“Dear old world', she murmured, 'you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
For the past number of years I have had the idea for a painting that I am just finally starting. As of now I will title it Mr. Barbour's Wharf and it will be named for my neighbour, Samuel Barbour. The title may change as the painting evolves, or it may stay the same. I don't necessarily think it needs to have an obscure title. Sometimes, the title can simply serve as a homage to the lovely people or places who inspire the work. That is what Mr. Barbour's Wharf will be. A tribute to my childhood, to the places of my memory, and the people who have made lasting impressions on my life.
Growing up near the sea, the ocean was our playground. Living in a coastal community meant people relied upon the sea for their livelihood. Although my family did not make a living directly from the sea, we did live close to the fish plant so watching the fishing vessels leave for the fishing grounds or arrive home with their catch was a sight that always seemed to make you stop and look. There was always a sense of amazement and beauty in the sight of a boat coming in the harbour. It never seemed to get old.
As a teenager I remember lying on the railing of the front bridge on warm summer nights, looking up at the stars and listening to the hustle and bustle of the fish plant when it would be in full swing, with upwards of one thousand people, processing the seasonal catch. To some who never experienced this small town life it may seem boring and uninspiring, but to me it was heaven. Sure I dreamed of moving on and doing other things with my life, but, even as a young person, I was acutely aware of the beauty that surrounded those simple, fleeting moments. You may argue that time has made me nostalgic. Not so. I very clearly remember being in those moments and understanding how peaceful it was and knowing I was very fortunate "to be alive" in this world.
This brings me back to Mr. Barbours Wharf. Mr. & Mrs. Barbour were my neighbours on Vincent Heights. They lived down at the end of the lane and like in the movies, they were the sweetest couple - just good, kind people. Mr. Barbour had a wharf down by the water. This wharf was positioned directly across from the tiny beach (in a little cove) where my friends and I would collect beach glass, bits of old china softened by the sea, skip rocks, dig for clams and mussels, explore, create adventures and sometimes simply be still as the gentle lap of the tide would lull us with its hypnotic ebb and flow.
The Wharf it seemed, had always been there. It was mended over the years with pieces of lumber and logs, I'm sure, although I never remember seeing new lumber. If new planks were added, perhaps they, too, had been exposed to the elements prior to their being attached, pieced together like the fabric of our souls. Maybe my memory has faded. Maybe that particular memory is not necessary for the telling of the story.
As I prepare for the painting, I rely upon photographs I took a few summers back. I began a small sketch on handmade water-colour paper, using a micron pen and Grumbacher watercolors. I kept my movements loose and gestural and hope I will achieve the same effect when I get to the oil painting. I find it difficult to loosen up when I get to the canvas because I want to make it "perfect". This painting has special meaning and I want to make it just right. As I prepare the drawing, I am using a grid method to transfer my graphite drawing. I am only loosely using the guides to get the basic structure down. I fill in the underpainting in umber washes and contemplate how I will approach the subsequent layers.
When I think of the relationship Mr. and Mrs. Barbour shared I am reminded of a Fred Cogswell poem, Like Two Slant Trees.
"Lean on me," he said,
loving her weakness
and she leaned hard
adoring his strength
Like two slant trees
they grew together
their roots the wrong way
for standing alone
The poem speaks of the love between a man and a woman. They rely upon each other for strength to face anything. The poem indicates that they cannot survive without the other. I don't think that is the case with Mr. and Mrs. Barbour, but they seemed to share a love and friendship that is worth striving for. As much as I love the poem I feel the roles of the man and the woman are interchangeable. I used to take a harsh feminist approach to the literal interpretation of Like Two Slant Trees but then I realized in my own marriage there are times when I am weak and there are times when I am strong. I have stopped my need to always seem strong and tough and learn to appreciate the times when I am in need of security and strength; when I need "to lean" and when I need to be leaned upon.
So, you see, I may take a photograph and create a painting from it so that it closely resembles the source. However, I rarely just copy a photo. Mr. Barbour's Wharf is not a demonstration of technical skill. It is so much more. Maybe I should title the painting Like Two Slant Trees. Like two slant trees, the wharf literally depends on the other pieces of lumber for its support. Like two slant trees Mr. & Mrs. Barbour depended upon each other for support. Like two slant trees, I would like to think that my husband and I rely upon each other for support. I used to be adamant that I "didn't need no man" to take care of me. And I still don't think I need that. I know I would be perfectly fine to take care of myself and my family. However, here's where I have changed. I have accepted that while my "roots" are NOT the "wrong way for standing alone", I "lean hard" because I know Jamie will lean back. Every fibre of my feminist nature is screaming for me to insert a sarcastic remark right now. Instead, I think I will count my blessings and call it a night.
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