Paint Schoodic

Join us on the American Eagle in June or in Acadia National Park in August. Click here for more information.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Approaching the finish line

Joined together under a single cell-phone plan, they are now (almost) man and wife.

The artist's great conceit is that he or she can make anything. Today I'm going to make bouquets out of heirloom roses and thistles. I kind of wish the bridal party was carrying helium balloons instead.
Some time this afternoon, I’m supposed to close down my workroom, freshen up my makeup, and appear at the wedding rehearsal as if I’ve been doing nothing more than hanging out at a spa all day. Plein air artists do this every time we have an event opening. One moment, we’re madly framing on the back decks of our cars. Then the final bell tolls. We’re done, for better or worse. We find a public restroom, wash as well as we can, and slip into our nice clothes. Then we go into the sale gallery and look at our paintings and think of all the things we wish we’d done differently.

I once did an event with Laurie Lefebvre where, under her beautiful clinging party dress, she was spattered with brilliant paint that wouldn’t wash off. Laurie is statuesque and beautiful, so she carried it off. I usually have paint rubbed into my eye sockets, so I often look like I’m coming off a nine-day drunk.

Some of the other flowers in my order didn't travel as well.
When my first daughter was married, I missed her rehearsal and dinner entirely. The crystal and flatware at the venue were not cleaned to my standards. There were more than 200 guests at that wedding, so washing the dishes and resetting the tables was no small feat. Still, it had to be done—or so I thought at the time.

I’ve smartened up since then. I’ve resolved to take Philippians 4:5-7 as if it were a pointed comment directed right at me. I asked another daughter yesterday (not the bride) whether I was overreacting about browning on the flowers. She assured me I wasn’t, so I’m waiting now for a replacement delivery. My chef friends tell me your results are only as good as the ingredients you use. It’s certainly true of painting.

The designer put boning in this bodice for a reason. A tailor removed it. I replaced it. Hopefully, when the owner shows up today, the dress will fit her.
I’m not faulting the online vendor. The flowers were packed on the wrong truck and carted around Niagara Falls by mistake. So far, the company is responsive. Still, I’m starting to feel the pressure of delays against a fixed deadline.

Daughter number two is furloughed this week, waiting for the Federal government to renew her contract. I’m terrifically proud of this kid for many things, but one of them is that she and her husband are careful money managers. They’re not knocked off their pins by this setback, and it’s given us a chance to spend time together.

At one point yesterday, she was deboning a chicken while I was boning the bodice of a dress. My youngest found the language so offensive he went out for a walk.

The bride found my tasteful fascinator too funereal, so I fun-fettied it.
Meanwhile, the bride and groom met up with Sandy Quang at a restaurant near Rochester, where she handed over the critical documents needed for a marriage license in New York. They then went to the closest town clerk and got the business done. Future genealogists will be stumped looking for that license, since Henrietta, NY plays no part in either of their histories.

They then proceeded to a T-Mobile store to buy a cell phone plan. That, in modern parlance, is probably the true joining together of man and wife.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Sensible Maine


Not all regional differences are about the landscape, the accents and the buildings. There are also differences in character.
Erie Canal Sketch by Carol L. Douglas. You're pretty, New York, but don't let it go to your head.
Last year, Bobbi Heath and I stopped on the road and bought boxes, bubble wrap and tape. We left these, carefully marked, for our work to be returned after a show in New Jersey. Mine were mailed back unsecured and unwrapped. Mercifully, nothing was damaged, but had that $3000 of inventory been ruined, the Postal Service would have been justified in not paying the claim. Our host at that event was gracious and kind, but the slipshod mailing left me thinking poorly of the event.

Compare that to my experience at Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta earlier this month. When my frames arrived broken, co-chair Jane Chapin loaned me three of hers. That flexible, kind attitude was visible in small and large ways throughout the event. They held three receptions for the artists. They cooked for us and cared for us. Their attitude makes me want to hurry back.

There are invisible differences from place to place in America, and sometimes they're more important than what you see.

Erie Canal Bridge Sketch, by Carol L. Douglas.
I engage with government in very limited ways—the department of motor vehicles, the town clerk, the planning office, and the post office. In my small town of Rockport, ME (pop. 3,330), I’m accustomed to public officials being accommodating and thoughtful. The other day I visited the clerk’s office to ask what my excise tax would be on a new car I’m considering. It was a few minutes before closing time. The deputy clerk calculated it, commiserated, and made a friendly joke as we left.

In New York, it’s a high crime and misdemeanor if every dot and tittle is not in place. Its clerks guard their prerogatives assiduously. I should have remembered that, but I’ve gotten soft.

Catskill Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
So I was a little blindsided when my daughter ran into trouble at the local town hall. She and her fiancé need a marriage license by the weekend. They had followed the instructions on the New York State website. Of course, like everyone else, they followed them wrong. She was carrying the wrong identification.

Still, the town she is getting married in is very close to the town where she was born. She’s carrying the highest-and-greatest form of identification—her United States Passport. It ought to have been no big deal to just get a new birth certificate.

No way, no how. They won’t give it to her without her Social Security card, one of the most loosely-controlled documents Americans carry. “Homeland Security visits us, you know!” the clerk told her.

The Dugs, by Carol L. Douglas
“This is New York, right?” a friend quipped. “Try bribing them.” I won’t do that, but if it doesn’t get straightened out today, I’m going to try sending a little muscle along. And there’s always ‘the touch’, putting the word out to friends and family to see who knows someone who knows someone. Because in New York, that’s how things get done.

But back to sensible Maine for the answer. I called Camden Falls Gallery and got Howard Gallagher on the phone. “Sure!” he said, and he sent Sandy Quang over to my house to get the requisite documents from my safe. Then she got into her car and left for New York a few hours earlier than she had planned. If all goes well, Mary’s birth certificate and social security card should be in her hand by midday and the wedding will proceed as planned.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

$2 billion in art distributed for free


The Corcoran’s demise is a sad reminder that many cultural institutions in America skitter on the brink of insolvency.

Simplon Pass, 1911, John Singer Sargent, has gone to the National Gallery.

In 2014, the board of trustees for the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, announced that they were closing that venerable institution and offering its assets—for free—to other agencies to manage. That meant its school, its Beaux Arts building, and its collection would all be given away. The assets were staggering, somewhere around $2 billion, and somehow the money machine would be kept out of the process.

This week the deal became final, with the Corcoran board announcing the dispensation of the final 11,000 artworks. (The National Gallery had first dibs and took about 40% of the collection.) The art school, the building, and about 800 works go to George Washington University. Much of the rest of the collection is headed to the American University Museum, with the Smithsonian American Art Museum and other institutions rounding out the list. The art will stay in Washington, in the public view.

Niagara, 1857, by Frederic Edwin Church, has gone to the National Gallery.
The Corcoran was one of America’s oldest art museums, founded to house the private collection of a 19th century financier, William Wilson Corcoran. Doing nothing by half-measures, Corcoran hired James Renwick, designer of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and the Smithsonian ‘Castle’ in Washington, to build his museum.

Corcoran made his fortune on war bonds and retired to a life of philanthropy by 1854. His good works were legion. They included the land and chapel for Oak Hill Cemetery, a benevolent fund for the poor of Georgetown, innumerable gifts to universities, and securing Mount Vernon for the nation. He was also a southern sympathizer who left for Paris at the outbreak of war.

Forty-two Kids, 1907, George Bellows, has gone to the National Gallery.
Corcoran was also an early patron of American art. He counted painters Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Doughty, and George Inness among his friends. The Corcoran was established in 1869. Its School of Art was founded in 1878.

Fast forward a century and Corcoran’s vision was showing signs of financial strain. “When news broke that Board was considering selling the building, it felt like every conversation I had placed the beginning of the Museum’s decline to an earlier and earlier point,” wrote Blair Murphy. “One D.C. artist I spoke with argued that the Museum had never recovered from declining to purchase the collection of the shuttered Washington Gallery of Modern Art. That was in 1968.”

Ground swell, 1939, Edward Hopper, has gone to the National Gallery.
In 1989, the gallery agreed to host Robert Mapplethorpe’s The Perfect Moment. Worse, it cancelled the show when trustees and supporters voiced opposition. A change in leadership staved off bankruptcy temporarily. But history conspired against the institution. Rerouted traffic after 9/11 made it harder to get to. In 2005, the museum was unable to raise funds for a highly-touted addition by Frank Gehry. The financial crisis of 2008 hit cultural institutions hard. Giving to the Corcoran fell off sharply.

The Last of the Buffalo, 1888, Albert Bierstadt, has gone to the National Gallery.

Washington is a city of free, government-subsidized museums. The Corcoran was neither. By the end, in 2014, the admission fee was $10. Why pay that when there are so many other options that cost nothing?

The Corcoran’s demise is a sad reminder that many cultural institutions in America skitter on the brink of insolvency. What do we do about that?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Meanwhile my paints are languishing in the van


The forest primeval, ticks, and open-toed sandals.
My granddaughter demonstrates the importance of wearing Wellies to tick avoidance.
I’m in Rensselaer County, NY, at the home of my oldest child. This lies in that strip of New York that’s on the east bank of the Hudson, in the eastern Berkshires. It is often mistaken by non-New Yorkers for Massachusetts. I’m here because there is a large, open kitchen and all three of my daughters are present. That means plenty of hands to help me with last-minute rote work for Saturday’s wedding.

Julia has an ant problem. Ants are creatures of habit, and the mere presence of a new house sitting on their ancient pathway won’t deter them. When we built our first house in the woods, we had ants and snakes in abundance. Did our frontier ancestors constantly battle ants in the kitchen along with the more palpable dangers of wildcats and bears?

Ants are famous for their work ethic, a subject of some discussion as I slump into exhaustion. “More Mary, less Martha,” my kids tell me. The bride is a line cook at Olive Garden. She and I compared our capacity for repetitive, boring work by spending hours assembling favors. She’s faster than me.

My sons-in-law made me 24 maple tree cookies for the centerpieces.
I’m pretty tired, but my task list is steadily shrinking. That means I drive into Albany later to get glamorous, although my favorite activity with my daughters—a pedicure—is out due to my incisions.

Rensselaer County is in Ground Zero for ticks. The disease that made them famous was first identified in Old Lyme, CT, just about a hundred miles from here. Ticks are everywhere here and more numerous than anywhere else I visit. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, almost every artist I know who works in the Hudson Valley has had Lyme Disease or one of its hideous cousins.

Part of a huge dog pack waiting to be spraypainted.
My grandchildren spend a lot of time outside in the woods. They’re assiduously checked for ticks every time they come inside. It’s sweet to watch their father hose them off in the shower, carefully checking them for parasites.

Wellies are the best protection against ticks, but I’m stuck in sandals until the incisions on my feet heal. That means no walking in the spring woods and careful tick checks.

Scottish shortbread wrapped in the groom's family tartan. It's a meeting of the clans.  
I’ve heard that the explosion in Lyme is based partly on our “slicing and dicing of the forest,” but if you actually live in New York or Maine, that’s laughable. The forest is back in the northeast with a vengeance as agriculture becomes less economically feasible. Rebounding also are the white-footed mice, deer and other animals who host ticks. 

In many ways, New York and New England are reverting to the forest primeval. We don’t know if our frontier ancestors had the deer tick problem that we do, but combined with a lack of indoor plumbing it would have been downright exasperating.

Tomorrow, I collect the flower order and deliver the tchotchkes (and the check) to the wedding venue. Meanwhile, my watercolor kit is sitting in the van untouched. Oh, well. There’s a season for everything, and this week’s season is for wedding prep.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: How to throw a party for 200

The artist’s job is to give linear thinkers a respite from their own minds. That starts with your opening.
The artist dancing with her eldest child.
Great gallerists also know how to throw great parties. Regular openings and developing a circle of fans is part of their job. There’s no value in having all that work assembled in one place if nobody ever stops by to see it. Selling—whether it’s art or cars—requires a person to be likeable.

That’s true for the artist too. Art-making may be a solitary job, but the artist needs to be convivial to sell his or her own work. I’ve thrown more brawls for a hundred or more people than I can count. Actually, I’d far prefer to do that than to have you over for dinner, which terrifies me.

An opening done by gallerist Sue Leo at Davison Gallery, for my show God + Man. Photo courtesy 
Iván Ramos .
The invitation is the key
Whether you call it an ‘invitation’ or an ‘advertisement’, the way you announce your event is key. It tells your intended guests the tone of the event, and hints at what kind of good time they’ll have. Graphic design is ruthlessly trend-driven. Spend time on Pinterest and Etsy and pay particular attention to fonts. They’re as fashion-sensitive as shoes.

Hound your guests
You’ll find yourself repeating, “Are you coming to my party?” over and over for weeks. This is a good thing. They won’t be excited if you’re not excited. Scarcity marketing—as perfected by the old Studio 54 in New York—is a great way to pack the house, but it only works if you’ve already demonstrated that your parties are worth attending.

Sue Baines’ hors d'œuvres are not like those in any other gallery.
Play to your strengths
Sue Lewis Baines of the Kelpie Gallery is a wonderful cook, and the hors d'œuvre at her openings could make me rise from my deathbed. Howard Gallagher of Camden Falls Gallery knows how to assemble great bands for a dance party. I can bake. Know your strengths and capitalize on them.

Make a budget and stick to it
I saw the most wonderful fairyland floral arrangements at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel three weeks ago. I whipped out my phone and snapped several shots, and then set them aside. To change my decorating scheme at this late date would cost a small fortune. A budget set in stone is the only way to survive to throw another party.

A beer-themed opening of my students' work at VB Brewery in Fairport, NY.
Work way in advance
Procrastination is the worst possible habit for the host or hostess of a party. I have been working on this upcoming one for months.

Be surprising
Good taste is so highly overrated. What’s important is that people laugh and have a good time. If they can’t figure out how ceramic dogs, moose, and woodland animals go together, they might be overthinking this. The artist’s job, after all, is to give linear thinkers a respite from their own minds.

Ask for help
Nobody can throw a party for 200 without help, so when someone offers to help, smile and accept gracefully. Hire out what you can.

And on that note, I’m shuffling off to Buffalo for my third daughter’s wedding. It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, or at Genesee Valley this summer.