Archives for category: art

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Stone Soup Barn

We wanted a barn. Our county does not require a permit to build a barn…so long as it is used solely for agricultural purposes. (So tight is the grip of the cherry farmers on the local economy.) Of course, when I went in to the Building Permit office to confirm and clarify, I let the cat out of the bag. She asked if I would be storing personal property in the barn. Was it a trick question? After all, aren’t all the things we own ‘personal property?’ I described our intended use–to house the tractor, and implements, all the bee equipment, gardening tools, orchard equipment–you know, a barn. We are tired of looking at all this stuff laying about the yard, under tarps. She said that that would be okay, so long as we didn’t put, say, a personal vehicle, like a car, in there.

Of course we’re going to put the car in there! Don’t they know we get 150 to 180 inches of snow a year?

And the “barn” started its evolution. Because, suddenly, we weren’t building a barn. We were now building a “DURG.” (Detached Unfinished Residential Garage.) And, not only was a permit required, but the structure was going to be subjected to all the standard building code requirements of any structure. We were a little perturbed by the name change. It doesn’t have the same ring to it as ‘a barn.’  A rose is a rose is a rose… A DURG by any other name…

We designed it. We first estimated the square footage needed for all the farm crap we needed to store, and, of course, the car, and some space for a woodshop, and made that the first floor. Since our property has very little flat land, we knew we’d be burying part of that lower floor into the hill, and that the upper part of the structure would be “first floor”, out the back. Since we had to dig it anyway, we decided to put in a root cellar off the back of the woodshop, buried into the hill. The rest was just a matter of building a strong structure over the needed downstairs, barn area. We opted for a “truss” structure for the gambrel roof. The truss specifications exceeded code requirements because we never EVER wanted to have to shovel snow off the roof–we’re too old for that crap. Windows we’re put in to provide as much natural light as practicable.

Once you start building, projects have a way of taking on a life of their own. Of course, this happened with our barn. We tried to buy as much of the needed materials from craigslist, as we could. Not only did we save money that way, we got unique and/or re-cycled materials that gave the project its own flavor. We did this with the house–much to our delight. That’s the stone-soup part of it. Things turn up, at the right time, to solve problems and meet needs we didn’t even contemplate in the beginning. Michigan is a timber state. In the backwoods, there are any number of guys with rickety sawmill operations, out cutting and milling wood. Buying from these locals fuels the local economy and frees us from handing hard earned cash over to the big box stores. We used as much local materials as we could scrounge. We also had recycled material left over from the house project, in particular cedar-shake shingles that had been overstock on someone’s custom home. So for the barn (DURG) we had to pull all these things together. To our great luck, it just kept getting better. There were problems and delays. What was supposed to be finished before winter… wasn’t. Our build crew had a number of health issues. And, things got way more expensive than we’d planned. But, we kept plugging along. In all, it took a full year (and it is, by DURG definition, unfinished on the inside.)

At some point, Rick and I, separately, reached the conclusion that the cedar shingled, gable-end needed something, other than the windows, to break up the expanse. Without mentioning it, he started looking into a faux “hayloft door,” to solve the problem. Quietly, I looked into the idea of putting up a “Barn Quilt” square.

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The Barn Quilt

The Barn Quilt Project has spread widely in agricultural areas. The original Barn Quilt was put up as a tribute to the creative efforts of a particular farm wife–but the idea of combining rural craft arts with the blank canvas of barn walls caught on. It’s a subtle, elegant way to acknowledge some of the beauties of rural and agricultural living.

One day, Rick approached me, gingerly, with some preliminary drawings of his faux loft door. He was well aware of my history of disdain for all things faux. I saw in a flash what he was trying to do–and confessed my own research into the possibility of a barn quilt. I’d been afraid to bring it up, because I was just a little self-conscious of the idea of ‘decorating’ a barn. I googled “barn quilt” and showed him some of the images. He became an instant recruit.

Most barn quilts are painted on a board that is then attached to the barn wall, but we wanted ours to be more in keeping with the other rustic materials we’d already used for the project. In particular, we scored a great deal on some 2 X 12, t&g siding, with just the slightest whisper of a log look, for a rustic feel that complemented the house. So our barn quilt is stained triangles of white cedar, “stitched” together, like a quilt. We love it.

We have a few things left to do on the barn’s exterior ― install the garage doors, a few small trim pieces, and some final staining. But we’ve finally reached the point where we can think of things to do in it, instead of to it. It’s a relief. After five years of building the house and DURG, we are a bit worn. It’s time to put our energies into the orchard, the garden, and the chickens. Finally though, we have completed the underpinnings to our life plan. It’s a relief. In some ways, things turned out better than we imagined. And in others–we’re just beginning the imagining process for what comes next. (Woodshed… greenhouse…)

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Just Past Peak.

A.V. Walters–

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With color so late this year, everyone was trying to pinpoint exactly when we’d experience “peak color.” Folks want to snap a picture at the exact epitome of the season, as if you could really capture the experience in a photo. I’m guilty of that, too. I think peak was last Saturday. I missed it. Saturday was a little grey, so I decided to wait a day to capture some sunshine in the photo. That night, the wind picked up—stripping vulnerable leaves from their moorings and removing swaths of color from the landscape. The next morning, sun came out, briefly, revealing an entirely different palette from the day before.

I snapped a few pics, even knowing that I’d called it wrong. Later in the day, the winds howled, and the rain kicked in–the double-whammy of color loss. Yesterday’s magnificent landscape was skittering across the road in the wind and rain. Now, near a week later, frosts have hit and we’re talking about the start of winter instead of the peak of fall.

It’s not as easy to call the color as it was when I was a kid. I think that climate change is delivering us mild autumn temperatures, slowing the turn of the season. Instead of one blast of outrageous display, the trees start their transition, and lose leaves along the way, through an extended autumn. A local headline read, “Color Season Takes its Own Sweet Time.” Not that it’s not beautiful—it’s just not as intense.

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Rick and I take a moment, everyday, to observe the changes. That may be the best anyway. Too often in our busy lives, we forget to take a moment to appreciate the beauty around us. It’s a shame, because “everyday beauty” is considerable salve to the challenges of everyday life. So what if it’s a little past peak? Come to think of it, so am I.

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What doesn’t kill you…

A.V. Walters

 

The glow and promise of raku!

The glow and promise of raku!

Yeah, right. It’s raining, and we have to go purchase building materials, and go vote. That means we have a day off from working at the site. We bemoan this, though we really need it. We both ache. There are times, at the end of the day, that I’m so tired I want to roll into bed without so much as dinner. (Though, I’m not going without a glass of wine!)

I know that this adventure is both taking its toll, and building us up. We’ve both dropped weight (though Rick is downright skinny and I’m beginning to bake goodies, to fatten him up a bit.) I have forearms like Popeye. I guess it’s making us stronger.

Actually, I know it. We took a couple of days at Labor Day to go visit my Mum. She’s a potter and had weekend plans to participate in a raku firing event. For those who may not know, a raku firing is a fire-filled, fast, somewhat ceremonial, blast furnace of a ceramic kiln firing. It’s a blast. From my childhood as a potter’s daughter, raku meant party. It combined the best of everything—fire, good food, a soupçon of danger, and that ooh-aah factor every time you open a kiln. Anyway, though I said that she’d need help with the event, I really just wanted to be there—to help and to live the fun that is raku.

The fired pot--headed for reduction in wood chips.

The fired pot–headed for reduction in wood chips.

As we loaded up the truck (kiln, tongs, gloves, pots, and propane) I grabbed her two, small propane tanks. They felt empty.

“Mom, we’ll need to stop and get fuel—these are near empty.”

She gave me a funny look. “No, I exchanged them last week.”

I hefted them again, two tanks at arms length, and and shrugged.

Rick came over to resolve the debate. “The seals are still on those tanks—they’re full.”

I looked down. Lugging one tank is normally work—two tanks would not usually be within my capacity. So, I guess it’s true. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It was a great firing and a great day.

Faux Foe

A.V. Walters

So kitch, they're okay

So kitch, they’re okay

We all have our pet peeves. My brother, for example, cannot endure the sounds of others eating. He has to play music. It just drives him crazy. My sister can’t stand the low hum of a truck idling. She once got up in the middle of the night, walked down the block and confronted a young man working on his truck. (Really, it was late…) When he laughed at her, she sealed his fate. After all, she owns the local general store, and she would no longer let him do business there. (Too bad for him. And, a smoker, too.)

My quirk is not so volatile. I’m annoyed by faux anachronism. It started young. As a kid, I would become peeved at the sight of a Landau top on a car. You may remember them, synthetic leather (don’t get me started), roof bonnets, designed to look like a convertible. Why on earth would one put a perishable surface on the enameled, steel roof of a car?! I gathered that the object was to imitate the upper class Sunday touring buggy of years gone by. (And in so doing, to create a vehicle that would age poorly and look trashy. Go figure.)

That was just the start. I’m a history buff. I like antiques and old architecture. I love the feel of old machines and their workings. I still sew with a 1906 era, treadle sewing machine. I don’t mind eclectic, as long as it’s authentic. I don’t mind reproduction, so long as it’s true to the original and as well made. And, I like things to be period appropriate. I remember that when old style stoves were popular one high-end manufacturer made a heavy reproduction nostalgia model—but it sported modern electric burner coils. For this, appearance over form or function, consumers could fork over thousands of dollars.

I could only have been nine or ten when a family in our neighborhood “updated” their 50s tract home with, of all things, plantation-style columns. I marched right to my mother to demand that she stop them. It just looked sooooo dumb! How could they! Just the sight of this tacked-on grandiosity embarrassed me. She laughed. Not that she disagreed with my aesthetic perspective but she was surprised, even alarmed, by my vehemence. It only got worse. As their remodel continued, they added fake shutters to their windows! (And, the shutters were mis-sized; were they to actually close them, they wouldn’t even meet in the middle—much less, protect the windows. Augh!)

The list of things that would trigger my peevishness grew—vinyl siding, faux brick or rock embellishments, wagon wheel yard art, lawn jockeys, you name it. (Oddly, I exempt plastic, pink, flamingoes, because they’re so off the chart as to be funny.)

We’re starting the building process and it’s bringing out the snob in me. Gladly, Rick and I are mostly on the same page. It’s about windows. Modern technology has given us beautiful windows, inviting light and air into our homes, without sacrificing energy efficiency. Historically, window glass was a major expense, and small panes made window glass transportable without too much breakage. And, they didn’t have the technology to produce large panes of quality glass. So our visual history of homes includes many-paned windows. Even though they interfere with the view, and the old single panes guaranteed a winter chill, the look does have a cottage feel. Even I admit that. But, believe me, the solution is not fake dividers. You can actually pay extra for grids to ruin your view! It irks me, just to see grids in windows. Rick just shakes his head. He is, after all, married to an aesthetic nut. Good thing he doesn’t like things artificial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monochrome

A.V. Walters

Bluff View

Bluff View

Winter. Pretty much black and white, right? Hardly. Maybe because we are cloaked in a postcard perfect layer of white, it forces one to take a closer look. There’s a world of color out there, if you look for it. The snow itself is a constantly shifting set of hues, depending upon the light. Right now it’s brilliant white, with the edges, drifts and footprints defined in shades of grey and blue. Just after dawn or at dusk, the snow glows pink—what my mother calls “The pearly hour.”

But, it’s more than that. At first glance the naked trees are black, grey and taupe. Looking closer reveals myriad shades and colors. The dogwood tips are a deep ruby. The cedar trees mix the characteristic yellow-green of their foliage with the rusty seeds at the tips. Across the street, our snow is interrupted by some kind of dried seedpod in a dark umber and waving, golden dried grasses. That gold is echoed above in the clinging brassy parchment leaves of young beech trees. Look deep into the forest and you’re rewarded with the winter greens of the white and red pines (with their warm brick and brown trunks)—to the almost-blue green of the spruce. Driving through the county side, I am surprised by the range of color in the sleeping, winter fields; the amber corn stubble poking up through the drifts; the burgundy tips on the cherry trees; the shocking, spilling-over, yellow of the naked willow branches; and the dense green of the snow-flocked Christmas trees that survived to see another season.

Today we went for a hike along the beach. Along the shore and extending out in the shallows, Lake Michigan has its usual winter, ruffled collar of jumbled frozen piles of snow, slush and ice. Out about fifty feet, the collar gives way to the steel grey waves, lapping and spraying occasionally at the ragged edge. This is a sand beach and the winter surf sweeps the sand in with the frozen frothy foam at the end of the waves’ reach. Parts of the beach are slick and icy, dangerously dusted with fresh blown snow. Other parts are sheets of frozen sand, lifted and arched by the heave, and hollow underneath. It’s a world away from its usual summer world of flip-flops, bathing suits and kayaks.

We’ve noticed an odd behavior at the parking-area turnaround at the township park/beach. Folks in the area drive down to check up on the Lake. Whenever we’re there, we see it. These are winter people, who, on their way somewhere else, detour down to the park for a glimpse at whatever the Lake is doing. They pull up and sit for a few moments, just watching whatever winter has in store that day. Today was not windy and the Lake was quiet. Sometimes it’s wild and crashing.

We think of it as our winter hike but we’re wrong. Today we ran into our neighbor at the beach. He’s an elderly gent; we see him out walking his dogs, regularly. There was a family, with lots of little bundled kids out cavorting and sliding on the icy beach. And then, there were all the footprints, evidence that any number of hardy souls come out regularly in the cold to enjoy the beauty and colors of winter. It’s nice to know that others appreciate the winter landscape, as we do.

Revealing

A.V. Walters

Skov painting

After almost a decade of owning it, I finally cleaned a painting today. I haven’t done that in a while, but once you learn the technique, you’ve got it. The painting needed cleaning the whole time but I was afraid. Sometimes you buy a painting, liking the muted hues you see, only to clean it and find it garish, or not just right anymore. I wish I’d taken a “before” picture. This painting has a lot of pinks in the sky and I was concerned that, cleaned, they’d overtake the canvas. I needn’t have worried. Even ninety years ago, the artist had more sense than that.

If you read The Emma Caites Way, you’ll see that art restoration is actually a part of my background. It’s an interesting way to learn more about art. I’m taken with the plein air paintings of the Arts & Crafts period. I like how the artist, on the fly, can suggest light and space with a few deft strokes, or even just a well-informed line or a perfectly placed splash of color.

Generally cleaning a painting brightens it and more clearly reveals the artist’s original intent. It removes accumulated oils, dirt and smoke residue, helping to protect the canvas over the long haul. In the process you become almost intimate with the work. You have to work within the artist’s original brush strokes, gently wiping clean the grooves left by the bristles in his brush. If you work the surface too hard—or scrub—you can damage the original paint. The work is painstaking. When you’re satisfied that you’ve done as much as you can (or as much as the canvas will endure) you protect it with a thin layer of conservation varnish. By the time you finish, you really know the painting.

This Danish painting is from 1923, apparently painted in Tuscany—I don’t think there are olive trees in Denmark. The artist, Marius Skov, is a “listed” Danish artist, meaning that he was recognized in his time. The cleaning lifted nearly a century of grime and funk from his canvas. It’s brighter and clearer than I would have guessed. Indeed there’s a roadway (or maybe a river) in the foreground that I never saw before. It’s a surprise.

With a good cleaning, you expect to see more features in the bright areas. What surprises me is how much new detail is revealed in the shadows. The trees in the center, once just a blob of dark green, now reveal new colors and brushstrokes that weren’t visible before. And now the countryside is dotted with neighboring villas and farm buildings, previously lost in the haze. Even the distant hills undulate in new distinct shades of blue and purple.

Once, years ago, I cleaned a painting of a waterfall and pond, and found that it’d been partially painted over–a figure, a man fly-fishing, had been painted out, covered with bushes and shrubs to convert the painting to an elegant and simple landscape. Some research on the artist showed that his specialty was paintings of fishermen. The part of the painting that made it the most valuable as an example of this artist’s work had been obscured. Worse yet, the owner of the painting had liked it as a landscape and was disappointed by the appearance of this new interloper. I was torn–how was I to be faithful to the intent of the original artist and satisfy the owner?

It makes me think about writing. It’s easy to move the plot along “in the light,” to reveal the obvious. It’s another thing entirely to look into the dark parts of the story and to reveal the texture that informs how things go wrong. It might be enough to let your readers know that a character has done something vile, or selfish. Yet, the story is more telling if we can see the brushstrokes in that life that consummate in that act. I need to remember to look hard at both the light and the dark in my writing. (And the painting turned out okay, too.)