Paint Schoodic

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Painting in symbols

Painting symbols of death and resurrection, I realized that there is no painting that can't be improved by the addition of a boat.

Overgrown, by Carol L. Douglas
The only thing my paternal grandfather left us was his surname. He took off when my dad was a little boy. It was the start of the Great Depression. My father ended up living with two maiden aunts.

I mentioned this on Facebook a few months ago. A genealogist friend offered to try to find my missing ancestor. His story ended, sadly, at the Ray Brook Sanitorium here in the Adirondacks.

TB was a terrible problem in large cities in the early twentieth century. Until the discovery of Streptomycin in 1943, cold mountain air was the only available cure. By isolating sufferers, sanitoriums also slowed down the transmission of the disease. Opened in 1904, Ray Brook was the first state-run tuberculosis sanitorium.

My father went to his grave wondering why his father abandoned him. Ninety years later, we can’t understand why TB was such a shameful secret that it couldn’t have been shared with a little boy.

Ray Brook, by Carol L. Douglas
Today the sanitorium is a state prison. The hamlet of Ray Brook itself is not picturesque. It’s home to several correctional and park department headquarters and not much else. I turned off on a local road. A small rivulet had created a marshy bog in a former forest. It was populated by the skeletons of dead trees, drowned by water flowing along their feet. The mountains are full of these ghost forests. They are part of the cycle of life. In their soft lavender and orange tones, they are eerily pretty counterparts to the lushness everywhere else.

It was a difficult painting, and I don’t know that I did the subject justice. It was time for a complete about-face. I headed north in search of a baby Eastern White Pine. “A big painting of a tiny tree,” I told myself.

“How will you know if it’s a white pine or a red pine?” someone asked me. She then told me that white pine has five needles per fascicle, while red and jack pines have two needles. I’ve stored that information in the disordered closet that is my brain.

I dropped this earlier painting in the leaf litter. I hope it dries enough to pick the debris out before Saturday.
A baby white pine, a boulder and some water ought to be easy to find in the Adirondacks. However, each patch of the mountains has its own predominant tree cover. I ended up almost back to Paul Smith’s College before I found strong stands of white pines.

I never did find exactly what I was looking for. However, rocks and water are both important Christian symbols, so when I found St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church surrounded by baby white pines, I figured I had found my place.

St. Gabriel’s was completely restored for its centennial in 1996. It’s shabby now, and its foundation is surrounded with opportunistic sprouts in the little patch of sunshine the parking lot provided. I wondered how, 21 years later, it has fallen so far in its fortunes.

Headlights, by Carol L. Douglas
After two large paintings, it was time to reconsider my nocturne. I saw no easy solution for the composition problem other than scrapping the thing and starting again. It was much too literal, and the only good part of it was the car’s headlights hitting the ice cream stand.

Then I remembered that I’d parked myself next to a small runabout on a trailer. The ice-cream shop is next to Lake Flower Marina. By moving the boat into my picture, my problem was solved.

There is no painting that cannot be improved by the addition of a boat.

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