Back to New England & the Maine woods

by Alden Cole on October 24, 2017 · 0 comments

The October Harvest Moon seen rising (virtually full) in a series of close and closer shots, Tuesday 3 October 2017 while I was vacationing in Maine; coming up just beyond the corner of the old family barn.

Each autumn I make an annual trip to Maine to check in on my roots, specifically a small town named Dayton, wedged inland between the coastal cities of Biddeford & Saco, in the southernmost county, York. My oldest brother and his wife still live on the farm where I grew up, continuing to make me welcome. While there I even slept in the same bedroom I slept in as a child, though not the same twin bed; enjoying instead the luxury of a full size comfort which conveyed me to dreamland earlier in the evening than my usual late hours in Philadelphia.

I made my way north from Philadelphia to Boston by train on Thursday morning September 28, then caught a bus to Portsmouth, NH where I spent that night, plus Friday & Saturday nights, with my friends Heinz & Diane Sauk-Schubert, whom I’ve known since I lived in this quaint seacoast town which has changed dramatically in the thirty-one years since I’ve been living in Philadelphia. On Saturday Heinz and I refinished a beautiful oak table whose top had been severely stain-damaged years ago. Working together we stripped off the old varnish, carefully sanded through layers of stained wood, then oiled this fine piece of furniture that I was thrilled to help bring back to its golden finish. On Sunday he drove me up to Wells, ME, where friends Nancy & Gary Hegg live on a hill just off US Rounte 1, overlooking Wells Beach with the Atlantic in the distance. On Monday Nancy and I explored the coastal area by car, driving as far north as Gooch’s Beach, aka Kennebunk Beach, to walk her dog Lucy, where the most famous local dog-walker is Barbara Bush. We followed this by driving inland, stopping and taking walks in two different sets of Wells woods; first in search of edible mushrooms in a spot familiar to Nancy (none there) plus a pleasurable walk in a more manicured park-like setting maintained by the town near Cole’s Hill Road, a indicator that my family had moved up the coast over generations. I was reminded of how silent it can be in certain natural places, except for the sounds of birdsong and the wind through the trees, unlike living surrounded by the white noise of the city. The weather was perfect; the companionship of a long-term friend was comforting. On Tuesday we sought out one of my favorite coastal spots: a tree-lined allées leading to one of my favorite sands – Parsons Beach off Route 9, just north of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Sanctuary in Wells, and south of Kennebunkport, where I took lots of photos. After lunch in Wells Harbor, where I had never ventured before, and where I got to enjoy my first lobster roll of the season, then Nancy drove me north to Dayton and ‘home’.

“Charon” aka “Waiting” – before & after – acrylics on found antique-walnut cabinet-door 25.5″ x 11″; artwork measures 18″ x 6.25″.

Last fall I painted the simple monochrome white version at left with just water-thinned white acrylic while in Maine for my annual trip, leaving the unfinished panel there over the winter, in the barn which I use as my studio. When I arrived in Dayton Tuesday afternoon October 3rd, this was the first project I resumed working on. As soon as I had laid in a thin wash of blue in the sky area, I had a momentary regret, wondering if I should have left it as it was, without adding color. But the die was cast; the only turning back would be to scrape/scrub off the tinted area and start anew. Since I had no real interest in pursuing that route I pushed forward with my exploration, bringing it to its present color stage by the next afternoon.

Intervale Moonrise • thin washes of white acrylic on an antique (bread?) board; a single piece of pine measuring 1″ thick by 21″ wide by 36″ long, stabilized at both ends by 1″x1″s which have kept the board perfectly flat all these years.

Excited by the success of my first colorization project, I turned my attentions that same Wednesday afternoon October 4th to an even more ambitious project which I had also commenced the year before, likewise having left it there in Maine unfinished for the winter, with plans to rework it this year. I launched into this latest Aldenization with much more confidence than with the Charon started the day before. Using thin washes of just four different colors – cobalt blue, manganese blue, phthalo green and azo yellow – using acrylics which dry very quickly, some repeated several times to achieve depth of color – I rather quickly transformed this panel from the mysterious ‘before’ version seen at the top to a beautifully colored ‘after’ version just below it, in one afternoon of painting that felt timeless.

Intervale Moonrise #2 • the reverse side of the above 38″ x 21″ panel painting.

Pleased with the remarkable results achieved in the painting above I decided to continue my exploration by starting a similar painting the next day to test my emerging skills. Having created several two-sided paintings on panels over the years, I figured the best place to experiment next was on the reverse side of the panel I had just completed. To be contrary, I decided to orient the panel vertically instead of horizontally, taking advantage of the fact that there is a 1/2″ diameter hole originally drilled in one of the narrow ends of the panel, possibly for hanging on a nail. Because the surface on this side of the panel was even slicker than the other side, I had a frustrating but educational experience using the water-thinned white acrylic. The smooth textureless surface created a natural resist to the watered-down paint which I applied with different sized brushes. The natural resistance of the surface caused the paint to spread and bead up erratically, creating wonderful textures in seconds that I would have had to spend hours creating by hand. All is all, it was a great experience learning more about the tools I use to create illusion. In this case I have decided NOT to colorize the painting because it has a wonderful winter-like sparkle that is pure magic to my eyes, which would be lost if I pressed onward into color. Finito!

Are you hip to the Cornhole Game? When my nephew Mark visited me in my studio space in the back of the barn, to ask if I would be willing to paint a couple boards for his ‘cornhole’ game, I was clueless and had to ask what he meant. My generation has a whole different understanding of that word, so he explained that it’s a new name for an old game; generation X’s (or is it Y’s) appellation for the latest version of the old bean-bag toss-game. He assured me that the paintings didn’t need to be of his passions – motorcycles or cars. I told him it was a good thing, since I have no expertise in drawing such things, nor did I really care to acquire them at this late date. I said I’d give it a try if I were given carte blanche to do whatever I chose; which he agreed to, knowing my work. The next day he arrived with two 5/8″ plywood panels measuring 48″ high by 24″ wide, mounted on a framework of 2x4s, with short legs at one end to raise the panel about 10 degrees above ground level for the game, with a 7″ hole cut out near the top of the board. I was inspired as well as intrigued by the project, and dove into it with gusto. I gave both panels a good sanding, followed by a double coat of priming to create a workable painting surface, leaving them looking like the photo above.

Possibilities for the eventual artwork were already bubbling up in my mind, so the next day I set to work on a couple of ideas seen at left: small wooden panels measuring 19″ x 8″ – not exactly the same proportion as the final 48″ x 24″ panels, but good enough for experimentation – found years ago in the recesses of the barn, saved by my dad, now available for any creative use. First I painted a stylized day-lit landscape, incorporating a small male figure in the posture of adoration, or possibly throwing two bean bags at once? seen at left. Convinced that the figure was too puny, I created a larger female figure in the second version – a night scene with a variation on the landscape in the day scene.

Much as I liked these figurative ideas, I realized that time and circumstances required simplification of the concept. With a certain regret I eliminated the figures, focusing instead on just the landscape, spending a number of hours over the next three days bringing the panels to the stage of completion seen at left. I still think about those figures. Maybe next year I’ll stencil a simple outline of each figure onto the panels, leaving them transparent, as was my original intent. After all, the panels are still unsigned which means I really didn’t see them as finished. Although my nephew let me know he’s thrilled with his new AldenArt Cornhole Boards, early on he had seen my original idea comps with figures, and had like them a lot, so the possibility remains… Maybe I’ll start a trend? Or perhaps this is the beginning of a new career in the decorative arts that will keep me occupied during my ‘golden’ years?? 😉

Down the Intervale of the Saco River, Dayton, Maine – One More Time… • acrylic on wood panels 11″ x 19″ (two repurposed drawer fronts glued together)

The last art project completed while in Maine was creating a familiar scene on a repurposed stacked panel that I had prepared several years earlier by painting each level with a different intensity of blue, starting with a pale version at the top, then working darker with each succeeding layer down. The experiment proved delightfully satisfactory, and opened the door to future experiments. Onward!

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: