So as artists who read tea leaves and listen for patterns in the airwaves we are always out there on that ledge awaiting signals from the Muse.
The Art Galleries in this world are finding new ways to represent artists and connect patrons to their work. The Granary Gallery is OPEN for business now. The staff reports that people are excited to visit and respectfully wearing masks. They have a new footpath to safely direct people through the indoor galleries and the wonderful open air courtyard is full of ocean breezes and…ART !!!
Facing the many challenges which the world has thrown at us so far this year have taken me away from the easel for an unimaginable amount of time. I’ve shared some of those challenges here in these Postcards, and others are, like yours, privately kept.
But it is time now to start showing you what paintings I have been able to produce…so far.
I want to start with the one closest to my heart…and soul…
Signaling Home – 24 x 36
I haven’t written the Painter’s Notes yet. All my energies need to be focused on finishing the gigantic panel which is on the easel in time to send it up to the island for what will be a crazy summer of exhibitions without openings.
For now, as I expect most of you will already see, this one says everything about who I am, where I’ve come from and where I hope the road will take me.
There’s more to come so… stay tuned stay safe and stay frosty out there.
Summer begins here with a whisper. Gonna let the warm air dry out the grass before I take on the mowing which needs to be done before we can plant the last of the seedlings which needs to be done before the week is out so while I’m waiting for grass to dry I’ll paint.
Memorial Day – 2013
From the Reclamation Series
Reclamation – An exploration of a hidden island treasure
Hidden vistas, historic vineyard homesteads, echoes of vintage islanders, the tools of their trades and the marks they have left in the wake of their time here are meaningful touchstones for the muses and vivid fodder for the creative soul. So it was, that when I sat down at my studio table a few months ago and read in the Vineyard Gazette about the Martha’s Vineyard Museum acquiring the old Marine Hospital building in Vineyard Haven, I was eager to see it for myself.
The Marine Hospital was built in 1895 and sits on a prominent hill overlooking what had only a few years earlier, in 1871, assumed its modern name of Vineyard Haven. Over the last hundred plus years it had become obscured by the substantial growth of oaks, maples and at least one Siberian Elm whose towering beauty still envelopes one entire wing. I’m probably not the only visitor, when hailing the island from the upper deck of the ferry, to be surprised by its stalwart presence on the horizon, after the museum returned the landscaping to its earlier state. While the clearing reveals an old friend on the town’s skyline, it also restores the dramatic view from atop that hill looking out over the expanse of lagoon and harbor and Vineyard Sound.
My curiosity was satisfied when Denys Wortman, MV Museum Board member whose Vineyard roots are deeply woven into the fabric of the island, graciously guided me on a tour of the building last October. He filled me in on the history of the building which was a 30 bed state of the art hospital treating islanders, soldiers in both World Wars I and II, and sailors who passed through the busy port. It boasted the island’s first x-ray machine and elevator in a brick addition which was built in 1938. Walking through its cavernous hallways we peered around the blackened walls of the darkroom where those x-rays were developed and explored the operating room and its alcoves.
The hospital was de-commissioned in the early 1950’s and the St. Pierre family took over its care and ran a summer camp there up until 2006. You can see echoes of those happy campers in the murals of sailboats painted on the wall in one of the bright corner rooms. The building is infused with light by virtue of the many tall windows and the glassed transoms over the doorways which let that light cascade deeply into the space. When I remarked on the graceful woodwork and the way each of the stuccoed corners was wrapped in a slender finial-capped turning of mahogany, Denny said there is someone on the island who has some extra pieces of those in a barn as his father was one of the craftsmen who worked on the building.
It’s that kind of lore which excites me and makes this building special. From the half-tiled walls to the pressed tin ceilings, the patched and re-patched plastered surfaces and the ornately decorated cast iron radiators, the juxtaposed textures of weathered brick and smoothly polished patina of creamy porcelain, to the greening of the old copper and the deep marine blue painted baseboards that anchor the vaulted spaces to solid ground… the architecture is elegant in its simplicity and charms the esthetic heart.
I returned to the building many times during that autumn visit and tried to experience how the light and shadows changed over the course of a day. One morning Denny met me and brought along the museum flag. When I stepped outside to walk across the wide expanse of front lawn to help him raise it I commented on how there wasn’t a cloud in the crisp October sky. “Pilots call that Severe Clear”, he replied.
Back in my Pennsylvania studio when I was looking through the sketches and notes I had taken I found that I had written down that phrase and, for almost every morning of the dozens of days it took me to paint this view from the balcony, the spring sky here was brilliantly cloudless…so the title fits.
I didn’t start out to make this a series, but as I finished each painting and saw them leaning along the studio walls it became clear that together they were beginning to tell a deeper story. One which the building itself had to tell. I wasn’t there to be a witness to the bustle of its early hospital days, or the loneliness of the few years that it sat vacant, or the second incarnation as children’s voices filled the hallways, but the spirits of those who moved through the corridors during its lifetime were present and as I studied and listened I was beginning to see the first inklings of its next chapter.
The museum had begun to move some of its acquisitions into the future home, and I found a particularly symbolic beauty in the dear old row boat that was resting against the standpipe in the downstairs hallway. Through the open door behind it you could just catch a hint of the mural depicting the “Sweet 16” Menemsha wooden sailboat. A real life version of which is tarped over and grounded on blocks outside and just around the corner. Though a fair enough challenge to capture the building and the boat faithfully in all their weathered-chip-painted glory… I had a blast painting them both.
And I learned something about myself as an artist over the months of producing this collection of paintings. With each one I dug a little deeper into the surfaces, took more time to study the textures and stepped further out on that edge of rendering. I went from seeing the rooms first as vessels of color and light and then slowly, as details came into sharper focus, a sort of map would appear. A map of stories. Those finely chiseled cracks in its well used surfaces were asking to be painted honestly and I had to find the courage to listen and to work harder at seeing the building…and myself.
The morning’s laundry is getting a second rinse cycle from the passing shower. Great gusts of wind blew through the holler a few minutes ago. And we have come to a sad conclusion.
We will not be making the trip to Martha’s Vineyard for my annual Granary Gallery Show.
Pat always counseled her Hospice patients that ambivalence is what eats you up…and there are no wrong decisions. So we made the call.
We still know so little about this virus, but the course of the pandemic appears relentless and we in this family trust science and revere scientists and health experts.
Chris reports that the gallery is making preparations to open when the governor and health inspectors give the all clear. As with all businesses large and small many modifications will need to be made for the safety of staff and patrons. It’s early days but we agreed that gatherings like show opening cocktail parties with dozens to hundreds of people are not possible. We are grateful that he and the stellar staff are willing to try and help keep their artists afloat and we know that in a crisis like this humans seek beauty.
There are also issues for those of us who call Martha’s Vineyard a spiritual home but do not…as yet…have keys to the place. Like many resort destinations, The Vineyard is challenged by so many residents and businesses relying on tourism for income, and like all of us the islanders are divided about how and when to allow that commerce to resume.
We straddle both camps but are choosing not to risk the health of our friends by possibly bringing more virus to their already limited health care system. And with highly vulnerable risk factors, we are choosing not to take the chances that days of travel and higher concentrations of humans would bring to our own health.
So, while we are not going to the island…
The PAINTINGS ARE !!!
And that is my challenge.
I am going to need help.
And more than a few miracles of supply chain timing…Julie get ready !
But the plan is now to have the paintings there at the gallery for whatever sort of viewing they can muster. There are plans for a Virtual Vernissage, I just made that up but it’s a good one. And I am beginning to ponder on what I can do from here that will enable me, or at least my virtual self, to be present as well.
If any of you have ideas throw them out. Like I said, I’ll need help.
So now it’s time to get back to work.
Feels like a good time to feature the place where I expect to be working hard for the next few months…
Stay extra frosty out there…we’ll get through this.
That’s how the light gets in – 2013
This painting began with the title, a line from the wonderful Leonard Cohen song, Anthem whose chorus goes like this…
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in
And it was taped to my easel for over a year. Now, everything on, or pretty much near, my easel eventually becomes a wiping surface for my brushes. After that much time the tattered notation was almost completely obscured by paint. But still, it and all the other quotations that surround me there are doing their job.
They are there to nudge, and in some cases to shove, my fears and doubts and ego and shaky confidence all aside. There are notes of encouragement, interesting thoughts that I lifted from the books I listen to while working, reminders when to plant garlic, and, like this one, words or phrases that I thought would be good painting titles that need time to percolate.
In addition to the notes, I have a support system of talismans. Objects that are touchstones to people and memories that have had profound influences on my creative journey. The ones featured in this painting include the well worn denim shirt, on the back of which is embroidered the cartoon character of Ziggy hand sewn for me by my very first patron, Stephanie, whose never wavering support began in our high school days.
And there is the also well worn railroad hat from my beloved Pops, Fred Decker. There’s a great photo of him wearing that hat, which is taped to the shelf behind my easel chair, wherein he is sitting next to my grandmother Mima, on the sofa in Craley, being mischievous together before they became leaders in my pack of guardian angels .
The old niblick, wooden golf putter, has been re-serviced as my mahl stick, holding up my favorite teacup is the beach stone which was handed to me by Mr. Morse and which echoes the deep connection to those Vineyard shores… and, most importantly, looking down from above is the photograph of Herself taken on the bluff in Chilmark where our hearts were joined.
The window to the left provides the light that I need to see the panels, but the true light, the authentic self which I am constantly seeking, shine back at me from these precious objects.
The first crop is harvesting this week and it has made all the difference.
We lost a couple plants… not to frost but to squirrels…so to have something fresh to eat from the garden is heartening.
This will be a short post…My friend Peter reports that most of his thousands of viewers who tune in to his online video tutorials last no more than 10 minutes. Their loss.
Short for me today because the sun in shining.
That elusive orb that so many of us have been sorely missing is blazing away here in the studio yard so it was time to try out our new wash set up.
I spent way too long yesterday in the garage building the wringer mentioned in the last blog post.
It is always fun for this former woodworker to pick up her tools and play. It got complicated yesterday as the workshop is full of a winter of discontent and my usual workbench was not accessible. I had to choose between the vice and the chop saw. The saw won so I cleared this spot out in the back…
This was a borrowed design from youtube which I had to modify. Quite a bit of modify as it turned out. The rolling pin on the bottom had to turn freely but the top one needed to be stationary. All I could find was one of my precious last chair posts…this one in walnut no less. I hated to cut that 48″ down to 15″ but needs must.
I loved climbing over the quarantine stations on the porch to sit for a spell on the shaving horse again…
I’m going to take Peter up on his offer to turn what parts I might need for this machine because I think the two rollers should be a pair of the same size. But that’ll be the upgraded version after I work out the current kinks.
With today’s sunshine…
we took the plunge…
I gotta say I’m a bit shocked that it actually works. I heard from many of you on FB after I posted a video of Herself trying this thing out that you remember vividly your grandmothers’ advice to keep your finger outta there…Even a story from Lodi about Aunt Imy remembering an incident with her mother and a tender body part.
Seeing as our motto here is Tit’s UP…I’ll just say that’ll be essential to remember on wash day.
With a bit of practice…and lordy we will be getting that…this part of our new world order might be manageable. And getting to spend time outside amongst the blooming lilacs…
That’ll do pig. That’ll do.
Today was supposed to be the first day of the Sheep and Wool Festival. They have concocted an online experience …
For which I applaud them. But I am personally glad that I found two fleece before this event. The virtual fleece sale online is just links to venders and I had hoped for good pics and details about each entry. Very confusing. I’m going to go outside now and open mine up and pick around to see what shape they are in.
I have ordered some carding combs. Think Edward Scissorhands. Extremely scary looking things. But it’s time to kick my spinning game up a notch and that’s just one lesson I’m taking from this crisis. If not now…when.
That’s it for now.
If anyone is still reading…here’s your bonus gift.
Be not afraid…
Noli Timere – 2016
Be not afraid.
I called her Scout.
Because, I knew I was going to be spending a lot of intimate hours with this sheep and she needed a name.
Because, on the day I started this painting, the news came across the airwaves that Harper Lee had died.
And because I wanted to be just like Atticus’ curious, strong, loyal and fiercely brave daughter Scout.
It was late in February when I began this painting. We were deep into a very rough winter of care-giving and hospice nursing for Pat’s elderly aunt and uncle.
His death in November left a wife of 72 years to grieve through the cobwebs of Alzheimers.
Two days after I began this painting, Aunt Mary died, in the dark hours between dusk and dawn, while Pat slept on the floor beside her bed.
The afternoon before, out of a deep state of rest, Mary sat up in bed and cried, Pat, help me, I’m so afraid.
Taking her hand Pat comforted Mary with the words that her room was full of angels, and all of them were there to take her to Bob.
Pat’s art is her compassion. She was born to be a hospice nurse. It is hard, meaningful work, that only someone strong, and fiercely brave can do.
Her courage runs fathoms deep.
The grief that followed Mary’s death, was interrupted by waves of peace.
In the wake of that chapter in our lives, I was drawn into a profound intensity of focus, as I tried to shine some light on the emotions that were trying their best to hide.
Scout and I spent those weeks together, weaving our way through her pasture of grasses, and catching the sunset in the fibers of her fleece.
I had been listening to Louis Penny’s wonderful Three Pines Mystery series, and was so happy to be among the old friends her characters have become. They are real, and honest, loyal and brave. Spiked with just enough wit and humor to keep my pencils sharp.
At some point, most likely when I was struggling with refracting the rainbow of light through one of those four hundred million locks, I caught a new word, and paused the book to go back and listen again.
She was describing the words that Seamus Heaney had written to his wife, on his deathbed…
I put down the brushes. Scout smiled.
As I am writing this now, in this troubled world, with so much to fear, I am sitting next to Scout, framed in her quiet island pasture, searching my soul for the courage… to listen.
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.