For several years now, I have keep travel journals of our family vacations. Sure, it takes a good amount of time to complete, but I find that capturing the moment in our family life to be priceless. For this trip, the travel journal doubled as my plein air sketchbook.
We went to Italy. It was a big trip. My focus was to show the kids some of the places I love in Florence and to discover the Eternal City (Rome). And, as a teacher, I couldn't help but to make an educational experience out of it, so I made sure that my kids knew about Brunelleschi, Galileo, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Dante as well as a few words of Italian before we left.
Personally, I prepared myself by reading several books. Caroline Murphy's books on Isabella de Medici (Murder of a Medici Princess, 2008) and Felice della Rovere (The Pope's Daughter, 2005) connected a lot of the history for me. E. M. Forster's A Room with a View (1908) and Mary McCarthy's The Stones of Florence (1959) despite their distance from my own time there (1998-1999) shared many similarities with the Florence I knew.
Also, I read my old journals. I think 20 years gave me enough distance to see my experience there in a new light. I was glad to carry that understanding with me as I walked those same streets with children in hand.
Fiesole, the ancient Etruscan town, was our first stop. Below the cathedral sits the Roman amphitheater. In the foreground are some remnants of the Roman baths that were once used here. As we walked through, the breeze was divine and the loudest sounds we heard were the birds and locusts.
On our last evening in Florence we climbed up to Forte di Belvedere. Fiesole is visible upon the distant hill to the right. We had a snack while we watched the colors become more and more intense. A glass of crisp white wine from San Gimignano may have been consumed. ;)
Following our four days in Florence, we spent four days in Rome. After a long hot march through the Colosseum and the Roman Forum we found respite at the pizzeria Massenzio ai Fori. I ended my meal with this lovely cup of espresso.
On the last morning, I went for an hour's walk by myself and painted this elephant sculpture carved by Bernini in front of the church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva before the heat rose considerably. Though we greatly enjoyed our entire trip, it was a good day to leave. Ciao Italia!
'West Chester Storefront Nocturne' is my first plein air nocturne painting. I completed it in October during the Brandywine Valley Plein Air Competition, so I had the support of at least another 20 artists working on the same street at the same time. One looks less crazy if others around you are doing the same thing.
How does one paint outside at night, you ask? Well I did a little research and I found that the best way to see what I'm working on is to wear a baseball hat with lights. Luckily, my dad had supplied my son with one (which I borrowed) in a nice camouflage print. I was styling!
I pulled up this painting because I am currently working on another nocturne painting...which I hope to finish for next week!
What I find most fascinating about the meadow on the top of the hill in High School Park is the fact that under less than 2 feet of soil there is a buried high school. Erected in 1904 and used as the Cheltenham School District High School until 1959 (Go Panthers!), it went up in flames in 1995 and what was left was imploded in order to create the park.
The meadow is mowed each year. This juvenile red maple somehow escaped trimming several years ago to show its spectacular autumn foliage last week before our deep freeze. It's shallow root system isn't bothered by its underground neighbor. What I think is Indiangrass in the foreground captures the light like a brilliant autumn flower that I feel like I'm discovering for the first time this year.
This may be my last outdoor painting for the season since I moved my operations back into my studio last week. But who knows? A 70 degree day may come our way some time in the next few months!
As I was enchantedly drawn out my door to witness this kaleidoscope of color, High School Park (located just one mile from my house) provided me with a lovely semi-private outdoor studio this week. The birds kept me company while I painted this and one other painting.
The ochre area in the foreground is part of the newly installed rain garden which has opened up the back area of the park. Not only will this work ecologically enhance the site, it also has opened up some space to create a great view of the autumn trees.
It is extremely impressive what the group of Friends of High School Park have done in the past few decades to take an abandoned high school building site and turn the space into a reclaimed ecological treasure.
Again, I'm feeling lucky to live in Cheltenham Township.
Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis, the publishing magnate who created the Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies Home Journal among others, once entertained in this ballroom. It's a lovely space, ornate and bright with all of its windows. The grounds are vast and filled with wonderful trees.
As I explore the sites of Cheltenham this one in particular has personal significance to me. In high school, I would walk to Curtis Arboretum to get out into nature. And, following that affection for the place, when I got married, we chose Curtis Hall for our wedding reception. On a most perfect July day we had this place to ourselves. It was amazing.
I've been putting a lot of miles on my car this week, traveling to various sites in the Brandywine Valley in order to paint competitively.
Who knew plein air painting could be a sport?
It's been glorious. I've finished and framed 7 paintings so far (including this Bearded Billy). After training this summer, my supplies and technique have been primed, including a temporary framing station in the trunk of my car.
The most intense moment so far was the Quick Draw yesterday where I created a work then had 12 minutes to frame it before I ran it to the submission station in just under the two hour deadline. Whew!
Today is the last day so I need to get myself to the assigned location, Winterthur, which is also the location of the art sale this weekend. 40% of all proceeds go to Children's Beach House, a Delaware non-profit that supports children with special needs. Come check it out if you can! The show will be up until 3pm on Sunday.
Off I go!
Imagine stumbling upon this mansion in the middle of a suburban neighborhood behind an ornate metal gate and surrounded by ivy.
I first laid eyes on it when I was about 16 years old. I was probably driving to my friends house down the street. She didn't know anything about it.
Several decades later when I moved back to the area as an adult I finally began to learn some details about its story from a few articles that were published in the paper around 2010. It just so happens that its story includes both the Titanic and the National Gallery of Art.
This 110-room, Horace Trumbauer design, gilded era mansion named Lynnewood Hall was built for the Widener family in 1897-1900. Peter was part owner of the Titanic. George, Eleanor and Harry were passengers. Eleanor survived. Joseph's massive art collection was given to the National Gallery of Art in 1940. Shortly after, the family moved out. The mansion still stands but much like a sleeping kingdom. I finally stopped, got out of the car, and spent some time with it and my easel this week.
It's currently for sale for $16.5 million. Any takers? And if so, can I come over to get a closer look?
Today I sat in the blazing late September sun. A white plastic chair and table provided by Elkins Perk Coffee Shop gave me this view of my local SEPTA train station, Elkins Park.
Built nearly 120 years ago this historic gem now features a community space run by Elkins Central. In this space, I've personally been to a yoga class, an art show, and an author's book tour event... and I taught an art class there so that a group of girl scouts could earn a badge. I hope to make it to a jazz concert there soon. If you ask me, Elkins Park rocks!
I have no idea why it took me so long.
Yesterday I explored a little nook that felt like a portal to the 17th century. The funny thing about this place is...I have driven by it nearly every day for most of my life.
The Richard Wall House was built in 1683 by a charming Quaker couple from the town of Cheltenham, England. They were among the "First Purchasers" to obtain land from William Penn in what we now know as Cheltenham Township.
My outdoor painting quest of Cheltenham Township has taken a dive into its rich 300 year history.
Since it's still plein air painting season (meaning it's not too hot and not too cold to paint outside), I went to High School Park and found this lovely spot along the meadow walk built in memory of Joshua Schwartz.
It only seems fitting that if I am a resident artist in Cheltenham that I paint Cheltenham. I foresee "Meadow Walk" as the first in a series. I'm putting on the hat of being a tourist in my own town!
That "Tourist in my own Town" theme, by the way, is an excellent writing prompt that was given to me by the great Mt. Airy writing teacher, Minter Krotzer. I, in turn, assigned that topic to countless unsuspecting 10th grade students when I taught high school English. We read an essay entitled "A Tourist in my own Town" by an American author for inspiration. I'm a bit embarrassed that I can't remember the author. Can anyone help me out?