Paint Schoodic

Join Carol L. Douglas at beautiful Acadia National Park, August 6-11, 2017. More details here!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

How not to pack for outdoor painting


Two men look out through the same bars:
One sees the mud, and one the stars. 

                             (Rev. Frederick Langbridge)

Chambered Nautilus, 1956, Tempera on panel,
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
I spent the week in Maine, reconnoitering for my summer workshops, and generally considering how I can best shed the nautilus shell of my current life. After all, if you look at that shell, more and more compartments are… not empty, but collecting dust.

Having just visited the Farnsworth again, I’m reminded of Andrew Wyeth’s painting, “Chambered Nautilus.” (The Farnsworth has many lovely studies by Wyeth that demonstrate just how meticulously he prepared each of his paintings. Any serious painter would benefit from studying these drawings, and I strongly urge you to visit the Farnsworth and spend time with them—in particular the studies for Maidenhair.)

 "Chambered Nautilus" shows Wyeth's mother-in-law gazing out her bedroom windows during her final illness. Initially, Wyeth considered using a conch shell. "It is believed that someone just brought the nautilus shell and he preferred it, but I like to think that it was symbolic," Erin Monroe of the Wadsworth Atheneum told the Hartford Courant. "He often designated objects as stand-ins for people, and a nautilus has all these chambers. His mother-in-law was confined to a chamber and couldn't leave."

Wyeth himself had this to say about the painting: "I did the picture right there in the room...and she would talk to me about her childhood in Connecticut.  She was a great woman, one of those people who never grow old."

But of course we all eventually do grow old, and the reality is that eventually most of us end up with our worldly goods pared down to a nursing home bed and a recliner. Still, before that happens, “…I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep.” 

Most of us do a pretty good job of blooming where we’re planted, and my family has been no exception. We came to Rochester for work, and we’ve had a good run here. But I have always used it as a launching pad. In the earliest days, I traveled back to the Buffalo area to see my design clients, and after my kids were old enough, I started traveling to NYC to take classes, traveling around the East Coast to show paintings and traveling elsewhere to paint and teach.
We thought it might be a lot of fun for students, but it just trades one
 nautilus shell for another.

 By all rational standards, 2013 is a mad time to think of picking up sticks. We’re still in the throes of economic malaise, I’m definitely getting older, and we still have a kid in school. But there is an insistent refrain in my head: “It’s now or never.”

And so I debate options: move to an art town and open a gallery? Buy a small house in Deer Isle and turn out work that I in turn sell to other galleries? Do I even need a permanent home? With that last idea in mind I stopped in Amsterdam, NY and looked at trailers and motor homes. I was intrigued, but when I got back to Rochester I realized that I do like my own bed.

Where does this all end? I don’t know. As my pal Loren said last week, “The options are infinite.”

“True,” I answered, “but the parking is limited.” Which is not exactly true, but our time here on earth certainly is. And I want to spend as little of the rest of it as possible dusting the inside of my chambered nautilus shell.

5 comments:

Loren and Pamela said...

NAUTILUS~~

from Greek ναυτίλος, 'sailor')

Inspiring post.

Suzanne Marie DeWitt said...

That particular wheeled option would obviously not work... Doug can't even stand up straight.

The idea of a motor home is a cool one. You could roll around till you found the perfect place to put down new roots.

Plus if you can't reach the stove/grill, you can't really be blamed for not cooking.

Mary Ellen Crowley said...

One of his most evocative, mysterious and beautiful paintings. An apt metaphone for moving, be it from life to death or place to place.

"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid." Frederick Buechner

Carol Douglas said...

We liked that particular wheeled option, Suzanne, because it is on a Freightliner chassis, which means you can pull up to 20,000 lbs. with it... or our whole house. But I'm a little concerned about the mileage. You think it will be as good as my Prius?

Mary Ellen, I couldn't help but think of our conversation when I came to write about this painting. I have to admit, it's anything but cold.

Carol Douglas said...

And Loren and Pamela, today I'm worried about the etymology of deadline (n.):

"time limit," 1920, American English newspaper jargon, from dead (adj.) + line (n.). Perhaps influenced by earlier use (1864) to mean the "do-not-cross" line in Civil War prisons, which figured in the Wirz trial.

And he, the said Wirz, still wickedly pursuing his evil purpose, did establish and cause to be designated within the prison enclosure containing said prisoners a "dead line," being a line around the inner face of the stockade or wall enclosing said prison and about twenty feet distant from and within said stockade; and so established said dead line, which was in many places an imaginary line, in many other places marked by insecure and shifting strips of [boards nailed] upon the tops of small and insecure stakes or posts, he, the said Wirz, instructed the prison guard stationed around the top of said stockade to fire upon and kill any of the prisoners aforesaid who might touch, fall upon, pass over or under [or] across the said "dead line" ....

["Trial of Henry Wirz," Report of the Secretary of War, Oct. 31, 1865]