Friday, April 25, 2014

This is a story about Caspar David Friedrich and me

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) was a German Romantic painter who inspired many later artists, including those of the American Hudson River School, the New England Luminists, and lots of Russian painters. (His work also, by the way, was the inspiration for the painted mountain backdrops of the recent movie "The Grand Budapest Hotel"!)  A year or two ago I saw a reproduction of his ink wash and pencil drawing called Owl on a Grave, from 1837.  It's actually rather unsettling, but certainly captures the imagination, and seems to validate the view that Friedrich's work is full of melancholy and loneliness.  BUT - it is also deeply romantic, in the original sense of the word, i.e., "validating intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience...especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities" (Wikipedia).

Caspar David Friedrich:  Owl on a Grave

OK, now on to me!  I kept thinking about Friedrich, and when we were in Maine last October I was struck by the number of tiny weathered graveyards all over the state, many right next to the road between the farms or houses, and some in old town centers next to churches. Many date from the Civil War, which seems like it took place a long way from Maine, but of course it didn't. These little cemeteries are now peaceful old places, a bit melancholy to be sure, but truly meditative and romantic (see definition above). I especially liked the small Meeting House Cemetery right in the middle of Bar Harbor, on Mount Desert Island. I read all of the inscriptions that were still legible, and found one gravestone that I thought was especially evocative - on the grave of Captain Stephen Higgins, who died in 1862, aged 58 years. It had a lovely gothic arch, and was a bit distressed with a crack across the stone, deeply stained by hard winters. Carved above his name was a beautiful anchor, which of course refers to his occupation, but is also the symbol of hope.

Very different from Friedrich's German wooden grave marker, but I had in mind a different owl, and a different mood, too...

Captain Higgins' gravestone became my focus, and I imagined it in a slightly more rural setting than Bar Harbor, with a rising moon in the distance and a barn owl perched on the stone, just waking up. I borrowed the twilight palette of the painting from yet another 19th century German artist, Oscar Shultz.  I'm calling it Dusk.

My "owl on a grave" is not frightening at all, but quietly tranquil in its natural habitat, waiting for the dark, to fly. 

Dusk, gouache on rag paper

Framed Dusk
I'm using Dusk for the image on my publicity postcard for East Bay Open Studios in the first two weekends in June.  Come see me and my paintings at the Jack London Market Hall with over 50 other artists (but not Caspar David Friedrich, alas.) 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Antique Frames and Curiosities

In my last post I described a painting I did of three Victorian Staffordshire toothbrush holders, and that I put the painting into an antique frame that enhanced the artwork beautifully.  I also mentioned that although I always have professional photos taken of all of my paintings, I rarely take a picture of them after I have framed them (photos including the frames are not useable for reproduction as greeting cards or prints, and it's technically difficult if glass is used).  This is kind of a shame, as I am meticulous about finding the perfect frame for each picture, and I often use wonderful antique frames that I have been collecting for years.  So, here are a few more examples of my paintings, in both gouache and oil, all framed in antique and vintage frames.  Some have sold, some live happily in my house, and some will be for sale in the upcoming East Bay Open Studios the first two weekends of June in Oakland.  Come to Open Studios in the Jack London Market Hall and see which is which!

Tiny frame from about 1900 with my equally tiny  oil of a garden snail.

American "Adirondack" frame, from the 1890's, with my gouache painting "Ohlone Oaks".  This one is covered in glass, so there's a bit of reflection.

Oil of an old abandoned railway track in Alameda, framed in an antique gilt frame found at an antique show.

German rustic Black Forest frame, from about 1900, with my varnished gouache of "The Eiger by Moonlight".

A small oil of Mulnomah Falls in Oregon, framed in a marvelous American "Tramp Art" rustic frame from  the early 20th century.

This tiny old gilded frame from Holland is a perfect match to my little oil "The Woodcutter's Hut".

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


I'm working on producing as many new pieces as I can for the upcoming East Bay Open Studios happening the first two weekends in June.  One of my new oils is an homage to my beloved collection of antique Staffordshire transferware china.  I have three 1880's transferware toothbrush holders - all in use! - and I realized that a still life of the three in a row would be a fun project - especially as I had a rustic vintage Arts and Crafts frame with a long rectangular shape, perfect for the project. So, here are the results - first the picture unframed, painted in oils on heavy museum board:

and then, the completed oil in the antique frame I found for it, sitting on my kitchen table:

I always have professional photos taken of my paintings, but the frame often goes out the door with no record.  This one is special enough that it deserved recognition before it went to a new home!  By the way, speaking of that new home, a regular patron of mine who saw it in progress (and came up with the title too) bought it right off the easel!  So, one less for Open Studios - better get back to work...

I will be an exhibiting artist at East Bay Open Studios this June 6th (first Friday), 7th and 8th, and the following weekend June14th  and 15th, at the Jack London Square Market Hall, with over 50 other artists, at 55 Harrison Street in Oakland.  More information will follow, but save the dates!