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 !
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.
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.
The Carrot Whisperer
“…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 … the whisper.
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.
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.
“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 of happiness.
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…
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.
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.