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What follows is the story of a place over 3-4 years in paint, 2011 to 2016. These are a series of 40 or so mostly Plein Air paintings done in, or close to, Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). It is a catalogue of places, trees, animals, birds, wildflowers, the river and tributaries, as well as some built structures and people who live or work there. In between the images are autobiographical reviews of these years, as well as reflections on history and painting, thoughts on the environment, both in appreciation of it, and in criticism about how our society mistreats nature.
The Cuyahoga National Park is large, about 20,339 acres or 31.78 sq miles. It is my backyard.The Cuyahoga Valley was already known for its beauty in the 1800’s when people came from nearby cities for carriage rides or boat trips along the Ohio and Erie canal. In any case, the history of the park is really about the effort to preserve the obvious beauty of the place. This beauty has to do with features that predate private property and human use. To a large degree the ancient beauty of the place has been preserved. This is why I love it. Our capitalist society tends to ruin whatever it touches, and these places that are preserved are rare and dwindling. Nature everywhere else is mercilessly abused, paved over and ruined with herbicides and sprawling development.
In 1880 Valley Railroad was built to run from Cleveland to Canton down and up the Cuyahoga Valley. You will find more than one painting of this train or its cars and tracks below. Actual park development began in the 1910s and 1920s with the establishment of Cleveland and Akron metropolitan park districts. The National Park overlaps parts of the semi-wild areas of the Metroparks of Cleveland. I think of CVNP and the Cleveland Metroparks together form one of the best natural areas of any city in the country. They are also a migration corridor for non human animals.
Many people made these parks possible in years past. The Metroparks system, for instance, was largely created by an amazing man, William Stinchcomb, in the 1930’s. He created the Metroparks during a progressive era when such things were still possible and the fox was less in charge of the hen house. The successor “Boards” who have run the metroparks since then have had alliances to corporations and have sometimes been guilty of corruptions. The Metroparks Board has so far been prevented from turning it into a giant golf course or selling it to MacDonald’s. Stinchcomb and others created an excellent mission statement and the public has opposed most such corruptions. But a number of the governors of the Metroparks have been found guilty of corruptions and crimes. they are unfortunately often chosen form the business class, sho tend to have thier own profit as their goal.
The Emerald Necklace of Metroparks is amazing, but the Rocky River Reservation, where the place I called Heroes Wetland is located, is now undergoing a horrific poisoning – they are dumping six miles of poison on the land. This ‘shock and awe’ policy is to get rid of a plant called Celandine, which they could have removed easily 20 years, but could not be bothered to do it, then. So now they are killing everything to get rid of one plant. They intend to do this over six years, and have no real assessment of its effect on wildlife, birds, Lake Erie, insects or plants. Glyphosate is one of the chemicals they are dumping on the land and it kills nearly everything on the ground, in the ponds and gets in the rivers and creeks. It is the same chemical that has reduced monarch populations by up to 90% and is killing off the Milkweed they depend on as well as other important plants. The fault here is the “biologists’ who run the park and other government officials.
The National Park is less threatening to the land, at least so far, if only because federal and congressional corruption is further afield and has so far not be able to do much damage to the wildly popular National Parks.
It is true there has been no lack of trying to open up the National Parks to oil companies and cattlemen who only have money production in mind. Private enterprise hates the whole idea of public ownership of anything. Business sees nature as an exploitable “resource”. One need only look at how nature is treated outside the park system to see that Agribusiness and Cows do great harm to the natural world virtually everywhere, ‘externalizing’ risks onto animals and trees, seas and rivers, soaking up profits for the rich and putting hardships and taxes on the poor and middle class. There have been efforts to defund the parks. Hopefully the relatively new CVNP will not become as corrupt as the Cleveland Metroparks became. But the parks still stand and hopefully will be enlarged and protected. More parks should be created for the time being.
But long term isolating of nature on ‘reservations’ and allowing uncontrolled building of human communities elsewhere is not a good idea. Laws should be passed protecting nature everywhere, giving nature rights and animals equality with humans. The notion that humans are superior to all other beings on earth is absurd and leads to horrific deaths and exploitations.
In short, there is is a large area of semi-wild public land where I live and it is a great and wondrous thing, despite many problems and limitations to it. So here I wish to celebrate it. This essay or little book is partly done in praise of public lands, that is lands that are nearly independent of human abuses. I am making an art about local plants and animals and people that are close to me, an intimate art of earth, science, scholarship and story telling.
As I painted more and more of these paintings, they began to echo each other until what you see now is a complex tapestry of people, plants, weathers, birds and animals in space, tied together by a mentality and a steady method of inquiry and observation. These are objective works, done by hand with brushes and oil paints. I stand with my paint box, which I carry on my shoulder into the woods or beside a pond, and place on a tripod. These paintings are done conscientiously and accurately, usually over many days. And they are done partly in rebellion against the orgy of arbitrary, human-centered subjectivism that has ruled art for the last 100 years. I do not make these images from photos unless I have to sue them, so the majority of images are painstakingly made by hand as I study my subject over many days. The “avant guarde” was useful at the beginning, but in the end became an orthodoxy far more insidious than what is originally sought to replace. Now hatred of beauty is a standardized dogma My my own aesthetic notions and interests are not with the current art world but gravitate toward some of old masters: thee Dutch Realists, Peiter De Hooch andd Rembrandtt, Da Vinci and thee French Realists. Among American Artists I likee Willard Metcalff and a few, not all, of the works off Wyeth. I also like some regionalists, two in particular who are both eccentric nature painters, Burchfield and Uttech. But in the case of both these painters it is their love of nature that I like, but I do not like the “spirituality” of either of them. There are a few Plain Air paintings I like such as these:: here, here and here. I like Van Gogh’s devotion to nature and social issues and Degas’ ability to draw, as well as Monet’s use of color and effort to perceive the “envelope ” in nature as he called it. I particularly like Monet’s Haystack series for what it reveals about the use of color and space.
My art is not merely optical. Cezanne said of Monet that Monet is “just an eye, but what an eye?” I am not sure he is right that Monet was that superficial. Indeed, Monet excels where Cezanne fails and that is because Monet had real insights about color and perception, landscape and the feeling of light in space he called the “envelope”. Stanhope Forbes and some of the Newlyn school talk about this envelope too, or the atmosphere and light inside a painting. Like Monet they mean actual light, not some spiritual surrogate or emanation. The eye is only as good as the brain that sees though it. Forbes and Monet had very good brains were seeing what is actual.
My opinion of Cezanne is not very high. He really could not draw. He started out doing very violent scenes. Later he seemed to reduce the violence in him to a very cramped proto-cubism which I do not admire. His late Bathers have always seemed to me pathetic, the emperor with no clothes.
Above all I like Da Vinci’s intelligence, scope and use of art as an extension of inquiry. So my understanding of art is really that art is an extension of science and thought and not a form of visual entertainment for the rich or propaganda for the powerful. These paintings seek to go beyond all the nonsense about modern and post-modern and to plant art firmly in the place where Da Vinci wanted it to be.
OK. Let’s look at the actual paintings. On average, I have done a few paintings per month, not very many by contemporary standards. And it was not easy work, but took a great deal of concentration and purpose. I was also caring for children most days and working a job as a painting and drawing instructor during this time. During spare hours with my wife’s and kid’s help I was able to get out and do these. They are in some of them and so am I. I mean there to be a loose chronicle of our lives in nature.
It is interesting that Cuyahoga National Park follows the Towpath Trail alongside the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal. I have yet to paint the locks or other remains of the canal. I also haven’t done the main water falls as yet, Brandywine and Blue Hen, opting for the less well known ones. I probably will paint these eventually, but for now, other things have called me. The winding Cuyahoga River, (Cuyahoga means “crooked river”) gives way to deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands. But I have mostly been drawn to natural features, botanical treasures, as well as geographical features of portraits of water and streams, tree portraits, beaver dams, lodges and wildflowers, as well as the remains of history in the park, the old houses, barns and hints of lost days. The old covered bridge, and the old train that goes through the valley or one of the the old stations where it stops, these too have held me rapt for days at a time while I paint them . I try to show the park partly though the eyes of my kids but also through adult’s eyes, reflecting and thinking about real things in s real way.
So now we will look at individual paintings one by one.
Goldenrod Above Cuyahoga ValleyGoldenrod Above Cuyahoga Valley, September 2011
My first two works in this series were two studies of Golden Rod, a wildflower (solidago canadensis), in the aster family. In September there are great masses of old yellow in the fall fields. In “Golden Rod Above Cuyahoga Valley”, I was thinking of the immense distances and the closeness of the flowers. I knew I was going to do an entire series on the Park, as this is partly why we moved here. So I wanted to start with a sort of overview, literally. It is the first in the series. It had been some years since I painted outside and i was feeling a bit rusty at first..
My spouse and kids dropped me off near this field and I worked out in the middle of it, so I was totally surrounded with golden yellow. How to paint this vast sea of yellow? It took me for at least five sessions, a few hours each to get this far. One night, I think the last day I was there, it started to rain pretty hard and my phone did not work. So I was stranded there for an hour in the rain, painting. I had a grey umbrella but it did not prevent getting wet anyway. There were many monarchs there that day so I painted one of them. At one point a deer appeared in the golden field and I tried to put his head in, but later took it out..
This initial foray was a struggle. I did my best to try to get the immensity of this field, but I doubt I succeeded. I think it one of the weaker in the series. I could not get the foreground to come forward as much as it needed too and the clouds did not go back enough. The sea of yellow as too shallow. But it started the ball rolling and outlined my basic procedure. Throughout the series I tried to paint some of the animals or insects I saw into the scene. Most of the paintings have birds, animal or botanical studies in them. I was not trying to make beautiful pictures but to paint the the places and life I love..
Goldenrod and Ironweed
, September 2011
In the second one above, “Goldenrod and Ironweed”, I think I improved greatly over the earlier one. I was more confident. I am not sure what the small white flower was but I suspected it was one of the Hedge Bindweeds. There were a number of different grasses there. There is a Goldfinch in the painting that might take some effort to find. The clouds were low and threatening rain. The purple Ironweed reaches its apogee in color in September and it was gorgeous. I love to see Tiger Swallowtails on it, but not this time. You can see by the hillside far distant, on the right, that we are down in the Valley. The Yellow at least starts to look like a sea, there is space in it.This painting has the excitement of reality in it..
Painting is a form of inquiry, and the inquiry is an effort to see into the reality of things. By the ‘reality” of things I mean nothing metaphysical, I mean the actual experiences of things and beings in real day to day life as it is actually lived, not merely thought about. It is exciting when reality starts to come into a work. I start to be able to feel the energy in the scene in my painting and in my hands. Oil paint has a certain visceral vitality in it that is able to imitate the feelings of things, the texture and virtual appearances of reality. Oil paint’s viscous versatility in this respect makes it an amazingly sensitive vehicle to adapt thought and develop accuracy of perceptions..
The hand and the mind translate reality into paint and the process by which this happens is not magical. Magical is not the right word,— wondrous and sympathetic are much better words to describe the process of reaching out of the mind into the world. One must be careful of analogies. Art for me is close to science and not at all Platonic. There are no essences that need to be ‘evoked”, there is only the reality of things and a process of assimilation and efforts to grasp, see and understand what is actually there. There is more to it than merely Aristotle’s ‘imitation’ or mimesis, though mimesis is the beginning of education, as Aristotle taught. It is not nothing to try to grasp the physical and what actually happens in the world, indeed, it is extremely difficult and the only thing that really matters. The world can improve by such exacting efforts, it does not improve by Platonic essences, religions, superstitions and magical thinking.
My Kids under the Red Maple Tree
This is one of several portraits of trees in the series. Watching individual trees over many years time allows one to start to grasp the individuality of the tree. Part to the reason we bought our house had to do with the beauty of this tree as well as proximity to the National Park. Like us, trees are living things and have their stages of life and hardships they suffer. The tree is yellow to orange and it is a Red Maple.
Maple Leaf, 6×6″, 2013
Originally this was going to be just a tree portrait. But the kids were playing around me so much as I stood in the driveway with my pochade box and painted, I decided to put them in too. My daughter was 7 here and my son is 2. He was unable to peddle the trike yet so she was pushing him around, laughing. This introduced a note of autobiography at the very beginning and went beoynd the usual conventions of landscape art, which tend to make landscape into a sort of symbolist and spiritual theater. I am not terribly concerned with those conventions anyway, indeed, I have no interest in landscape as a metaphor for spiritual ideologies, which is often how landscape painting has been sued since Claude and Turner. The only conventions that interest me as far as landscape painting go come from realism and science , as these help me bring out things I wish to say. My relation to this landscape is deeply personal, not ‘spiritual” and so next to a very real tree I place my very real children, with whom I spend most of my days, teaching and guiding. The depiction of children in art is often sentimental or misunderstood to be so. Defining what is “sentimental” in art, is often problematical. Some Victorian art is sentimental, in the sense of over romanticized or saccharine, too sweet. But a great deal of Victorian art is not this at all, but rather accurate pictures of childhood, and of children who are deeply loved. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but since many art critics are childless and have no experience of loving children, they brandish toxic terms like ‘sentimental’ and brand everything with that pejorative term. A good example of is Elizabeth Forbes great pating School is Out (1889), certinaly one of the best painting of groups of children ever done.
Anti-children aesthetics are not uncommon in a adult and narcissistic age, whereas childish corporate art is quite common, showing again the pretend and atavistic nature of corporate personhood and culture. Two year olds are great little beings and I love this picture of my two two playing. Those who make fun of them are fools who have forgotten the joys of their own childhood.
We use this particular Red Maple tree to make male syrup too, and it has a delicious flavor, like the sugar maple. I did a few paintings around the subject of making maple sugar for the kids. Here is our maple bucket attached to the same maple tree in March.
We got this bucket from an old man in maple sugar country out East of here, near Middlefield. We could have bought new ones, but the old style ones are very handsome. I like the rust on the top and the rusty spot of the side that is not yet a hole. The sap actually starts running in February.
The sap starts running around the same time that Canada Geese start getting restless and begin mating now if the ponds thaw early. I also did a small painting of the syrup itself after we made it from many gallons of liquid from the tree.
We traveled both locally and further field to see people collecting maple sugar. The Amish do it quite allot down in Burton, Middlefield and surrounding areas. One sees the steam and smoke coming up from the woods. The fire that boils down the maple liquid into syrup makes alot of steam. There is also a “Sugar Bush” down at Swine Creek State Park, and the maple syrup and “maple stirs’ are delicious as well as the fiddle and dulcimer music. The kids enjoyed this process immensely and got to learn about history and other cultures at the same time.
As to the Amish themselves, there are degrees of Mennonite and Amish folks, some more fanatical than others as far as rejection of “English” technology goes. In Middlefield and in Holmes county one often sees the horse and buggy and the horse drawn plow. Women and children in 19th century dresses and bonnets often walk along the roads. There is a prevalence of animals and all this creates a certain sympathetic ambiance that is pleasing. Indeed, I like the different scale of Amish communities, there are buildings close to each other and everything is scaled down to human and horse bodies rather than cars.
But there is a downside to Amish life that one sees too. Women are out hanging wet laundry in January, and there is evidence of animal abuse. We once talked with a 10 year old Amish girl taking care of her younger siblings and she complained of her parents making her get up at 5 in the morning to milk the cows and do other chores. It is a patriarchal Christian society and has many negative features that harken back to the values of the 1900’s. They social organization adversely affects women, children and animals. The religious aspect of the Amish is disturbing and often employs cultish features such as shunning and ostracism. We have encountered ‘puppy mills’ which abuse animals and sell them to the non-Amish.
I was not trying to compete with Eastman Johnson’s marvelous painting “Sugaring Off”. This might be the best maple sugaring picture yet done. It is a celebration of the abolition of slavery movement, the effort to boycott the sugar made by slaves from sugar cane and to enjoy the free sap of the maple trees up north, where slavery was becoming illegal.
I like Johnson’s work very much. He is one of our best chroniclers of life in the 19th century. He is a great history painter, from paint the slave quarters at Mount Vernon to showing farmers and rural life and African American life around the time of the civil war. But, I did not have grand ambitions for this work. I was just trying to record some simple observations about how maple sugaring has played a role in our lives with our kids. It is not the vast social thing it was over a hundred years ago. But it is a small social thing for us now now, and we enjoy its healthy pleasures in the late winter, and early spring. It ties us deeper to the land and the trees upon it. For many people Maple Sugaring, or the Sugar Bush is merely quaint history. For us it is reality and part of our lives. It gets us out in the late winter into the cold and into history, where we listen to fiddle music and enjoy Maple Sugar Stirs, the warm steam of boiling sap, and the taste of sap from deep under the land rising up onto our tongues.
This picture was done in a flood plain area not far from our house in October, 2011. I did this wet meadow three times in fall, winter and summer. I really like the little pond and cattails as well as the hillside. Indeed, I think it was the mass of vegatation on the hillside and the pond on the plain that interested me the most.
Geologically the Cuyahoga valley is ancient and was made by rivers perhaps 300 million years ago, which is the date of the rocks at Ritchie Ledges at the other end of the National Park. The Ice Age started about two million years ago. Glaciers bulldozed northeastern Ohio over millions of years before the Ice Age ended 10,000 or so years ago. Evidently there are few rocks that date from 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs died out, because of the glaciers that carved out the Valley later took away all this material. So in our Valley the rocks are either very old, 300 million years or older ( Berea Sandstone for instance) or very new, since the last ice age. (11,000 years ago) When we dig in our backyard it is full of pebbles and stones, all laid sown as the glacier retreated ten thousand years or more ago. There used to be Saber Tooth Tigers and Woolly Mammoths back then as well as the large Woodland Buffalo. Our neighbor found a “blank” spear head from about 1500 years ago right next to our land and gave it to my son. We are probably looking at the land mass that was created about 10,000 years ago in this painting. So this is a Cuyahoga River flood plain and it and the hillside opposite it are probably relatively recent.
The deer in this painting was done from life. She walked in front of me and stood there for a few minutes and I was able to block her in. I could do much better from a photo, certainly, but it is so rare to be able to paint a wild animal from life so I kept her as she is. The deer gave the painting a sense of scale and distance and I was thankful for that.
I did some of this painting in the rain and complained to myself about water puddles forming on my palette, but since oil paint and water don’t mix I didn’t mind that much. I have an umbrella I can attach to my paint box, but during a good soaking rain I get wet anyway.
Sweetgum Tree, 11/11.
I drove by this this lovely Sweetgum Tree nearly everyday for a year because I took my daughter to a school out that way. I admired it for some years before that. I finally tried to paint it after knowing it for three years. Next to it are some White Pines, one of my favorite Eastern trees. They have been called the Redwood of the East, which is not inaccurate. There used to be large forests of them, from Michigan to Maine, and they can grow to huge sizes, but they were much coveted and loggers destroyed most large stands of them 150 years ago. Among many others things, they were used for Clippership masts. As usual, there was little conservation effort and little regulation. The rapacious lumber industry destroyed its own product. Greed often destroys the thing it loves best.
This is the second of my tree portraits this year. It is also one of many portraits of plants or wildflowers. Some of the tall, dried out wildflowers mixed in the front grasses are Wingstem, which is very common in our Valley. Some of the other foreground plants are the remains of Ironweed, one of my favorite fall wildflowers. I have seen Coyotes in this area, and hoped I would see some during the Days I spent painting this, but if any showed they were the only ones to see me, I did not see them. I find when I am painting outside, however, that I get so wrapped up in the tiny decisions I must make to judge colors and mix them and consider values and intensities, that I forget everything around me but how to approach the “motif”, as Monet called it. I get wrapped up in the nature world and forget myself largely.
The tree itself was a challenge to paint and Sweetgum leaves are so individual and I would have had to be there for months to paint every one. I only had about a week before the leaves would start falling off. So I went as often as I could. I wanted it to be a painting of the White Pines too so I worked on them allot as well. I wanted to show a sort of path that deer and coyotes use going up in to the woods and you can see that to the middle right of the painting. I like the light on the White Pine boughs. I also like the the hint of the trail that goes up into the woods on the right.
I also did this small study of a Sweetgum Leaf
Across the Valley
f Now we are getting into November and all the leaves are down. It is almost as if you have entered a black, white or sepia photograph. such is the color difference. But actually the color that paint can exhibit goes beyond what is possible even in very good color pictures. The seeming black and white appearance of this work soon reveals and The carpet of orange leaves on the forest floor is the last remnant left of the fall, excepting, of course, the Black Squirrel who is collecting nuts and making herself fat to get through the winter. The November forest still has a certain warmth in it that it will not leave till January.
But the winter forest has a surprising variety in color that might go unseen after the much louder symphony of color that occurs in October. The trees now show many variations of color in their bark. On the left of the painting there is a Black Cherry tree, whose bark is nearly scalloped and has hints of a grayish purple. The Sugar Maple has a twisted wild grape vine around it and is greenish. Other tree trunks are Umber or more towards Naples Yellow or Burnt reds. Oil paint is especially good at these colors that do not have names, and are in between brown and blue or purple and grey, ochre and umber.
Way down below at the bottom of the valley you can see hints of the Cuyahoga river snaking its crooked way toward the north. There are different trees down in the valley than close by up on the hill where I stood. In the Valley there are allot more Willows, Sycamores, Cottonwoods and Aspens and fewer Hardwoods, like Cherry, Oak and Beech. On the far side of the Valley is the eastern wall or slope of the Valley carved out most recently by the glaciers of the Ice Age.
What I especially like in this painting is the feeling of space as you look from the foreground trees to the background hills on the far side of the valley. You can feel the depth of the Valley carved by the river. The ridge opposite hints at the burnt sienna fall that was and suggests just how this Valley might have looked 500 or 5000 years ago. The oak trees are the second to last to lose their leaves. Only the Beech Trees take longer and they last till spring, sere and naples yellow rustling in the trees in the slightest wind. The bird in the young tree that is closest to the viewer is a Downy Woodpecker.
There were a number of closer studies I did for Across the Valley.
There was a Black Squirrel nuzzling in the leaves when I was working on Across the Valley.. I try to only put animals that I actually see into these paintings. But few animals are willing to pose for an artist, so I did some photos of Black squirrels in my area and did the Black Squirrel that is in the above painting. Indeed, I used this painting as the model for the squirrel in the landscape. While I was doing this study I remember thinking about levels of detail, — how far should I go to reproduce reality. The largest leaf in front, closest to us, looks like a real leaf. Some of the leaves in the back of the painting look utterly real too, you can feel their papery stiffness, the pliable strength of their stems. Reality is not merely what our eyes can see, but also what is too small or large or hidden to sight. It would be interesting to paint with a microscope..
I did more than one version of this.
I did a second version of this work, for a client. Below is with and without its frame.
I recently saw Jupiter through a ten inch telescope and it was no less amazing than this Black Squirrel, indeed, looking at living things or new planets you have not see before, can have the same shock of awareness of the rich varieties that exist in reality..
Black Squirrels are actually Gray Squirrels with allot of melanin. The city of Kent, Ohio developed a significant black squirrel population after 10 were legally imported from Canada in February 1961 by biologist Ralph W. Dexter. He wanted to study whether they would upset the ecosystem on Northeast Ohio. They did. They have driven out native Gray Squirrels in many areas, though actually they are a form of the Gray Squirrel. The have even moved into Rocky River reservations recently. Colonies of them them exist all over the eastern states. But as there is really no species difference, I am not sure this matters.
This a study of the Downy Woodpecker, whch is also in the painting Across the Valley. This one flew into our window and died. My daughter noticed it and we brought it into the house and both of us did a memorial picture of it. We are a family of bird lovers and we feed them. One of the hazards of feeding birds is that they are likely to fly into your windows, even if you have put up things to try to stop them. We have tried various things to discourage this behavior, such as paper snowflake cutouts or transparents leaves, but as yet nothing we have tried prevents it entirely. I am sure it was a juvenile, as the older birds usually know to avoid the windows.
Bird feeders also or attract Sharp-shinned Hawks and when they come there is nothing to do but stop feeding the birds till they go away. I have gone out too, whenever the hawk is around, and physically show him that I do not want him there. I have done several times, and the hawk leaves for a long period of time. I do not do anything mean, I just pay allot of attention to the hawk and follow it on foot. This makes him leave the area.
My daughter noticed the dead bird on our deck and we brought it into the house and both of us did a memorial picture of it. We are a family of bird lovers and we feed them. One of the hazards of feeding birds is that they are likely to fly into your windows, even if you have put up things to try to stop them like paper snowflakes or other objects on the window. Bird feeders also or attract Sharp-shinned Hawks and when they come there is nothing to do but stop feeding the birds till they go away. I have gone out too, whenever the hawk is around, and physically show him that I do not want him there. I have done several times, and the hawk leaves for a long period of time. I do not do anything mean, I just pay allot of attention to the hawk and follow it on foot. This makes him leave the area.
Turkeys in the Woods
One day my nearly three year old son and I were walking in the woods above a Beaver pond and came across this old fallen tree. I liked the color of it, covered with mosses, lichens and molds. The mosses were all wet. Pine needles, dead leaves, chewed up bits of pine cone, and shredded bark surrounded the damp base of the fallen tree. It was under lovely canopy of pine trees some of them my believed White Pines but also hemlock and Scotch pine..
(if you look att Green Heron’s World below, the stand of pines that is in the upper right of the painting is the one I am talking about. The painting of the Train near the Wetland at the bottom of this page was also done nearby up the hill form the beaver pond in this grove of pines))
I loved all the decay and new growth coming up. The wet old walnuts, somewhat purple in the misty rain that was falling that day. Red squirrels chattered up above me, eating pine cones, some of which surrounded me from here they dropped them. A turkey with one full grown poult ran up the hill while I was painting there, so I decided to put a Turkey in the work.
I was not thinking of Van Gogh at all when did this. But I like many of Vincent’s early works and one that I like especially for its tactile and earthy evocation of the ground in the forest, is this one here. It occurred to me as I write this that It has a similar color scheme to my painting. I am not sure why the girl is there in Vincent’s work, she seems unnecessary to his subject which is really the earth roots and leaves.
Occasionally I wax philosophical, and I have always been irritated by Berkeley’s saying that “There is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park […] and nobody by to perceive them. […] The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived” In other words to be is to be perceived, it is a philosophy tailor made for narcissists. It is hard to imagine anyone with intelligence would invent such human centered rubbish. So I painted a Turkey and and Red Squirrel quite aware of the fallen tree and no one there to see them but animals or birds. But this really is a small part of this painting, something I thought about as I was doing it. I like the idea of refuting this sort of nonsense by the evidence of a painting, a painting moreover that is as based in fact as this one is. Refuting Berkeley is akin to refusing “Post Modernism” (pomo) which has a similar narcissistic idea that reality is a human construction, when obviously, it isn’t. The idea that reality is a human construction is mostly made up by city dwellers, who have a distorted view of the world and nature in general. They are aware of little but the human, which is a point of view that is extremely truncated and false. It si the result of sensory and natural deprivation, a kind of starvation of the perception of reality by excessive reliance on human propaganda systems, confined in anti-nature spaces, architectures, and virtual prisons made by human technologies..
But the main subject of this work is not Berkeley or “pomo” as some call it, but the forest itself and the animals in it. It does not need humans to exist. Indeed, the main threat to nature is humanity.But the main subject of this work is not Berkeley or “pomo” as some call it, but the forest itself and the animals in it. It does not need humans to exist. Indeed, the main threat to nature is humanity.
I changed it to Turkeys partly because I was not happy with the squirrel and wish to do another one of them. Turkeys are amazing animals too, who have a kind of proto language. and this was the perfect setting for them. There are many in our area, and they are increasingly. The hunters are so far kept form killing them. Extinctions are mostly the result of male testosterone poisoning, fools with guns who have to shoot every thing moves. The world will be better when they are put under control. The same testes pumps and greed obsessed people who make huge skyscrapers, kill Turkeys, and so I celebrate them partly to protest those who kill them.
So recently, a few days ago, I painted them in. The original painting is below, so the two can be compared.
I wrote the following about the Red Squirrel, which belongs here for now. I may eventually do a better painting of them, as it is an animals we spend our lives with and I see them everyday. I wrote this a few years ago.
There are four species of Squirrel in our area, the Fox, Red, Gray(black) and the Flying. I just saw my first Flying Squirrel in the woods a few days ago. (Dec. 2o12) I have seen them in cages, but I don’t think of that as seeing the actual thing, really. The Flying Squirrel was up during the day, which I think unusual, and I saw it fly down to the ground is a graceful and fairly slow freefall, flight skin outstretched between the fore and back limbs. It hit the ground running and quite amazed me. I have only painted the Red, Fox and the Black, not the gray or Flying..
Red Squirrels have more energy than any mammal that I know of. They are even crazier and seem more nervous than Otters. I don’t know much about animals like Martens, Fishers, Wolverines, and Ermines, though I have seen Minks. But for three years now Red Squirrels have adopted our house and my family. They built a house in the rafters of the garage and live there all year round. When the Walnut tree nearby is in nuts they hide them around the garage. They pull them out to eat them all through the winter and dump them on the floor for us to kindly clean up for them. I don’t mind obliging them. We feed them generous portions of bird food, and that is fine too. But they are amoral beings and have destroyed a number of our favorite birds nests. I have not been happy about that. One year it was the House Finches nest. They killed one of the babies in the nest and the other just managed to get away when I yelled at the squirrel. This last summer one of these Squirrels raided the nest of the Cardinals or Redbirds we call Baldy, (because he gets head mites most years and loses his head feathers in the summer). But besides this lamentable lack of bad conscience, they are otherwise the most delightful and energetic beings I have ever seen, full of pluck and vigor, leaping form branch to branch, yelling at each other, and curling up together is their leaf-stuffed bedroom in the garage every night. Their babies are even more energetic and will chase each other around our huge Silver Maple in spirals up and down the tree. In the painting above I pictured the Red Squirrel in one of it more placid moments. I often see them in this pose sitting in a tree gnawing on a nut or on the railing of our deck, chewing on a peanut. Red Squirrels have more energy than any mammal that I know of. They are even crazier and seem more nervous than Otters. I don’t know much about animals like Martens, Fishers, Wolverines, and Ermines, though I have seen Minks. But for three years now Red Squirrels have adopted our house and my family. They built a house in the rafters of the garage and live there all year round. When the Walnut tree nearby is in nuts they hide them around the garage. They pull them out to eat them all through the winter and dump them on the floor for us to kindly clean up for them. I don’t mind obliging them. We feed them generous portions of bird food, and that is fine too. But they are amoral beings and have destroyed a number of our favorite birds nests. I have not been happy about that. One year it was the House Finches nest. They killed one of the babies in the nest and the other just managed to get away when I yelled at the squirrel. This last summer one of these Squirrels raided the nest of the Cardinals or Redbirds we call Baldy, (because he gets head mites most years and loses his head feathers in the summer). But besides this lamentable lack of bad conscience, they are otherwise the most delightful and energetic beings I have ever seen, full of pluck and vigor, leaping form branch to branch, yelling at each other, and curling up together is their leaf-stuffed bedroom in the garage every night. Their babies are even more energetic and will chase each other around our huge Silver Maple in spirals up and down the tree. In the painting above I picture the Red Squirrel in one of it more placid moments. I often see them in this pose sitting in a tree gnawing on a nut or on the railing of our deck, chewing on a peanut.
Little Bluestem and Pines
It was the warmest December I ever remember, but we did have a light snow a few times. This is one of those times. The snow flakes were large and fluffy. I could see the designs of the snowflakes on arm of my black winter coat. It was a slushy snow and I was standing in a bit of a puddle in the clumpy grasses. There is an old clapboard barn near where I was painting this and it is a matter of feet from where I stood and did the “Across the Valley .
I love these native grasses and have admired them since I was at school in Southern Ohio, where they are more common than in Northern Ohio. For years I have been calling them Andropogon Scoparius, but recently they have been called Schizachyrium scoparium, both refer to the plant commonly called Little Bluestem. I imagine there is a structural reason for this change. In any case they are lovely in the fall and winter and have this russet, ochre or cinnamon tone that pleases me greatly. As I studied them they even turned a little towards crimson and purple in the shadows. So I decided to dedicate a whole painting to them as a sort of grass portrait. This in itself could be an endless study. The fate of native grasses historically is a vast subject that parallels in many ways the fate of native peoples. Bad agricultural practices, poor policy, farming techniques and herbicide poisons, as well as corporate greed are the main culprits I loved the pine trees too, and there are several species here, and I do not mean to diminish them. But this painting is about these special grasses and snow as well as snow fall on pine boughs.
Sycamore over Chippewa Creek
This is Chippewa Creek, one of many tributaries of the Cuyahoga. It is not one of the cleanest. Some are more clean that others, and the cleanest ones, notably, have the most wildflowers along them. The mouth of the Chippewa enters the Cuyahoga just around the bend there up ahead in the painting. We have entered December here. It was the warmest year ever in Ohio, but that did not prevent some cold days. On this day there was a dusting of snow on the opposite bank. The snow melted on the left bank because the sun is in the southern sky in the winter, which is to the right in the painting. To the left is where the sun shines strongest and so it has melted to snow on the left bank.
Sycamore trees are very common in Ohio. I used to marvel at them in Marietta when I went to college there briefly. I especially enjoyed seeing them at night as their white branches would glow against the starry sky. They grow along the Ohio river and indeed, they are wet soil trees and prosper where there is allot of water, streams or rivers. In this place, I was charmed by the way the tree managed to lean out so far over Chippewa Creek, and hold onto the bank, very nearly growing horizontally. Sycamores are amazing that way and often can do that. It is in no apparent danger of crashing into the water. I have seen this many times with these trees. They help preserve river banks in this way, holding the bank back from erosion. Admirable trees,, which have interesting seed balls which goldfinches love to eat in the winter and spring. Greenish-grey- brown or yellow birds clinging to the seeded globes.
One of my main motives in doing this picture was to try to represent the massiveness of the form of the tree and its weight and strength, holding itself up by a rooted attachment to the bank. This stretch of the Creek has cut right through a shale hillside. I had started back doing life drawings around this time and that study helped me understand form in nature a little better. After all, the human body and all other organic forms from horses to tree trunks have much in common. All this year I have been interested in turning form and the ’roundness’ and density of things. The palpable and thick masses of things.
In other seasons my kids have splashed and waded in this creek. I did a painting of a Scarlet Tanager in this creek too. But not during this time. It so cold here one cannot imagine those summer things.
Station Road and Bridge
Walking back on the railroad tracks from doing the Sycamore painting, I started seeing this lovely train station across the parking lot at Station Road. I love trains and wish our society would rebuild them. They are much more efficient than cars and waste less energy. I like the loneliness of train tracks and the hope of stations, the longing to go elsewhere. I lived in England for 6 months years ago and loved the stations there and the ease of travel by train.
In the distance is a bridge which is one of the most beautiful bridges in the state of Ohio: both to look down from and to look up at. It recalls bridges on Highway One in California I have seen, with great arches that span lyrically over the Valley. There is an Eagle nest in a wetland near here and I have seen Peregrine Falcons, many Herons, as well as Prothonotary and Cerulean Warblers in this area too. Many people get the Valley train here, which goes to Akron or Canton, or they park here to get on the towpath to walk, jog or ride bikes. The towpath trail runs along the old Canal way, and goes the entire length of the 17 or so miles to Akron..
I don’t usually like to paint around people much, excepting my students, but will do it if I have to. On this painting I could see I had to. I have had people take pictures of me while I paint plein air and I find that particularly annoying, and I stop them if I can. But the lights on the train station were so lovely at twilight I could not resist it. Ever since my teens, walking home in the winter, I loved seeing lighted windows in houses, suggesting warmth and a place to go where you feel you belong. Indeed, for us humans, belonging is almost everything, and it is that need that makes us fear shunning and homelessness so much, the cruelty of the tribe. But this painting is far from cruelty, a family wants a the warm station, all its members happy and together. Even the so called “winter weeds” in the foreground of the painting have a certain inviting warmth. I have always loved the shapes of dried out winter plants. My mother loved them too and we keep on her tradition of making flower arrangements of dried winter plants and berries..
As I worked on this painting over 5 days or so, I had various weather. One day I was out there for several hours in a snow storm and the temperature dropped below 15 degrees (F). The snow that was falling was no longer melting on impact and was falling in perfectly classical 6 point star designs. I could see these in my black coat. The snow began to congeal in my paint. Soon, snowflakes made it thick like pencil shavings or sawdust mixed with glue. The paint became so viscous and clumpy I could scarcely get the paint onto the board much less manipulate it like ordinary paint. I tried to put it on the painting and it merely fell off it clumps. The clumps mixed with the freezing paint and became lighter and harder to tell just what color it was..
I had cut off the two fingers on some very warm wool gloves and made them into painting gloves that free the two fingers on my right hand. I was painting in these. After a few hours int he cold, my two exposed fingers were so cold I could barely move them and was beginning to fear getting frostbite. So I went home. I had to give up for that day. It was a good day of painting though. and I was happy..
Later I painted in some little figures of my family waiting for the train. We try to ride this train at least once a year and it is great fun. I tell the kids about how good the trains europe are and how they save enormously on pollution. I tell them too, how the U.S. listened to wrong men to have gotten rid of most of our trains. Putting businessmen in power of just about any thing is a questionable idea. They ae only good at making money, and few of the things that matter in life are about making money. Businessmen must always be kept in check, never to rule anything.
The last afternoon and early evening I was there was still cold. I worked under the the cold blue northern sky. I love these cold skies form Canada, because the air is clean you can see stars. You can see this clear cold sky beyond the bridge, hinting at the Sky over Lake Erie all the way to Hudson’s Bay. It was too cold for anyone to be there the last twilight I was there and I painted away happily. The light was just right and I was thrilled with the work. But it is one for or five to this finest in this series, I think. The last afternoon and early evening I was there was still cold. I worked under the the cold blue northern sky. I love these cold skies form Canada, because the air is clean you can see stars. You can see this clear cold sky beyond the bridge, hinting at the Sky over Lake Erie all the way to Hudson’s Bay. It was too cold for anyone to be there the last twilight I was there and I painted away happily. The light was just right and I was thrilled with the work. But it is one for or five to this finest in this series, I think.
One further note about this work. I brought it home and decided that it needed us in the painting,—my family and I. We have taken the Valley train to Akron Zoo several times, not from this station but from another, and it is a marvelous trip. I wanted to do another miniature of my family. I did one a few years ago with figures even smaller and sued a magnifying glass. I don’t know why I find miniature work interesting. Maybe it is the small miniature thatt Julia Kahle did of my grandma that is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. But not really as years earlier to knowing about Kahle’s picture I was fascinated with Jan Van Eyck Jan Van Eyck’s amazing tour de force of miniaturization in his famous crucifixions and hell scene in the Met . I admire the left panel in particular,— look at the faces of all the men on horses. It is refreshing to see the very small and humble done with honest authenticity of subject and of the best execution one can achieve. I think I admire the miniature partly because today there are so many huge gigantic paintings in museums that are utterly empty of any content. Corporate art is the art beloved of psychopathic corporations. (note: See also Van Eyk’s or any of his other paintings too, such as the famous mirror in thee Arnolfini portraittor theor theamazing landscape and town in the background of thee The Virgin of Chancellor Rolinn. ). ). )
My eyes are not good enough to achieve anything like that level of detail. But I admire this skill greatly. Indeed, I can’t think of anyone who has done as well and Van Eyks in this genre of exquisite detail in the very small. There are many miniatures in the Portrait Gallery in London, as well as other museums, that are quite amazing too. What I admire is the skill of There are some works by Ernst Meissonnier , Cleveland has a very fine example— which are amazing but not up to Van Eyck. Meissonnier’s politics are quite reactionary but that does not detract from his skill as an artist. I think Van Eyck had exceptional eyesight and the hand control to match it. There is nothing quite like him in the history art. In any case, I tried my hand at this on a hand-made box a few years ago. Here I did not use a magnifying glass as I did then, and managed to make tiny figures less than an inch high, with some verisimilitude. My daughters red coat with the fluffy collar and her dress with a Scottish plaid is suggested. My generous form and my wife’s blue coat as well as my son riding on my wife’s hip are apparent. But it is still far from the expertise of Van Eyk and Meissonier. I am just venturing a little in their direction, which only increased my respect for their skill. I do not aspire to be a great miniaturist, but I have come to admire those who have mastered this skill.
I spent parts of Winter and Spring studying Vermeer and De Hooch too, as well as other Dutch painters. They did not affect my landscape work, but more my figurative work. I much prefer De Hooch to Vermeer, though there is much to admire in the latter. De Hooch’s work is very warm and it is clear that his wife was very likely a model for many of his paintings. I like that he provides a window into the reality of life and one can feel a certain love of the domestic in him which I appreciate. It is this intimacy that I admire in De Hooch as well, which is lacking in Vermeer. We spend a great deal of time with our children and do not farm them out to privatized institutions and “day care”..
The hatred of history in modern art is one of its most irritating aspects. It’s time bound and even provincial abstractions claim to be eternal. I love art history and always have. One can complain about Bourgeois art all one wants. But to assume that painters like Rembrandt, Courbet, De Hooch, Langley, Van Gogh or Lhermitte were doing Bourgeois art is just ridiculous. These are great artists who were recording the facts about the life of their times, often of the middle or lower classes, not making art about itself. Art about itself is merely narcissistic and human centered speciesism, as well as merely captiialist fethishism, serving the corproate elite. That is bourgeois. That is what “painters” like Duchamp and Warhol really were, painters who could not paint and made alot of money making pieces of conspicuous emptiness.
The presumption of a Matisse, Picasso or Pollock to abandon the art of the past and “go beyond it”, is so ridiculous that it is embarrassing. The suppressed the ability to draw and in the process made their art into poor imitations of Children’s art. Children can draw much better than any of them. Science shows us that learning from the past really matters, and making yourself dumb and unable to draw or learn from the past is an ignorant thing to do. There is so much to be learned form the history of art about social facts, technique, experiment, inquiry, seeing, sensing, organizing as well as history, politics, philosophy, and so much else. Modern art through everything out the window and made art about art. But in doing so it killed what art is, which is everything except art. They made art into empty fetishes that really are all about money. How stupid was that? Art begins with nature, as is obvious from the art of the Caves to Davinci, Wyeth or Van Gogh.
Muskrat Lodge and Pond
This is the same site as the painting above called “Cuyahoga Floodplain and Hillside”. This is the second of three paintings done there. I was interested in the Muskrat Lodge next to the ice as well as the ice itself. There was an area of ice apparently kept clear by ducks or geese, but they had left during the times I was there. The ice was smoky with an old snow frozen and melted and refrozen again in a gray and misty color. I love that color and it reminds me of ice skating on Cedar Pond in New jersey, when I was a kid.
There was more of the Little Bluestem here. I struggled with the trees in the background because the light was so variable. When the sun sets here it goes down in the valley to the far right and casts very long beams of light though the trees from right to left in the painting. The winter trees are normally a grayish umber, but I show them here as reddish because the sun was on them and they glow with warmth. There were purple shadows beyond them.
Winter Creek, (Columbia Run)
This is a study of rocks, water and ice. It is not at all an abstract work, though it might appear as one. The rippling stream is called Columbia Run, a little noticed creek about midway between Boston Mills and Vaughn Roads. This creek is said to have Redbelly Dace, a rare minnow. I have seen minnow in it but could not tell which ones. It also is said rare Cerulean Warblers nest here. I have not seen them here, though I have seen them elsewhere in the park. I was interested in the whites, grays and blues of the ice and snow and the color of the many rocks in the water and how the two contrast. There were a few leaves from the fall. It was March already and a feeling of early spring was at large, with the slushy snow and the melt. If you squint your eyes at the painting you can almost see and hear the water dancing over the small stones and under the ice on the rock in the middle of the rivulet. At the top of the painting I like the feeling of slushy snow. Not a picture of paint, but “beyond the paint” and proud of that, as that is where poetry is.
A comment might be in order on abstract art here. I generally breeze through areas in museums that have abstract things in them, as they are usually so badly conceived and done. There are some exceptional abstractions that have real content, but they are rare. Kandinsky and Klee and sometimes Picasso are often very interesting, even if Kandinsky’s spiritual ideology is bizarre, Blavatskian and even delusional. But what is good in these men’s work is bested by certain Oriental or Native American carpets, which is largely a woman’s art, as well as some quilts and pottery designs, which are often abstract and very amazing. Folk art, costume and decorations of many kinds are often very human and compelling in ways that the fashion/art world in New York is not. Most of these are by women too. Defining the difference is not the place of this essay, but it boils down to corporate, institutional art as against an art that grows from actual people and their real needs. A great South Persian tribal carpet has real flowers and birds and a love of nature in it. In the painting above I was not concerned with abstract design at all, but rather with the facts of the subject and doing justice to water, snow and stones. What matters is the felt empathy with colors and forms. In a really good oriental carpet that is what one sees: nature translated organically into a wool design felt deeply and made concrete by art. Art by definition is not mechanical or corporate. The weaver has been sensitive to the colors and forms that wool makes and translates that sensitivity into abstract floral or geometric shapes. Some quilts do this too and one can feel the love that was put into the design, meant to warm a child in the bed or keep warm a married couple who have been together 30 years.
Dark Eyed Juncos are lovely small birds that come down form Canada every late fall and live with us all winter. They leave in April and fly back north. It is often very cold here in the winter but it is nice to be someones’ South”. It makes me feel a bit warmer. I am always glad when the arrive and sad when they go. We are faithful feeders so they are sure to get their food and stay with us for the winter. Their tail feathers suddenly flick a whitish stripe when they flitter from here to there. Here they are eating a few peanuts on our deck. I was intrigued by the subtlety of the whites in this scene. The snow in the sunlight appeared with a bluish tint, but the underbelly of the birds was a light greenish and lemony yellow. I liked that contrast very much..
We got to know the Oregon Junco in Northern California, which some ornithologists list as a sub-race of the Dark Eyed, and some list as a separate species altogether. It is quite different with a russet back and peach or ochre colored sides. These two in my painting seem to be two Slate Colored males, which are a type of Dark Eyed Junco. We got to know the Oregon Junco in Northern California, which some ornithologists list as a sub-race of the Dark Eyed, and some list as a separate species altogether. It is quite different with a russet back and peach or ochre colored sides These two in my painting seem to be two Slate Colored males, which are a type of Dark Eyed Junco.
We are now in March, 2012. I enjoyed finding this place and doing this painting very much. It is near a place called Deer Lick Cave, which I ended up calling Turquoise Valley, because of the wonderous copper green lichens that grow on many of the rocks there, The bluish/green lichen color combined with the yellow/green mosses makes for a lovely concert of colors that is rare in such profusion. There is a trail that goes through the area, but it was sympathetically made with wood for the small bridges that go over the creek and not metal. My knowledge of geology needs improvement, but I believe the rocks are also Berea Sandstone, a very hard rock that resists erosion. This is the same rock we see at Ritchie Ledges, (see below My Kids Overlooking Cuyahoga National Park.) This whole little valley is made of hard sandstone and it makes it a cool hidden place under the e tree canopy. The water does not run all the time, but when there is rain it runs and fills the little valley with the sound of dancing water.
The original painting was started in the rain and the water was soupy, greenish yellow and heavy as it poured over the huge rocks. After my first foray there, pictured here in a smaller image, I decided the light was too overcast and dark. This is an early state of the same work, after one session, the one above is after four sessions. The original painting was started in the rain and the water was soupy, greenish yellow and heavy as it poured over the huge rocks. After my first foray there, pictured here in a smaller image, I decided the light was too overcast and dark. This is an early state of the same work, after one session, the one above is after four sessions.
I changed the ambiance and the next three visits were on sunny days when the light was better. The water was cooler, blue and dancing. I painted in the late afternoon, looking toward the sun. The water was less milky, less full of sediment, less swollen from recent rain.
The painting posed many problems. The highlights in the water were very bright. As the water descends it gets bluer and greyer, and this was not easy to capture. The ochre rock on which the waterfall falls was also very dark, and capturing this large wet and black/ochre rock posed problems. I didn’t use black but Prussian blue and Burnt Umber. The waterfall itself, where it hits the pool, reminded me of one of Da Vinci’s greatest drawings. In that drawing he shows the dynamics of water hitting water, plunging down and bubbling up in concentric circles. I knew I could not match his peerless hand and observational skills, but I did the best I could. The painting posed many problems. The highlights in the water were very bright. As the water descends it gets bluer and greyer, and this was not easy to capture. The ochre rock on which the waterfall falls was also very dark, and capturing this large wet and black/ochre rock posed problems. I didn’t use black but Prussian blue and Burnt Umber. The waterfall itself, where it hits the pool, reminded me of one of Da Vinci’s greatest drawings. In that drawing he shows the dynamics of water hitting water, plunging down and bubbling up in concentric circles. I knew I could not match his peerless hand and observational skills, but I did the best I could.
In the lower right of the painting, there is a spiral galaxy-like form. This results from bubbles from the waterfall getting caught in a whirling current or cul de sac. That charmed me very much and added to the poetry of the place. Nature echoes itself in so many places.
The main thing I wished to express in this work was the greenness of this turquoise valley as well as the liquid tracery of the fluid light in the waterfall, contrasting with the cantilevered gravity of the massive rocks. I am not sure I achieved my goal, but then I rarely do entirely. I am interested in art serving science and objectivity. I always make mistakes and go back and try again, hoping to improve slowly over time. I look forward to painting in this spot again, and tried once, but that painting failed and I did not keep it. I might try to do this scene yet again and this time I would make changes, make it taller and include more of the woods, or change my view and do it from another angle, perhaps on top of the waterfall. In the lower right of the painting, there is a spiral galaxy-like form. This results from bubbles from the waterfall getting caught in a whirling current or cul de sac. That charmed me very much and added to the poetry of the place. Nature echoes itself in so many places.
The main thing I wished to express in this work was the greenness of this turquoise valley as well as the liquid tracery of the fluid light in the waterfall, contrasting with the cantilevered gravity of the massive rocks. I am not sure I achieved my goal, but then I rarely do entirely. I am interested in art serving science and objectivity. I always make mistakes and go back and try again, hoping to improve slowly over time. I look forward to painting in this spot again, and tried once, but that painting failed and I did not keep it. I might try to do this scene yet again and this time I would make changes, make it taller and include more of the woods, or change my view and do it from another angle, perhaps on top of the waterfall.
Spotted Salamnders in Flashlight. ( Jan. 2013)
While the leaves are still well off the tress and only a few species have shown signs of spring life, the Salamanders begin to stir form their hibernation. While the leaves are still well off the tress and only a few species have shown signs of spring life, the Salamanders begin to stir form their hibernation.
The challenge of this one was to try to sum up not just one year of visits to the Salamander Migration but 4 years. Photographing Salamanders was not easy because I did not like turning over logs to find them. They can be easily killed by this practice. The only time that these beings can be easily seen is in the early Spring, March usually, during a rain, when the temperature is above 40. That is when the migrate. More akin to frogs than lizards these are very interesting amphibians migrate at the same time as Wood frogs, Peepers and Chorus Frogs and to vernal pools..
We have brought our children the migrations in various spots since 2007.We took the kids out numerous times each year looking for Frogs and Salamanders. These migrations are wisely monitored by park officials as there are ignorant and people who like to steal these animals and in doing so hurt Salamander populations. All amphibians have been in serious decline for some time. The causes are many, including a fungus (Chytridiomycosis), environmental destruction, pollution, global warming and other factors. Some species have become extinct. They often cross streets to migrate to the Vernal ponds and they are hit by cars, which is why it is wise to close off roads when the migration is on. It is amazing to watch them both in and after the migration as it is a sort of orgy of Frogs and Salamanders which occurs. Great numbers of eggs are laid down in egg masses and fertilized by very ardent males. Here I was trying to capture the fact of it being nighttime and we use flashlights or Kerosene Lanterns, which casts a strong light on the animals. They don’t seem to bothered by it, driven by hormones and spring the ardency of desire..
This work is recent and is different than most of the others in that it is partly invention and partly done from photos I took of Spotted Salamanders during the migration. An artist in Toronto I know named Barry Kent MacKay thinks that one of the the best way to do birds is through the informed imagination. My own way is rather different as I like to do thinks form life as much as possible. Certainly that is what Da Vinci was doing in some respects. Many of the old masters created pictures out of their minds in their studio, more than their eyes. Of course, the great ones like Da Vinci first mastered drawing with the eyes. Barry has mastered bird anatomy more than anyone I know, and he can draw nearly any species from his head. He sets these in what he calls ‘Vignetttes’ and some of these are amazingly beautiful. I also admire his animal rights work. Alan Brooks, Fuertes, D.M. Reid-Henry, George M. Sutton T.M. Shortt, Liljefors, and Roger Peterson were all influences on Barry. Barry is an scientist/artist of the kind I am advocating for in this essay. I admire him you can see some of his work here.
Redbud Tree in March
Spring in Ohio is glorious. I love spring anywhere, but in the eastern states it is so spectacular a change from winter to spring that it takes your breath away. I have always thought so and remember the rapture of this season going all the way back to my teens. It is not just the beauty of the trees, though that is a major part of it, but the air itself is full of hope and new life. The sun is at a friendlier angle and the birds know that and come back to Ohio almost by the clock, in a process called photoperiodism. That brings our Orioles here, for instance, about the beginning of May.
This is another portrait of a native tree in our area: the Redbud. I got to know Redbuds at Hereoes Wetland years ago. I had seen a large stand of them in Richfield, and knew of this stand up on Hines Hill Road. These are special trees. The flower actually grows on the stems themselves, rather like the lovely Spice Bush which comes into bloom around this time too. I’ve seen Cardinals, Golden Crowned Kinglets or Goldfinches in them. So for a week or so, when I had some time, I went up Hines Hill road and painted this. It was so warm the trees were coming on quickly and I did not have much time. It was done again in probably 4 or 5 visits. The tree with brownish/red buds in the background is the Sugar Maple. I am not sure what the white blossoms were, perhaps Serviceberry, or Dogwood. Below the Redbud is more Little Bluestem grasses as well as a few daffodils someone planted long ago. The Redwing Blackbirds were back and kept me company at the pond near where I stood. I have been wanting to paint flowering trees again for many years and was very glad to be doing it. I hope to do more next year. Spring is so dear to my heart and I can’t imagine why I have spent so many years not painting spring trees. I knew I wanted to do this 40 years ago and did it 30 years ago. Why did I waste other years? The excitement and reward of painting outside is one gets to spend days with each species, in many kids of weather.
In any case, I was not prepared for an early spring and had to rush into painting the Redbud before I was psychologically ready for it. The Turkey Vultures were back weeks earlier than usual and the Magnolias burned out early. Dragonflies were out early too. The ponds where the Jefferson’s, Yellow Spotted and Red Backed Salamanders migrate was lower than usual because there was so little snow. Another sign of Global Warming perhaps.The daffodils you see in this painting should not be out yet, but they were out a few weeks early. Usually they come out in early April, but here there are out of the 24th of March or so.
Once I finally adjusted as best I could, I was glad to see the Redbuds coming out in late March. I finished this sometime around then. In years past I used to call this time of year “the time when a rainbow falls over the land”, as the spring trees look so various and fresh in their pastel colors.
The last two paintings before this, one of a waterfall and the other of a spring creek, both had to do with water and early spring run off. We had so little snow that there was little run off though. There was a bizarre heat wave in March and this caused the fruit trees to bloom early and then many flowers were killed in a later frost. No flowers, no fruit— and so allot of our local apple growers only had apples till November instead of December. That that was hard on them. Certainly all this was caused by global warming. It was again the warmest year on record. Indeed, NOAA’s National Climate Data Center reported that over 7,000 daily record high temperatures were tied or broken from March 1 through March 27, 2012. Businessmen unregulated will destroy the earth if we let them. They don’t care as long and they make their billions. We need to tax and regulate them much more than we do.
The heat wave affected my paintings. Spring was odd, as some trees came early and some came at their regular time. I worried about the birds as their timing is partly motivated by ‘photoperiodism’. That is to say they move north when the length of daylight suggests they should. I was worried that the “shift” to an early timing for the emergence of vegetation and insects could compromise survivability for birds . Would the insects they prefer to give their young be there for them? But it seems weather also plays a part, and it may be that some birds have been moving north early..There is evidence that some did come early. The effects of early arrival might affect birds in various negative ways too. Like the fruit trees they could be exposed to sudden cold or their food supply be decimated. I worried about these things over the spring. But the evidence was inconclusive, perhaps I did not need to worry so much.
Spring: My Kids Overlooking Cuyahoga National Park from the Ledges
By early April a more normal temperature was abroad. That is why my kids are wearing coats. It is colder. This painting was a joy to do as we all went to the Ritchie Ledges over a week’s time and brought dinner to eat at a picnic table. The kids got to play down below the ledges with their mom while I painted up above and they came to visit me frequently to talk and see how it was coming. Many of the hardwoods are in bloom. The pastel shades of spring, which some will confuse with fall, cover the land in delicate tints and hues. “The time when a rainbow falls over the land”, is obviously still here. The late sunlight is pouring through the tender new leaves, casting light on the grey stone making in purplish and blue,lace for my little three year old and we took the picture with his mother just out of the picture. There is a 40 foot cliff in front of the children so it was out of the question that they could pose. There was no danger of him falling as his sister and mother were both looking out for him. I painted them into the rest of the painting, which was otherwise entirely Plein Air, from a photograph. This is also one the best views over the Cuyahoga Valley. I have gone around the Valley from many directions and it is hard to find places to get such a wide view. That is partly why I did the painting, as well as to memorialize a moment in the life of our two children, who love this place dearly and love our park. It is a celebration of spring. It is also a study in the poetry of color and the use of aerial perspective ochre and green..
I especially like this painting. This is a special place, with the Berea sandstone cliffs raising up to 100 feet in some places and covered in mosses and lichens. You can see some of the mosses on the rocks here and an old root of the tree just out of view. All of this painting was done on site except the children. This was a very dangerous place for my little three year old and we took the picture with his mother just out of the picture. There is a 40 foot cliff in front of the children so it was out of the question that they could pose. There was no danger of him falling as his sister and mother were both looking out for him. I painted them into the rest of the painting, which was otherwise entirely Plein Air, from a photograph. This is also one the best views over the Cuyahoga Valley. I have gone around the Valley from many directions and it is hard to find places to get such a wide view. That is partly why I did the painting, as well as to memorialize a moment in the life of our two children, who love this place dearly and love our park. It is a celebration of spring. It is also a study in the poetry of color and the use of aerial perspective.
This also is a celebration of spring. One of my favorite things about it is the illuminated trees in the distance. There is a hill there and the trees are on top of it catching the last of the sun’s rays, whereas the Bluebells are in the woods and in shadow.The largest tree towards the viewer is a Locust tree. I have been in love with Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica))for over a decade. They grow in colonies, usually in wet areass near rivers, creeks or floodplains. I have often seem them near Wild Hyacinths (Camassia scilloides) which also likes rich wet soils. Wild germanium is often in the same areas, This particular stand is not that far from the Red Bridge below. I had wanted to paint the Bluebells for some years and spent some days in the woods admiring them. Getting that particular blue was not easy. I find that intense blues are especially hard to do in paint, as the blues that are available just do not have the saturations that I need. I wonder how it would be to make my own blues out of Lapis Lazuli.
I don’t know what proportion of the paintings in this series are about Wildflowers, but certainly it is one of my favorite subjects. I would like to do more of them. We spent a good deal of time in the last two years looking for Hepatica in the parks. We succeeded in finding it in a number of places. It is so rare I will not say where, but it is a gorgeous little flowering plant. I have not yet figured out how to paint it on site. They are small and doing a close up would be difficult unless I use a camera. I have taken pictures of it and may do a study of one of them, but I would like to paint it form life if possible. I am still thinking about how to do it. It is an ‘ephemeral’ and so does not last long..
In any case, just beyond where the foreground trees end, is Furnace Run Creek, and this meets up with the Cuyahoga a mile or so from here. Furnace Run is one of healthiest, intact streams that flow into the Cuyahoga River. It meets Ohio EPA standards. There are allot of wildflowers here. I recall seeing Bloodroot, Cut Leaved Toothwort, Spring Beauty and Rue Anenome.Perhaps both causes are at fault.. Or perhaps, in fact, loss of wildflowers has to do with polluted creeks. There is a high deer population there so it is interesting the wildflowers are doing so well, since deer are so often said to decimate such areas. Yet, it would seem that loss of wildflowers is due to polluted creeks, or to over development by humans and concentration of natural areas in small reservations. I did see deer came by as I was painting, but there were still plenty of wildflowers. There is a claim that various species of earthworms are invading our hardwood forests and causing the loss of tree seedlings, wildflowers, and ferns. I do not know how true this is, but it seems as likely an explanation for the loss of wildflowers as the deer hypothesis. yet it maybe that blaming the deer is mistaken to some degree and pollution and forcing nature into smaller and smaller reservations is a larger factor
I also saw, every afternoon I painted there, a roost of perhaps 15 Turkey Vultures come in just before sunset cavorting in the pines near me. As I was painting my Bluebells, one of the Vultures came crashing down through the trees and landed on the ground. Another day the same thing happened. I puzzled about this for some time and the only explanation I could come up with is that one or more of the youngsters, born this year, fell, and the branches of so many trees prevented it from stopping its downward trend, and so it landed in an ungainly way on the ground. They need some space to regain flight, with such large wings. I also saw, every afternoon I painted there, a roost of pehaps 15 Turkey Vultures come in just before sunset cavorting in the pines near me. As I was painting my Bluebells, one of the Vultures came crashing down through the trees and landed on the ground. Another day the same thing happened. I puzzled about this for some time and the only explanation I could come up with is that one or more of the youngsters, born this year, fell, and the branches of so many trees prevented it from stopping its downward trend, and so it landed in an ungainly way on the ground. They need some space to regain flight, with such large wings.
Then in early May the Warblers come. This is always a marvelous time, with rivers of birds flowing north all over the eastern states. Waves and rivers of birds come up from Mexico and across the Gulf form the Amazon and beyond, traveling on warm air fronts. Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Black and White, Yellow, Redstart, Magnolia, Palm, and Yellow Rumped Warblers, among many others all arrive in early May. Many other species, totaling millions of birds come in one of the great migration on earth. It should be much more celebrated than it is. There should be holidays that celebrate it, much like the great migrations in the fall, where I have seen 50,000 Mergansers in a single flock on Lake Erie. Spring celebrations would be in early May and perhaps could involve Migratory Bird Festival.
This little migrant is the Prothonotory Warbler, and he lives down near Station Road train station. We have known him over a number of years. He sings his small heart out most of the time, marking his territory near where his spouse nests. The Heron’s roost was near there, west of the train tracks. But an Eagle pair moved in a few years ago and started harassing the Herons. They moved out, when the Eagles predated their babies and moved across the Valley east of the tracks..
Home schooling has its rewards but also its hardships and stresses. I have little time to take photos. Usually, in the last few years, when I was in the park, during the week, I was with my son walking him in the stroller. Last year I was using a bike for rides. There is a baby seat on the back of the bike. We stop somewhere for lunch on the Tow path. There I have a few minutes, when my son is playing with sticks or pebbles, to use a camera. But the photos are less than ideal. Taking care of children does not leave one with allot of time to do things for photography. I photographed this Warbler when I could safely. More reently my daughter is with us, and this leaves more time for me as she can watch him.
I love the Yellow Warbler too, but the Prothonotory male has the most beautiful yellow imaginable, set off by the bluish grey back and tail. He has singing perches were he likes to belt out his favorites songs, to warn other males about the nesting presence of his family.
My wife deserves special thanks for giving me what time I have been able to devote to this book. Perhaps half of the works done in the last year were done when my wife was home or when we are all out in nature together. Perhaps half these paintings were done when I go out by myself. In both cases, I was able to do the work I have done because of my wife.
Scarlet Tanager Bathing
This one is a bit out place here, but I want to keep it with the Warbler above.
In the hot months of July and August, We sometimes take the kids down to various creeks in our area, which are shallow enough that they can get cool and wet without there being much danger of drowning. Once at such a place, I spied a popular bathing spot among the local birds. Often if one bird likes a given spot for a bath, other birds will imitate. I have even seen Redtail Hawks come to bathe at a spot where Goldfinches were a minute ago. On this day in July it was again Goldfinches that I saw first. Soon there were other birds, some Sparrows and at one point, a Scarlet Tanager. I have wanted to do a picture of birds bathing for years.
Now I must say a few things about Scarlet Tanager’s in our area. They are very rare. The first one I saw, many years ago was in North Chagrin Reservation. It was very far away and we could only identify it with binoculars. I later saw one up close in Allegany State Park in New York. They were eating some Honeysuckle berries. Later I saw a 3 or 4 of them, all males, together in early May in France Run. That was the first time I photographed them. This painting is loosely based on a photo I took a few years ago in July 2010.
In his novell The French Lieutenant’s WomannJohn Fowles notes about birds as follows:
Beaver pond in Allegany State Park N.Y.:
I am not arranging this material by subject so much as chronology. I want to stay with the time line. This series is a sort of calendar of a year in our park. The next in the series is this Beaver Lodge, done in April. I intended to do a Beaver lodge in Cuyahoga National Park too. But we took a brief holiday and went to Allegany State Park in New York for a few days, a place we have been going for years. So I did two beaver lodges. Compare this one to the other beaver lodge two paintings down, the one below, done in CVNP.
Allegany Park has some of the best and wildest Beaver ponds in the eastern states. They were restored there many decades ago and allowed to build or not build on their own. Beavers were first introduced in 1926 (2 adults and 4 babies eight months old). They were shipped by train from Palisades Park and were released on the north shore of Science Lake, according to the Allegany Park Historical Society. Much of the construction in the park was done by the Conservations Corps (CCC), which did great environmental work all over the country, including here near CVNP. The Beaver of course, existed in Allegany and CVNP centuries ago but they were wiped out by the greed of the fur trade, when Europeans starting trapping and killing every animal they could all over North America. By the middle of the 1900’s many animals were gone locally and some were extinct, like the Woodland Buffalo and the Passenger Pigeon..
Some of the Beaver ponds are ephemeral in the sense that some of the beavers move allot, and a pond that one might see for a few years is suddenly breached and will be gone for some years as those Beaver move down or up one of the creeks or river valleys. On the other hand there are ponds that we have seen in the same spot for years. It would be interesting to know exactly how this works, but I do not claim to understand it. I suspect it has to do with family dynamics, deaths, or with conditions of the actual pond and its viability. But I have not studied it enough to know..
In any case, we were in Allegany Park for a few days and I wanted to paint at least one lodge from life. I chose one and started it, but there were problems with the light and I was not happy with it, so after some hours of work I wiped off the board. My kids and wife had found some Newts in a puddle next to the beaver pond and we studied those for while. I saw, oddly, a bat flying around aimlessly and wondered if it had a disease, the so called, “white-nose syndrome”, a fungus which kills bats at an alarming rate. as for awhile. Then we moved up the Valley a few miles and started over at a the pond you see here. This is near the top of French Creek Road. My wife decided to take the kids to a playground in the park..
So I set to work. It took some doing to get into the Willow thicket that is at the base of the pond. But I managed. Because I was below the dam I had a good view of the lodge from a low angle, more the point of view of child than a man. That pleased me because it made me closer to the animals themselves. The beaver was swimming around his pond once twilight arrived and I made some attempts to paint him. I finished him from a few photos I took once I got home. I am not sure what the trees were beyond the lodge but the spring growth of leaves was decidedly yellow. The dam was breached towards the front and a little waterfall flowed there.
When I was done painting after many hours passed my wife and kids picked me up and as I was talking with them, near our car, a rather strange man pulled up, and got out of his car, with two of his kids. He started trying to breach the dam to show off for his kids. He pulled out stick after stick until he started sizable waterfall, lowering the pond. I walked over to him and pointed out how much labor the beavers put into this pond and perhaps he would like to be more considerate of all their hard work? —after all this dam and the lodge in the middle that the dam creates is their home. Would he like it if someone messed with their house?. He grunted, got back in his car and drove off with his kids. It is mysterious why he wanted to destroy the dam in front of his kids. Was he trying to teach his kids to despise Beavers?
Many humans have a dysfunctional relationship to nature that makes them do odd things when confronted the lives of other species. Why are humans so destructive, and why do they soil the world that they themselves are part of. Is this a natural tendency of humans or is it one born of alienation due to excessive TV watching, computers, cell phones and constant din of speciesism all around them? The growth of cities like New York City, certainly is part of the problem. Increasingly New York is growing into a vertical structure that has eliminated nature entirely from its environs. Hugely wasteful, virtually everything that happens there depends on nature twice of three or four times removed. Many products come from as far away as India or China, at huge expense. People who live there have to pay extremely high rent, encouraging corrupt landlords, and this encourages them to work for very harmful jobs, banks, leveraged funds, Wall street, and corporations that are buoyed up by false ideologies like the idea of corporate personhood. People become entirely divorced from the natural world and entirely separate from other species, except those who are domesticated. These are used as slave animals in factory productions systems called Factory Farms, where millions of chickens, pigs and cattle are confined and slaughtered at great suffering. The pollution from New York kills off animals in the seas for hundreds of miles around it, and the pollution in the air contributes substantially to global warming. Few question the insanity of these arrangements. We ahve chosen not to live in such arrangements.
Beaver pond near Vaughn Road. May 2012
Beaver pond near Vaughn Road. May 2012
This is the second of the Beaver Lodge paintings, this one done in Cuyahoga National Park , not far for the yellow houses that are the Park headquarters. There are various beaver ponds spread around CVNP, most of them have bank lodges rather than the sort of independently existing structure that I was painting in Alleghany State park. I would think that a lodge surrounded entirely by water would be the best and safest option. But Beaver have their own minds and reasons for doing things. I wonder if it takes decades or years to develop pods that will support a lodge that is at the center of the pond, or if it is merely a matter of what is convenient for the Beaver. beavers have not lived long in CVNP, so it maybe that as tome goes buy and they make their ponds larger, the lodges will move away from the backsides. This lodge is connected to a fairly large beaver made pond, upstream perhaps 100 feet form the small pond shown here. The pond is at least 100 feet across, I am guessing. Beaver often create the sort of stepped or terraced system of ponds as they appear to be culturing on this site. This is the second of the Beaver Lodge paintings, this one done in Cuyahoga National Park , not far for the yellow houses that are the Park headquarters. There are various beaver ponds spread around CVNP, most of them have bank lodges rather than the sort of independently existing structure that I was painting in Alleghany State park. I would think that a lodge surrounded entirely by water would be the best and safest option. But Beaver have their own minds and reasons for doing things. I wonder if it takes decades or years to develop pods that will support a lodge that is at the center of the pond, or if it is merely a matter of what is convenient for the Beaver. beavers have not lived long in CVNP, so it maybe that as tome goes buy and they make their ponds larger, the lodges will move away from the backsides. This lodge is connected to a fairly large beaver made pond, upstream perhaps 100 feet form the small pond shown here. The pond is at least 100 feet across, I am guessing. Beaver often create the sort of stepped or terraced system of ponds as they appear to be culturing on this site.
Willow trees are so often near or next to Beaver ponds that I chose this small pond partly because i could paint the Willow trees too. These three are older Willows with deep furrows in the bark and lovely lacy leaves that we fun to try to represent in paint. I liked how the light played on them. What I have found, invariably, whenever I have visited A beaver pond, is that the wetlands they create provide habitat for an amazing diversity of plants and wildlife, many of which are becoming scarce due to continuing wetland destruction, paving over and ‘development’. Over 90% of Ohio wetlands were destroyed between the 1780s and 1980s (Noss and Peters 1995). We obviously need as many Beavers as we can get to help restore some of these areas. The destruction of the “Black Swamp” in northwestern Ohio was particularly onerous. Some of this huge wetland should be restored. Currently it is smothered by about 8000 miles of underground culverts, so that farmers can exploit the land and there is a very dangerous Nuclear Energy plant there called Davis Bessie. A proportion of these culverts should be removed and farmers compensated for their land, and parts of the wetland should be restored.
Wetlands are beautiful and they also serve as important stop-over places for migrating birds, or nesting areas for local birds, fish (such as the endangered sturgeon) and animals. Beavers create lots of life around them. The more Beavers there are the more diversity and life will be seen. I like the light on the willows too and the Yellow Flag iris that grows next to the pond.
We are in May now and the sun is higher in the sky. This is the first of my summer paintings. The whole summer long I was meditating on the color Green and you can see various yellow-greens, blue-greens and olive-greens here. What I was especially happy with in this work was capturing light in the water itself, around the Beaver, where the willows are reflected it the water..
The beaver at his Lodge posed for me several times. I got the basic color, light and and shape from life, and refined it further at home. He or she (?) also walked up the path to my left several times, without smelling or seeing me. Beaver do not hear or see very well, I was standing on a rise above the pond for hours and move little when I am concentrating. Painting Plein Air involves deep concentration and precise calibrations of color and tone. It is a meditative and active state, head and hand working together is making many subtle decisions..
In the background of the painting, on the middle right are some tall ochre colored grasses, actually a kind of Reed, that are from Asia called Phragmities. Unfortunately the National Park has done little to remove these very invasive plants. They are choking wetlands. I had doubts about putting them in the painting, but they are there next to this beaver pond and I put them in because it might be worth it if others notice and try to get the park to do something about this problem.
Picnic on Furnace Run Creek April-May 2012
Picnic on Furnace Run Creek April May 2012
This next one is one is another of my favorite images. It was done over several weeks in late April and early May. The painting of the Virginia Bluebells above was done a stones throw from this bridge. Indeed, it was when we were walking around looking at wildflowers that I got the idea to paint the bridge and my kids not for from it.
So, for a week or so in early May, when the weather was perfect, my wife and kids and I went to Furnace Run to play and paint. The kids played in the creek, as I worked. It was fun to paint them form live, something that I have tried to do a number of times, but is very hard to do as I have to work very quickly. My daughter was playing with pebbles. In nothing but his “unders”, my son looked on his sister with the sparkling water all around him. They were in the cool water because it was strangely warm for this time of year. This is the strangest year of weather in my life. But this did not prevent our joy in this day. I often think that humans are hard-wired to love their kids with an intense aesthetic appreciation. Indeed, some of the most intense moments of love and beauty in my life have come from watching my kids on an ordinary day. Love of children may be the deepest of all human emotions. Religious imagery, such as the “Virgin and Child” seems to be a sad exploit of this simple and fathomless love. Love of children is perhaps the most wonderful aspect of our lives..
In any case, my wife made us all veggie dogs and green beans cooked on our tiny camp stove, which we call “Little Sister” and have been using for years now. We ate sitting on the rocks over there on the right bank. These were special days, the air was cool, the water clean, the children playing in the water were happy. My daughter kept coming over to me while I was painting and telling me she loves me, to which I replied that I love her too very much. Life seemed wonder filled and worth every breath of spring air..
I am well aware that some will call this a “cliche” image, but I don’t care about that. For me it is real poetry. There are images of ‘the covered bridge’ that are hackneyed and cliché and no doubt over-cultured cynics will see this one as one of those. But I love history and admire aspects of our past. I am not ashamed of this, and the city dwellers that live in cramped over priced apartments do not live with nature at all but agasint it. My interest in this structure is quite authentic and the structure itself is quite authentic. I admire the craftsmanship of any bridge so nicely made. Indeed, there are two portraits of bridges in this series. This was a functioning bridge for a century or so. The fact that it is presevered is a testament to our history and the love of where we live. This is also one of our cleanest creeks and my kids love it there. Snobs who prefer their art to picture empty grids or drawings made of elephant dung, can go jump in the lake, as they say. I am proud of this painting, and always warm to it when I see it.
Not far from Everett there is a farm where I often took my daughter. We went to Hale Farm many times from when she was 3 until she was 6. We have taken our son there a few times too.. Jonathan Hale came to the Western Reserve from Glastonbury, Connecticut, and acquired the valley acreage from the Connecticut Land Company In 1810. The Hale’s made their living with commercial fruit orchards, market gardening, and the butter and cheese industry became popular due to urban demands. My daughter learned about this history as well as how to make butter,Jonathan Hale came to the Western Reserve from Glastonbury, Connecticut, and acquired the valley acreage from the Connecticut Land Company In 1810. The Hale’s made their living with commercial fruit orchards, market gardening, and the butter and cheese industry became popular due to urban demands. My daughter learned about this history as well as how to make butter, candle making, basket weaving, blacksmithing, ice cream making, glass making, broom making and gardening. She also learned what it was like to farm and be a kid and go to school in the 19th century. All this was quite valuable and gave us both deep appreciation of the history of the Valley to complement what we learned elsewhere about the geology and Native History, and this history of the Canal Boats.
The Everett Road bridge and the Creek is Furnace Run, near the town of Richfield. Everett was a small town near to the Bridge, which had about 200 people in the 1920’s. The remaining houses of that town are now used by the Park managers. In the 1880s wooden bridges were replaced
Me painting this painting, 2012.
with more durable iron bridges like the one that still stands near at Station Road. I did a painting of the Station Road Train Station above.
Indian Pipe ( Monotropa Uniflora)
This painting is of a similar environment to the image far above of the Red Squirrel in the woods: both depict damp woods and a fertile and humus rich leaf litter. This is July and is based on a photo I took in Allegany State park in New York State. But it could be many places in Ohio or Cuyahoga National Park too. I did this painting this year so include it here, even though it is not of CVNP. We saw the Indian Pipe in a Pine and Oak woods. Indian Pipe used to be called a saprophyte, but this has been changed and now is is held to be in the Heath family (Ericaceae) which have an unknown or “parasitic” relation to mychorrhizal fungi. The relation to fungi appears to be unknown so I hesitate to use the term ‘parasitical’. They are also somehow related to host trees like Oaks though the fungi, but it is not very clear to me just how this works. In any case they are fascinating plants, perennials which do not have chlorophyll and do not do photosynthesis, and yet have seeds like other an giosperms. They can live in the dark. It is related to the Sugarstick or Candy-stick (Allotropa virgata) and Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys). We got to know the candy-stick a little in California. We even found a little restaurant called the Candystick, devoted to it, in Fortuna, California. This is a separate area of study all to itself, and it would be interesting to pursue this further….
This was done a year earlier than the previous painting. So I did it in 2010. This Toad was in our garden for a few weeks. We grow Tomatoes Squash, Zucchini, Strawberries as well as other vegetables and flowers. I have studies Toads to a degree. I used to often see them at Heroes Wetland where they had a sort of singing convocation in the spring. Toads have surprisingly elegant and lovely singing voice, as you can hear here if you wish.
I did this little vignette of the Toad as an homage to a great woman painter who painted around he time of Rembrandt, De Hooch, and Vermeer. Indeed, what this painting is about is my own predilections. My interests have turned increasingly toward science in recent decades, with increasingly skepticism toward myth, religion and even poetry, insofar as poetry serves irrationalism and myth. The Dutch realists, along the with French and British Realists and Naturalists of the 1900’s as well as Da Vinci have held a lot of interest form me this year. In all these cases I admire the devotion to reality as well as a certain advancement in inquiry and social consciousness that all these artists stove to accomplish.
Rachel Ruysch was a great and early woman artist in Holland. Her teachers were her father, Willem Van Alest and Otto Marseus Van Schrieck. These men together with Rachel, and others were among the first science painters and naturalists and began the process of rejecting religion in art. Her father was a scientist, a botanist and anatomist, remembered for his developments in anatomical preservation, as well as some discoveries about the lymphatic system, snakes and the eye. In 1693, Ruysch married the painter and lace dealer Juriaen Pool. She had ten children and this did not stop her production of paintings, indeed, it seems to have accelerated it. One of the most prolific women in history who was creative both as a mother and an artist. She finished her final painting in 1747, when she was 83. There is great love of life in this woman and I admire that very much. In contrast I do not admire men much who think it a virtue to forgo children in favor of art or religion. Vincent is an excpetion since he really loved beiing with chidlren and wanted them, but never mangaged to do it, desite his ardent desires.
Some of Rachel’s paintings are said to be allegories, I don’t think I accept that myself, or perhaps she did that because it was in fashion at the time. Though I still find it hard to imagine she was doing allegories. Hardly anyone escaped religion then, and it was dangerous to try as Descartes’ career shows. Van Schrieck and Willem van Aelst are more naturalist than religious, indeed in the context of the time they are very progressive. Rachel for me stands out as a bright early light of both women’s rights and scientific naturalism. I doubt she is doing that much allegory. She appears to have followed in her father’s footsteps too, who was a devoted scientist.
Green Heron’s World
The is a study of the pond that is close to us, there is a beaver pond on the far side of it. You can’t see that in the painting, however. But up the hill there, where the White Pines are is where I did the Turkey Painting above. Here, I wanted to do the wetland and the White Pines in the distance with the summer trees on the hill beyond that. The Green Heron is not from a photo, but was more or less invented as I have seen them in this position. I put a tiny painting of a kingfisher on one of the snags and i Leopard Frog and a Bull Frog up closer . The kingfisher was done from life. The frogs done later.
This is another attempt to celebrate the color green, as well as sing a song for wetlands. Wet areas create so much life in and around them they are irresistible to anyone who loves life. I suspect that is the real fascination that fisherman have with such places, though they express it is a twisted way, needed to kill and eat what they love. So I stood down below the railroad tracks that you can see in the painting of the train below. I painted for a week or more, my wife and kids came with me every time because they love it here and the kids got to chase frogs and play with sticks and mud. We ate veggie dogs on the railroad tracks and went for little walks together to explore the surrounding area. We waved ‘hi’ to the engineer as the train rolled by full of passengers. When I asked my wife a few nights ago what this year of painting nature meant for her, she said it was great for the whole family: we were outside so often together and got to know all these places so closely. It brought the kids closer to the natural world and all of us closer together..
The pond was drying up in the drought we had this year and by the time I finished this painting at least half of the water you see here was gone. I blocked in the water the first and second afternoons. I kept it at that height. The pond was drying up in the drought we had this year and by the time I finished this painting at least half of the water you see here was gone. I blocked in the water the first and second afternoons. I kept it at that height.
There was a pair, with a young one, living at this pond and they would fly around me or fish across from me. The logs in he foreground were where the Green Heron was going to go into the painting. Painting the Green heron from Memory was a challenge. I have tried this on other occasions, especially at Life drawing and painting sessions. There is an interesting 19th century book by Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, (1848) in the public domain that you can down load or look at here.
The Border of the frame of this painting is a Celtic Braid, not quite a Knot design.
Having been in the Green Isle of Ireland myself years ago and being mostly Irish, I can’t resist such designs. I used it to try to illuminate an aspect of these paintings that is about the the wonder of the natural world and animals and us in it. The undulating colored lines evoke the ocean,or the Shannon or Cuyahoga Rivers and call forth sun and grasses, grey clouds, ferns curling and braids in a woman’s hair.
Lastly you can see the attempt to paint a tiny Kingfisher from life on the second tall snag form the right side of the painting and mid-way up. The Kingfisher was there looking for frogs I presume, for a few minutes. I had just enough time to put down some tiny brushstrokes and block him in. I have had bad luck photographing kingfishers. They are very smart birds and avoid people as much as they can. I even found a nest once, deep in a bank of dirt on a river and watched the nest for days. The birds were so smart they managed to get in its nest easily without my being able to photograph them well. Its nests are deep and its nest made of fish bones. I did this drawing from a taxidermied specimen.
Foxgloves on the Forest’s Edge
June: 2012 The land behind our place is overlapping jurisdiction, part Metropark and part National Park. So the woods in the painting are actually in park. I loved painting the light playing on the trees back in the woods. I suggested some of the space relationships between the boughs of leaves. It is a mile or so to the other side of the park from our land and you can sense that distance in the upper left of the painting. There is a tangle of red grape vines in the woods. My daughter delicately touches a flower, amazed at its color and shape. She actually posed for a a short time while I did the drawing of her. She is curious and studying the flower heads which are exactly her height. At age seven this is an image of perfect consciousness and life, as yet untroubled with the tragic power struggles, yearnings, failings and losses of the adult world.
I love Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) . I was hesitant to plant it as it is invasive in California, Alaska and other states. I have not been able to find it’s status in Ohio, but I do not see it on the roads and read it is invasive mostly on the coasts. It is poisonous to humans so it is not near the house. It is way out back near the woods. I loved painting my young daughter next to it. It is used as a heart medicine in some cases. I have never used Digitalis but certainly my daughter has been a medicine for my heart, so I enjoyed pairing her with this flower.
My daughter showed interest in bows and arrows, so I made her one in June, the same month I was doing this painting. The fireflies came out then too. She loves to catch and release the fireflies, figure out if they are male or female, and watch their cold, greenish-yellow light in the magic of twilight. We spend lots of time in the twilight back yard watching the Brown Bats come out and fly and the Fireflies dancing in our fields. This year my son joined in this too and we all were out there catching Fireflies and letting them go. I have wanted to paint that too, but have yet to imagine how..
Her interest in these activities called forth a certain poetry of greenness, innocence and flowers and in my mind. The green I was thinking of has a springtime hint of that suggests the Elizabethan miniatures I have seen in various museums in the US and UK. There is a certain naturalism in some of these portraits, a certain botanical ‘grace’, You can see hints of this, for instance, inn Nicholas Hilliard’s “Young Man among Roses””and there are 19th century English works that echo this love of flowers and innocence, such as William Homan Hunt’s Ourr English Coasts, or Sergeant’s Lily, Carnation, Lily, Rose. These two paintings are two of the best paintings of the 1900’s, in addition to being the best of these artist’s works. I did not think of either of these when I did my portrait of my daughter, but I think I so internalized both works in previous years there are echoes.When I lived in England in the 1980’s these were my two favorite works and I went to see them again and again at the Tate. Together they summed up for me what is fair and loveable about England , in terms of its land, its light, its Springtime and it people’s love of gardens, coasts and flowers. I doubt there is any people on earth as loving of flowers as English.. I made the frame into a garden too: