As squalls of snow flurries surround the studio, the artist within is happily ensconced in her hermitage and the brushes are flying. Had a bookend of visits with Peter Follansbee last week so his painting gets the pride of place here today.
I’ve been away from this portal for so many months that there is a towering pile of posts waiting to be written. Look for me to promise a regular flow of entries, but I’d hedge those bets. My energies and attention span tends to be hyper focused at the easel when I return from weeks away.
While the weather freezed me out of the garden, and the darkness deepens into the solstice, the dust collects on every other corner of the studio except where I and my brushes are at work.
But I’ve taken a quick break to visit the office today because I need to give you a heads up about the prints offered here on my site.
Due to the increased costs of paper and ink the price of prints will be following suit.
Figure I would return the kindness of your years of support by giving you all a heads up…so I’ll wait another month or so and make the price changes take effect on January 31, 2020.
The small prints will go from $95 to $125 The large prints will go from $195 to $225 And I will be charging a flat shipping rate of $12 for all tubes, multiple prints can be shipped in one tube and will only be charged once.
The Menemsha Basin and Strider Prints will remain at their current prices for now.
OK, that’s done.
Now back to my snuggly spot by the heater in the corner with my Muses.
Stay frosty out there and thank you all for being there. H
I was working at the Harvard Coop which was then quite a hopping place. In the middle of Harvard Square was a tiny alley paved in colonial cobblestone called Palmer Street. At the top of that alley was a hole in the wall music cafe called Club Passim. If you are of a certain age and had a soul that craved folk music then you already knew that.
I went to their website just now to get my facts right and it would appear it first came on the scene the year I was born, 1958, in the form of Club 47. That’s sorta fun. In 1969 it was established as the Club Passim that I came to know and love. It boasted the likes of Baez and Dylan taking the postage stamp of a stage. In my era I saw Tom Rush, Suzanne (New York City) Vega, Shawn Colvin.
But I had a unique view of that musical mecca. Literally.
Just across the alley and up one floor was the closet of a frame room which I managed for most of that decade. And for the first part of that tenure it was a windowless workshop. Until…while on a muffin break, I came up the stairs from the basement club and looked up. Huh. I never really gave it much thought but there are windows up there…where my desk was…only I faced plywood when I framed.
There was always a big turnover in that frameroom…think young college students and musicians needing work to bridge the gap until the rest of their lives came calling. On that day I had a particularly crazy group of framers who actually did go on to become musicians. Look up Sluggo…I dare you. He is a founding member of The Grannies.
A band which I am too musically challenged to classify but I can attest to the fact that Dug, excuse me Sluggo, was and is one of the grandest humans in the land. Big big heart that guy. It gives my own heart tremendous pleasure to add that he now owns and operates FRAME, voted 2017 winner of best frame shop in San Francisco.
So, with all that burgeoning creative energy working around me, I hurried up the back stairs to the closet and started pulling things off the makeshift shelving in front of what I now knew was a window. We began with a drill. A very small hole. And the light poured in.
Over the course of what I remember as a few days we enlarged that hole and waited to see if anyone discovered us. Then we got out a saw. A very small saw. After which we had a deck of card sized hole. Waited a bit more but at this point we could actually see the weather. The next phase brought us what I remember being a horizontal rectangle about the length of a pair of my reeboks at the time. And that’s where Club Passim re-enters the story.
I could now see the top of their steps.
Where I once saw Nanci Griffith ( big fan ) leaning against the brick wall with one elbow on her guitar case and the other one lifting a cigarette to her lips. We could watch the lines form for evening concerts and the occasional film crew that came through. One famous actor (Follansbee would remember his name, Gene Wilder and Sidney Poitier come to my mind) had to run through the alley carrying a dozen eggs which he bobbled and splattered on the cobblestones. They had to clean the whole mess up after every take of which I saw three.
And here’s were the painting comes in…
I could also look down from my peep hole perch and see…my saxophone goddess.
Her name I have forgotten but not her long curly red hair…and her chops. She would throw her case open and lean into some sweet jazz that wafted on the salty Cambridge air straight up to our window and into my heart. When I saddled my nerve I tossed a quarter in her case and asked if she gave lessons.
In my brief career as a sax player I learned two songs. As Time Goes By from Casablanca, and Cannonball Adderly’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.
The instrument has traveled with me lo these many decades since and somehow the muses found it this winter and brought it down from the old prop room as a dare.
As you see, I called their collective bluff, but it started, as many paintings do, with a simple gesture…
Our renegade window did eventually get spotted. Some big wig saw the light emanating from it as I worked late one night. I got all kinds of yelled at and we had to cover it back up, which may or may not have been a clandestinely removable patch.
In my dreams now it is open and I can see the stars above the chimneyed rooftops.
And I have told Herself that if I go first she will know every time she hears a saxophone… it’ll be me.
Having Peter Follansbee for a best friend for over half my life has been pretty damn great.
A lot of people know him now, he’s a famous woodworker, teacher, and …philosopher.
But what most of those people don’t know… is that his mother Mary was a rock star.
I never knew anyone who didn’t think the world of Mary Follansbee, and I wouldn’t want to spend five seconds on a park bench with anyone who says otherwise.
She held a family of five kids together after her husband died way too early and ruled that roost with an iron skillet of a soul and a Boston Irish yell the memory of which can still make my spine snap right on up.
She challenged her righteous catholic faith openly, had little time for sarcasm but had all the time in the world to listen for the truth.
Her devotion to civil rights was on a cellular level and love was the solid core from which she moved through the world.
I miss her…her fierce abiding love…and her popovers…every day.
Those of you seeing this painting, or reading these notes, will know how important birds are in Peter’s life. He’s as fanatical about them now as he used to be about the Boston Celtics. No painting of Peter would even try to tell the whole story without an ornithological reference.
But what you may not know is that it was Mary who taught him to love those birds.
And the very first bird that she taught him to recognize was…the cedar waxwing.
So she’s there just over his shoulder his biggest champion who would be mighty proud to know that his children can spot a cedar waxwing from a country mile away.
Beautiful December sunrise light bouncing all around us as Finn and I made our icy commute from log cabin to studio. She opted for an early morning nap while I sat at the kitchen table and clicked the knitting needles and gave the muses plenty of open space.
Last night I put the last touches on a portrait of my pal Peter. It was wonderful to come over these last few days knowing I would be spending it with him. But now, time to move on. Usually, and by that I mean 99% of the time, by the time I am winding down one painting there are at least two or three others competing for the easel. But by the time Herself came over mid-morning she found me roaming aimlessly around the studio…still pondering.
We sat together at the table and she listened as I rambled and a few ideas did start to pop. She reminded me to write them down, so I made some quick doodles, and the energy lifted. She left to do some shopping and I sat down at the computer and began playing with some of the thousands of photo references on file.
At sixty, I know that it takes more than a list of subjects, or a collection of still life objects to start working on a composition. In order to sustain the energy required to give my total attention, over the course of the days and weeks it takes to create a painting, I must feel the spark. My way in. It can be the challenge of a new subject, or the challenge of rendering a familiar subject in a new way, or a particular emotional connection, or the whimsy of finally telling the story behind a few words, which held the promise of a great title, and had been scribbled on a, now well worn and dog-eared, slip of paper taped to the easel.
I KNOW it when it clicks… and so far today… nada.
I keep telling those who ask, that being a mature artist means I know when to get out of my own way. After six hours of sitting here at the computer scanning for that spark, and sketching and re-working a new composition which I originally had thought was going to be a sure winner, one which would be easy to tweak and get to the panel quickly…I can see now how I fell right down the rabbit hole and into that old trap..quite firmly planted directly in my own way. If the muses don’t show up…there ain’t gonna be a ball game.
When Pat came home from her errands I was hopelessly lost. I explained what I thought the problem with that composition was and asked for her fresh eyes. Eh…no sparks on her end either. So, I threw in the towel and decided to pour my vapid thoughts all over this page.
What I’ve come up with, whilst writing, is that this current crisis of creativity is yesterday’s problem.
I’ll set the stage…
I had an hour to fill while I waited for Katie’s Women’s Study class to call me for a facetime thingy…something about which I was very nervous. They had been in the Granary Gallery last week using the artwork there as fodder for a discussion about gender in art.
Here’s a shot, which I believe one of the gallery associates took, of them studying my painting, Celeste envies Ruth.
After their sojourn, Katie thought it would be interesting to pose their questions and thoughts directly to the artist. I got a tutoring session on how to make the technology work and we scheduled a date.
So, while my nervous self was waiting for the phone to ring yesterday morning, I picked up a pencil…and BAM the Muses snuck up behind me, grabbed the pencil and in minutes they had fleshed out one of those old dog-eared notations-of-an-idea which had laid dormant, after several failed attempts to work out a solid composition, on other fractalled days like today when I had tried to show up for work without them.
You probably won’t see what I see here, but this is the sketch…
Five minutes later the phone rang, and I had a grand old time answering their questions and listening to their thoughts. I particularly loved them pondering which apron was Ruth and which Celeste, and their takes on why. They sure left me thinking, and that may have been why the Muses were exploring their own interpretations of gender roles in art.
Originally I had just a title, A Boston Marriage.
I’ll leave it there for now, it’s entire evolution won’t be complete until this fat lady sings… but armed with this new sketch, and the lingering energy of the collective Woman’s Studies class, I was eager to get to work.
I already had my models in waiting…and waiting..and waiting…since I first approached them with this request over two years ago. And we have plans to see them for dinner this weekend…but scheduling modeling time now that the Muses have arrived means postponing the fun of digging into this painting for potentially days or weeks.
And there you have it. I needed a workaround. Alas, I stepped all over the creative flow with today’s failed attempts to “fill in” the gap between that project, for which I have found the spark, with something equally compelling that will be the work of days rather than weeks.
Frustrating to waste one of these precious days when I have nothing but lifting brushes on the agenda. This month has far too many interruptions on the calendar to allow me to pull up the drawbridge. That will happen the minute the new year bells chime.
So, rather than call this day a complete wash, I have now used you dear readers to help me work through this…
And Herself, who has just texted me this from her snuggly sofa in the cabin…
“What painting are you working on ? Asking for a friend (insert red heart emoji)”
My response… I’m writing a blog about NOT coming up with a painting idea.
Well, tomorrow at this time we will be pulling into Mystic for our first stop on the way to the island. And so it is fitting to use this last blog post before the show to catch you up on the investigation into that carving on the spinning wheel at the Mystic Seaport Museum.
THIS JUST IN…
Remember this painting…
The Spinning Loft
And do you remember the detail shot of the carving on this large wheel in the foreground
Well, Follansbee and Co have uncovered some information that brings us closer to solving the riddle of who might have carved it and what building would it have been.
I’m a food historian who consults with museums, film producers, publishers, and individuals.
My training is in archaeology and cooking, and I enjoy applying the knowledge of past cooks and artisans to today’s food experience.
My work is exploring bygone pathways of food history and culture, through building, experimenting, playing, and eating.
I’ve known of her through Peter, and following her on social media, but we haven’t yet met.
So Peter reaches out to his Plymouth pals and they do what they do best…research stuff. I’m going to copy the thread of their discoveries here, with permission of the author, and then the caveat that she made me promise to include will be there at the end. Clearly these people are driven by brilliant minds, and their super powers are curiosity.
From Peter then Paula,
PF -So the question is: Is the graffiti scratched into this equipment at Mystic, originally from Cordage park, real? Is that a building somewhere around Cordage?
Who would know?
PM -I will want to read her blog later carefully—but yes what mystic exhibits is one third of Plymouth Cordage’s rope walk.
PM -The builidng in the graffiti (which IS fascinating) looks to be a wharfside structure, right? The ell to the right is on pilings over the water. Plymouth Cordage was situated to take advantage of Plymouth’s best natural channel—a piece of relatively navigable water called the Town Guzzle. Certainly long gone by the time of this image around 1900:\https://digital.hagley.org/AVD_1982_231_016
If you look at this map, you can see how the walk was situated….(here’s a clip) I would guess that the building pictured would be between the place it was carved in the ropewalk building and the harbor.
There are other 19th c images I’ll poke around for later
Then Peter assumes he has satisfied my tasking him to get the skinny…
PF – (satisfied) my debt to Heather that is…god knows what I owe PM now…
Then… PM – Also January 25, 1867 — the storehouse at the Cordage Works was “blown down” in a gale and a lot of damage was done to wharves…. that could have been the end of that building (WT Davis, Memories, p 221)
And again a day later…
PM – In its earliest iteration the Cordage consisted of a rope-walk, wharf, storehouse and other buildings (incorporated August 1824).
Huge expansions came by the late 30s, with the adoption of steam power, but the walk itself might function the same regardless of power source.
I can see from the same source that two Carrs (Andrew and Patrick) had been working for the Cordage for decades by 1900 —then both around middleaged and having started working there young — Patrick at 9).
My money that a little more research will suggest their father, Belfast emigrant William Thomas Carr, produced these graffiti after lunch on August 4th, 1851, while his foreman was out sick with “a summer complaint, brought on by eating blackberries and cream”. Okay, we probably won’t get to that satisfying a level of detail. But the first two paragraphs are documented at least.
And quickly after I asked if I could share this here…
Sure, Heather, with the proviso that it is very “tossed-off” and incomplete—I should be working on my own problems, but I get so sucked into these kinds of questions (in case that’s not apparent) but I’m always surprised when others are interested. And although I was joking about the elder Mr. Carr from Belfast, I would not be shocked if I could get a little further with his identity—the Cordage was great at record-keeping. In it’s first fifty years at least it was the very model of a paternalistic enterprise — its founder had very high ideals and took a distinct interest in the welfare of the workers and their families.
Here’s the bibliography so far. (There are lots more cordage publications, too, that I haven’t looked into yet.):
The Plymouth Cordage Company; Proceedings at Its Seventy-fifth Anniversary
By Plymouth Cordage Company (1900)
Plymouth Memories of an Octogenarian
By William Thomas Davis
History of the Town of Plymouth
By James Thacher
Now wasn’t that cool to learn about ?
I know, me too, I love the library at our fingertips time we live in.
And I love that all these people are making their livings today by dabbling in centuries old traditions and crafts.
If you want to learn more about such endeavors, I encourage you to start by doing some of you own research, and I’ll make it really easy for you…
We have one more stop to make in Mystic. A short walk from the Morgan is a lonnnnnng building
And this is the Spinning Loft, below which is the Ropewalk at the Mystic Seaport Museum. There is a short video ...click here...which shows a bit of what this room was all about, and you can read more of it’s history there as well.
But it really is worth a visit to let all your senses dive into this space. Resonant with the century old aromas of hemp and salt air, the velvety soft patine of well worn wooden surfaces, the sensuous flow of the carded fiber, it positively sings history.
The perspective isn’t skewed, this building is really 250 ft long, and it was only one section of the original Plymouth Cordage Company, which operated until the mid-1900’s and was then moved to the Mystic village.
Here are some close up shots to lure you into the lusciousness of the fibers…
and the long walk back in technology…
And there’s a mystery…
As is so often the case, when I returned from one of several visits to the museum and reviewed the thousands of reference photos, I spied this carving on the giant spinning wheel.
Those frisky muses.
Round about my birthday, the Follansbee came through on his trek to teach some woodworking down south, and, being a carver of woody things, I showed him this part of the painting, whereupon he said that Plymouth Cordage used to be a company town built around the rope making industry.
I went down a serious rabbit hole after googling it. I’ll leave those historic details dangling for anyone interested in doing their own research, but the point here is that many of the old buildings remain in town.
These Painter’s Notes will serve as a reminder to Peter that he said he would look into seeing if anyone in those parts recognizes the building from this carving… well…from my rendering of the carving.
That should be sorta fun.
For me, it’s all about the peaceful art… of spinning.
Three days of inquiries later…she’s back up and running.
Apologies to anyone out there, at least one of you is out there,in case you were looking to for some artwork to browse through while sipping that steaming mug of tea.
Another snowstorm is collecting energy in the wings and poised to bounce around the east coast for the next couple days. They want a blizzard on the Vineyard, already see that high tides have flooded major roads there so stay home you islanders !
Around here they want a modest 8+ inches which, as I look out of the studio windows now almost three weeks after our blizzard, would just about double what is currently left and clinging to our little patch of the planet.
The muses have been particularly pushy this week and, after fighting and fussing and generally whining Herself’s ears off…I have given in and changed course.
I threw out days of work and dozens of sketches and notes and am following their lead. They are tapping into a deeper place in my soul and, now that I’ve stopped fighting, I feel the energy shifting.
Did I need this website glitch right now ? Maybe I just needed to check in with my external guides…you all. So, the spinach pie has cooled while I’ve been writing, and after a quick lunch, and a check to see where the snow shovels ended up after the last storm, I get to head back to work.
Happily, but holding on tight. Be safe out there my friends.
That’s the note I found this morning, on the studio kitchen table, written on a scrap of cardboard, with a sharpie, found beneath the pile of framing tools, which were left untidied, after a long day of framing, and print making, and general mayhem making.
The Follansbee arrived just after I put out the lanterns last night, stopping for a pallet on the studio floor, as he made his way home from a week of teaching woody things down at Roy Underhill’s place in NC. So, the note was all we got to see of him this time, but we had a good visit on his way down south last weekend.
His hair is long enough now to tie in the back and a good bit whiter. But the sparkle is still there in those eyes. Gonna catch up with him and the family in the fall, so that’s ok then.
The day dawns, a little later for my own self than the master carver, and Herself has left to ship two new paintings out to the Sugarman Peterson Gallery. There is an opening for that show on July 3rd, in Santa Fe, so today you get the first peek at them…
All Her Eggs – 16 x 20
Scape – 12 x 13
From the sharply pointed pen of Mark Twain…
“Put all your eggs in one basket. And watch that basket.”
Eggs courtesy of Dru and Homer, who farm a CSA just over the hill. They are as delicious to eat as they are to paint. The eggs.
And just out that window and a little to the right is the little wren. Always. When Zoe is here, she relies on the wren’s first trill of the morning to signal that it is ok to get her giggly self out of bed and start her day. In the early summer she has a different job. This summer she has built her nest in the birdhouse just above the garlic bed. I wait with lusty anticipation all year for the garlic to send forth those gorgeously delectable curly scapes, and this season, her babies hatched on the very same day they appeared.
She spends her busy days now bouncing from Ted and Polly’s wind chime, to dancing from scape to scape. So, there ya go. Ted is having a blast, directing the muses every which way I turn around here.
Look for these two garden graces to be winging their way out west this week. And if you are in Santa Fe, please stop by to visit Michael and Christie Sugarman and say hey for me.
Now it’s on to more framing… stay frosty out there.