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.
17 June 2015
27 January 2015
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!
02 December 2014
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.
24 September 2014
03 September 2014
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?”
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02 July 2014
06 June 2014
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!
04 April 2014
The Edge of Spring, Oil on Linen, 24x30
It's hard to believe River Sojourn began two years ago, the days drawing and painting in the field and studio already fading into memory, Nancy's work of scheduling with venues, coordinating with film makers, marketing, and communication wrapping up at last. The paintings are currently on exhibit at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (through May 11) and at the National Eagle Center (through June), beginning their 2-year journey throughout the region. The studio is clean and organized for the first time in months. New brushes and paints are ordered to replace the ones worn to a frazzle or squeezed out to flattened, empty tubes.
Project Manager, Nancy North, and I are delighted to share the work and converse about the Blufflands with so many people. It is what it is all about - caring about the land, sharing the beauty and diversity of our home with one another, thinking about what is important for now and for future generations. We have learned more about our home, about the Driftless Area, what is precious, even rare. We have met folks that we treasure for their perspectives, talents, and willingness to share their lives and lands, to work hard for what they believe in. It has been a good journey!
Now, a new season begins I am not hanging up my field hat, but will continue to observe, draw, and paint throughout the Blufflands, to go back to places I want to revisit, to explore the places I didn't get to. I want to spend more time in the furthest reaches of the Driftless, and create paintings that still float in my head. I plan to spend a lot of time on the Mississippi River, via kayak and pontoon boat, and hang out with the water lilies and dragon flies. New paintings will be incorporated into the touring exhibit so it remains fresh and exciting! It's kind of how I feel right now - excited, ready to burst into the spring. Stay tuned!