When You’re In Deer Isle, Paint Deer Isle

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Since I live on Deer Isle, it only makes sense to paint Deer Isle.

A few years back I went to Florence, Italy, with the Art Students League to paint. We spent the morning in a studio painting models, then roamed the museums, restaurants and churches of Florence. I had the good fortune to meet Jules Maidoff, a well-known American artist who has lived in Florence for many years. Jules told me not to waste my time in a studio. “You’re in Florence — paint Florence,” he said.

Point taken.

To Paint Deer Isle

During Maine’s long winter, thoughts turn to spring, and so does my painting. I chose to paint Deer Isle conservation land because the Island Heritage Trust hosts an annual art show during its birding festival, Wings, Waves & Woods.

The IHT owns and manages some of the most spectacular land you’ll ever see.

Among my favorites is the Settlement Quarry, which many years ago produced the granite for the New York County Courthouse (now the New York State Supreme Court building). Granite quarrying was a boom business here back in the late 19th-early 20th century. My house, in fact, was once a boardinghouse for granite workers (There’s a former whorehouse next door, but that’s another story.)

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I can’t leave out the Settlement Quarry when I paint Deer Isle! Oil on canvas. 2″ by 40″.

Climb to the top of the Settlement Quarry and you’ll get a stunning view of Penobscot Bay and the islands. It really rivals anything you’ll see in Acadia National Park.

My New Spring Line

I also included my painting, The Marge, in the show, because it shows the beach at Scott’s Landing, another Island Heritage Trust property.  Along with several paintings of Scott’s Landing, I have quite the beach glass collection that testifies to my hours on that beach.

The Marge. Oil on Canvas.

Sometimes I paint in watercolor, and sometimes I paint in oil. Sometimes I paint both, though not at the same time. I had painted Scott’s Island, where the author Robert McCloskey lived, in watercolor last fall. Something about that painting made me go back to it, so I repainted it in oil. I’m not sure if that’s allowed in the art world, but I don’t care.

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I really didn’t paint Deer Isle here, but I painted FROM Deer Isle. View from Kezar Mountain, oil on canvas.

The Last Best Place

I also included a photo that’s IHT-ish — Marnie Reed Crowell‘s back yard. Marnie has written a book about the IHT lands called Beads and String — a Maine island pilgrimage.  One day in December Dana Durst from Inn on the Harbor and I had tea at Marnie’s house in Goose Cove.

We talked about the island, about how it’s changing and whether it will turn into Nantucket if the lobster go away. Marnie calls it ‘the last best place.’ Then the sun started going down, and we rushed outside to see the amazing light. I took a zillion pictures and then decided to paint Deer Isle from Marnie’s back yard.

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Goose Cove, Oil on canvas. 

So my new spring line of paintings will be at the the IHT barn at 420 Sunset Rd. in — where else? — Deer Isle until Friday, May 24. Stop by and see some other exquisite work by Carolyn Walton, Lois Lans and Frederica Marshall

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I Paint The Marge Because My Subconscious Told Me To

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I finished this painting a few weeks ago, and I decided to call it The Marge. Marge as in Margin or Marginal.

Technically, I suppose, it shows a figure (as usual, my husband Dan) walking the beach at Scott’s Landing. Scott’s is a preserve where the northern edge of Deer Isle meets the Eggemoggin Reach. Scott’s Landing used to be the ferry landing, but since 1938 the Deer Isle Bridge has carried people across the reach from the mainland.

The Marge, though, isn’t just about the margin that divides the land and the sea, it’s also about the space where light meets shadow. The liminal space, the space of transformation, of discovery, of anticipation. (Dan is anticipating finding blue beach glass.)

To me, the painting is about the subconscious meeting the conscious, something I’ve had reason to think about – a lot – lately. Because art to me has always been about reaching into the subconscious, figuring out what it’s trying to tell me. I suspect it’s exceedingly bossy.

Marge Moments

Sometimes I have marge moments where I understand how my subconscious is steering me. One day I figured out how it ordered me to pick up a ginko leaf.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., I took an abstract painting class at The Art League in Alexandria, Va., and I had to find a symbol.

I couldn’t decide. Then one rainy fall Saturday I went into the city to visit the National Gallery of Art. Afterward I walked back through the nearly empty streets to the Judiciary Square Metro stop, and I looked across the plaza at the Canadian Embassy.

Despite the Brutalist architecture I have fond feelings toward that embassy. I had a friend there, a public relations officer named Doug, who started his career as a stand-up comic in a Toronto nightclub with Howie Mandel. Then he went into the military, where I got to know him when he was with NORAD (long story, I was a reporter, he was a public relations officer). Then Doug went to the Canadian Embassy. He invited me to monthly luncheons with Canadian diplomats and military officers, along with U.S. business and government types. The food was great, the conversation interesting, and Doug always delivered a wildly funny monologue straight out of Monty Python.

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The Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

So on that rainy Saturday I was walking to my Metro stop and I caught a glimpse of the red maple leaf on the Canadian flag fluttering above the embassy. Then I looked down and spied a yellow ginko leaf plastered onto the dark wet sidewalk. I knew instantly that was my symbol for my painting class. And then, moments later, I realized why: because of my pleasant thoughts about the Canadian Embassy.

Yikes, I thought. My subconscious is in charge.

Cleveland Museum of Art

Which brings me to Janet Moore.

I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and as a little girl I spent hundreds of hours in the Cleveland Museum of Art. A print from the museum, Renoir’s Mademoiselle Lacaux, gazed at me from my bedroom wall.

When I got older I’d walk to the museum and hang out with the American and European painters. I always visited J.M.W. Turner’s Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.

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Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons. Turner captures the marge where fire meets air meets water.

I loved the Impressionists, like Monet’s The Red Cape.

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The Red Cape. Another marge: inside meets outside.

And I always found David’s Cupid and Psyche entertaining.

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Cupid and Psyche. There’s something about his expression.

There often weren’t many people in the museum, and I got in the habit of roaming around, glancing at paintings until one really grabbed me.  I was in the Marge Zone.

Fast forward a bunch of decades and I moved to Deer Isle, Maine. Definitely the Marge Zone, the place where land meets sea and urban corporate nomads meet island fishermen descended from generations of island fishermen.

Janet Moore

A few weeks ago a dear old friend from Shaker Heights came to visit. Her name is Janet, and I remembered she was named after a woman named Janet. An artist from Shaker Heights who moved to Deer Isle.

When Janet arrived I got the full story.

Janet Moore (read more about her here) was curator of children’s education at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her father taught at Dartmouth and had a summer home on Sand Beach Road in Deer Isle. When he died, he left the house to her, and she retired there.

I realized I had seen Janet Moore many times as a school girl on field trips to the museum. She would take us around to several paintings and talk about them. I’m sure she taught me to love Turner’s Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.  In 1968 she distilled what she’d been telling us into a book, The Many Ways of Seeing An Introduction to the Pleasures of Art.

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The Marge. Oil on Canvas.

Back to the Marge

I wonder: Did my subconscious tell me to paint Dan hunting beach glass at Scott’s Landing because I loved that cadmium red cloak Monet painted?

I also wonder: Janet Moore certainly helped me feel at home in art museums. Because I feel at home in museums, do I feel at home on Deer Isle, as she did?

Questions to ponder.

 

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Island Life, Island Light

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Island Life, Island Light is the way I’m characterizing my latest six paintings. You can see them for a while at the Blue Hill Congregational Church, where the Blue Hill Concert Association graciously invited me to be the featured artist for early March. On Sunday, the Calidore String Quartet was scheduled to perform, and I couldn’t wait to hear them.

One can get a little starved for classical music on Deer Isle. (But just a little.)

Island Life, Island Light

I’ve been used to making small watercolor paintings, so these are big for me: Wood panels, two feet by three feet. I bought them on sale last fall. I hadn’t decided what to do with them. Then Ron Stegall called me one day and asked if I’d be a featured artist for one of the chamber music concerts. Duh. Of course I said yes.

So I chose the March 10 concert, which gave me a few months to (a) find a studio (b) order plenty of oil paint and (c) decide what to paint. I knew I wanted to go beyond pretty landscapes, but I wasn’t sure how.

Then I remembered what Jules Maidoff once said to me in Florence, where I was painting portraits in a studio with the Art Students League. My roommate knew Jules’ daughter, and we visited them at his home. “Why paint in a studio?” Jules said. “You’re in Florence, so paint Florence.”

I’m in Deer Isle, I thought, so paint Deer Isle. It’s not quite like any other place in the world. Not by a long shot.

But actually, one of my paintings, Mail Boat, is about Monhegan Island, not Deer Isle. In the fall I’d taken a trip to Monhegan with my husband Dan and my parents. We took the first mail boat, which left very early in the morning. The light was spectacular. Liquid and golden. Almost unearthly.

So as I stared at my blank panels, I kept thinking about the light on that mail boat. Hence painting No. 1.

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In Mail Boat, I try to capture early morning island light

Two and Three

Then I looked for other subjects, different kinds of island light. Every day on the way to the post office I walk past the green house with the pier, the shed and the lobster traps. On a gloomy January day when I felt blue I noticed how a sliver of light through the clouds gave a glow to the front of the house. Painting No. 2, Gray Day.

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Gray Day, another kind of island light.

Just past that house is the Fish Pier, where fishermen unload their lobsters and scallops. Refrigerated trucks then haul the seafood off the island. I’ve always wanted to do a nightscape, and the Fish Pier from my studio window has a lot of exciting imagery at night. So I had three ideas. I decided they were coherent enough as “Island Light, Island Life.”

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It’s very dark on the island at night, except when there’s a full moon and down at the Fish Pier/

Glazes

I wanted rich color, but I didn’t want to do wet-into-wet painting, which reminds me of frosting a cake, something I’m not good at. I remembered I’d written a story for the New England Historical Society about Maxfield Parrish’s glazing technique. So I researched glazing, and I bought a bunch of galkyd paints and solvents and mediums to go with. Then I put on my work clothes and spent a couple of cold winter months painting all day.

I started with underpaintings, or grisailles, either of acrylic or galkyds. I chose grays for some, umber for others and cadmium red for the most muted paintings.

One evening I walked past the old sardine factory and saw it glow in the late island light. Painting No. 4. The old factory is used for parking now, as the sardines are gone and the sardine factories mostly moved to the Far East. There are people on Deer Isle who’d like those jobs back. I think of this painting as Ruin Porn.

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Island light at the end of the day transforms the old sardine factory.

Island Life

I also had a bunch of photos in my cell phone of LDI Lobster, the lobster shack at the end of the bridge. They have, without doubt, the best lobster rolls I’ve ever tasted. I love the look of lobster shacks, how they evoke the glories of a sunny summer day. I’m sure no one has committed suicide while waiting for a lobster roll to come up. Painting No. 5.

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Best lobster rolls ever.

I wrestled with what to do for painting No. 6. One day in the summer I had gone to East Point for a book club meeting. It was hard not to notice the gorgeous views (I think that’s Cadillac Mountain in the background). So I returned the next day and hung out on the bait dock for an hour or so. I took a lot of pictures of the charming ruffian in the painting. We talked about the Wyeths and about cool stuff around the bait dock – the fish bones, the hidden salt marsh at low tide, the driftwood.

His image kept haunting me. I was struck by the almost magical light and the contrast between the tender way he held the fish bones and the offputting message tattooed on his fingers: FUCK OFF!

So I took elements from all the different photos and voila! Painting No. 6.  I thought about painting in his tattos, but then I decided I preferred a G rating. Maybe I’m just a coward.

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The amazing island light down at the Bait Dock. It does something to reds, so I had to include the bait shovel.

Anyhoo, that’s the story of my latest six paintings. I hope you like them!

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