Sending Peace and Light from the easel to you all…
Feathered Harvest – 18 x 24 Available at the Granary Gallery
As we walk softly into these longest nights of the season
my heart skips lightly back
to the remembered warmth
of a late summer day
when there were just enough
ripened green beans
to make a supper’s serving
A much needed rainy day here in the studio affords me an equally much needed rest.
The last few days of summer like weather nudged me outside to put the garden to bed and my body is respondingly sore…but my soul…that is very very much alive.
Heavy sweaty work of raking and mulching the mountains of leaves felt as cathartic as counting up all those votes here in the great state of Pennsylvania. I danced some righteously happy jigs while tossing the hay all over the Ruth Stout garden. The crows, bluejays, wrens and one shy bunny all raised their voices in joyous song while I dug up the last of the late season potatoes.
The winds of change have indeed shifted and for me, it happened in a flash. Just like that, ding dong…the weight lifted, the doors flew open wide…and there was spontaneous partying in the streets all across the land. It reminded me of the sublime enthusiasm that Skip had while directing her swan song.
The Muses are vibrating with this newfound energy and I’m listening.
First order of business is to clean up this website. It is almost 20 years old now and since we are on about the business of clearing out cobwebs I’ve signed on to update and upgrade and give it a general overhaul.
We will be working throughout the next couple months with most of the tweaking being done behind the scenes and under the hood…or so Ross tells me. (More on his new company and adventures to come.)
Along with some design changes I will be using this opportunity to reorganize the Print section of my site. The time is upon us to make good on what I had promised to do this time last year…raise the prices on the prints. The material and shipping costs have increased even more so we have settled on $295 as the new charge for the 17 x 22 sized prints.
I’m announcing that now because, like I did last year before the holidays, it will give those who are interested an opportunity to purchase prints at the current $195 until the NEW website goes live early next year. Shipping will continue to be FREE.
A total revamp project like this signals to the Muses that I am ready to rock and roll.
Uncharacteristically…and quite surprisingly…I have absolutely no idea what I will paint next.
Which feels just right.
Herself told me she’s not the least bit worried about that.
So there you go.
I’ll bring you along for the ride…
let’s see where this train takes us !
Two messages on the same day.
The first was from my Goddaughter Emily and her Wife Ashley who sent some snaps from Canada of their handsome son Oliver. We love getting to see photos of Ollie who is just the happiest little boy with a clever impish smile…can’t get enough of them. But this one was extra special.
First I have to take you back…way back…over 30 years ago…
I was living with Peter Follansbee in the general store in Muddy Creek Forks, where we were studying our respective crafts. He was the more serious woodworker and I the wannabe painter but we overlapped in the chair and basket department.
Along comes a visit from Emily, a very young version of Herself, and as I had begun making children’s ladderbacks…this one had her name on it…
I just love the confidence and pride in here expression there. Such a love.
So now we fast forward to this …
And now I’m melting into a thousand puddles.
You go Ollie…I hope to show you how to make one of those chairs some day. But that bucket of crayons is also right up my alley and down my street…I can’t wait to see what you do with those !
So I’m all warm and nostalgic thinking of the journey that chair and the chairmaker has made and then I get some pics from Follansbee himself.
Here’s a sketch of my basement woodworking shop in our log cabin which I made for Peter back in ’97
Can you find the pipe ?
The one on the door not on the top of the cabinet.
Yeah so he and I have differing memories, his story will appear later, but I cherished that as being one given to me by Peter and his mother Mary from his dad Mo’s collection. Peter says no, and I usually defer to his stellar skills in the memory department but I’ve held my ground long enough that he has capitulated…almost.
Long after I had made the move to fulfilling the dream of being a full time artist, our log cabin was caught in a massive flood. As we live 15 feet from the edge of a creek, it meant the entire basement was filled with water. Very little survived from that workshop but I took apart the tool chest and saved this door and carved a Mark Twain quote which was eminently applicable to Master Follansbee…
True to both our natures He took it one step further and then some…
He posted a blog that fleshes out the back story so I’ll copy it here and link it back to his website for those who want to read on.
But before I do it feels important to take stock of both of these milestones.
Reminders of that time in my life when my younger stronger body followed the whims of my woodnypmh muses are few and far between now. I made over 500 chairs. From Shaker style rockers, large and small, to dozens of children’s ladderbacks to full dining room sets of chairs complete with child sized highchairs.
It was always meant to be a way of making money so I could follow my true bliss and be an artist. Looking back, it certainly was a magical bridge. And now, I spend my days at the easel…making money so I can justify taking some time off to make spoons.
I’m content with all of it…
because I learned well
from the quote which was most often requested
to be carved in the slats of those chairs…
“The End is Nothing, the Road is All.” Willa Cather
Now here’s Peter’s side of things…(stolen directly from his blog…)
A week or two ago I got to a project that has lingered here for ages. The small panel in this door was made by my friend Heather Neill, way back when. The Mark Twain quote she incorporated in this panel is from the Autobiography, “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.” When Heather & I met in 1982, I had just given up the notion of being a painter, and was concentrating on learning woodworking. She took up chairmaking after I showed her some of the steps involved. She probably made more chairs than me before she gave up chairmaking to concentrate on painting! https://heatherneill.com/
Hanging in my shop is a drawing Heather made for me in 1997; showing her chairmaking space when it was active. In this detail, note the cupboard door with the pipe door handle. (my camera was tilted, Heather’s chair is not squished…)
So for a long time, I’ve been thinking of how to incorporate her Twain-quote-panel in a new door. I have two cupboards near the back of the shop – one for axes, and the other for turning tools. I made the axe one first, and it got doors.
When I made the next one across the shop, I had run out of “extra” pine boards. So left it door-less til now. But now that I was going to all the trouble of making the door – I couldn’t leave it plain. In for a penny…
I made it with flush-fitting panels – because the Twain quote had no margin to speak of. Then decorated it.
I haven’t carved pine since I carved the timber frame of the shop. I decided to use something simple & quick. This braid is featured in the book I did with Lost Art Press – this time there’s no V-tool involved, just incised marks with different-sized gouges. The layout is done w two compasses.
In this example, the large circle is 2 1/2? wide, the smaller one 3/4? – I used a 1? wide #5 Swiss-made gouge, and a 3/8? wide #7 Stubai gouge. Then a nearly-flat tool to remove some chips.
This is the dramatic view down the line.
This sort of design is common all over the place. My photos from Sweden a few years ago include a few different versions of it. Notice on this arch the way the effect changes according to the relationship between the large & small circles.
One more – again in an arch, but this time with its columns also.
But in the end, I decided to hollow the circles – the scribed design was as prominent as the carved one – and I didn’t like it. I took a large gouge and worked along each band of the circles. This gives the whole thing more shadow.
The whole interlaced panel (& 2 rails) design is loosely based on one I’ve never seen, except in a photo. This photo below was one of a batch sent to me 10 years ago by Maurice Pommier, author of Grandpa’s Workshop – who is another whole story https://blog.lostartpress.com/2019/10/18/meet-the-author-and-illustrator-maurice-pommier/
My version is simpler, too much blank space between the elements. But it will do, although I can’t wait to try it again.
Oh, I forgot about the pipe – why is that there? Heather swears it was one of my father’s, that my mother & I gave to her, no doubt as painting & drawing props. I swear I don’t recognize it. But my father had lots of pipes…so I might as well believe it.
Our valiant carrot whisperer is 10 years old today !!!
This painting was done when she was 8.
So much has changed in the world since then…
But Zoe’s imagination is growing brighter every day.
Sending you love and eagle hugs from the studio kiddo.
“…I believe that everyone has imagination, that no matter how mature and adult and
sophisticated a person might seem, that person is still essentially an ex-baby. And as
children, we all lived in an imaginal world…you know, when you’d be told, “Don’t cross
that wall, because there’s monsters over there,” my God, the world you would create on
the other side of the wall. And when you’d ask questions like “Why is the sky blue?”
or “Where does God live?” or all this kind of stuff…like one of the first times I was coming to America,
I said to my little niece, who was seven, I said, “What will I bring you from America?”
She said, “Uh…” and her father said, “No, ask him, or you won’t get anything.”
And Katy turned to me and said, “What’s in it?” – (laughs) – which I thought was a great
question about America.”
An excerpt from the On Being conversation between Krista Tippet and the Irish Poet John O’Donohue
Our little carrot whisperer would have asked that same question at 7.
Now she is 8 and when we see her soon
I will ask her
but mostly I like to listen.
Zoe is one of the most richly vibrant souls
it has been my pleasure to share the planet with.
Her curiosity is fueled by a Tigger-like enthusiasm.
Stealthy observation informs her empathy.
And story telling is her super power.
So, last summer,
when I asked her seven year old self
to pose with the freshly picked carrot
and she examined it for a long while
deciding it made her think of
the snowman Olaf’s nose…
Then she thought the long green
fronds looked like hair
and she curled them in an arc over her head…
and I waited
And she started a story about how that
made her feel like a queen
and she was going to take the carrot
to visit her castle…
and I waited
until the queen decided she was in a carriage
and the carrot would, therein, accompany her
and she rested it regally on her shoulder
closed her eyes
and beckoned the footman to ride on.
An artist can’t choose her Muses.
We can only sharpen our brushes everyday
in the hopes that when they are ready to appear
we can catch them on …
Heavy hard frost this morning.
It didn’t catch me by surprise.
Covered tenders and put away tools.
The fleece jacket was a mistake.
Should have gone with full winter coat.
Got this far in the morning walk…
and chose the heated kitchen…
I have given over to the Muses…
completely and utterly.
The days are not mine.
They breath for me.
They lift… or do not lift the brush.
So it was surely they
who stopped me here
in the frosty hollow
perhaps to remember…
View from my easel – 2010
It is such a pleasure to look out on this farm when I’m working.
And this winter, for the first time since we turned the bungalow next door into my studio, we had a real winter.
This was the morning after the first storm.
Finnegan and I were the only ones out in the neighborhood…
just as the birds were waking up.
I spend most of my days, in this corner of Pennsylvania,
painting corners of Martha’s Vineyard.
I’ve waited for three years now to find a way into painting
what is right outside my very own window.
It was the warm golden light that glowed from within the stand of drying cornshalks in that morning’s sunrise that did it for me.
I started with the treeline on the horizon
and then the barn, that magnificent old dame
and then the cornfield
layering color after color in the foreground
in preparation for toning it all down to create that field of white.
Good thing as it turned out.
Halfway through the painting I looked out
and all of that lovely corn had been harvested.
A moment’s beauty…fleeting but recorded now
to remind me how to see.
The Night Cre
Three years ago I sketched something similar to this after waking from a dream…
Each spring I came across it and half heartedly thought about looking
on the supermarket shelves for those egg dying kits I remembered….
but got distracted… and another year passed.
Then I found this basket in Jane Slater’s shop in Menemsha…
and brought it home to the studio and set another of Aunt Imy’s teacups on top…
and Susan came up with the exact McCormick’s egg dying kit
from the 60’s I was looking for…
and Pat drove in to town to rendezvous for the drop off…
and I rooted around in the white cabinet in the log cabin to find
every single rabbit related item we own…
and boiled up the eggs and filled four cups with hot water …
and caved in and added the vinegar after all …
which I thought was superfluous but which, it turns out, is the only way the dye will take…
and then I set it all up on the studio workbench and started sketching.
And THAT’s when the muses stepped in…
all of a sudden the setting sun shot through the front window and that magical shadow appeared.
Had I started five minutes later I would have missed it.
I love it when that happens.
8:55 am –
Finn and I hauled our groggy souls across the puddles in the lane and up the path to the studio this morning and just like that…
we both had smiles on our faces.
Not only was our quarantine delivery box full…
but the scents of a friend left behind
had both our tails wagging.
Thanks to you Sue,
our coffers are full to brimming and the added bonus
of saying hi over the sack of flour…priceless.
I’m only back here for a quick dip
because it seems I forgot to add some artwork to yesterday’s post.
There is only one painting from the archives which speaks…
nay it screams
all the colors of green that are burgeoning here in the studio yard…
Fiddlehead Primavera – 2006
From my salad days.
After a long day of framing pictures at the Harvard Coop
I would make my way home
from Cambridge late in the evening.
The Red Line bus would stop at the
Star market across from the Mt. Auburn cemetery.
The overhead electric cable would often slip its grip there so I
sometimes had enough time to run in,
grab a bag of mussels, the fiddleheads,
some butter and a bottle of wine…
and make it back on the same bus.
All for under ten dollars.
Shrimp Bowl – 2008
“Always approach the shrimp bowl as you own it.” Mary McGrory
‘Tis the season…of Shrimp Mousse
In the all kitchens of my adulthood
Along the margins of each recipe
Tucked and retucked
inbetween the pages of all the cookbooks
I have written in tiny script
some words to mark the making
and the maker each time I make my way
back to that particular recipe.
A trail of micro journaled jigsaw pieces
which periodically get reassembled as I return
to refresh the ingredient lists
for old and new favorites.
Yesterday, after chatting with dear Peg
about birds and pity and beaches and pools,
I pulled out the well worn card
with her original instructions
for her shrimp mousse.
It has been updated and upgraded
and tweaked over the years, but the bones
remain strong and the sentiment
has become crystalized.
The first entry I wrote on the card was…
1 Jan 2000 – The world has celebrated.
We made it ! Now for some special treats to start
off the new millenium.
What follows are regular entries just about that time
almost every year with the exception
of the few years interim when I seem to have lost
that original card. I do remember the desperate searching
but it seems that the Muses returned it a few years ago…
22 December 2016 – Thought I had lost this recipe –
but in the wild autumn of home repairs -when both kitchens
had to be redone – it was found. Now we are in the dark ages –
and need some peace.
And here we are… planning on making a double batch I sat
down with all three of the Shrimp Mousse incarnations
and when Herself wandered into the studio kitchen
I was smiling through tears.
Chronicled on that little slip of paper
was celebrating the “first day of full time Artisanship”
The last walk with our Gulliver
and the first snowy Christmas with Finn
and this year’s entry made all the more special
to be able to write that we are all still together
around that kitchen table
a bit gimpier
and slower afoot
and settled deeply
into our seasons
Night Watchman – 22 x 36
Vincent has returned…
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.
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 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
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
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…