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.
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…
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.
Not sure if it’s the finch or her perch but this tender glancing gesture reminds me of a little poem by Micheal Longley…
after the irish
she is the touch of pink on crab apple blossoms and hawthorn and she melts frost flowers with her finger
“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.
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…
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.