my tasking him to get the skinny…
PF – (satisfied) my debt to Heather that is…god knows what I owe PM now…
Then… PM – Also January 25, 1867 — the storehouse at the Cordage Works was “blown down” in a gale and a lot of damage was done to wharves…. that could have been the end of that building (WT Davis, Memories, p 221)
And again a day later…
PM – In its earliest iteration the Cordage consisted of a rope-walk, wharf, storehouse and other buildings (incorporated August 1824).
Huge expansions came by the late 30s, with the adoption of steam power, but the walk itself might function the same regardless of power source.
I can see from the same source that two Carrs (Andrew and Patrick) had been working for the Cordage for decades by 1900 —then both around middleaged and having started working there young — Patrick at 9).
My money that a little more research will suggest their father, Belfast emigrant William Thomas Carr, produced these graffiti after lunch on August 4th, 1851, while his foreman was out sick with “a summer complaint, brought on by eating blackberries and cream”. Okay, we probably won’t get to that satisfying a level of detail. But the first two paragraphs are documented at least.
And quickly after I asked if I could share this here…
Sure, Heather, with the proviso that it is very “tossed-off” and incomplete—I should be working on my own problems, but I get so sucked into these kinds of questions (in case that’s not apparent) but I’m always surprised when others are interested. And although I was joking about the elder Mr. Carr from Belfast, I would not be shocked if I could get a little further with his identity—the Cordage was great at record-keeping. In it’s first fifty years at least it was the very model of a paternalistic enterprise — its founder had very high ideals and took a distinct interest in the welfare of the workers and their families.
Here’s the bibliography so far. (There are lots more cordage publications, too, that I haven’t looked into yet.):
The Plymouth Cordage Company; Proceedings at Its Seventy-fifth Anniversary
By Plymouth Cordage Company (1900)
Plymouth Memories of an Octogenarian
By William Thomas Davis
History of the Town of Plymouth
By James Thacher
Now wasn’t that cool to learn about ?
I know, me too, I love the library at our fingertips time we live in.
And I love that all these people are making their livings today by dabbling in centuries old traditions and crafts.
If you want to learn more about such endeavors, I encourage you to start by doing some of you own research, and I’ll make it really easy for you…
We here in the studio are sorting and packing and tweaking and altering as we get ready to roll northward for the Granary Gallery Show Opening on Sunday.
Humble appreciations for your patience as the website is being updated, our tech guru uses the word migrated which just sounds lovely. He has been our hero this week, rock solid and unflappable, as there are always some bumps in the road to progress and he is still answering my emails, even as the early bird catches her worms. ( I’m playing with the “migration” thing there…says the bleary eyed artiste…) Blessings upon you Ross.
Another HUGE, absolutely HUGE shout out of gratitude to pals Matt and Paul for not only offering, but actually showing up within minutes of my request for help. They came toting kayaks, as I had interrupted a float on the nearby lake, and swiftly and oh so carefully loaded the paintings into the trailer for us.
That is always a tricky part of this process, as the work of an entire year gets packed in a tiny aluminum box that needs to transport them safely over land and sea for their big reveal. It was shear bliss, in the hot and humid afternoon, to have two strong young men take on the hardest bits of that job. Their kindness and grace has cemented our friendship.
I’ve been instructed to scroll throughout the website and look for problems. Talk about asking for trouble. There are some glitches which we are addressing, again about the patience, but some unexpected feelings are popping up as well.
When sorting through 18 years of paintings, you are also reviewing the last 18 years of your life. Wasn’t expecting that, so I find myself swirling in emotional detours. Mostly pleasant, often happy, but with some pop-up grieving and twinges of longing mixed in.
Among many of the “missing” links we are scrambling to fix, I found a few golden oldies that tie in with some of this year’s paintings…
Lighthouse Wake – which shows the channel between Chappy and the Lighthouse.
In this year’s painting, Anchored in Autumn, I tweaked that a bit and moved the lighthouse just a few hundred yards to the left so I could get it in the composition. On the actual panel it was inches.
Then there was the year of the birds… And one of my personal favorites,
The Gutting –
This is a working dockside view of the Edgartown Yacht Club. The Vose Boathouse sits out of this frame but off to the right.
Where we are looking directly at it sitting there all happy to be in the water on a bright sunny day.
To be completely honest, there were many paintings upon my wild reviewing this morning that I had totally forgotten I had ever painted.
I’m sure it’s the stresses over the last few days… as I am equally certain it is the slippage of my aging gears.
But it is interesting to take some measure along the journey from there to here of my life behind the brushes.
Stay frosty out there my friends, our little family is all the better for you being in the world.
Step out with me onto this majestic wooden porch and into the glorious autumn air on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
What stretches out before you is Edgartown Harbor on a morning when only the stalwart working fisherman are plowing the waters sending out gently lapping waves in their wake.
I’ve been trying to find a way in to paint this harbor’s horizon line for years. When Anne Vose invited me to this boathouse last October, and I stepped out onto this porch I had found it.
In order to get the widest view of this historic waterfront, the perspective is a huge component in the composition. Long expanse of two and three story buildings means a wide panel with a thin line of tiny houses and a whole lot of sea and sky.
So to have the boathouse act as a frame and the boats in harbor to help provide a swing of direction for the eye it was possible for me to tell a richer story. One that connects the generations of an island family with the vibrant history and culture of an active island town.
I’ve given you an idea of some of the cobblestones on the road that lead me here.
Now I want to let you zoom in and see some of the brushstrokes that occupied the 80 days and 80 nights I spent at the easel to complete the journey…
…and I leave you with my personally favorite part of this painting…
After climbing down those long steep steps from the bluff and peeking around inside the room below we have climbed up again to the top floor of the boathouse.
Last fall I was invited by Anne Vose to join her on the porch and take an artistic measure of the historic structure.
While she and Pat sat in rockers outside solving all the problems of the world I explored the world of wonders within.
I talked, in The Changing Room painters notes, about the way the water reflects the sunlight back up into the room and bounces off the differing surfaces.
Up here, another level above the ocean, the angles are longer and sharper so they jut straight up into the corners of the veridian stained rafters and then ease down to those luscious wooden walls to nestle softly on the antique weavings of carpet and chintz.
And that light engages with every one of the deep rich colors inhabiting this chamber.
Those stairs rippling through the old glass in the back window are echoed in the black and white photo framed alongside. The robin’s egg blue that was once the only color on the glider’s frame repeats on the inside window frames then fades into a pale sage green on the mouldings’ exteriors.
The deep red of the oriental carpet is straight out of my Barok Red tube of Old Holland Paint, and the hunter green might as well have a fox running out ahead.
And then there are the faces… the teasing visages of the man carved in the table and the pastel of the flirtatious flapper.
Like the shiny dots of sunlight around the edges of the porcelain there was a glisten in the corner of her eye when Anne recounted the day the pilings were being repaired and one whole side of the boathouse collapsed into the harbor.
Not only can you trace the depth of the family’s roots through the objects in this room but you can understand the core feelings of love for this vintage island treasure in the emotional telling of that tale…
right up until she gets to the part where she chuckles and says…
not… one… single… plate… nor cream pitcher… or teacup…
to a boathouse in a harbor in what they call the shoulder season, those weeks between the chaos of summer with traffic and tourists and hot muggy sunburns, and the first frosts of the winter to come.
You arrive at the top of a very high bluff with a vast harbor spread out before you. Then you climb down and down and down two very long flights of white washed steps then across the wooden planked dock …
To he Vose Boathouse an historic architectural wonder built directly in the Edgartown Harbor. The family received a letter of approval from the war department in 1899 (it hangs on the wall today) for it to be built there and nothing says Vintage Vineyard like this space.
We will begin our painterly tour with a peak into that first door you come to just through the dock gate on the bottom floor into what I have called the changing room
The lovingly maintained wooden doors, with their inlayed repairs for repurposed hardware, line two walls with small locker rooms that each have windows framing expansive views of the harbor and out across to the tiny island of Chappaquiddick.
The light bounces softly across the water and lays like a butterfly on the kid glove surfaces of that weathered wood then sparkles off of the lacquered canoes and the worn ochre of an oar.
But my favorite part is that there are spaces in between each floorboard through which you can see the iridescent sea beneath.
As the sun slants in the October morning light the colors below are breathtaking.
From the classic canoe to the sweeping parsons bench there is something solidly New England here.
It was so quiet when I was working there that the only sounds were the gulls cawing overhead and the gentle lapping of the wakes as the working fisherman motored their way out past the boathouse out to sea.
I can picture it now… in a family filled summer with the noises of children wriggling into swimsuits and parents toting wicker baskets which the grandparents have stuffed with picnics and rainhats…
and through the years and all of that chaos and glee I can feel the boathouse enfolding them all like a great big cedar wrapped hug.
ow 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…