There are many blessings to painting in Northeastern NC. There is a big sky over sandy soil and vibrant water, and all of these things play with the light. There is a noble–and quirky–built environment, rich in handwork. And there are people, both resident and visiting, who value these things.
At the Cupola House benefit mentioned in the last post, I met many who are alive to the beauty of this part of the world. Many thanks to the Cupola House Association and my patrons.
And thanks, too, to those who brought me vulture quills from St. Paul’s churchyard while I was painting there.
Above an image of “Barn and Mist,” which I submitted to this year’s LandMark competition at Arts of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City. Gimlet-eyed readers will recognize a detail of the same as the main image of this blog. It took first prize.
Many thanks to Darlene Tighe and Keli Hindenach, the gallery manager and excutive director who put on the event during the approach of the tropical storm and sometime-hurricane Hilene. Likwise to Munroe Bell who beat the storm in time to judge the work.
I have painted this region for almost a decade and have loved it even longer. It was a delight to be in a room full of people who love it.
The picture is for sale at Arts of the Albemarle. Call them at 252-338-6455. Armed with this and a few books by Bland Simpson, you’d be all set. Or as they say in Northeastern North Carolina, you’d be right, I reckon.
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.
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.”
On Thursday, December 4, I’ll show 30-some works in oil and ink at the Chowan Arts Council at 504 S. Broad St. in Edenton. The show is titled Wide Open and features the overlooked landscapes of North Carolina’s Northeast. This is a land of forgotten explorers, a four-and-half-century history of visual art, small Indian tribes, and big skies. Between now and then, I’ll offer previews of some of the works and reflections on the places that inspired them.
The little sketch below grew into a study, a 2 x 3′ rendered drawing, and a painting almost as big.