Change at a break-neck pace.
In Pasquotank County, they’re getting a wind farm. In Perquimans County, I heard they changed the name of Hog Alley to something-or-other Road, and they even paved it over: “I mean, you wouldn’t know it to look at it.”
Across the river in Bertie County, they still operate a cable ferry between Sans Souci and Woodard, although “they” aren’t who you think they are. “They” in this case is not the ferry authority, but another part of the Department of Transportation that runs inland ferries.
In small communities, or even suburbs without a dense urban plant, “they” are busy people. People whose actions you see but whose faces you don’t. That’s why “they” seldom earn our trust.
That said, I confess to a certain fondness for “them,” provided they leave things behind. Children’s building-block edifices are charming; in a more solemn but no less poignant way are the remains of the dead, left where they did the work that sustained them. Like these houses:
Even the gratuitous hand-work is telling. Like the “V” for the more usual “U” in the Perquimans County High School facade. Someone made that decision about lettering to give an air of Latinate dignity to poor students in an overlooked part of the world. It was put there before someone decided to abandon the world of learning and human children and masonry for that of information, human resources, and trailers.
When most people think of countryside, they think of wilderness because it offers an escape from suburban sprawl. Somewhere in the American landscape there remains a wilderness for us if we could but outrun the tacky sameness that our cities disgorge.
There is, though, another countryside, just as rare, and far more overlooked. It is composed of small-holdings, and it is vanishing. Before the Wild West, there was the West of Thomas Jefferson’s America, which began at the Eastern Continental Divide. The farms founded before industry changed the scale of agriculture were incredibly diverse places. Here is one such:
In practice, each farm was like a little world, producing meat, dairy, plants, and fuel, as well as harboring fish, game, honey, stone and wild fowl.
I was lucky enough to spend the day painting at the Coggins Farm east of Asheville, NC. Not currently productive, the place is currently the center of local controversy over its future. You can read about it here, on the website of an enterprise to reconnect the land to its original developer’s purpose of long-term provision.
It’s a treat to stand where such a variety of work was once done by hand.
The show had a happy and buzzing opening night at the Chowan Arts Council, whose volunteers pulled long hours hanging art and laying out a spread of refreshments. People from four counties, two states and three generations enjoyed themselves, which pleased me. Two people told me how the scene below resembled places they know. Then they told me about the people, alive as well as dead and buried, in their own places.
The last time I counted, Gates County, NC has five stop lights. It might have six now, but I wouldn’t know because I’m happy with that number.
This scene is not far from the Dismal Swamp, featured in my last post and offers a different sense of lush potential. This is a field resting between crops when the trees are green. The ground is not finished–just taking a breather. Look at those leaves, and you can hear the earth boast, “see what I can do.”
Civilization depends upon this sort of readiness. How we meet it is important. When I was a child, fields like this were visited every week or so by the poor, who were paid at the end of the day to tend them. Even then, their jobs were losing out to machines.
Currently, there is a conspicuous absence of people outdoors here. I painted this scene in July, and drove by it again just this November. There were more people visible in November. Even the autumnal head count is down as deer hunting with packs of dogs–a social activity-has given way to sitting alone in a tree stand and waiting for the quarry to walk by. I don’t know what that means, but it merits reflection.
This is The Great Dismal Swamp.
Built in 1755.
I was fortunate to approach this scene in the spring when the new greens offer such contrast with the old house.
Thanks to Emmett and Bobby Winborne who allowed me to paint their birthplace.
This painting grew from a sketch, a study and a rendered drawing. I felt like a gardener before spring, transplanting little seedlings from pot to pot as I drew, measured, enlarged, and painted. Each time, I trusted the image to materials I made myself.
It is satisfying to brew one’s own ink, cut panels, dissolve rabbit-skin glue and dust for gesso. Taking handmade materials outdoors makes one look more acutely. One of my teachers, Nathan Bertling, used to tell me, “If you love your paper, you’ll love your drawing.” He meant that time spent in preparation makes for good execution.
Much is made these days of “plein air” painting, and often I’m asked, “Did you do that all plein air?” To which I say “Harumph. I was working before I went outside.”
The Windsor Boutique Hotel at 36 Broadway in downtown Asheville is presenting me along with two other painters in its next “Art at the Windsor” series. In addition to art in the lobby, there are three floors of realist paintings as well as a few abstracts.
Kudos to the Windsor for assembling a group of a dozen or so realist painters. Precious few galleries show such a belief in art that depicts actual things.
Check out the hotel’s teaser here: http://www.windsorasheville.com/blog/
The painting above will be there, as well as some that are not featured on this site; for lovers of fine drawings, a large-format crispy autumn scene with ten botanically accurate tree species and a three-hundred yard depth of field, executed in walnut ink without brushes on a frosty November morning. Yum.
Oh, and the chocolates at these functions are swell, too.
Eighty miles west of the Atlantic, twenty miles south of Virginia, and two hundred years past memory, the small Meherrin River joins the Chowan, holder of pirate treasure and backdrop to a few colonial plantations.
No one has heard about this river, because its namesake, the Meherrin Tribe, registered its holdings in the appropriate court house in the 1750s. Individual Meherrins still hold title to ancestral land nearby. With deeds to their land, the Meherrin didn’t have to fight a losing war for their land as did the Tuscarora, whose name graces a beach a few miles downriver.
My teenaged grandfather used to canoe down this river during the Great Depression. He and his friends made their canoes out of castoffs from a veneer factory near Murfreesboro. “They just said, ‘y’all take all that stuff; we don’t want to burn it.'”The only interruption on his trip was the cable that spanned the River at Parker’s Ferry, twenty feet to the right of this view.
They caught fish and cooked them on the banks where they slept. When they had to return to family, chores, church and school, they offered fish to trucks that took the ferry, and the drivers would drop them, canoes and all, near home.
I don’t know how he stood the deer flies. I varnished myself with bug repellent and sustained eighteen bites. And that while wearing canvas pants, coat and hat to paint this picture. Even then part of me was underwater on the ferry ramp so that I could get a view.
You can find a good picture of the ferry in operation here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/06/08/3919675/best-kept-secrets-100-counties.html. Select the picture at bottom right if you follow this link.
Some pictures come from stories. Some occur when the story is over and our work is done and there is peace at the last.