Preliminary drawing for a painting of the front room at Thuya Lodge at the Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve. This is the first of a series that I hope to complete this winter. Charcoal and oil on panel, 16″ x 20″.
Sometimes I have down time, and when I do I pick up a book by Andrew Loomis entitled Fun with a Pencil. Most of the book consists of page after page of looney, retro figures: cartoons, facial expressions, activity poses, and types of people: laborers, bikini babes, infants, and old men. Right about the time you just can’t stand to draw another fat man with a bulbous nose the middle of the book changes course to perspective drawings.
Loomis begins with the artificial horizon and pretty soon has it filled in with trees and houses set along curvy roads, and another bikini girl posed on a set of stairs. From there the book moves indoors and explains how to lay out a room in 2D.
And that’s how I came to spend the weekend drawing the front room.
Today was a perfect day for a garden club tour; a bit of rain and clouds to discourage the casual observers but not enough wind to damage the white begonias, cool enough to walk energetically in a heavy skirt and sensible shoes, misty enough so that I didn’t regret forgetting my hat. This particular garden had not previously been open to the public. The cutting and kitchen gardens are visible through the wrought iron fence from the street, but it was wonderful to get up close and personal with the sunken Italianate formal garden, the mossy pergola that faces the cove, and some really lurid roses that were nevertheless enjoyable under the low, gray clouds. Oh, and the shingle style dog house with slate roof, dutch doors and window boxes was just the right touch of surreal.
My pen dropped out of my pocket somewhere along the 1/2 mile entrance road, and my batteries ran out before the kitchen garden, but here are what notes and images I managed to take away:
Artichokes – beautiful plants and evidently productive here. The head gardener went on at length about daylight and temperatures requirements for full maturity, but honestly I wouldn’t care if I didn’t get a whole lot of fruit – the plants were striking in themselves. Of course, he doesn’t have that luxury.
Cold frames extraordinaire: I went over to look at some cold frames – 15′ x 2′ high on the short end, rising to 4′ and faced with glass panels. When I looked in to the frames, I realized that they had been excavated to a depth of 10′. There were ladders built into the walls at either end for access. With that much berming they must be very cozy even in early spring, and if I thought I could dig a hole 12′ deep on my lot I’d try it out.
Smoke bush in bloom with Madonna lilies rising through the mist of blossoms – quite a striking effect.
Datura was everywhere, and lent an exotic air to the otherwise common assortment of border flowers: ligularia, phlox, mulliens, begonias and thalictrum.
Last month our neighbors gifted us with a Significant Rock. It came on a Big Boom Truck – possibly the biggest vehicle to ever climb up our gravel road and I’ll stop with the capital letters now. The rock has a rather formal placement exactly perpendicular to the front of the house and lined up with one of the window bays. People have actually stopped their cars in the road and commented on it. Then they go on to mention the garden, and their garden back home, and then inquire after lobster, and really, it takes an awesome rock to stop tourists in their pursuit of local seafood. This weekend our neighbors called; “Did our rock want a life partner?”. Of course we said “Yes!”.
K’s boom truck showed up on Sunday afternoon in the pouring rain. I was on my third pair of shoes and already soaking wet, so a little more water wasn’t a problem.
Now reach into the truck. . .
And pull out a rock. . .
And confab on the placement. Because it’s not going anywhere after that webbing comes off.
A beautiful rock, nestled in blueberries. Note the worked edge – this might have been part of a foundation for a Bar Harbor “cottage” lost in the Great Fire. Now it resides with us, forever or until boom truck do us part.
Bangor in the snow: the corner of Merrimac and Water Sts.
Smokey’s Greater Shows, Walmart parking lot, Ellsworth Maine
From the Fryeburg Fair Chronicles:
Bud Gilmore, the show’s owner, explained that when Bud was four or five, his father Ronald had the “largest mare in the world” named Gene which weighed 3200 pounds. They lived on a farm in Bolyston, Massachusetts and showed the mare around rural New England and into Canada.
“Then shortly thereafter we built a hotdog and hamburger stand, and we traveled with that quite a few years. We had an old truck, and we carried the stand in that. We’d set it up, then my mother and father slept in the truck, and my brother and I slept on the ground. We did that until school started. Then we’d get boarded out, and they’d finish up fair season. Somewhere in the 1950s we built a french-fry stand to go with it, a couple of games, and bingo later on.”
About 1965 the Gilmores loaned some money to a fellow with a fair route, and when he couldn’t pay it back, they took over the route. They didn’t own any rides at the time; they took care of the bookings, sold tickets, and collected the rents. Then they started buying rides. Their first one in 1965 was a tilt-a-whirl; a brand new one; which cost $22,000. “Now a tilt-a-whirl; of course they’ve improved somewhat, basically the same ride, just a little easier to set up; is around $250,000,” he said. “My father died in 1970 when I was finishing college. We had seven rides then, and I just went out and started running the show and buying more and more rides. Until now I’m at the point I’ve got too many rides. Don’t need them all, but we’ve got about 50 rides now I guess.” What was it like being a young boy working the fair circuit? Gilmore made it sound like an adventure with story after story, but he worked hard, too. He helped in the family’s hotdog stand, hustled soda or popcorn in the grandstand, helped with his father’s games, and found other moneymaking jobs for neighboring concessionaires.
And on a rainy summer morning I found them all laid out and idle in the Walmart parking lot at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning. I wandered around for a while, trying to make little sketches and samples of the amazing chemical colors, but I gave up and moved to a vantage point farther away. It was just too private down amongst the machinery. Campers and RVs were scattered around and people were wandering half dressed, brushing their teeth or drinking coffee – I felt as intrusive as I would have been in a stranger’s living room, and moved off to make my observations from a nearby hill.
The title of this piece is: “Bar Harbor in the summer, mid-morning low tide behind the shops looking toward the Schoodic Peninsula”. I have a friend who is an editor – a gifted person who can make sense of the combined history of the CIA and FBI, or sugar beets, or C++, or potty training. She has been making suggestions for my titling experiment. SP, can you help with this one?
Bar Harbor won’t look like this for long. There was a bulldozer parked just behind me as I made the drawings and photos that resulted in this piece. Soon the “Ship Shop” will be knocked apart and put back together as something shiny and, if the current designer has his way, rather Tudor-ish. I have no idea why “half-timbered” would be one’s choice of motif for a Downeast Maine fishing community. For one thing, we have fog, rain, sleet and all manner of cold moisture for most of the year; if the stucco was really structural it would be crumbled on its foundations by now. Perhaps the new construction will be fallen in and worn out enough to be fodder for my drawings in another 50 years or so – perhaps I’ll live long enough to find out.
The house sits at the top of a south-facing slope that was originally quite steep and sandy. We planted strawberries and a cherry tree there quite soon after moving in, and the ground was raw and unstable. I tried stacked rock walls and haybales and had some success with the resulting terraces, but nothing seemed to keep the whole hillside from sliding into the path at the bottom of the hill every spring.
Five years ago I purchased (one) basket willow clone from Fedco, Maine’s garden co-op. In a year it had produced enough rods to start a living fence along the bottom of the hill (the silvery, long-leaved growth at the right in the picture). Around the same time my black pussy willow developed borers, and I had to cut it back. I started a second run of fence with those rods (the darker green foliage). The fence uprights took right off in the sandy soil and by the second year I was busy weaving them back into themselves to make a fairly solid wall. Meanwhile, the original basket willow was producing almost more than I could handle, and I started a second set of fencing halfway up the hill to give us a path to actually pick strawberries instead of crushing them beneath our feet.
It is full on pouring rain today, so I’ve been busy weaving sections of the fence back into itself and taking hedge clippers to the part that no longer needs reinforcement. We have had plenty of moisture so the new rods are at least two feet long – three or four feet in some places. I’ve gathered a good many rods to start a new fence. . .somewhere.
My favorite example of live willow fencing is from the folks at Brampton Willows. They’ll come to your yard and install hurricane-proof, wonderfully sinous garden structures. I like the “furry” look, so mine are only stripped of their leafy covering in the winter and not nearly this beautfully organized. There is something similar, though, in how they hug the contours of the landscape and the sense of permanence. This is a fence made of living tree, and it’s not going anywhere.