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.
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.
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.
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.