Sunday, August 11, 2013

Art Inspiration in Washington County

When I was growing up, my mother drew very fine pen and ink pictures.  Her detailed black-and-white lines were her trademark. She would say, "I don't do color.  I've never been good at it."  Then, in 2000, at the age of 75, she changed her mind and began painting with color pastels.  The first thing I learned when my mother took up pastel painting was that pictures drawn using pastels are called paintings.

Last year, in July 2012, my mother and I had the opportunity for a half-day drive through nearby Washington County on a search for rural scenes that she could use as subjects for her art work. With my Washington County road map in hand, I picked out all one-lane paved or dirt roads for our day, leaving from my parents' home in Saratoga and going almost to Bennington and back.

We stopped often. I liked this view of placid water and tiger lilies, but also took pictures of a church across the road.  With her artist's eye, my mother told me where to stand to photograph it, as she tried to visualize the picture as a pastel painting.

This barn, below, on another road, really interested her.  I took six pictures of it from the road, and from the driveway with the accompanying house and shed next to it, and again from the opposite side with its flower garden.  Although I took many pictures, she might find that none of them really worked for her when she got home.

While my mother considered different angles for the barn photos, I walked to an opening in the trees and took this picture of a farmer cutting hay.  The aromas of cut hay and meadow flowers were sumptuous.

We stayed a little while in this area, finding more quaint scenes just up the road, such as this red schoolhouse, now a home.  With its stone wall and tiger lilies, I thought she might take artistic license and create something unique from this property.

In front of the schoolhouse, I was taken with this tiny shed next to the pond under a draping willow, so I took a picture of it too.  But I am not the painter, and my mother, although willing to consider the possibilities, was less enamoured of the scene as a subject for a painting.

It was a treat to drive on back roads through the farm country of Washington County.  Billed as one of the most beautiful counties in the State of New York, this area offers pastoral scenery much like Vermont which borders its east side. We continued over hills and around bends, admiring houses and gardens, farms and fields.  Even if they weren't painting-worthy, they still deserved our admiration.

Then we came upon this gem.  Hidden behind some trees was a weathered farm house.  It appeared abandoned, or at least not currently occupied, so we pulled off the road in front of it knowing we'd need to take our time getting views of this barn.

My mother stood, imagining how she would place the barn in a picture, stepping ahead, back, or sideways, envisioning it in just slightly different ways.  Then she would say, "Come over here, and take a picture from this side," and "step back now and get it from over here."

The picture below differs only slightly from the one above in that it shows the road continuing around the curve and up the hill.

To the right of the barn was also a fence, so I photographed that too, with the road, a tree, and part of the barn following my mother's instructions,"what do you think if we stood here" or here or there...all to give the artist more ideas and inspiration.

I knew my mother wouldn't want to draw cows, so I took this one just for me. I liked the dirt lane winding up towards the small barn on the hill. 

Despite all my map notations about what roads to take, it wasn't surprising that we might still get off-course.  We took a turn into a small village when we should have gone straight.  Realizing my mistake, I continued down the road looking for a good place to turn around.  And then, as if the day hadn't been rewarding enough, we saw this property with two sheds immersed in perennial gardens. 

Someone worked hard maintaining these gardens and we were an appreciative audience.  My mother was nearly overcome with the artistic possibilities here.

I stepped back to get both sheds in one photo, and then closer to feature a trellis, another included bird houses, a little Yorkshire terrier who had joined us, and a bird bath.  Meanwhile we oohed and aahed at the prolific garden display.

We drove a little farther, eventually coming upon a dirt road that offered this opening in the trees.  In the distance we could make out the Bennington Monument.  I had brought a picnic for us and we decided that this was the place to have it.  I pulled the car over and we ate our lunch in the shade with the view in front of us.

We had looked closely at every view around every curve of the roads we had taken. I had driven only 40 miles in two hours!  Sometimes we had stopped and never gotten out of the car, knowing after a second look that this barn or farm would not do as a subject for a pastel painting.  And sometimes we backed up or turned around because we thought we had missed something that needed a second look, and then there were the places that required serious consideration.  And despite our artistic focus, we had still found plenty of time for other general conversation about our day-to-day lives. 

Here is my mother after our picnic lunch.

I printed the entire day's worth of pictures for my mother.  It took her a while to decide which she might try first, and many of my photos she rejected entirely, now seeing them with the demands of her easel nearby. 

Still, during the course of this year, she has painted two pictures from that day.  In the one at right, she took the barn scene and made it her own with a fence and a dirt lane.

My favorite is this one of the shed with the trellised roses.  I like the way she gave the scene a soft focus at the edges.

Both pictures remind me of the day we spent together, she finding art in the country, and me following her directions with my camera.