Friday, January 30, 2009

The Light and the Dark

I just got in the door through a raging blizzard the last two miles before home. Today was a violently erratic day for me in Montpelier.

Immediately when I got there this morning, eager to see Susan's work, I saw it. Started pacing and talking with her, and then in one of those lulls that come into conversation naturally, I realized I was crying. Standing still and crying.

You all know that doesn't happen often for any of us. But when it does happen, there is a reason. As incapable as I am in expressing in words my own passion about my own work, my wiring is such that it can be extracted by the work of others.

After I calmed down, I began to try to verbalize what hit me. The best I could do was that her use of colors that were, to me, "odd" did not detract from the subject, but rather forced me to look harder. Their slight oddness drew me in. Made me unable to say, "Yeah, that's a hay bale," and move on. I'm not sure yet, but I think because the colors are, here and there, odd, and that their oddness is not overdone, their use grants an ethereal quality that carries the real world solidity upon which these colors are placed to a slightly different dimension that we are forced to deal with.

As in, just what is it, exactly, that I am seeing here?

And, at the very end of the day, a strange thing happened. When I travel alone I always bring a book with me--just in case. Today it was Bright Earth, the book about painters' color by Philip Ball. After we had all gone our separate ways, I was standing on State Street, trying to wrestle the big easel into the car and not be run over. I also was carrying the book and my camera. In the course of this activity, the book slipped from under my arm. I swore and finished positioning the easel inside the car.

Then, I looked down to see my beautiful new book settled deep into the muddy-brown slush. Its gleaming white fore-edge plastered with brown and frozen water, its brilliant cover, and its "Bright Earth" words, now streaked with brown, glowed up at me. I hesitated before picking it up.

It was like Susan's work; it was like this project: gleaming up at me in contrast to the terror that, in my darkest moments, I truly feel for Vermont.

Wow! and a Correction

Yesterday was wonderful--except for being dead nervous. The wonderful part was seeing the art of the other finalists in the flesh. To finally be close to the real thing after weeks of looking at stuff online was immensely satisfying. So much so, I coming back for seconds.

I figure I've worked this hard, I might as well see it through to the end. And, I'm sorry but I HAVE to repeat a story that I forgot to tell in my presentation. I buttonholed everyone I could find afterward so skip it if you were buttonholed! I'm just obsessed with the fact that I forgot it because it's so bloody key to the database part of my proposal!

In 1966 I walked from my apartment on Buell Street in downtown Burlington to the village of Williston. It was a pleasant walk. That's 11 miles. Imagine if you will that I had video-taped that walk then. And, if I did it again today. And then, split-screen, we ran them side by side, mile for mile.

I don't think there would need to be any voice-over.

Well, I'm out of here, heading south again. (I'm actually coming to enjoy the drive to Montpelier!!)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Montpelier, Here We Come!

As they say in Houston – all systems go.

It’s on. We’re on the road to Montpelier and it’s the end of an odyssey.

And, true to the analogy, there have been Siren songs along the way for most of us I think. Mine was White River. A name that now shimmers with promise on my private map.

I am grateful to the VAC, Mr. Orton, and the initial review committee for this four-month marathon of thinking about Vermont and for providing a framework in which I "found" Kent Corners and White River.

And, I can’t thank those finalists I’ve met enough. It’s as simple as that. Some things exceed expectations, and some wonderful things arise for which there were no expectations. The latter is lagniappe. It’s rare and rich, and I got some!

Gruelling hard work and synapse-twisting problems have been alleviated by your comaraderie. For me, recently “re-emerged” into the visual arts, you have dispelled my loneliness.

I wish us all well these two days, but know that not all will be well for all. And, as I said in an email—-no matter the outcome, there will be sadness, only the degree will vary.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good Weather News

I just caught the CNN report: the storm is shrinking and moving faster.

So, we should all be fine, just as long as John (Z)

Good Weather News

I just caught the CNN report (12 noon): the storm is shrinking and moving faster.

So, we should all be fine, just as long as John (Z) lights a fire under the Montpelier road crew. As far as I can tell, they will have about 6 to 8 hours to get ready for us. And, of course the legislature. (That is if they haven't kept up with it; if they have, then they need even less.) And, after all, this is Vermont. Let's summon up our vaunted rugged lineage and get on with it!

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail nor snow, etc.

Comic Relief --

This is the first of two postings today.

I was mucking about on the main page, seeing if there was a VAC link and imagining where a link to the AOA Image Database would go when I stumbled on this link title under the heading, ONLINE SERVICES:

Obtain a Criminal Record

Wow! Must offer tutorials on how to hold up a convenience store or rob a bank. Now that is a helpful government! And here I thought I was all on my own.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The ARTS Economy

I told myself I couldn’t make another post here until everything was ready for my presentation. Well, it finally is; at least the material goods part.

And now I can write about something that’s been bugging me for a few days. (Sometimes my tongue is in my cheek here, and sometimes not.)

The Creative Economy. I first came across this phrase when I stumbled onto the Creative Communities website months ago. It was intriguing then, and since my eye-opening trips to Montpelier and White River where I saw the obvious spoor of creative communities, and since I heard about their communities from Mariella, Charlie, and Phil, I’m even more interested in this.

Which leads me to the chapter in the CFV stuff where it is said that there is much confusion over WHO should be included when counting the contributors to a “creative economy.” I read that section several times. And got more irritated each time. (Not with CFV; it's only the messenger in this case.) Apparently this umbrella term might include chip designers, and the like.

Now just hold on here! Do they want to include the chip designer because his or her income will shield the world from the paltry incomes of most artists? Chip design, I think, falls under industrial design. How many folks are holed up in their drafty spare rooms designing chips, getting turned on by copper and solder?(Apologies to makers of stained glass.) So, then I thought, maybe the argument over who should be included is not really the problem. Maybe it’s the damn name. What’s wrong with The ARTS ECONOMY?

Things suddenly get a lot clearer for me and easier to understand. We finalists are artists, the VAC is in the business of funding and supporting the arts, gallery owners show art, etc. But then someone says, what about the writers? Writing is an art, without a doubt, as is composing, playing, directing, etc. Ain't no stinkin' chip designer within a million miles.


So what would be the underlying definition of such a beast. How about this: the arts economy comprises all who produce or work with in some manner, a product which produces value for one individual, and whose income drops like a stone in a recessive economy.

Susan paints a picture, a gallery sells it, I buy it. Then what? It hangs on my wall for my sole pleasure. It doesn’t make me richer, or give me a job, or increase the value of my house, my car, my land. This picture only contributes to MY quality of life. All of us in a theatre audience are just separate little MEs soaking up their own kind of pleasure, individually, in a group. We are all bettering our quality of life by these means. But for each it is an individual experience.

And, when people don’t have jobs, they can’t afford to buy art, so the artist’s income goes down. Going to a performance, buying art, attending a workshop, are not necessary for practical survival. You see where I’m going here? The artist or performer in the end makes things of absolutely no redeeming economic value. Susan doesn’t make a million paintings and export them to Brazil in exchange for coffee. I mean, no one actually needs anything "arty" to survive. Hey, art is civilizing. This is America! We don't need no wimp-barf.

On a lighter note: It should then be fairly easy to find out who should be included in the ARTS ECONOMY. Simply ask people what they would relinquish when their income suffers a setback: piano tunings, buying works of art, music buying, concerts, book buying, attending movies, plays, buying movies, renting movies, buying musical instruments, taking art lessons, music lessons . . . and there you have it.

The folks connected with all these no-longer-can-afford things are participants in the Arts Economy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Some Changes are Good

I woke up this morning thinking about change; I haven't done that since I turned in my proposal. I shrugged it off and went about my day's usual start. As I was shuffling things around on my desk, this picture fell out of one of my notebooks.

The man in the picture is Homer Sweet. He would be dead in a very few months. The little kid is me. The house in back is the one I live in now. He was born in Sheldon, and, could figure board feet of lumber in his head.

However, for his entire life, he could neither read nor write.

I also have my grandmother's autograph book, a popular form of pleasure in the 19th and early 20th centuries. (She was born in 1865.) On the inside of the cover she wrote:

Given to me on my 14th birthday, if I would not read a book for a year.

Some changes in Vermont are part of much wider changes that occur in history. And, funny coincidence--this post is I guess, my small contribution to The Big Read.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Bones of Vermont

This barn is near me, a little over two miles from my house. (This was shot about a week ago.) A bit more than a year ago now I first photographed it. When I looked at the shots, I was struck, as I had been when I looked at the barn itself, by its uncluttered beauty. The neat lines of its roof, the proportion of the building, its setting. It was, for me iconic.

For days after shooting it I couldn't get it out of my mind. So I began sifting through the images, picked one and went immediately to black and white. I didn't even think about it. It was then that I saw a picture of what my mind "saw" when it assimilated this barn. I hit "save" and knew now what I was going to do with my camera in Vermont. It was all there, the starkness, the emptiness, the sharp, hard edges of abandonment, the bones of Vermont.

With apologies to my painter friends, color hides. Color enchants. Though this might sound odd, I think it's true: color often enchants us away from reality. The incredible palette of the visible colors sucks us in like moths to a flame. Perhaps it's because we live in a world of color, all the time. And, like anything else that happens "all the time", we become desensitized to it on some level. Sometimes that world needs to be uncolored; so we can see what is there, and only what is there.

Monday, January 19, 2009


WARNING: No Vermont Content!

I'm now in the Red chapter of Finlay's Color. So far I've restrained myself from writing about this book, but can't any longer. RED is my favorite color and I have a vivid memory involving red.

It was 1973 and I was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My roommate at the time was the daughter of Nobel Chemist R. B. Woodward. We got a call from him asking us to come down the lab. It was the day he had synthesized Vitamin B12. Of course the microscope was set up and we were invited to look through it. Well, I spent a long time looking because I knew he'd spent 12 years working on it. It was a crystalline structure of the most glorious and glowing red I'd ever seen. When I straightened up from the scope I said (of course knowing next to nothing about chemistry on any level, much less his), "Well, if I were an artist and had spent 12 years making this, I'd be happy."

I was startled when he slammed his fist on the desk and said, "That's right. There is NOTHING but science and art!"

He also had a fascination with dyes and, on one visit, talked extensively about indigo -- very little of which I understood, except that it had a long and interesting history. (Can't wait to get to that Finlay chapter!)

Woodward also, after asking for colored pencils one evening, scribbled a "test" on a blank sheet of paper. I've adapted it for the web here, but I suggest you make one on a piece of paper writing the words in the colors in the right hand column. You then ask the testee to run down the list, naming the colors on the piece of paper.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Busman's Holiday-- of sorts

And a very short post!

As you can no doubt see, I've spent a couple of days dinking around with my blog. And, miracle of miracles, you can now follow it! See the left panel.

This means I'm finally getting through some of the stuff that got put on a list while I was working on the proposal. One of which was to do some blog-tinkering. Now waiting for prints and supplies to come in and then it will be into the hands-on mode, putting my presentation together.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

21 Below

Yup. It was that this morning. However . . .

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Vermont Funeral

I went to the funeral of a neighbor yesterday. Someone I've known since childhood. After the church service the line of cars wound through the countryside, back past the house where she lived, the house where I live, past a road named for a family well-represented among the mourners, up a steep hill just a bit past my house to the cemetery. There must have been 40 or 50 cars. And, at the top of the hill, on the flat field across the road from the cemetery, the snow had been plowed and in the expanse the brown shots of last year's flattened hay remains speckled the white and the sun lit up the snow with diamonds.

We stood on the hilltop near the grave, 10 degrees F, where I've taken innumerable photographs and I found myself next to one of the members of the other "old" families. Of course we talked.

"Not bad for January."
"Could've been worse."
"Not much wind."
"Probably the most beautiful cemetery in Vermont."
"Mostly they're on hilltops."
"Going to end up here myself."

This was a Vermont occasion and a Vermont conversation. Short sentences. Clear statements of the obvious. Acceptance of winter, nod to the past, knowledge of the future. One adjective. No frills.

We all then drove back to the church and ate. Among all the dishes of chicken pot pie, macaroni and cheese, goulash, scalloped potatoes, bread, butter, rolls, cole slaw, ham, tuna noodle, there was a salad with Romaine, cheese, croutons, cherry tomatoes, and chick peas. An ever-so-minute note of change.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Vermont Television Programs

Yesterday afternoon I watched two ETV programs about Vermont's past that I had taped when I was in the throes of proposal prep and didn't have time to watch. They were reruns from several years ago, but still really impressive. I had never seen footage of the 1927 flood before. A number of the still shots looked like the old snaps in the family album. I expect they looked like those in a lot of family albums. Some of the images I recognized from Hands on the Land and certainly the voice-over was right out of a lot of the material we've had at our disposal here. I took an image out of my proposal that I now see was dead on the money: basically I had envisioned a map of Vermont with a "central park" cutting right down the state. Turns out it would have been an expansion of the 1950's plan to put the "parkway" straight down the state on top of the Green Mountains. Sigh. (And, BTW, there was a slightly younger Lyman Orton in one of the programs! That was also a treat.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

OT - but Interesting

As someone who loves looking at dishes in department stores, or anywhere for that matter, and who thinks one should not have a "set" of dishes, but rather plates, bowls, cups, etc. that are all different and simply selected because the owner likes them, I offer this link to a fine article in the New York Times about the recent troubles of Wedgewood.

It's a nice view of commercial "art" and business history, though quite sad.

And, also OT, but a bit less, I spent my $25 Barnes and Noble gift card yesterday and happily came home with a small, lovely book of Walker Evans photographs. (I already own the Getty Museum book of his sign images.) This one has a broader selection. I also scooped up another book: Color by Victoria Finlay. This is going to be a real treasure trove of trivia. Ever since I mucked about making my own etching inks years ago and just for the hell of it, immersed my hand in a bag of vermilion, I've never stopped drooling over naked colors. That was around the same time I discovered Winsor & Newton gouache on a paint chip card in my local art store. I came home with as many as I could afford, and put them all on a piece of tracing paper with a toothpick. Years later, I still like it. It's about the only thing I've left from my days in art school. (The brown is the masonite showing through.)

The cover of the Finlay book looks like a shot of pan watercolors in a ceramic framework, but it is actually an image of the front of some (cursedly unidentified) building with windows of unpatterned color--I can't tell whether they are glass or paint. The bibliography and notes are extensive which makes the non-identification of the cover shot all the more frustrating.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Long Time, No Post

And there is a good reason for this hiatus. I've been posting to another blog which is centered on the Vermont Arts Council's Art of Action project. It's Vermont Directions.

And there is likely going to be a longer hiatus. I'm preparing my presentation for the VAC at the end of this month. And, to make matters worse, I'm chomping at the bit to create an album of shots I took in White River Junction. A very, very, photogenic town. But, that too will have to wait.

For Mariella

In hopes of enticing a fellow finalist to Franklin County I offer this. It is a PARTIAL portrait of Fairfax Falls. This is not a wilderness falls, it is a working falls, powering a hydro-electric plant on the Lamoille River. It is a site and sound to behold and to hear in the spring. I emphasize "partial" because the falls are quite high and powerful, dropping down to the rock-encased river below. There is a nice flat, stone covered shore at the bottom, quite perfect for an easel and an artist!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Infrastructure (of all kinds)

Lovely, undulating tracks!

Decades ago when I was living in Canada I was waiting for a train in London, Ontario and, as a lover of trains and train travel, I struck up a conversation with a railroad official. I complemented him on the London station and Via Rail in general and then lamented the sorry state of Amtrak. He then told me what the problem was with Amtrak: they got a deal of government support at one time, and spent the majority of the money on cars, plush, comfortable, snazzy looking, and virtually nothing on the tracks they run on. End of story.

The Mind's Infrastructure

John's recent post provided an excellent gathering of what is really, as he well knows, the tip of the iceberg on the subject of landscape. It is truly another world, but one which can be approached on and from so many levels that it makes one's mind a Rubik's cube. Each new essay, book, image gives another twist and the pattern changes. Endlessly. But, for Rubik's cube there is a solution. We don't have that luxury.

Still, even though my mind now proves the "string theory" I can't stop reading! It's like a damn disease. And, misery does love company, so here's something tangential that is well worth the time. I put this here especially for John because I can sense a real reader in him (which wins my literary heart to be sure). There is a book called Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald which is a masterpiece of delineation of time and space filtered through the human brain. Of places dimly remembered and revisited. The book is home to occasional, un-captioned photographs. The writing is a Siren-song. (You were warned!)

And, in early August, with some sixth sense, i.e., pre-AOA, I posted about this book and the work of Dana Mueller.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Still Chewing on J. B. Jackson

I am still digesting things I’ve read while I was researching my proposal. Perhaps the most unsettling book I read was J. B. Jackson’s Discovering the Vernacular Landscape.

Irritatingly, to me, he seems to accept all too easily the incursion of malls and boxes on the outskirts of our population centers. Susan Abbott mentioned this in a comment: Now I hope you can help me develop more tolerance for some landscape feature that irritates the hell out of me. Maybe Mcmansions, or strip malls (and J.B. jackson actually likes them, though he was writing in the 60's before they took over the planet.).

Implied in her comment was the question is it possible to see them as positive. The next day, I offered a shot of the new Lowe’s on Shelburne Road as an image that was a good image, but not something Lowe's would like.

Near the end of his book, Jackson offers this: A landscape . . . is the field of perpetual conflict and compromise between what is established by authority and what the vernacular insists upon preferring.

The word "conflict" appears here, as it did in almost everything I read about Vermont (except perhaps in my mother's copy of the 1926 Vermont for Young Vermonters, a 1926 history text for Vermont schools).

But, I wonder, what percentage of the population actually does think about landscape? And the more I've read, the more I wonder. Do most go along with whatever comes along, unthinking because the subject is simply not on their radar as a subject? It's not that they don't care, it's that the subject is non-existent for them. The distinction is an important one because thinking about something and not caring is quite different from never thinking about it.

If the majority of Vermonters fall into the latter category, then perhaps the AOA works can have a significant impact.

My thinking here is that because any AOA exhibit will be about Vermont, the offering of content that will in some way be accessible to ALL Vermonters may get folks into galleries that have never been into a gallery. This could be one of the real strengths of the project. It could be that we reach all sorts of people and show them that they can interact with "art", that they can "understand art".

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Exciting Times

Finally, I actually get to do some art work. It's been a long time, dealing with budget matters, which I am wholly rotten at, and the proposal, which I hope I'm good at--lol.

And, I need to get out more--wandering around the Tip Top Building in WRJ I saw advertisements and the closed door of
Northlight Digital. I looked them up when I got home, because not only did I like what I had seen down there, but Charlie says he uses them.

This morning I sent off two files to them and will talk to them later today. I've been looking for a printer in Vermont, but so far have had no luck or bad. I've really got my fingers crossed.

They not only work with photographers but advertise themselves as preparers of digital images of artwork for artists.

Monday, January 5, 2009

After WRJ

I didn't find Barrows Point. And, in daylight, at the freightyards, I found a heap of bricks and burned timbers: the roundhouse and yard buildings burned a month ago. All that remains is a street sign: Roundhouse Rd. Another Vermont sign with the name of something which once existed but is no more. I feel a sense of urgency.

I am thoroughly enamored of WRJ. It has railroads and art. What more could one ask for? I drove home without the radio, thinking about art communities and how we don't have one in St. Albans, in spite of strenuous efforts on the part of the leaders of the St. Albans Artists' Guild. Art just isn't on the map here--yet! We at least have a wonderful gallery--STAART Gallery (thanks to the extremely professional care and organization of Stina Plant), which is also a place for meetings, but we need more, much more.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


As I was eating my breakfast at 5:15 a.m. in the Polka Dot, I noticed the placemat had an old (1907) photo of WRJ taken from Barrows Point. So, after the customer next to me told me where he thought it was, I went looking for it. I think I found it, but since it was still dark, I decided not to get out of the car and wander around in someone's back yard as I don't think Trespasser arrested in WRJ--connection to Vermont Arts Council still under investigation. is the kind of headline the VAC, Alex, and Lyman Orton are looking for. Will go back at sunrise.

I also finally found the road down to the freight tracks. Can't wait to get back there. I've never been down into WRJ before and it is quite a place. It seems to have, from the cards in the hotel and the posters all over town, a vibrant arts community. Much like I felt in Montpelier. WE NEED THIS IN ST. ALBANS!!!!

And, BTW--the Polka Dot--for 55 years a diner, is up for sale. Every time you turn around pieces of Vermont are dropping off.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Vermont Story

It's done! And though, at Staples, after they'd photocopied my thumbnail page, I paid for it and started to walk out, all happified, when I realized that I'd forgotten to have them photocopy the proposal pages, I remain relatively sane.

So, I thought I'd commemorate the occasion with a little Vermont story.

I used to commute from home to Richford, for about five years. There was one stop sign in the 26 miles and a it was a lovely commute. But, because I was usually on the road around 5 a.m., I often had to stop and wait for cows crossing the road. I liked that. It also frequently occurred on the way home.

One afternoon, I came upon a loose cow in the road. And it was just over the top of the hill near the farmhouse. I slammed on my brakes, put my blinkers on, leapt out and raced to the house. As I came around the corner, the farmer was walking up from the barn.

"Quick!" I hollered, "You've got a cow in the road!"

"Which one?", he yelled, walking faster and grinning.

As I instinctively started to look back, I caught myself. I looked at him, grinned, and said, "A black and white one."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Having Caniptions (sp.?) Here

Grrr -- have proofed this thing 'til I'm blue in the face. Thumb is bleeding. Want to go to Staples. Afraid to go to Staples. And, to top it all off, I'm freezing to death.

What a way to start the New Year. And the !Q@#$!@#$ blogger software would not operate yesterday. Can I be any more ticked? And I can't wait to be in WRJ.