Inside, Looking Out #1

by Alden Cole on January 28, 2013 · 4 comments

InsideLookingOut#1aka Down the Intervale #1

oil on canvasboard – 20″ x 16″
framed in stained maple – 24″ x 20″

Taking a stress break in late summer 1973 from the heat of New York City, I visited Mom and Dad Cole in Dayton, Maine for four weeks, from mid-August to mid-September. While there I painted this — my second oil painting. I was 29. Since late ’69, I had been making my living as a fashion illustrator, drawing pictures of women – and men occasionally – in fashions of all kinds, similar to what I used to draw in high school, but actually making my living that way for the last four years. Pushing 30, I had just broken up housekeeping with a boyfriend who left New York to move to Indiana, leaving me with a bunch of questions, including what I was going to do with the rest of my life. It was an interesting time to say the least.

I decided to go “back home” to Maine for a bit of recharging the batteries in nature. While there I took the plunge and tried my hand at oils, an artistic medium that in my mind was used only by “serious” artists — oil painters. After all, I was a “commercial” artist – a non-serious artist I supposed, a hack even, definitely a dilettante. My youthful expectations of crashing and burning by age 30 hadn’t occurred – to my great relief I discovered – but I realized time was definitely flying. Perhaps I should figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, including getting serious about something and growing up. Painting seemed like a logical choice at the moment.

On the last day of August I visited Aunt Dorothy, a talented and experienced oil painter, to ask for advice on how to proceed with my quest – information on types of brushes, basic colors I should buy to get started, etc. I learned that the closest art supply store was on Route 1 just north of Saco heading toward Portland. There I purchased my first tubes of oil paint, selected a few brushes, a paint-box and palette, turpentine, varnish, palette knife. Am I forgetting anything? The next day was September 1, my grandmother Edeth’s 93rd birthday. Soon after noon, with paint-box in hand, loaded with everything I needed for my daring expedition, including a 12″ x 16″ canvasboard to paint on, but without easel, I walked the quarter-mile down to the Saco River, intent on finding one of my favorite childhood haunts to paint my first painting – Down by the Riverside. The place had changed over the years, what with the vicissitudes of time, man’s neglect and nature’s resurgence, but much of the magic was still there. I found a spot on the river bank, sat down, set up the palette and paints, then proceeded to paint, experimenting with a medium I knew nothing about but intended to master. The resultant painting, hardly an accurate rendering of the location, rough as it was in both technique and vision, as well as still being wet, was nevertheless well-received later that afternoon by my supportive and encouraging grandmother. The wheel had turned…

Several days later I got over the fact that I hadn’t created a masterpiece with my first attempt at painting. There was no recourse but to try another. This time I retreated to the back of the barn, opened the doors overlooking the fields, facing the river, set up my materials and started painting what has become an oft repeated motif – Looking Down the Intervale of the Saco River behind the farm where I grew up in Dayton, Maine. My first masterpiece? A few friends would have me believe so…

At the time of its creation, I saw the painting only as a rough sketch that failed to capture the richness of detail in the natural scene before my eyes. I failed not only to understand the impossibility of doing such a thing, or the inadvisability of attempting such madness, I failed to see the beauty of what I had created. I expected too much, and was disappointed. What was that saying? Without expectation there can be no disappointment?

Anyway, I decided not to take the painting back to New York with me, leaving it instead with Mom and Dad, who framed and displayed it in their living room to the end of their days. Home for their memorial in October 2009, I reclaimed the painting, later returning with it to Vermont, where I left it in Kate’s care for over a year. She made me aware of the painting’s unique delights. Eventually I brought it back to Philadelphia where I reframed it in a Rob Stauffer-custom-made frame, stained to resemble weathered barn-boards as complement to the painting. I enjoy living with it every day.

Thanks to Kate and and other friends like Rob and Mike Guinn, who have been verbal about what they see and enjoy in this painting, I have been given me new eyes with which to appreciate this work, recognizing it as one of the more naively evocative paintings to have emerged from my hands. Innocence Lost…

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Burnell Yow! February 2, 2013 at 5:10 am

Not only is the painting intriguing, but the story is as well. And your writing is very effective at pulling images together from the nether reaches of my mind. How do you do that? And who said you could? 🙂


Susan Richards October 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm

The painting pulled me in, in a very compelling and evocative way. Then I read the story. Wow! May we all have new and fresh eyes, as a way of renewing innocence!


nancy wysemen September 1, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Maybe it conveys the possibility of blissing out,being sucked into nature and the stern admonition[black ridged architecture] you shouldn’t go there. Is there a big drop from the barn floor? Is falling flying? Humid here in my living room. Insects loud. Do you know about bugs and such farm boy culture? Beaver and snake stories? The sunlight and air is softly grand. Maybe the shadow inviting?


missy September 2, 2014 at 12:23 pm

this painting has always been one of my favorites. i am happy now to know the story behind it.


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