“X” marks the spot where my love of painting began forty-three years ago…

by Alden Cole on September 1, 2016 · 0 comments

DownByTheRiversideFramedWPDown by the Riverside • oils on canvas-board, 12″ x 16″ • collection of the artist

On the last day of August 1973, I painted my first oil painting, at age 29, sitting on the banks of the Saco River in Dayton, Maine, a quarter mile from where I had grown up. The following day was my grandmother Edeth Belle Waterhouse Cole’s 93rd birthday (1 Sep 1880 – 15 Jan 1979), and I needed a present for her. So I decided to paint a picture, my first – a river scene she was familiar with, but could no longer visit in person. Thus continued in another medium my compulsion to make things, to create, which began almost as soon as I could crawl and manipulate tools, and which continues unabated to this day. One of the major steps along this creative way commenced forty-three years ago on the banks of the Saco only a few hundred feet from the house where I had grown up, just a few miles inland from where the river, flowing out of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, adds its accumulating waters to the great mother – our Atlantic Ocean – between the twin cities of Biddeford and Saco, thirty miles up the Maine coast from the border with New Hampshire.

Portsmouth2Portland+DaytonWPDetails from a topographical map prepared by the Defense Mapping Agency, Washington DC 1972

“X” marks the spot on these details where I grew up and where the compulsion to paint began forty-three years ago – Home Sweet Home! The left detail shows the New England coastline from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Portland, Maine, while the right one reveals more closely the Biddeford/Saco/Old Orchard Beach area that formed the parameters of my world growing up, including the coastal area from Kennebunkpost in the south to Cape Elizabeth in the north. Whole tales could be spun around these environs and the sorrows of callow youth. But another time…

The map details above are from a larger topographical map shown below, encompassing an area between 70-72° West longitudes, and between 43-44° North latitudes; from Hillsboro, NH in the southwest corner of the map, to Freeport, Maine in the northeast corner. How this map came into my hands provides an interesting story of synchronicity, or call it serendipity if you prefer.

MercatorProjection_PortlandMEWPTransverse Mercator Projection topographical map from 1972, measuring 21″ x 27″ printed in bas relief on plastic

In 2009, the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers had a temporary gallery space at 732-4 South Street for a number of months, where I was lucky enough to sell a number of my pieces. Near the end of our run there, Neil Benson, one of the guiding genii of the group, who knows where all the best dumpsters in town are located, arrived at the “store’ one afternoon with a stack of twelve of these bas-relief-dimensional, printed-on-plastic, topographical maps which he had just found in a dumpster. Despite that, they were all clean, each wrapped in a plastic sleeve, though some were a bit shop-worn with bent edges. It was a random collection of locales from all over the world, primarily the U.S., with no two maps depicting adjacent areas. Being a lover of maps, I was delighted to check out the entire selection. And what a delight to discover among them the map above, which I recognized immediately as depicting my home turf; the Southern Maine coastal area, a map which I claimed as my own on the spot, with Neil’s blessings. The “X” mark in red was added later by my own hand for obvious reasons.

So what are the chances that of all the hundreds of individual map sections that it takes to depict the planet, I would find among the twelve maps that Neil saved form thethe one that showed where I grew up? Was it mere serendipity? How about the synchronicity of being on site when Neil arrived with the goods. Had I not been there at that moment, someone else might have seen and snagged the maps, before I even had the chance to look at them; I might never have even known of their existence. Only the shadow knows the odds…

27Oct15:7202012-5: Down by the Riverside #2 • oils on canvas, 17″ x 24″ • collection of the artist.

In 2012 I decided it was time for a revisioning of the subject matter Down by the Riverside I planned to base it on my first painting, plus the incorporation of other elements: an imaginary bend in the river, which really is there – just a few hundred feet south of the originally-portrayed scene I was seeking to emulate; artistic license. Plus I was enlisting skills acquired in the intervening years. Last fall I finally added some finishing touches to the work and signed it. Nevertheless, as long as it’s here, it’s always subject to revision.

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