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.
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.
“Always approach the shrimp bowl as you own it.” Mary McGrory
‘Tis the season…of Shrimp Mousse
In the all kitchens of my adulthood Along the margins of each recipe Tucked and retucked inbetween the pages of all the cookbooks I have written in tiny script some words to mark the making and the maker each time I make my way back to that particular recipe.
A trail of micro journaled jigsaw pieces which periodically get reassembled as I return to refresh the ingredient lists for old and new favorites.
Yesterday, after chatting with dear Peg about birds and pity and beaches and pools, I pulled out the well worn card with her original instructions for her shrimp mousse.
It has been updated and upgraded and tweaked over the years, but the bones remain strong and the sentiment has become crystalized.
The first entry I wrote on the card was…
1 Jan 2000 – The world has celebrated. We made it ! Now for some special treats to start off the new millenium.
What follows are regular entries just about that time almost every year with the exception of the few years interim when I seem to have lost that original card. I do remember the desperate searching but it seems that the Muses returned it a few years ago…
22 December 2016 – Thought I had lost this recipe – but in the wild autumn of home repairs -when both kitchens had to be redone – it was found. Now we are in the dark ages – and need some peace.
And here we are… planning on making a double batch I sat down with all three of the Shrimp Mousse incarnations and when Herself wandered into the studio kitchen I was smiling through tears.
Chronicled on that little slip of paper was celebrating the “first day of full time Artisanship” The last walk with our Gulliver and the first snowy Christmas with Finn and this year’s entry made all the more special to be able to write that we are all still together around that kitchen table a bit gimpier and slower afoot and settled deeply into our seasons of happiness.
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.