Katahdin Lake (in Baxter State Park)
Katahdin Lake is one of my favorite locations to paint. From the shore, Katahdin looms straight ahead; when the lake is calm there is a perfect mirror image of the mountain. I’m always up before daylight and down on the shore in hopes that this will be an “alpen glow” morning. This phenomenon is breathtaking.
As the sun rises from behind the low hills in the east, its rays fall on Katahdin and the mountain appears to be illuminated from within – for 15-20 minutes the lights change form blue to lavender, peach, pink and gold on the surface of the mountain; it’s bathed in a rosy glow – unbelievably beautiful. Remember the Frederic Church paintings where everything is pink and gold and you think “boy, what a romantic HE was” – well, it looks just like that.
And even on the mornings when the sun is hidden behind clouds, it is spectacular; the cloud formations are awesome. Always moving, some look almost solid – piles of piles of billowing shapes. Others are mere wisps, spinning upward.
And then some afternoons, it’s a completely different landscape: calm waters, blue sky, puffy white clouds, and a wonderful feeling of peace.
One time during a fortuitous turn of events, I found myself all alone for an entire day at the lake. I loaded my painting gear into a canoe and paddled out to “Church’s Beach”. This is a little crescent of sand where Frederic Church made many sketches during his visits. I spent the day – looking, drawing, a little painting, a little just sitting with my eyes closed – having lunch, painting some more – I’ll always remember that day. The wind came up and it was all I could do to get my gear packed up in time to paddle back before the waves became too much for me.
My first winter plein aire experience was at Katahdin Lake. It was great. With my paints and paper in a backpack and snowshoes, I could get to places on the snow-covered ice that were inaccessible in summer. Aside from painting from my snowy perch on the top of what was a bush as tall as me in summer, what I remember most is the eagle who soared over my head as I walked all the way down the lake, circling around after I got settled.
Baxter State Park
On my very first painting trip to Baxter State Park, I kept a journal in which I wrote “when I drove over the last ridge on the road into the park and saw Katahdin in front of me with snow on the peak, I don’t think I’ve ever been more thrilled!”
Painting Katahdin from any of the sites in the park is a challenge and a thrill. Katahdin is often wreathed in clouds and I love to try to capture a brief moment when the clouds swirl around the peaks or settle into the bowl and wispy trails of mist creep along the crevices of the granite.
One day at Daicey Pond as I sat in the underbrush drawing the reflection of an enormous boulder in the water, I saw a rabbit (snowshoe hare?) not far away from me in the underbrush. She was nibbling daintily on something delectable and the sunlight lit up her ears, making them transparent. I quietly put the telescopic lens on my camera and for half an hour I took photos she moved around in the dappled light. I’m sure she knew I was there but didn’t seem at all disturbed – I had never considered painting a hare, but I later did three of her. It was almost as if we were playing “peek a boo” in the shrubbery.
I even found a ready-made still life in the park. Several cushions and life jackets that were available for people going out in the canoes were hanging from a hook on a cabin. I thought I couldn’t have made a better arrangement if I had tried; it had everything, color, pattern and shape.
Another journal entry reads, ” Three days here in the camp with the rain coming down day and night; lying bed at night listening for the “plink, plink, plink” of water hitting the three buckets on the floor that were catching the leaks in the roof, painting the views through the windows during the day while the wood stove chirped – it was heaven”.
Monhegan Island lives up to its reputation; even with the scores of “day-trippers”, it is still a magical place. I find it amazing and wonderful that I can hike out to one of the headlands, find a comfortable place to set up my easel and still feel as if I’m the only person out there.
One afternoon I set out later than usual with the intention of painting the late afternoon light on Gull Rock. As time went by, I began to notice the absolute lack of anyone else on the trails, either coming or going. Absorbed as I was in my work, time had flown and I suddenly had a very strong feeling that unless I wanted to spend the night out there by myself, I’d better move quickly. Never mind that I knew I was only a mile or so from the village; I felt as if I were in some remote outpost and once it got dark, it was going to be very scary! Another painting lesson well-learned.
Monhegan Island has the lovely quality of being not only a place for crashing surf, cliffs and beach, but also the cool mystery of Cathedral Woods with its trickling brooks and green, mossy hideaways.
I’ve just read a note in my sketchbook, “there’s a violet haze in the air today” – and later, “the sun is a pale orb peering through heavy cloud cover”. Did I try to paint that! I wrote about Marie-Angelique Cannonier. She met Captain Stevens when he stopped in France on a voyage, later married him and came to Monhegan. He was the keeper of the fog station from 1902 – 1957. I think she went back to France once to visit her family, but it’s reported that she loved Monhegan and in return, was beloved by the islanders. Wouldn’t I have loved to meet her.
One of the first things we did after moving to Maine was camp at Lily Bay on Moosehead Lake. I still have the little watercolor sketches that I did of the view through the trees on our campsite. I was still just thinking that “one day” I would be an artist.
Moosehead Lake is one of the unique places in Maine. For those of you who haven’t been here, it’s a very large lake, but unlike the Great Lakes which look like oceans, the islands in Moosehead make the views seem intimate and inviting – as long as you remember that the lake can change in a few minutes from tranquility to waves that will challenge the most experienced boater. There are beautiful sights in every direction, islands to explore and the deep blue, starry sky at night. Kayaking in the shallow waters around the islands is the perfect way to see the close-up views. Loons don’t seem to mind the quiet paddler, and dawn is the perfect time to out on the water.
I live on one of the many “fingers” of land that poke in and out all the way up the Maine coast. There are subjects here to keep an artist busy for a lifetime. Painting Maine gardens, for instance. Or the fascinating patterns of light and color on the salt marshes - the small harbors and villages snuggled along the water. Maine has a very special light; I especially love the foggy days. From Bath to Pemaquid Point, Harpswell and Popham Beach and all manner of places in between; each with it’s own personality and subject matter.
Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador
My sketchbooks and journals of Maritime Canada are filled with notes about the play of light and shadow on rocks and wharves; yellow lichen, the “wonderful blue of St. Mary’s Bay disappearing into the sky”.
On the huge ferry, the “Joseph & Clara Smallwood” from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland; people are snoozing in the sun on the upper deck, I’m drawing the smokestacks against the sky, a group of schoolchildren are curled up on the benches. All of a sudden, a young girl separates herself from the group, stands at attention and begins to sing “Oh Canada” in a sweet, pure voice. Everyone is silent until she finishes, and then all go back to whatever they were doing. I, of course, am mesmerized.
Newfoundland - All I can do is make color notes. This landscape is all at once bleak and forbidding, and yet I can write “sapphire blue water, gold tundra”.
In a small museum in a lighthouse, I see a photograph of a fisherman and his wife holding their child’s hand. Embroidered in the material around the frame I read “Our Darling Baby”.
I write, “The surface of the bog looks like paisley”. This is in Gros Morne World Heritage Site. To find one subject to paint in all of this richness I think would be challenging to the most experienced painter. I’m too overcome with emotion about it all. I’ll paint after I have a chance to live with it for a bit. Meanwhile, I draw and write.
In Red Bay, Labrador, where Basques came to hunt whales in the 16th century, I hear a snippet of an old song, “I’m going to marry a light-house keeper and keep him company……………….”
I’m on a freighter that supplies the outports along the Labrador coast with all of the essentials. We stop at places that are too small even to have a wharf. I’m drawing on the deck and then rushing down to my room to paint while the memory is fresh. I hear the captain on the speaker “don’t miss the view to the right, m’dear”, and in the lineup for dinner in the cafeteria the men behind the fried fish and macaroni ask me how it’s going, and I can tell they comment among themselves about what I’m painting.
I pick a few stalks of Artic cotton on a hillside overlooking Black Tickle. I’m told they were used as lamp wicks in the old days. An Inuit woman traveling on the ship brings me a sprig of a plant with lovely pea-green pods. She thought that “I might like to do a painting of it”. I did.
The northern lights over Goose Bay are dancing pale green, pink-edged shapes; a young woman tells me that when she was a little girl, her mother told her that the lights would steal her away if she wasn’t good.
We see icebergs, mostly smaller ones broken off from the main; the captain and crew keep a close watch.
In Hopedale, three small boys follow me around as I draw in the village. I asked if I could take their picture and they lined up on their bikes. I got their names and months later, sent them a Christmas card with their photos, in care of the postmaster. Later I did a painting of them. Imagine my shock when three years later I received an email from a woman in Labrador telling me that she had gone to visit a friend who had a computer. She typed in “Labrador”, and up came my website with the painting of the boys. She wrote that one of the boys was her son, James.
Journal entry, “Saw three small houses on the rocks of one of the islands this afternoon. No other sign of habitation for miles”. In order to paint this landscape, one must be able to somehow transmit this sense of vastness. It isn’t as empty as it looks. Only to us “come from aways”.
I’ve written “I must tell what delights me – that’s all”.