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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Rachel’s garden


One of the great virtues of old age is knowing that small problems are transient. So is bad painting.
Rachel's Garden, by Carol L. Douglas. Watercolor on Yupo, full sheet.
Plein air events require that you churn out paintings despite the weather. The caterers, the hall, the advertising and the auctioneer cannot be easily rescheduled. The wet, whipping show must go on. I’m not doing an event, but my goal for this residency is to paint outdoors despite the weather.

September can be the worst month for this, because it’s hurricane season along the Atlantic coast. We aren’t in as much danger here in Maine, but we often get the sloppy dregs of other people’s storms.

Neither Monday nor Tuesday were good painting days. On Monday, there were cutting winds, compensated in part by a dull pink sky that hung around all morning. Tuesday, it simply poured.

Yesterday (9/11) was a national day of mourning that I was determined to avoid. It’s also the anniversary of my mother’s death four years ago. Here at Rolling Acres Farm, I’m surrounded by young people and creative ferment. I was grateful for that.
Painting with Rachel Alexandrou in the rain. Photo courtesy Rachel Alexandrou and Maine Farmland Trust.
The barn here is built on the standard New England plan: hayloft above and animals below. My parents owned such a barn for fifty years, so I am as familiar with this model as I am with the lines in my own face. Perhaps there was a painting of gentle remembrance in the undercroft’s murky light. No luck; it is filled with the timbers from the original loft.

Rachel Alexandrou is the resident gardener here. Her garden is very different from the ordered rows of my youth. It’s beautiful and productive, but also very unstructured. It would have been easier to paint a slice of it up close, but that wasn’t possible in a pouring rain. Besides, I was in no mood to “keep it simple,” as a sensible painter would.

My childhood home, from History of Niagara County, N.Y., 1878, by Sanford & Company.
The garden is bracketed by a dead sapling and a Black Walnut. This tree is common in America’s heartland; a massive one was already middle-aged in my parents’ lawn when their house was drawn in 1878. It was still there when the house was sold three years ago. While Black Walnuts are valuable timber trees, they’re also allelopathic; meaning they kill any young plants trying to get a footing near them. The one at Rolling Acres Farm is the first I’ve seen in Maine, but I didn’t want to paint it. I find them threatening.

That same black walnut in 2010.
I set up under a porte-cochère that connects the house and barn. Rachel has been experimenting with making Black Walnut ink, so she joined me.

The mist and rain came close to defeating us. I was further hampered by not being able to find my palette. The Maine Farmland Trust is dedicated to environmental stewardship, so there are no plastic plates. I used a paper one for a palette, not too successfully.

Rolling Acres Farm (unfinished) by Carol L. Douglas, was painted Monday.
I quit as dusk neared. It was then that I noticed I had a very soft tire. My car just isn’t up to the rocky tracks I’ve been subjecting it to. A slow drive into Damariscotta and an air compressor, and I could head back to Clary Hill to see if I’d dropped my palette there. I scouted along the lane to no avail. Walking back, I realized I have a marker light out in my car.

My temporary palette. Ouch.
One of the great virtues of old age is knowing that small problems are transient. So is bad painting. Today or tomorrow, it will all be fine again.

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