Thursday, November 29, 2018

My Love of Landscape - Part 11

Part 11 of My Love of Landscape: Living in Canada

Friar's Bay, Sunrise


Research showed that, yes, I could apply for a work permit that would allow us to work and live on Campobello year-round, so long as there was no Canadian who could fill the job.  There were few artists close by to speak of, and as an artist, I am unique in what I do.  (And so it is with all artists, I would argue; no one paints like you.)  I suppose my application was also approved because of what I could do for the local economy.  Campobello has been, since the crash of the fishing industry, economically depressed, and I thought that if I ran a small gallery and taught plein air painting workshops, I could boost the economy in a small but meaningful way.

Winter painting on Campobello

Eastport View, Blackberry Canes 6x8 Oil
(view from our field, to the west)

Our first full year on Campobello involved a winter.  I didn't want to teach winter painting workshops—who would come?—so I decided to write my first book.  Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island was a real labor of love, since it required me to explore the island with a paint brush (or pastel box.)  This, our first winter, was glorious.  I remember hiking with just a fleece jacket right through Christmas.  I hauled my paintbox over trails to rocky cliffs to paint the headland views.  And, when we had snow, I stayed closer to home, going into our big field along Friar's Bay.  This field hosted a dozen or so apple trees, gnarled and twisted, plus large patches of blackberry and raspberry.  The blackberry canes made a stunning accent of hot red against the blue shadows of snow.  I also discovered night painting, and I learned that painting in the wee hours before dawn in pastel was more difficult than I had expected; the little pastels, so neatly laid down in color wheel order as I worked with them, rolled around and got confused, and under my headlamp's light I had a great deal of trouble telling the dark colors apart.  I decided oil was a smarter choice for nighttime painting since oil paint stays put.

Friar's Bay Gallery, open for business

By summer, we were ready to launch Friar's Bay Studio Gallery.  A home gallery made the most sense, since obviously there'd be no rent to pay or separate building to maintain; also, we'd be able to do laundry, cook a meal, finish up paperwork and even work in the studio while waiting for the doorbell to ring.  The gallery was small, just the living room at first, but over the years it came to expand into the front doorway, up the stairs and into nearly all the upstairs rooms.  We did well, as it seemed that visitors to the island always wanted to take home a memento.  We enjoyed running it, as many of the customers became good friends—and repeat patrons—over the years.

At the same time, I opened up my schedule for teaching small workshops on the island.  Up to four students at a time would meet the night before at the gallery for an ice-breaker and orientation session. The next morning, we'd meet again at the studio, where I'd lecture and critique, and then we'd all head off to one of my favorite painting locations.  I truly enjoyed showing students the secret spots I'd discovered; each week, it was as if I were seeing the landscape for the first time.  What's more, students would bring friends and family to the island, many of them new to the area.  As with the gallery patrons, some of my students became good friends, and we saw them summer after summer.  Students came to me from all over the U.S. and Canada and also from Europe.

Painting here...

...and there...

and here.

Of course, all this living full-time on the island meant giving up the house in New Mexico.  Our lives are like that.  One adventure ends but another begins, and you can be sure that the current one will end, too, but the cycle of adventures will also continue.  As I write these little essays on my life, I think over how major life decisions—such as choosing to move to Canada—are made.  When we bought the house on Campobello, for example, we had not yet thought of teaching workshops or selling art, and certainly not living there full-time.  We just wanted a nice place by the ocean, and we had the money to do so.  But if we hadn't followed that urge, how would our lives have been different today?

Over time, I got involved with the local art scene—Sunbury Shores Art and Nature Centre in St Andrews, the Saint John Arts Centre in Saint John, the New Brunswick Museum and, well, you can read my curriculum vitae to get all the details.  I also started Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy that included artists from Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and hosted exhibits alternating between the U.S. and Canada each year.  We'd always have a paintout in conjunction with the annual exhibit.  It was a great way to connect with other like-minded outdoor painters in a place filled with breath-taking scenery.

But I found that the maritime landscape, though beautifully scenic for the painter, was daunting for travelers.  The Canadian Maritimes and Downeast Maine comprise a vast area of small islands connected by ferries and, sometimes, by bridges, and possess a coastline so jagged it looks like a mad child had gone after a sheet of paper with scissors.  Artists were scattered throughout this broken-up landscape, hunkered down in their studios and working locally.  What they needed, we artists all agreed, was a studio tour that would give us more exposure, using ferries, bridges and highways to connect us.  So, with the help of the Tides Institute and Museum in Eastport, Maine, I started the Two Countries, One Bay, Open Studio Tour, which included the artists around Passamaquoddy Bay, from Washington County, Maine through Charlotte County, New Brunswick.   Educational in nature, the tour had artists demonstrating their craft and, of course, selling their wares.  The tour ran successfully for several years—at its height, we had over 50 artists participating—and then I felt the time was right to leave the project to others.

Lifting Fog at Dawn, 9x12 Oil

Noon Glare 9x12 Oil

Ready to Paint 8x8 Oil
About this time, I also began to engage in another aspect of painting that I've grown to love.  One fall, I flew out to to Sedona, Arizona, as an invited artist for the Sedona Plein Air Festival.  I'd seen Sedona, having been there first on my whirlwind tour of the Four Corners states several years ago, but that was just for an afternoon; more recently, I'd gone from our home in Timberon, New Mexico, with my mentor from Ruidoso, Ann Templeton, to help her at a workshop there and also to gather material for the retrospective I was helping her write.  During that workshop, I came to know Sedona better, and liked it well enough to wrangle an invitation to the festival.  This ultimately led to a long career of invitationals, including the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, the Zion National Park Plein Air Festival and the very first Plein Air Convention in Las Vegas.

To step back in time a bit, our second winter was much different from the first.  Snow and ice and bitterly cold wind off Friar's Bay made us yearn for the sunnier winters of the Southwest again.  But we were making a new life for ourselves on Campobello, so any return would need to be seasonal.  Summers were my most productive time of year with painting, teaching workshops and running the gallery; winters were more for writing books and magazine articles.  (Although I had a wonderful studio, I've never been much of a studio painter.)  But writing I didn't have to do on Campobello; I could go anywhere and write.  Sedona, for example.

And Sedona was warm enough in winter—and scenic enough—that I could also teach workshops and even get out to paint.  But better yet, we thought, if we rented a place large enough, we could have students stay with us to help pay the rent.

(to be continued)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hello Michael, My friend Jeanie and I (Martha) enjoyed a workshop with you in Lubec and Campobello in August 2017. I always wondered how you happened to have been so fortunate as to have a summer studio in Maine and a winter studio in Sedona. Thanks so much for sharing your story! What an inspiration you are!