Last winter (which ended a few days ago) the Stonington Public Library trustees asked me to be the summer artist. “Sure,” I said.
Of course I said ‘sure.’ I’d be following in the footsteps of Jill Hoy and Frederica Marshall, artists whose work I’ve admired on the library’s walls.
Stonington Public Library
The Stonington Public Library is also a lovely setting for paintings, a clean, well-lighted place that overlooks Stonington Harbor. On clear days the sunlight bounces off the sea and throws a radiance into the old building. On gloomy days, of which we have had many, the Stonington Public Library is a refuge from cold and loneliness, a place where the librarian never says “Shush.”
And despite its small size, the library has access to boatloads of information through its databases and interlibrary loans. The Stonington Public Library helped me and Dan research our book, Bar Harbor Babylon, true stories about billionaires behaving badly. You can borrow it from the library, or order it here.
But it took me a long time to realize that even a small library has a lot of wall space.
Does Size Matter?
I started putting my paintings up in the spring. One librarian begged me to hang a large, colorful painting on the big bare white wall in the bathroom. (Note: It’s the brand-new, handicapped-accessible public bathroom made possible in part by donations from Stephen King).
So I hung one of my biggest paintings, Settlement Quarry, on that wall.
It didn’t look that big.
I took all my available large paintings and hung them on the library walls. I put the painting of Scotts Island – where Robert McCloskey lived – in the children’s room. Right across from the librarian’s desk I hung one of my favorite watercolors, a mother and daughter climbing the steps of the Library of Congress.
I stuck framed watercolors and small oils on the shelves. I framed more watercolors and brought them in. For a while it seemed I was constantly schlepping paintings to the library. I started to worry. Could I hang enough paintings by the Fourth of July, when summer really comes to Downeast Maine?
One sunny, peaceful morning I was walking to the village and a fisherman caught my eye. He was slowly driving a skiff on a sheet of cobalt blue, heading out to the lobster boats in the distance. It was a transcendent moment. Or maybe just one hell of a commute. Or both. I took a bunch of photos with my trusty cell phone and resolved to paint that image. Big.
So I threw myself into that painting, getting to the studio at the crack of dawn and working furiously on it. Two days before I promised to have all the paintings in the library I painted the bottom edge of the canvas with a drying medium. I left the painting upside down on the easel. The next day I got to the studio and found the paint still wet on the bottom. No worries, I said to myself. I can paint upside down. Sometimes that’s better.
Well, it wasn’t. When I hung the painting right side up (and still a little wet) in the library’s big stairwell, I realized I’d painted an anatomically incorrect fisherman and a boat that wouldn’t last long on the water.
People didn’t seem to notice. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had to fix that fisherman and that boat.
So I sneaked into the library one evening (I’m on the board of trustees and I have a key) and swiped my painting. I took it to my studio, where I worked on it to the point where I could sleep at night again.
I’ll unveil The Skiff 2.0 on Friday, July 5, at the Stonington Public Library with drinks and nibbles and about 40 other paintings. Please stop in and say hello!
Here’s the new and improved Skiff, probably still a little damp: