The big hay day

Well dear readers…

Today was the day.
After a couple read throughs of her books,


and heading down a few you tube rabbit holes…
and waiting for the weather to thaw…

Today Kory and I created our very own Ruth Stout garden bed.

Complete with a Ruth Stout memorial archway…

With the ground thoroughly frozen at the start of the day,
and mother nature shining a record breaking 65 degrees down upon us by mid-afternoon,
everyone was in high spirits to be spending a February day in t-shirts.

I laid out some cardboard and newspaper to define a border
and the stories in the Vineyard Gazette will be whispering to vegetables for years to come.

 

Let the deliveries begin…

After an early morning spent bearing witness for an immigration trial at the jail, my human rights hero, joined us to help supervise…

And one of the best parts of the day was watching how much fun Finn had playing in the hay. I didn’t get a good picture but she had such a big smile on her face…as if this fluffy soft bed was just a big gift for her.

 

Early on Kory could see that the ground was thawing rapidly so he made a lovely path…

By lunchtime we had almost two thirds completed.

Ruth recommended a good 8″ of mulch. She used spoiled hay because it was cheap since the farmers couldn’t feed it to their animals. After trying to find a ready source of that around here I decided, as you will recall from my last post, to use the regular bales available at our local supplier…thank you again Homer.

This chronicle is not meant as a how-to, interested gardeners will get much more pleasure out of reading Ruth’s own words of wisdom. I CAN report that there has already been much eyebrow raising, and not a little “mansplaining” from those who have heard of my plan.

Ruth had much to say about that…

“Naturally the neighboring farmers at first laughed at me; for a few years they doted on stopping in in the spring to ask if I didn’t want some plowing done. But, little by little, they were impressed by my results, and when they finally had to admit that the constantly rotting mulch of leaves and hay was marvelously enriching my soil, they didn’t tease me anymore. On the contrary, they would stop by to “have one more look” before finally deciding to give up plowing and spading and to mulch their own gardens.”

Originally I had planned to use straw bales as a border, which would provide some structure to run wire rabbit fencing all the way around and then available, directly upon disintegrating, to be tossed onto the mulching bed.

But we had much more hay than we needed to start out with so Kory used hay bales along the back edge and Him and Herself fetched another couple truckloads of straw to line the other sides. The straw is cheaper and won’t break down as fast as the hay, but all of it, as I repeat myself, will eventually be tossed onto the bed to provide the continuous mulching required to build the soil.

Fun fact…In the past years, when I was experimenting with strawbale gardening, it was quickly discovered that a fully grown studio rabbit is just the right height to reach up and nibble the tenders growing at the top of a bale.
A bit of wire fencing was enough to decide them that there were other delicacies requiring much less work elsewhere in my yard…and several of them have been quite happy enough with that arrangement to pose for me in between noshes…

Ahem…

Some tossing techniques…

It was simply a glorious day to be outside making those January dreams come alive..

Even though our entire yard is on a sloping angle, this section of the studio yard is full of underground springs and is a devil to mow because it’s a swamp on all but the driest days. One of the benefits of this mulching method is that there should no watering needed. Ruth described setting out a small lawn sprinkler only to give seeds a head start.

Time will tell if the mulch will be happy as happy as the rabbits with this arrangement.

By three o’clock we had finished the large bed, hay mulched a nearby flower bed as an experiment, put straw down between all the raised beds to make muddy spring passage a bit easier, in addition to Kory tackling all of the chores Miss Pat had on her to-do list.

The finished bed…

Kory replenished the firewood stack on the log cabin porch, and now we can sit back with our feet up in front of the fire and wait for winter to rain and snow on this creation and for all those lovely earthworms and critters to wiggle their way into Finn’s fluffy bed.

I figure we made a loosely consistent 18″ or so blanket of hay and built a 15 x 50 foot bed.

I also figure there are more of these warm weather breaks ahead, and I have a large pile of leaves which we can chop up a bit with the lawn mower and toss on the RS bed (that pile is frozen now). And from now on all of the garden waste and grass clippings will go on there as well.

I’ll still keep the compost piles going. We had great success last season sifting many wheel barrows of that home grown gold. The existing raised beds were put to bed with that gold in the fall so should welcome rotations of deeper root crops this year, and most of the leafy greens and such.

Our next project is to replace one of the first raised beds I built, the bottom boards are rotting away. So it will be just the place for a keyhole garden. Oh yes, I am. I’ve designed it to use the same galvanized corrugated aluminum which we used to repair the walls of the asparagus bed last year. With some tweaking and design updates I’m hoping to improve on our first attempts and make a more permanent structure that can double as a cold frame for winter greens. Stay tuned for more on that.

Expectations for the RS bed this year are low because of the time it will take to break all that hay down and begin to build a nutrient rich soil. Others who have tried this report it took a year or more to begin to have soil that would support deeper root crops. OK, so I will be planting potatoes. Ruth just pulls back her mulch and throws them directly on the ground and piles the hay back on top. Pretty much the way I’ve been growing them for a couple years so there ya go.

Gonna also try onions and leeks, brussel sprouts and kale, shell peas and edamame, and a big section of squash. I sow all the seeds I can fit in the studio and the greenhouse so I may start most of the RS bed plants by pulling back the mulch and adding a couple of inches of composted manure and peat before planting the seedlings.

And don’t forget that strawbale border can be planted in as well. Maybe with marigolds and nasturtiums with onions and turnips in between.
And a cascade of morning glories for the memorial arch.

Ahhh, what an absolute bliss of a gift this day was.

Thank you Kory for all that you do for us.
These two old ladies are so grateful.

Prowell Lawn Services at the ready…

And lest you think I have retired from my day job…

the greater irony of spending an entire day throwing hay around…

is that I have spent the last month doing my best to paint it.

No no, you will have to wait for those pics.

Suffice it to say,
I got PLENTY of up close and personal reference material today.

Now go and make your own dreams come true.

 

 

 


Dreams and Secrets

Feeling mournful on this morning,
I am finding the light I seek
in the wonders of a grandchild.

There are two new paintings
which I am packaging up today
to wing their way out to Santa Fe
to the Sugarman Peterson Gallery

May they bring you some peace.

Dreamcatcher  –  20 x 22

Not sure if it’s the finch or her perch
but this tender glancing gesture
reminds me of a little poem
by Micheal Longley…

 

A TOUCH

after the irish

she is the touch of pink
on crab apple blossoms
and hawthorn and she melts
frost flowers with her finger

 

AND…

“There are no secrets we keep from our shoes.”  –  16 x 20

Always willingly,
but quite unknowingly,
Zoe helped me tell a story
which I’d been wanting to tell
for many many years…

Shortly after his wife Polly died
my pal Ted brought down from the attic
tied together with one sturdy twined string
a pair of purple suede pumps,
saying Polly had wanted me to have these.

Then he told me the story
that, when on a trip to San Francisco,
they had bought this pair of shoes
for a special occasion
and Ted, being Ted,
had gussied them up with some sparkly silver painted swirls
and they, the Meinelts and their shoes
had danced the night away.

When it came time to pack for the trip home
the shoes wouldn’t fit in their suitcase.
So, Polly being Polly,
she slapped some shipping labels on the soles
tied them together with that twine
and dropped them in the closest US Mail box.

In gifting them to me
I understood that the torch of a challenge
had been passed.

Over the years
the sparkle paint has faded
but the purple of those pumps
has kept on popping that story
into my creative consciousness.

Along the way,
and true to form,
the Muses threw a title down like a gauntlet…

While listening to Alexander McCall Smith’s
The #1 Ladies Detective Agency series,
a perennial studio favorite,
the character Mma Grace Makutsi,
she who graduated at 97% in her secretarial class,
utters the line..
“There are no secrets we keep from our shoes.”

The context is a bit complicated to explain
and if you’ve read this far in these painter’s notes
then you probably are already familiar
with the conversations Grace has with her shoes,
and if you aren’t then you are in for a treat
as I believe there are up to 19 books in that series now
and no, I cannot remember well enough to credit the exact
volume in which this line appears, apologies to Mr. Smith.

What is relevant for our story here
is that I stopped the flying brushes
and wrote that line down
on a scrap of paper
which has made the cut  on every list
in each sketchbook since
of what I want to paint next.

So…
when Zoe was visiting the studio last summer
and she had emptied the drawer of all the aprons
and had carefully tied each one of them on
one on top of the other,
and she asked if I had any shoes to go with her outfit…

well there ya go.

It wasn’t until she took a break from all that cooking
and collapsed with a hrrrumph
into the comfy easel chair
and propped up her exhausted and aching feet
and the muses veritably SCREAMED at me
that I…finally…had my way in.

I don’t know whether this train
will take her all the way to Botswana
but I know with all my heart
that in her dreams…
those shoes are dancing.


Anchored in Autumn

Anchored in Autumn  –  74 x 48

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…


Philosopher Fisherman

Philosopher Fisherman  –  18 x 18

“When you look at some faces, you can see the turbulence of the infinite
beginning to gather to the surface. This moment can open in a gaze from a stranger,
or in a conversation with someone you know well. Suddenly, without their intending it
or being conscious of it, their gaze lasts for only a second. In that slightest interim,
something more than the person looks out.”
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

 

My pal Alex, the philosopher fisherman, is a muse of the most mysterious kind.

He arrives unannounced, on silent feet, and rings the bell
hanging ourtside my studio door…once.
One clear ring.
And never when I am listening for it, so it’s always a gift.

He is never empty handed.
Most often a fishing pole is leaned against the porch,
with a bit of tackle,
or a turtle
or a golf ball
or the bottom shard of an old bottle…
and then we talk.

Picking up right where we left off,
even if it was a year ago,
the conversation flits about according to where his curious eyes land
or where my wandering mind does.

It can bounce around all day,
or sit solidly on something heavy for a while.
All topics are worthy of our examination
and his curiosity is contagious.

One day
during the summer he was 14
he came bearing a turtle.
“I thought you would like to paint this”
I wasn’t entirely sure,
but brought my camera out,
rather than the turtle in,
and he held it in the sunshine for me to see.

It was a beautiful creature
with patterns and colors that we studied
under the tutelage of his vast knowledge of local nature.
He and his subject were reverential
of each other and I was just there to record.

It was a while before I saw him again,
and in the interim I sorted through those photos
to see if anything connected with the brushes.

What snapped my heartstrings was his face.
The presence and the peace that was a young boy
just beginning to tip into adolescence.

I made some notes and put it aside.

The next time I saw Alex,
was a hot summer afternoon.
He had been fishing after a morning of chores
and was shirtless and sunburned with the creek
dripping off of his sneaks.

The muses struck…
What wasn’t working from that first photo shoot
was that he had been wearing very dark eyeglasses.
I asked him to pose again as now I could
clearly see all of his face.

So we found a turtle sized rock
and tried to recreate the scene.

And then another year went by.

I found myself reviewing the two sets of photos,
knowing it was time to work on this painting.
But what I had before me was a dramatic contrast.

Alex holding the turtle was clearly a young boy.
Alex holding the turtle stone was absolutely a young man.

I really labored over this one.
In the end I decided to do both,
eventually the turtle will surface.

But I had been reading the poetry of John O’Donohue,
the brilliant poet from Ireland,
and came across his writings On Beauty.
Just slayed me.

And centered me squarely on this gentle face.
The landscape of this young man
written across that brow
brimming with confidence
pale cheeked innocence fading
into those widening sunwashed shoulders.

Here is my handsome Muse
only last week
taming another wild creature
on my studio porch.

Drum on kind Sir.

 


Anna’s Woodshed

Anna’s Woodshed  –  18 x 21

Anna Kuerner and her husband Karl immigrated from their home in Germany
to Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania.

Together with their growing family, they farmed a hillside
which now is filled with buttercups in the spring.

I stood amongst those buttery yellow harbingers
on a warm afternoon in May
studying the wide stuccoed front porch
of their 19th century farmhouse
and noticed a break in the solid rectangular lines
of the main house.

Around back
when you first step into the kitchen
this doorway is to your left.

Through it you can see a passageway
from the kitchen
and then the window
and on into the room.

Karl built this woodshed
attached to the house
so that Anna,
who insisted on cooking with a wood fired oven,
would not have to go out in inclement weather
to fetch her fuel.

On this stormy
creek flooding
weather heavy day…

I’d say there’s a special kind of love
in that gesture.

PS- Pat requested a second blog post today. It’s been a tad stressful here and she says that these posts make her happy. So, here ya go Babe. Love, me.


Tashmoo Morning

Tashmoo Morning  –  30 x 48

Only last night
I got a text from Katie saying…
“Miss driving with you. And Ted”

Ted Meinelt was a very special person
for both of us.

So, to keep his memory alive
Katie and I began a tradition
of going on…Ted Drives.

There are no rules,
plenty of snacks,
sometimes bags of knitting,
and always an unexpected adventure.

We started out by honoring Ted’s unique
knowledge of the island and its’ history
by taking each other to places off the beaten tracks.

Katie took me on a walking tour of
the MV African-American Heritage Trail sites
in and around Oak Bluffs.

I took her into the creepy
corners of the old Marine Hospital
before it began the renovation
to become the home for the MV Museum.

Like Ted had done for us,
being both Muse and Mentor,
we were in search of subjects to paint
and island stories to learn.

We are both older
and braver now
and our explorations
have become a bit more challenging.

On one of our trips last October
we got out the map
and decided to head for a spot
on the northern shore.

It was a dark and stormy day.
One of those island days when
there is no space between the sky and the sea
and the clouds sit right down beside you on the road.

Our first destination was to find
the hidden coves of Lake Tashmoo.

Now the road out there is
a sandy trail of solid ruts
some of which could easily
have swallowed small children
and large volkswagons.

I’m talking 16 wheel drive.

Narrow enough in spots that
we were pulling our elbows in
even though the windows were closed.

This goes on for what feels like
three months or three hundred miles
but eventually you do come to a clearing
and then the backs of a scattering of houses
whose fronts face the ocean…

and then this.

From the town beach
looking back across the choppy lake
and deep into a thick bank of fog.

Though later in the day,
when we followed yet another very long
and spiderweb lined trail,
we were pleased to arrive at a
wide open grassy plain filled with sunshine…

the only bright spot on Lake Tashmoo beach
that morning
was the happy smile
of my navigator.

Next time Katie…
it’s your turn to drive.

 


Spindrift

Spindrift  –  20 x 22

Rope
and boats
on the sea.

Remember that spinning loft ?
All those woven fibers.
This painting started out to be about the boat.

Behind that cross of knotted rope
is the hull of a whaleboat
suspended from the rigging
along the side of the Charles W. Morgan
come to rest in the harbor
of the Mystic Seaport Museum.

The muses wanted to tell
a different story.
Distill the elements
down to the three..

The rope
the boat
and the sea.

I found a Yankee Magazine video…

of the historic modern day voyage
that the MS Museum made possible in 2015.
Like a freshening breeze,
it takes us onboard the ship
for an upclose look at what it takes
to get her under sail.

And what I saw…
Rope.
Thousands of yards
of Rope.

HUZZAH !
to all who invested
time and treasure
to bring this magnificent
vessel back to life.


The Captains Quarters

The Captains Quarters  –  24 x 36

We have climbed the gangplank and boarded the Charles W. Morgan.

Towards the bow of the vessel, just to the right of the great steering mechanism at the helm, there is a narrow winding passage of stairs leading down below the main deck and into the Captain’s quarters. On the right is a room that slants into the bow of the ship, with an elegant sweep of a settee with room enough for a Windsor chair and a small writing desk. Step down and through a doorway to the left and you enter this chamber.

The private sleeping quarters for the captain…a separate cheerie little chamber having been built for at least one of the captain’s wives up on the main deck where she could be relieved of her claustrophobia and seasickness.

The Mystic Seaport Museum has a sign hanging on the other side of that louvered door on the left …

See at the very end there, where it describes the “gimbaled bed”.

That was a fun thing to paint. It looks funny without legs, and I kept wanting to make it level but that’s how it rolls.

What drew me to spend a few weeks inside this chamber was the light. For a dark and close space, this room was filled with many sources of light bouncing within. I found it a happy place to be but I have seen Master and Commander, many many times, and I’m not sure I would have been cut out to sleep anywhere in that ship…
during a storm…
on the high seas.

 


Granary Gallery 2018

I am pleased to invite you all to the island of Martha’s Vineyard for the opening of my 2018 show at the Granary Gallery.

Sunday August 5, from 5-7pm

I’ve been in a full tilt painting sprint since January and I laid the last of the brushes down only a few hours ago.

The work this year takes us to a few new places, has a few new faces, and takes some head long dives into depth and detail.

I’m as eager as I’ve ever been to launch the annual rollout of New Paintings. It will be the first chance I get to see them as an entire show. During the long months of production, the finished works are set aside to dry in stacks throughout the studio until it is time to begin varnishing and photographing. Due to space limitations here, this happens in stages and until I walk into the gallery on the afternoon of the show, the first glimpse I get of them all together is on this blog as I unveil them to you…dear viewers.

So let’s get right to it…

Let’s take a boat to Mystic…

The Cooper’s View  –  24 x 28

There are a couple threads of themes which run through the 14 paintings for this year’s show. This painting weaves two of them together. Mystic and Me.

When I was a young girl living in Swarthmore, PA, our family would escape the dangers of Mischief Nights around Halloween and drive up to New England. I have vivid memories of exploring Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. My father loved boats and was building a wooden model of the Cuttysark around that time, and some of those interests filtered down to me…but I didn’t appreciate it back then.

What drew me in was the Cooperage. The Mystic Seaport Museum is a magical collection of all things maritime and wooden boat building and seafaring lore. A historic seaport village, along the banks of the Mystic River, brings maritime life in the 1800’s… alive.

From their website…“The buildings you see aren’t replications–they’re trade shops and businesses from the 1800s that were transported to Mystic Seaport from locations around New England. The village is made up of many bustling maritime trades, from shipsmiths and coopers to woodcarvers and riggers.”

So picture a 10 year old girl, whose three younger brothers are running off the energy from the long car ride, while she walks into the dark and dusty cave of the Cooperage.

( I have added a link here to the museum’s website where you can watch a nice little video and see inside the place for yourself.)

I was fascinated.

A small shack full of wooden barrels, and piles of wood shavings, and a shaving horse…

Fast forward about 20 years or so and look where that little girl was sitting…

I wielded my own drawknife for a decade making chairs and spoons and baskets and such. Then I put down the woodworking tools and picked up the brushes.

Fast forward another 20 years and that little girls has just turned 60.

And, on one of her now regular trips to New England, she returned to Mystic and once again stood inside the dark wooden den of the Cooperage…and turned around.

The Cooper’s View is just that. On this crisp fall day the sunlight bounces off of the t’gallant sails being raised on The Morgan which is docked just outside of the shop.

The Charles W. Morgan is the last of the American whaling fleet and was painstakingly restored at the Mystic Seaport Museum. (here’s a link to the museum’s website with a complete history and chronicle of her restoration…Click Here.)

We will go on board that ship in tomorrow’s blog post, but linger here a while and soak in the salty air and take a closer look at that rigging…

enjoy the playful pastel diagrams drawn inside…

and study the roman numerals carved on the barrel stays…

The artiste has taken license, in an autobiographical way, and added her own hatchet and well worn drawknife to authenticate the pastiche.

It was deeply moving for my 60 year old self to stand in that shop again and realize that I’ve come full circle, and back around yet another one, to complete a creative cycle that my 10 year old self didn’t even know how to dream of.

We are just getting started…buckle up.

 


All Politics Is Local

All Politics Is Local…Available at the Sugarman Peterson Gallery in Santa Fe

It is always powerful
on this day each year
to listen to the journalists at NPR
read the Declaration of Independence

This year it gave me chills.