The weather threatened just enough for me to set up my easel inside, rather than outside, the studio of Andrew Wyeth during the Philadelphia Watercolor Society’s On Location: Artists at Brandywine event this past June. Of course, I had to take special precautions due to the historical significance of the place. I brought in a 60 gallon unused trash bag as a drop cloth, laid it on the floor, set up, and began to paint.
The feeling was surreal. At once I felt a reverence for the space. It felt very private, a lot like the man who used this former schoolhouse as a studio for nearly 70 years. I also never shook the feeling that I shouldn’t be there. While I may have been sensing a little disturbance from the usual protocol from the museum security personnel, maybe I was also sensing the spirit of Andrew Wyeth himself. The sign on the door does still read, “I AM WORKING SO PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB. I do not sign autographs.”
The light diffusing through the window of the kitchen, whose appliances and accouterment speak of another era, interested me. As I painted I made choices about what to include and what to leave out. In the end, I am happy with the mood that this painting conveys.
Until September 27th you can see this painting in person at Borrelli’s Chestnut Hill Gallery just a few steps from the intersection of Germantown Ave and Gravers Lane.
Ravenna, in the Basilica di San Vitale, flooded with midsummer light, is where I found myself on the day before my departure from Italy when I took the reference photo for this painting in July 1998.
I had made a solo pilgrimage to see the mosaics and pay my respects at the resting place of Dante who had been my guide to seeing Florence since the very beginning.
The Basilica di San Vitale, an ancient octagonal structure covered in sparkling mosaics, was completed in 547 AD and the experience of being there stands in my top ten moments of amazement.
Since I've been indoors painting this winter, I've been inspired by the physical place where I have a studio residency. The tall ceilings, the large windows, the open space and all of the early 20th century details of the old schoolhouse are great, but even better is getting to know the artists who have been coming here for years, sometimes decades.
So last week I spent a little time with Colleen Hammond's Thursday open studio painting class, a very welcoming group of artists who work hard and support each other. Everyone there has an intriguing story.
I much prefer to work from life because sitting with my subject has great meaning to me. The experience evokes a deeper emotional reaction in me. I aim to capture the feeling of the light as well as the energy of the place.
I am grateful to my hosts at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts. It's been around quite awhile...may it continue to be a sanctuary for art making for a long time to come!
It worked! Giving myself more time between posts helped me to work larger.. This image is a detail of a full-sheet, 30 by 22 inch painting that is nearly finished. Working larger certainly brings technical challenges, but I am excited about how the larger paintings will present themselves to in-person viewers at the Residency Exhibition in May.
My studio, a space allowed to me this year through the painting residency, is currently in a corner of the second floor of the George K. Heller School, commonly known as the Cheltenham Center for the Arts on Ashbourne Road. While this section of the building with its tall ceilings and massive windows was "recently" added in 1906, the original school on this site, named the Milltown School, opened its doors as the very first public school in Montgomery County in 1795. In 1883, the original one-story George K. Heller School was built to replace the Milltown School. It was expanded in 1893 and in 1906 to create the building that became the Cheltenham Art Center in 1953.
I have to say, it's pretty cool working in a space that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places!