The most exciting artifacts discovered in this house are on…and in…the walls.
Tucked into planking and stairwell are all kinds of hand carved symbols and signatures and…ships.
I knew that. Adam Moore had pointed out a few of them on his tour and the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation site explores this in their literature…
Inside the house, one finds plastered walls and various kinds of decorations. The plaster was made from a mixture of crushed oyster shells and horse hair. Some walls,such as those in the Borning Room, are inscribed with intricate carvings of ships. Other walls, such as those in the attic, bear drawings of lotus-flowers, drawings which a child might have made with a compass. In the Pantry,old bottles and canning jars line the curving shelves. Some jars, still sealed after many years, contain perfectly preserved tomatoes and peaches.
And when I was working on this composition it was all about the pantry light for me. And the magnificent blue paint. And the way the newly shored up timbers had shifted the old baseboard to reveal the startlingly bright original color of that blue and a mystery slice of yellow.
After a bit of sketching and watching how the light was changing with the moving sun, I got up to stretch and moved the door, which had been opened wide against the wall, and this is what was hiding behind it…
I know. Under how many generations of paint, and at either a child’s height or a seated adult’s, was this little gem of a carving.
There were many ship’s captains who owned and occupied this house over its hundreds of years so they and the loved ones watching the horizon for their returns would have had a vivid understanding of ship design.
As does my pal Captain Morse so I queried him about the type of vessel we might have here. His best guess has become the title… mostly because I love the word itself.
There will be many many more Captains at the Granary Gallery opening for this show and I guarantee I’m gonna hear just as many theories as to what manner of ship this be.
I can only say that I have remained steadfastly true to the verisimilitude of this particular hand carved vessel…and leaned heavily on the more romantic essences of the rich and dreamy maritime for my title.
look out the front door and use your zoom lens you will see the barest sliver of Black Point Pond.
When I was working on this painting spring was in full bloom. The studio garden was soaking up the warming sun, with spinach, buttercrunch, land cress, hakuri turnips, cherry red radishes, and purple sprouting broccoli filling our salad bowls with life itself.
One fine day Miss Pat came over to fetch a bowlful of spring and poked her smiling face into the studio for a visit. She noticed a photo tucked into the shelf behind my easel and asked could she see it please.
It was a snap shot of the pond’s edge with a woman strolling along in a straw hat.
Oh, I LOVE this. Are you going to paint it next.
No, I said, that’s just something the camera caught while I was photographing the front yard through the door.
But I REALLY love this. It is such a soft Vineyard moment.
This painting started out with a shaft of light and the better part of a house…
I had been trying my damnedest to bring two elements into this composition which in the real world are hundreds of feet on either side of this little red pump. The old lamp and sign pole, and the old station owner’s house.
Along the way I was listening to “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles, when a phrase jumped out at me…”over the bar hung four studies of gas stations by Stuart Davis”. So off I go to look up said paintings. Which lead to a refresher course in early 20th century American art and in particular his cubist-ic like paintings of the new elements of modern urban life.
My aim was a bit less wild but referencing the same era as I wanted to bring a corner of the iconic white New England clapboard house in to balance the tall slender light pole and play around with an Edward Hopper-like isolation of the lonely gas pump on an up country road. Standing now as a relic but hearkening back to a heyday when it and the cars it fed were shiny new and the light from the top of that pole would beckon wayfaring travelers.
But all the proportions were wrong. It wasn’t a problem to muscle my artistic license around and re-arrange some elements. The problem was the pump. Which is what I really wanted to shine. Think of an overall clad mechanic wiping grease off his hands before lifting the handle to fuel up the Ford, then folding a wing on the top of the pump and leaning in to say hey.
Right, the pump is actually…short…compared to the 20 foot pole and the porch of the house which sits up on that grassy yard behind the stone wall. To get them all in and have the pump large enough so that I could get out the tiny brushes and show you that the price was 49 and 1/10 cents…
well it would have meant an enormously large and dis-proportioned panel. Maybe someday I’ll revisit that. It’s still rambling around and every once in a while, like right now, the Muses kick that ball back onto the playing field.
Instead I went to another era of Art History and pulled my Albrecht Durer books off the shelf to study his “Great Piece of Turf”. A 16th century marvel that has always brought me to my knees. I played loose and free with the positioning of some of that vegetation but all of the passages of jungled vines do live nearby the pump…
and boy did they fight their way into becoming star players in this painting. No blending into the background sea of foliage for those gnarly twisters. They pushed aside that dappled light and danced.
So I whittled the composition down to its essence.
An old red pump a deep woods county road a tire rutted turnout an ancient fieldstone wall and a traveler.
There are treasures to be found along every Vineyard road.
Mr. Morse sent me down this one which was sorta fun.
But it started with this sketch drawn last summer on the first night he showed up for duty…
Then came this “Study for Nightwatch”, painted to keep the image fresh in my mind and to play around with the light…
Once I got that worked out, I was ready to go…but… You see I had to wait for the sunflower to grow up.
The back story of this bunny’s journey from early spring garden bed to his position on studio night watch was chronicled in the Painter’s Notes for the study.
I’ve copied them here for you to read… but you already know the ending…
Painter’s Notes for Study for Nightwatch
You know that first warm sunny day when you understand that winter has at least one more round in her but damnation you are going to clean out a garden bed…any bed.
On just such a day last March we both huddled in our warmest fleece, Herself putting her boots up in the sky chair and myself blowing the cobwebs off of my weeding bench, we passed a lovely hour or two warming old bones in the afternoon sun.
I was hoeing away happily when I saw something odd.
Just under the drying stalks of last year’s hyssop was a layer of what looked like fur.
I often throw the leavings of Finn’s coat after her weekly brushings out into the garden or on top of the nearest snowbank during the coldest months
So that was my first guess.
Then the fur moved.
Ok yes, I screamed.
Woke Herself up actually… and then she screamed.
Not ten minutes before while I had been weeding the adjoining bed I had said to Pat… Now I’m going to be really careful because this is where those bunnies were nesting last year.
So…the synapses fired up… and collided.
Approaching cautiously and much calmer now I moved aside the covering layer of dry grasses and peeked under the grey and white blanket of fur…
and sure enough tiny baby bunnies nestled in a hollow the size of a teacup.
Oh the tenders and gawd… I had been hacking away had I nicked one before the discovery ?
I tried my best to restore order to the nest but I had removed almost all of the weedy canopy that had made this new spot seem promising.
So, I added some leaves to the top and found a wide wicker basket and laid it over the nest and offered up a prayer to mother nature for their souls
For the next two mornings I stood over the nest and looked for signs of life. Both times I saw the slightest rise and fall of the leaves and the next day Kory came.
He’s helping me with the yard work and as far as I can tell…so far he has no fears. Ok a slight shimmy in his step when he happens upon a large spider… but otherwise he’s a rock solid go to guy for wild animal taming.
Kory lifted the basket and the leaves and the fur and sure enough there were three living breathing bunnies curled up in their teacup.
As anyone who knows me well will tell you they all got names.
Seeing as they were born in my herb bed I dubbed them, Hyssop and Thyme and Vincent. The last just in the case I had, accidentally mind you, nicked one with the ancient Japanese weeding tool.
A few days later they were gone.
A week after that two of them jumped out of the way of the string trimmer I was just about to swing along the stone edging of the hydrangea bed.
Then, every afternoon for a month, all three showed up at my new bird feeders, which I have moved right outside of my easel window.
One of them kept lingering later and later into the dusk after siblings and squirrels finches and doves had long since gotten into their jammies and been tucked into their beds.
On this night as I was waiting for him the sunset sent extra long low rays through the bottom of the fence and shooting across the tops of the grass.
And like that the bunny hopped into that shaft of light and stood completely still for hours keeping me company as if he were on guard.
Then one of his ears twitched and caught the fading light and I saw the notch.
Now I am waiting for my sunflowers to grow tall enough to pose as the source of those angling rays in the big portrait I want to paint…
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.
It has become a tradition to unroll the new paintings for the annual Granary Gallery show here on the blog. The work flow has evolved along with the technology and I now use the time spent focusing on each painting, loading them individually onto my website, as the time I also write their accompanying Painter’s Notes.
So, for the next fifteen days, picture me in the studio office, sitting in a comfy chair, this is my view…
And let me say right off the bat… the best part about this view… this week… is that it is air-conditioned.
I wrote in the last blog post about adding the photographing of each painting into that aforementioned work flow. After shooting, the files get brought here at the mothership to be processed in Photoshop. That tech part I am comfortable with and once I have an archivally satisfactory image stored on my hard drive I can begin getting them up on my website.
So, with no further ado…I give you…
Captain’s Log – 18 x 24
This painting is all about the mitten.
For the featured summer shows, the staff at the Granary Gallery do something a little extra to bring each artist’s work to life. They masterfully reflect the essence of the art work by arranging antiques, props, artifacts and flowers subtly positioned to add depth and often whimsy to enhance the patron’s experience.
They stay late on the Saturday night before the openings and make all the decisions about hanging and arranging with a keen collective eye to design. So it is always a fun surprise to walk into the show on Sunday afternoon and see, for the first time, what they have created.
On one such occasion, tucked amongst a pile of some wooly and maritime artifacts which were displayed under one of my paintings, I remebered it being one of the sheep but it may have been the spinning loft or quite possibly the black Irish horse Macy anyway on this occasion… I spied the mitten.
All of three inches, it was held to a tiny ball of yarn by four shiny steel needles thin enough to put inside the stem of a spring violet. I was in love. Honestly, to hold this gem in the palm of your hand and see the impossibly small stitches took this knitters’ breath clean away.
They said it had been found in an old sea captain’s chest. OK well there you go…I’m hooked. I begged to take it home to show the Muses and, now leaning against the window frame by my easel, it has become a powerful talisman. My imagination soars when I ponder who worked those triple ought sticks, who spun that finest of wool, for whom was it stitched, and on what fateful voyage.
Because it is what I do, I have begun to work some of these scenarios out… in paint.
There are two in this year’s show. So that probably means the Muses have a series in the cards.
The Captain’s Log let me play with some old favorites among the prop shelves. And I found some of my earliest homespun yarn which was almost as thin as that used by the captain…or was it his wife…or perhaps the harpooner…with which I tried a tiny ribbing stitch to get the feel of the needles.
Ouch. Those babies are surgically sharp. I had spent this last winter twiddling size one needles around while knitting socks, and my fingers had the callouses to prove it, but the Captain’s sticks are wicked barbed wee deevils. I have a new respect for the men and women of the Aran Islands shown in old black and white photos flying those same steel shafts around at high speed while simultaneously tending their flocks and seeing to supper and minding the bairns lo those centuries ago.
Ah…when idle hands… and magical gallery moments meet on the easel…
Last night I put the very last brushstroke on the final painting for this years’ Granary Gallery show.
Whew. These last few weeks have been an artistic marathon.
Now it’s a sprint to the finish line.
The show opening is August 4th.
The trailer needs to be ready to roll out of here a few days before that, and there is a slew of work that needs to happen before then.
My pals at Artworks, in Mechanicsburg have been busy getting the frames joined for me and we scheduled the delivery for later this week. That gives me a little time to clear some room for them.
So, varnishing, comes first. And it’s summer. The middle of a very hot and humid… and throw a few more humid-ers in there…summer. A while back I invested in an industrial humidifier for the studio. This has been quite helpful for just these type of varnishing days. Controlling the heat and humidity in here means that the varnish dries quickly and evenly and I don’t have to wait for the weather to cooperate, which…being July…it won’t.
After that I can shoot them.
With a camera.
Our business, HN Artisan, Inc. is set up to own the copyrights to all of my work. For all the possible uses of said copyrighted images, now and in the future, which include prints and publications, I need to obtain the best possible reproductions for the archive. And that needs to happen before I send them out and into galleries.
I used to farm this part of the operation out, which was wonderful while it lasted, even though it meant many trips to lug the paintings up and back in stages over the course of several weeks, so that the entire group of paintings was never in one place until the very last few days.
With my dear photographer John Corcoran easing into retirement, I scrambled to work out another option. Technological advancements, and time invested in learning about them, has led me to pick up the photography ball myself.
I’ve had some months to study and experiment with a new camera, fancy lights and another round of tutorials to brush up my Photoshop creds, and so far so good.
But now it gets real.
This year I have done another 8 foot painting, and I have to shoot it, and there is no place in my world big enough to do that easily.
You may remember that last year our pals Matt and Paul came over to attempt to shoot last year’s big panel.
While it was the start of a great friendship, but we had no success in coming up with an archive worthy file.
Over the winter I pondered this dilemma and decided to explore a tip which David Fokos gave me. Having been to my studio, he suggested rigging something up…to shoot down.
Laying the panel flat and suspending the camera above, then moving it in a grid like pattern across the entire panel and “stitching” it together in Photoshop.
Trick to that scenario is that the camera MUST be positioned at the exact same distance from the panel every time the camera shifts.
Long winding internet searches lead me to this…
A cool company, 80/20 makes erector sets for adults, and I got them to cut aluminum square tubing to my specs and then Kory and I assembled this frame. It was extremely difficult to figure out how to make this able to be DIS-assembled but we…ok he…muscled the plastic joints enough times that it can be done.
This has been set up in the garage for several weeks, remember that painting marathon ?, well now that is over and it’s time to step this photography game up.
I went with the aluminum rather than building this out of wood for the higher precision tolerance, that’s an artists’ rather than an engineers’ technical description, to keep the camera equidistant from the panel.
The top bars on this frame have a lip facing up. This was designed so that a small “sled” could ride inside those flanges and slide evenly along the top rails. Here’s a look at the sled and the clamping gear I bought to try and secure the camera to it…upside down.
I will work on that tomorrow morning when it is not 95 degrees out there.
Theoretically, the panel will be placed on the inside of that large frame laying horizontally. The sheet suspended above is to capture insect droppings from the garage roof, no it’s not an ideal workspace for artwork, but it’s the only space I have where I might be able to control the variables which include lighting and distance.
When …IF …I can get this dialed in, then Paul and Matt have promised to assist with the lighting and shooting of said panel. I better throw some more beers in the fridge for that.
So there’s a behind the scenes peek into the studio and the progress towards the big show of the year.
I’ll leave you with some pics of this morning’s wonderfully peaceful garden adventure.
With those hot temps here to stay, it was time to clear out the early spring bed for some heat loving veggies. So down came the pea towers. You can just see Herself hidden beyond the wheelbarrow full of pea plants using her super powers to pluck all of the last pods…I LOVE it when she joins me out there.
AND…the greatest gift …
Turns out the garlic was spared the nasty allium leaf miner after all !!!!
Yes, 100% of the plants are bug free.
The bulbs were smaller than usual, but that may have been a result of the pea towers blocking a good bit of light from them, among other factors.
Only last week I was crying in my suds that for the first time in years I had to ask Pat to by garlic from the super market. It was terrible by the way.
And now…voila… mother nature has blessed our greenhouse with a drying stack of bulbs.
Oh my heart is smiling all over again just writing that.
Ok back to my day job.
Stay tuned…the GG Show drumroll has begun and the lineup of new paintings will hit this blog page any day now.