Somewhere between Cassville and Potosi, Mississippi River.
20 x 40" Oil on linen on birch panel.
It seems we have a tendency to want to go "up north" or "out west". I know I do. Lately, however, I have been enchanted by trips to the south, well, southwestern Wisconsin that is. Along the Mississippi River, one can find wonderful small towns and stunning scenery. Take Potosi, for example. Population less than 700 people. Believe it or not, there is a great brewery and restaurant, a lovely winery, and the Great River Road Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Beer, wine, an art museum, and the Mississippi River, all set within the backdrop of rugged terrain called the Driftless Area. It's all good! Just so happens my River Sojourn exhibit will be at the MOCA August 1 - September 30. The opening reception is Sunday, August 2nd, from 5:30 to 8 pm. Stop by if you can and enjoy the paintings, piano music, local wine, and perhaps an opera singer or two - yep, this is Potosi!
There is a stretch of the Mississippi River Blufflands I have began to explore this summer. It lies between Prairie du Chein, WI and Dubuque, Iowa, and seems more remote than other reaches, I suppose because there are no major highways that run right next to the water. There are state parks, scientific natural areas with rare plants and animals, federal monuments, several tributaries, high bluffs, backwater sloughs, and small river towns; boat landings are often a mile or more off the paved road, down windy, forested roads. The only way to cross the river is by a car ferry at Cassville, and it may or may not be running depending on river conditions.
I was hiking on a day that was the hottest so far this summer, captivated by the plants of a bluff prairie. Prairie plants and hot sun remind me of my botany professor, who would take us students out for summer field classes, no matter the outside temperatures. When the misery of the heat got to us, he would feign surprise, and with a twinkle in his eye and his characteristic lop-sided grin, he would say: " well, today is a day when you can feel the full flavor of the prairie!". I always think of him when I am on a hot prairie, and how he managed to look cooler than the rest of us in his white shirt and khakis, hand lens around his neck and field key in hand. He was a dedicated Iowa botanist and I think his generation was somehow tougher, maybe because they didn't grow up with air-conditioned homes. When it was hot, it was, well, just hot, but the prairie is often at its most spectacular and not to be missed. The prairies along the river nearly all have rare species for this region, and are a treat to explore. Oh, and the river views aren't bad either; I am looking forward to painting this river reach, no matter the temps!
In the Shadow of the Bluff, Oil on linen, 24 x 36"
In a couple days, River Sojourn will open at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN. I am looking forward to the reception, conversing with folks, and hoping everyone enjoys the collection of paintings. I'm expected to say a few words, and that has me thinking. How does one condense the experiences of over two years of painting the Mississippi Blufflands into a few words? What really matters? Why do I paint, and what winds up of meaning on the linen surface?
This exhibit brings to the forefront the natural beauty we have here, how precious and diverse it is, that taking care of it through conservation ensures future generations the opportunities to enjoy it as we do, to have clean water and air, and retain the aesthetic qualities of the region.
As one walks around and looks at each painting, perhaps you will think of the same things I think of, things that make you glad to be live in this landscape, things you sometimes barely notice:the wind that stirs the tall prairie grasses and the clouds, the rain that gives the lushness and variety of greens to the trees and fields in summer, the hot summer days that are reflected in the distant blue hills, the chill in the shadows of the snow, the dampness of the morning fog, the calls of frogs and toads in a valley pond.
I think about the inner peace I have gained from spending time alone in this landscape, a peace that comes from connecting to something that is so much bigger than me but also connects us to each other, something timeless, ancient, and rhythmic. I am lucky to be painting here, and my awe grows deeper as does my knowledge. It is, well, just so cool to be alive and be a painter!
River Sojourn opens at the Anderson Center, Red Wing, MN on Friday, January 30th. The reception begins at 7pm, and is free and open to the public. Stop on by if you are in the area!
I took the dog for a walk at the refuge today, the snow crunching under our feet, the wind making it feel colder than the 23F temperature. The rusts, greys, and browns of the dormant trees and shrubs stood out against the snow, casting long shadows in the late afternoon. The clouds were soft greys and pale yellows. I saw painting opportunities everywhere. And while I don't stand up well to the cold, I love this time of year, and am eager to paint the winter.
Once again, however, I am a season behind, finishing a moonrise, a field of golden rods and distant trees, a bluff prairie ablaze in the morning sun. The fall was glorious in every way, except for the fact it had to end. It seems the season flies by like no other. Like every other year, I will be working on fall paintings until January and still not get all my ideas to canvas.
In October, I stood along the shoreline of the Mississippi River three nights in a row, watching and waiting for the Harvest Moon, stomping my feet to keep warm. I knew I had to wait for the moon to clear the trees, but it startled me, first appearing as a bright campfire through the trees of the island, and then a rising golden globe in the darkness of early evening. The island trees, faded but still leaf-full, let the moon have center stage. Its reflection wavered and spun through the currents, slow in places, fast in others. I had to go back during the daylight to sketch the river bank, to stare at the currents, and then home to the warmth of the studio, celebrating the Harvest Moon once more.
Watercolor pencil, watercolor, and gouache on paper
I have been
thinking a lot about the Mississippi River lately; not just the ecological
values and services it provides, but how the river inspires people to explore,
write, photograph, and paint it. In 1944, Harlan and Anna Hubbard assembled a
shantyboat from scraps and floated the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for 7 years,
living a life style appropriately called “a real odyssey” by a fellow
riverman. Recently, Ken and I enjoyed
the company of another team, Wes Modes and Kai Dagleish, who traveled from
California with their shantyboat in tow, and dropped it in the Mississippi at Minneapolis.
Our friend, Marti Phillips, was so intrigued by the floating boat houses near
La Crosse and Brownsville that she not only bought one, but wrote a book on
their history (The Floating Boathouses
on the Upper Mississippi River, their history, their stories )– an adventure
that took her into years of research and exploration.
In the late
19th century, a book called Picturesque America was written to
convey the wonders of the country’s lands to Americans. The book described the
Mississippi River landscape as “a study for the painter, a theme for the poet,
a problem for the geologist, a clew for the historian. Whosoever will study it
with his soul rather than his wit shall not fail of exceeding great reward. It
is a grief that Americans should wander off to the Rhine and Danube when, in the Mississippi, they have countless Rhines and Danubes…All that is beautiful in lake
scenery, in lower mountain scenery, in river scenery, is garnered here.”
These days, I
continue my own explorations of the river, drawing and painting in the quiet end
of summer. Now, it seems we have the river to ourselves again, and I notice
migratory shorebirds, v-formations of geese, and the steady chirps of insects
in their final pleas for warmth. This Friday, I look forward to
seeing the work of other artists inspired by the river at the Minnesota Marine
Art Museum : “Revisiting Twain’s Mississippi: Photographs by Chris Faust , and
Carved by the River: Woodcut Prints by Nick Wroblewski.
Harlan Hubbard said: “A river tugs at whatever
is within reach, trying to see it afloat and carry it downstream. Living trees
are undermined and washed away. No piece of driftwood is safe, though stranded
high up the bank; the river will rise to it, and away it will go. The river
extends this power of drawing all things with it even to the imagination of
those who live on its banks. Who can
long watch the ceaseless lapsing of a river’s current without conceiving a
desire to set himself adrift, and like the driftwood which glides past, float
with the stream clear to the final ocean?”
If you would like to see finished paintings and their stories, and have not signed up for my website newsletter, go to www.saralubinski.com and sign up to receive an every-so-often e:mail of a recent painting!
It looks like just another kayak on the river, but it is really my "working kayak"; decked out with a little box filled with paper, ink, pencils, and watercolors. This little sit-on-top kayak has been hanging in the garage port all winter long. Ken and I bought it at a live auction - yes, it was an impulse purchase, but one that will serve me well. It's a long story: Ken and I used to go out on our pontoon boat with different intentions - he to fish, me to paint. Of course there were no fish to catch where I wanted to paint, and where there were fish was usually a spot I wasn't intrigued to paint. We sold the pontoon a few years ago, and just last month, we acquired a "new" boat again.
So this week, we started hauling the kayak via the pontoon to a little beach, where I take off paddling, and Ken takes off fishing from the pontoon. We are still getting our system down, outfitting the little boat with necessities (i.e.. little anchor and drip rings), figuring out communications, and I am getting used to handling the little craft in the still-high and fast currents. I'm excited that I can slip into the shallow backwaters and tiny channels now, and hang out among the emerging water lilies, the bottomland forests, or the shoreline reeds. We like going out evenings, and staying out until sunset. The river has little boat traffic during the week, and it just seems like "our" river Stay tuned for posts from the Mississippi!