Last year at this time …

Reclamation

I was framing up the paintings from the Reclamation Series .

Sailing Camp Shadows

There was a catalog to get to the printers, a flurry to ship a piece or two up to the Museum for their annual fundraiser, and, as I recall…a general air of that flurry, nay panic, about getting everything done in time to make our ferry reservations.

This year…I somehow went from being a month behind schedule in May…to being waaay ahead of that same schedule here in the month of June.

The watch 2014

Don’t get me wrong, I am not in search of things to fill this time. There are small craft warning options, and bags of tools, and tempting books, in piles in every single room in both studio and log cabin. But for the first time in a decade I am, shall we say, relaxing into these early summer days.

Entire pots of coffee are slowly consumed in the morning sky chair. Weeds, which are historically allowed to cycle into full tilt trees, are being yanked in their youth. Many small, and a couple of large, projects have been crossed off the home improvement list. Parts of the studio can actually be called cleaned up. Ok small parts but hey.

And I have spent hours at a time, with tiny needle in hand, in a different corner of the studio, peacefully quilting.

My working theory is the brutal winter. It shifted something. Hard to the left. Can’t even write about it except to say that warm sun and blue skies are to be bathed in.

So, finding myself with this breath of extra time I am actually going back to the easel. The large panel, which was the last ptg finished for the Granary show, had to remain on the easel until it was time to varnish and then haul up to the photographers. We hooked up the trailer and I took it up to John Corcoran yesterday so it feels like a dance hall in here.

John recently confessed that he, like myself and so many other artists, is often anxious after a hiatus from the work. The ever present doubts that we’ve still “got it” sometimes make it hard to pick up a brush, or camera in his case, and crawl out on that creative limb again. The break which happens every year at this time, between pre and post MV show, always throws me that curve ball.

But today, in my newly granted, and oh so profoundly appreciated, stay of anxiety…I’ve got an idea for a teacup composition that has been teasing the muses and I’m going to squeeze out some fresh paint and open the windows and let the solstice inspired breezes play with the brushes.

How fun is that.

 

 

 


Ancient Muses

I celebrated my 16th birthday on a plane bound for France. We were fortunate, as high school students in the mid-70’s, in Swarthmore, PA, to have a most amazing French teacher, Nancy Gabel. A force of nature and culture and aesthetics and art, she was, and still is, a profound mentor to generations…and she was my guiding light.

I think we spent a week or more touring Paris and the Chateaux in the Loire Valley and took one memorable visit to Versailles. I had a new Kodak along and have a vivid memory of walking through the palace and lingering in a hallway after the tour group ambled along, and peering through an open window into a sort of inner courtyard where the stuccoed walls had been worn away to expose some old wooden timber-framing and then snapping a picture of it. For some reason, those textures and history appealed to me more than the opulent outer shell and for years afterward I would return to that little photo often in later years as a highlight of the trip.

I even made a reference, to that scrap of my early artistic leaning, recently, when talking with our friend Dr. Doug about the museum series, Reclamation. Doug had come for a studio visit when I had first begun working up the early compositions of the rooms in that old Marine Hospital, and he had shown us some photos of his recent travels and we were marveling at his hidden talent as an art-photographer and how we each see beauty beyond the usual touristy facades. It was, in fact, our conversations that night and his enthusiasm for the new direction of the paintings that was the impetus I needed to dig deep into the project, and his continuing interest and support guided me right up until the opening of the show.

So, we fast forward to yesterday, where I sat at my studio kitchen table reading an article in American Arts Quarterly about Albrecht Durer. Always one of my favorites, I have dipped in and out of old copies of books which feature his etchings and drawings throughout my journey as an artist. At one point I danced one of his portraits of a pondering old man into a painting, Bookmark…

Book Mark

And, after reading about an exhibition celebrating the passage of 500 years since he was producing his art, I went to the bookshelves and took out the old books to study once again…

durer

I know it will not come as a surprise to you…my loyal readers…my satellite muses…but it stopped my brushes and skipped my heart a beat to find…nestled in the pages of this well worn volume of his drawings…

versailles

that very photo, taken through a window in Versailles in 1974 and filed for safe keeping in a oft-visited corner of my brain.

If you had asked me to find that photo, and put the lives of my grandchildren in the balance, I am positive that I would not have been able to begin to know where to start looking for it… let along find it.

And, after living through the 40 years in between taking the photo and blogging about it here…I can honestly say that it makes my heart sing to hold that picture again, here in the studio I only dreamed about then, and to laugh along with the muses as they tease this happily aging artiste…who still likes to peek around corners, through old windows, to find the beauty in ancient palaces.

Island Passages

 

 


And Finally…

If I did this right, this should post all by itself on the morning of the Granary Gallery Show opening. And if all else goes well, Pat and I will be waking up to a beautiful day on the Vineyard as you read this.

As I am writing this tonight it is almost midnight and we are still a week away from leaving home, the studio is full of carefully wrapped paintings, the trailer has yet to be cleaned out, and there is much packing yet to do…so you can imagine that this new technology is playing little tricks on my weary psyche.

It has been a long and rewarding journey to make my creative way through this series, Reclamation. And without further ado, I give you it’s finale…

Severe Clear – 40″ x 70″

Severe Clear

My guide at the beginning of this journey was Denys Wortman, a MV Museum Board member whose Vineyard roots are deeply woven into the fabric of the island, Denny was a fountain of information.

I returned to the building many times during that visit last autumn and tried to experience how the light and shadows changed over the course of a day.   One morning Denny met me and brought along the museum flag.  When I stepped outside to walk across the wide expanse of front lawn to help him raise it I commented on how there wasn’t a cloud in the crisp October sky.  “Pilots call that Severe Clear”,  he replied.

Back in my Pennsylvania studio when I was looking through the sketches and notes I had taken I found that I had written down that phrase and, for almost every morning of the dozens of days it took me to paint this view from the balcony, the spring sky here was brilliantly cloudless…so the title fits.

I became intimately familiar with every one of these buildings, and boats and trees over the many weeks of working on this painting. But it was the tiniest of details that the muses insisted on which kept a sparkle in my bleary eyes. The pinpoint of green in the traffic lights at the drawbridge, the rigging on the tall ships, the picnic table where Pat and I eat Chef Hesi’s sushi,  the ducks in the rippling current, the flecks of red paint on the oar…and the best of all…the little dog on the back of the boat.

You will need a magnifying glass to see him…I sure did.

So now my tale is told. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum has already begun the renovation work to revitalize this old Marine Hospital, and bring about it’s next incarnation as the future home of the MV Museum. I hope this series of paintings will offer another layer of historical perspective on the long life of this building to those new generations to come who visit the museum.

Now you all go out and have some good old summer fun… and we will raise a toast to you tonight…thanks for listening,

Heather


Island Passages

Island Passages – 18″ x 26″

Island Passages

I had to revisit that porcelain sink
and the verdigris on the copper door handle
and the cool lavender light
framing the warm glow in the hallway
and the barest hint of a fire escape
and the sweet sharp elegance
of those hairline cracks in the plaster
but my favorite part of this painting
was discovering
upon very close inspection of my reference photos
the tiny thumbtacks used to hold some old strings in place
and the dearest little shadow
that was cast by the one
that I secretly tacked
onto the wooden peg rail…


Vineyard Porcelain

Vineyard Porcelain – 24″ x 36″

Vineyard Porcelain

The view of those beautiful bricks framed by the tall pair of windows made me feel as if I was looking into a corner of some 18th century European city. Transported in that way, the warm earthy colors needed to become prominent and saturated to play off the contrasting cool blues in the tiles and the sink.

For most of the time it took me to paint this I was listening to The Magus, by John Fowles. Talk about contrasts. I was 18 when I took a course on that book in college. My friend Rex had insisted since it was being taught by his favorite professor, the poet William Meredith. A whole semester dwelling deep in the psychic depths of Fowles was intense to say the least and rereading it in my mid-fifties was a wild trip down that memory lane.

What shocked me the most was how incredibly naïve I was at the time of the first reading. Learned interpretive teachings aside, I couldn’t have had a clue what was really going on in that story. Not that I pretend to understand it much better now, but the decades and layers of life lessons in between made it feel like I have grown a heavy rain sodden wool coat of flesh over that tender young college student.

The patina on the outer surfaces of this building is like that coat.
Hard traveled…and well earned.


That’s how THIS light gets in

Transom – 14″ x 18″

Transom

This was the second painting I worked on in the series
and the first where I had just the architecture to focus on.
Every single surface was reflecting the sunlight differently.
I really had to learn the founding structure of the building
and came to appreciate my limited knowledge of construction
as I studied the sketches and reference photos
in great detail to make sure I got them accurate.
Once I had the bones down
it was all about the light.
And letting it dance around on the walls
and reflect off of the banisters
and drive that shaft straight into the foreground
and bounce back
in that impossibly blue line
just behind the door.


Aquisitions

So now you know what the series Reclamation is all about. I’ll fill in with some of the backstory for each of the 10 paintings…

Marine Castaway – 25″ x 28″

Marine Castaway

When I walked into this hallway and saw that old boat my heart skipped a beat.
It was not just the surprise of seeing it “out of water” as it were, but the juxtaposition of it against the primitive mural in the room beyond.

There was a long period of incubation in between my autumn visits to the building and finally picking up a paint brush to begin this series. As I mentioned in the catalogue, it wasn’t even a series at first. But the image of this boat, the intrigue and the challenge of how to render its character, was what I kept being excited by, so it became the jumping off point.

This, for me, more that any of the other paintings in this series, captures the broad arc of the story of this building’s history. From Marine Hospital, to Children’s Sailing Camp…and now the opening chapters of it’s future as the home of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

I could just swim in those blues.