Sunday, May 31, 2009


Island Artists exhibit

I just delivered two large (for me) paintings to the Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth, Maine, for a group exhibit opening on the 14th of June. The exhibit is entitled Island Artists: Fairfield Porter, Eliot Porter, the Porter Family, and the Great Spruce Head Island Art Week Artists and Poets. The Porters summered and still summer on this beautiful island in Penobscot Bay, and several years ago I was somehow lucky enough to attend their annual retreat for artists and writers. The experience was tremendous and still continues to resonate. This fine gallery has put together a curated retrospective about the island and its continuing influence on artists of all kinds.

So here are my two paintings - this first one is Double Beaches, Great Spruce Head Island, and measures 40" x 56". The view is of the west side of the double beaches, looking to the north at the other end of the island, and the mainland beyond:

The second is Path to the Double Beaches, measuring 38" x 48", and showing one of the many island pathways. Eliot Porter designed much of the trail system on the island, and it is still maintained by the family and checked on by the Nature Conservancy. In many places the spruce trees are encroaching and thick, and the feeling on some of these paths is of a decidedly eerie closeness:

So, there they are. I submitted smaller works too (most of my paintings are 18" x 24" or smaller), but these are the ones the curators chose. I made them this size because I wanted something I felt I could walk straight into. For me, they represent a bigness of feeling. Around sixty artists are in this exhibit - some I know well and many I've never met, so I'm looking forward to the opening, and to the accompanying poetry reading at the gallery in July. This island is a very special place (how special? read Eliot Porter's beautiful book Summer Island: Penobscot Country, Sierra Club Books 1966, one of my very favorite books about Maine, and find out for yourself), and I can't wait to see more representations of it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Maine in May

Now that May is nearly over, I find I need to make a list of the things that have brought me a particular bright joy this month, and as I do so, I see that most of them are country pleasures, still not used to living outside the city as I am, even after nearly two years: rain-drenched lilacs, violets in the grass, carpets of wild strawberry blossoms, three lady's slippers that Ryan spotted near a place we walk often (creamy white with faint pink veins - I haven't seen one since I was a child, and here are three), on a later walk in the same place a red fox trotting along the verge, back at home a few tentative wild turkeys crossing the yard, robins nesting in the cedars outside our kitchen door, onions sprouting their long green tops in tidy grids in the garden, down the street at the beach harbor seals lolling on seaweed-covered rocks as the tide falls, on the way home a red cardinal singing on a gray gravel driveway.

It seems that spring has been slower coming and more lush and green this year than in the past. Probably because I'm outside noticing small changes every day, and now the leaves are in full leaf and we've mowed the lawn four times already, and most of the garden is planted. And I've been out looking hard at the details, painting some of them, and afterwards, sitting in the sun reading more Ronald Blythe books, and day-dreaming. I'm nearly through his third Wormingford collection, Borderland (Black Dog Books 2005), and I see that his thoughts about a certain kind of spring day run parallel to mine (p.181):

"Once outside it is virtually impossible to go in again. All I want to do is lie where the sun can touch me. It reminds me of sprawling above the Atlantic in Cornwall when I was a teenager and becoming mesmerised by the blue tumult below, the regular biff of the water on rock, the crying seabirds, the hot sward, the thinking, 'Why ever go home? Why go anywhere?'"

On this side of the Atlantic, I could say the same. Oh, wait - this is home. (**glee**)

Thursday, May 07, 2009


art, books, and bliss

I had a lovely day visiting in Brunswick with my sister Emily last week. She lives near Bowdoin College, and we spent some time walking around visiting her favorite spots on campus. The Bowdoin Museum of Art has an exhibit right now called New York Cool (an appropriate play on words re New York School artists and writers), and one of the best things there is a collaborative series by artist Norman Bluhm and poet Frank O'Hara - abstract gouaches with poem fragments written in to complement them. I also love the immense Helen Frankenthaler painting, a big target painting by Kenneth Noland (who I don't usually respond to in a positive way, particularly, but this one has real presence and even beauty in it), a vibrant abstract Robert Goodnough painting that reminds me of nothing as much as shelves of books, and a big black Louise Nevelson sculpture that gives me chills and makes me think of the phrase dark matter. Lots to see there, some great, some not so much - the show is up through mid-July.

Next we wandered over to Hubbard Hall, the original library building. Em wanted to show me a room there. Unfortunately the room was closed, but the good news is we could peek through portholes in the double doors and see inside anyway. And what a room it is! The Susan Dwight Bliss Room, which houses the Susan Dwight Bliss Collection of Fine Bindings, among other things. Including antique French walnut woodwork and a sixteenth-century ceiling from a Neapolitan palazzo. Sigh. Truly a booklover's fantasy library come to life, and come to rest in Maine.

That was all very nice, but what really stopped me in my tracks was what I saw and read upon first entering the building. We didn't then know Hubbard Hall was the old library (the books are now housed elsewhere except for a few special collections), but we surmised as much when we read a large stone plaque on the wall in the entryway, which states the following:

"Books are not absolutely dead things but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are. / Who reads and reads / and does not what / he knows / is one that ploughs / and ploughs / and never sows."

The accompanying plaque reads, in part:

"This hall dedicated to truth and to books as the depositaries and teachers of truth is a gift to Bowdoin College from Thomas H. Hubbard Class of 1857 and his Wife..."

Reminders of some things we love (books, truth...). Then we walked across the quad and looked up at the window of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's room, when he was a student here. A small plaque on the exterior wall identifies it. And next, the sunlight through the stained-glass windows in the chapel, and some magnolias in flower on the way home. A day of art and books and sympathetic conversation. Bliss-full.

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