Abstraction, by Carol L. Douglas. Art can be done with nothing more than charcoal and newsprint.
Alex Katz is famous for having destroyed about a thousand of his own paintings while he tried to solidify his style. “There didn’t seem much reason to keep them. The positive thing was what I got out of the painting, not the paintings.” That was on top of an already-prestigious art education at Cooper-Union and Skowhegan.
That was in the 1950s and it runs deeply counter to our current zeitgeist. Today most artists document every stage of every painting on social media. I’m a product of my times and I like the way we work today. However, I did think about Katz recently while counseling a younger artist.
I’ve known G. since she was doing her master’s in art education at a private (and pricey) school in Rochester. She worked as my figure model. For her, grad school was a terrible career move. It didn’t translate into a job. Combined with her undergraduate bills, her loans ballooned to more than a quarter of a million dollars.
“Submission,” by Carol L. Douglas. G. modeled for this when she was an impecunious grad student.
In response, she took the path of least resistance: becoming an economic non-entity. That was one thing when she was a carefree sprite, but now that she has a husband and a child, she wants to work legitimately. She will find this close to impossible in a nation with no secrets. There is a big hole in her work history from when she stopped working in the formal economy. In this age where new employees are subject to credit checks, her overwhelming debt makes her a non-starter.
(I’m seldom nostalgic, but there was something to be said for the past, when a person could hop a train and leave his youthful indiscretions behind. Today our histories are tattooed into some kind of master database. We can never escape them. Even the supposedly-judgmental God of the Bible is far more merciful than that.)
This is, of course, a personal disaster for G. In a way, it’s also a perfect opportunity. She has explored Etsy as a means to making money, but hasn’t had a lightning-bolt idea. Why not take the Alex Katz route and make art as a process of self-discovery? Art can be made with nothing more than a block of wood and a sharp knife. She has both, and lots more. I suggested that she produce and destroy many works. When she finds what she is looking for, doors will open; they always do.
A maquette from the days when I still had time to experiment. Not being able to make money in art is in some ways a great liberation.
I’m the last person to recommend that anyone drop out of the formal economy. But the need to be a productive member of society outweighs our requirement to follow rules.
A few brief mentions:
A reader pointed out to me that several studies have shown that some men do not change their underwear daily. Market research firm Mintel found that “one in every five males do not change their underwear on a daily basis.” UK retailer Marks & Spencer pegged that at around a third of men. And Clorox found that one in every eight guys wear their underwear multiple times between washings.
I’m not sure what she thinks I can do about it.
Remember my post about Britain scrapping the A-Level in Art History? There was such a public outcry that the course has been reinstated. As we were in the middle of an election here, I missed the news about how they mounted their protest. I can’t see art historians rioting at the Palace of Westminster; they’d be much too careful of the furnishings. But I’m sure glad they succeeded.
“Dinghies, Monhegan,” was finally added to my website this week.
I knew a little girl who hated to read. Her mother labored to find books that interested her enough to overcome her dislike. This grew harder as she got older, because things on Deborah’s reading level were often an insult to her intelligence.
I urgently needed to add my drive across Canada, and my shipyard paintings to my website. Website maintenance is my most hated job, and I drag myself kicking and screaming into doing it. I used to use an expensive editing package, but I didn’t understand how it worked. Then my daughter—who builds and maintains complex websites for a living—redesigned my website using Visual Studio Express. I could make simple changes of text, but anything more complicated was beyond me.
“Marshes along the Ottawa River” was added to my website.
Over the years, I’ve gotten a little bit better. As long as I’ve got the existing site as a template, I can clone bits here and there and get an approximation of what I want. Still, I’m always focused on the mechanics, and the content is secondary. When I look at my website, I’m disappointed in its lack of elegance.
This process, I thought, must feel a lot like learning to read feels to a kid like Deborah. The coding/decoding is so much slower than one’s thinking that the brain loses the thread.
In addition to not understanding what I was doing, I’d developed an emotional block. I’d failed at it before. I expect to fail again. Just sitting down to work on it gave me the heebie-jeebies.
And then, suddenly, the picture started to shift. Back in the day, graphic designers sometimes used metacharacters to fix badly-formatted documents. I began to see parallels between these and HTML commands. Tiny bits of text would stop swirling around the page long enough to resolve into an intelligible sequence. I wouldn’t call myself fluent by any means, but I can at least make the changes I need.
“Winch (American Eagle)” was added to my website.
We like doing what we’re good at; we hate doing things that are very difficult. I would never have persevered with the website if I’d had anyone to hand it over to, but I’m glad I did. I don’t know whether I’ll ever end up enjoying it, but it’s less excruciating than it used to be. There’s a life lesson in there for me.
I’ve lost track of Deborah, but I hope she ended up in the same place.
Years ago, I rented studio space in a converted warehouse dedicated to artists. For the most part its tenants were serious mid-career professionals who worked there by day and lived elsewhere by night. However, there were also squatters, artists who lived there illegally.
The presence of these squatters was an open secret. The fire department visited regularly to try to flush them out, but the squatters had a sixth sense. In the entire time I rented there, the woman living in the space next to mine was never caught. She worked, which meant she was never around during the day when inspections are carried out.
A clothing designer rented the space on the other side of my studio for her inventory; her workshop was in the next space over. Garment manufacture is a dusty and flammable business. My own studio had shelves full of oil-based solvents and varnishes. We were on the top floor, and the rafters of our 19thcentury building were soaked in creosote, which would drop in fat strings through the still air of hot summer days. Even with sprinklers (which we had), a fire would have been disastrous.
I have been reading about Oakland’s tragic fire in an artist’s collective. There is always a fringe of people in every art community whose major life work appears to be being “arty.” Their spaces are chaotic and, since they’re not great respecters of rules, their stuff often spills out into public areas. Their over-sized personalities make them charismatic, and they draw others into their orbit. It doesn’t surprise me that a pair of middle-aged poseurs thoughtlessly led so many young people to their deaths.
“View from my studio window, North Rochester,” by Carol L. Douglas
Many artists are terrifically poor. With that comes social isolation. When you’re already paying rent for a studio, it is tempting to move a futon into a corner, add a cook top and refrigerator, and then sort of drift into living there, especially when your friends are doing the same thing.
That is so dangerous. The same building codes that protect people in residential units also raise the cost of building and maintaining those units, but you get what you pay for.
In a nutshell, young artists, if you’re thinking of squatting in your studio, don’t. And if you’re invited to an after-hours party in a collective building, think carefully about whether the space is safe.
Anyways, you have work to do. Being an artist is not a lifestyle; it’s a job. Art poseurs make real artists look shallow and unrealistic. Their talk is just so much hot air. Your real future lies in producing consistent work and finding venues in which to sell it.
One of the nicest things about social media is how much art I see. In particular, I love a feature in my Facebook newsfeed: Keith Linwood Stover’s The Cyber Art Show.
Stover is from Bucksport, ME. He started The Cyber Art Show as a Facebook page; today it’s a freestanding website with a few thousand Facebook followers.
“Snows above Lucky Peak,” John Killmaster
he Cyber Art Show features landscape painting by mid-market artists. Its painters are usually still in the striving-and-discovery mode. They’re exploratory rather than polished. That makes The Cyber Art Show’s online gallery much more interesting than those that just trot out the masters.
This week The Cyber Art Show featured a painter who astonished me: retired art professor John Killmaster of Boise (ID) State University. Killmaster combines a Group of Seven sensibility with uproarious energy and a remarkable flair for composition. The result is kind of like rolling down Mt. Battie’s cliff side wrapped in a picnic blanket.
“Early Spring, Just North of Boise, Idaho,” John Killmaster
“My interest as an artist is to be witness to the gifts of life and vision; to capture not only that which my eye confronts, but to record my interaction both visually and emotionally, with the world around me,” Killmaster wrote. He certainly succeeds in that.
Killmaster holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. He began teaching at Boise State in 1970. Now retired, he is a member of Boise Open Studios and teaches in his studio in Middleton, ID. In addition to painting, he is known as a large-scale mural enamellist.
“Below the Glaciers,” John Killmaster
I regret I never had Killmaster as a teacher, but I can spend some time this weekend studying his compositions and the way he uses color to push the viewer through the chaos. For all the criticism of the internet as a purveyor of fact, it has freed up access to art. I would never have known about John Killmaster had it not been for The Cyber Art Show. I particularly like the idea that Keith Linwood Stover reached out from Bucksport to Boise to teach a Rockport artist something new.
Yesterday, a reader sent me this piece from the Washington Post, asking what the Trump administration means for the arts. I’ve written about the cringeworthy portrait of him by Ralph Wolfe Cowan that hangs in his home in Mar-a-Lago. However, his taste in art hardly matters. Politics doesn’t affect the arts directly; it makes or breaks us in how it runs the economy.
WaPo mentioned that incoming VP Mike Pence and his wife Karen have a strong history of supporting the arts. She has an undergraduate minor in art, she has taught art, worked as an artist, and championed art therapy.
That undergraduate minor was an afterthought. Her college, Butler University, required a declared minor. “I thought gosh, ‘I’d like to learn more about art,” she told the Indianapolis Star on the eve of Pence’s inauguration as governor of Indiana. “I pulled it out of the air.”
Mrs. Pence grew up outside of Indianapolis in a town called Broad Ripple. I’ve painted in Indiana, and I agree with her assessment that “Indiana is just a very special place. There are no other people like Hoosiers.”
When the Pences had children, Karen decided to take an art class. She chose watercolor because it dries fast. “I told Mike I need a night when you’re in charge and I just go have fun,” she said. “Then what happened was, I realized I can paint.”
Unlike Mrs. Pence, I’ve always painted, but work and kids got in the way. I picked up my brushes again when my youngest child was born, from the same need to escape the incessant demands of motherhood. I’d wager that isn’t uncommon.
Indiana First Lady Karen Pence takes in the 91st Annual Hoosier Salon Exhibition at the Indiana Historical Society, August 2015. (Courtesy of http://www.in.gov/)
What followed for Karen Pence was a series of house portrait commissions: well-executed and deeply traditional. As a politician’s wife, she’s had the opportunity to champion art to a broader audience. In 2008, she became the honorary chair of the Art Therapy Committee at the Riley Hospital for Children. The Indiana First Lady’s Charitable Foundation, has, during her tenure, focused on children, families and the arts.
Karen Pence also ran an Etsy shop, selling something she called “towel charms.” It was suspended during the election, but not before it was broadly ridiculed.
Indiana First Lady Karen Pence working with students from Southside Elementary School on an art exchange program with Japanese students. (Courtesy of http://www.in.gov/)
Those who lampooned her towel charms as ‘useless’ have apparently spent no time at all on Etsy, where whimsy is the by-word that has created an $85.3 million a year business. While I certainly wouldn’t defend her towel charms as ‘art,’ I would note that art is intended to be useless. In fact, lack of purpose is the primary distinction between fine art and fine craft.
Do I think Karen Pence is a great artist? No, but I hardly see how that matters. Teacher, wife, mother, artist, operator of an Etsy shop: it’s the resume of many working artists.
As we ponder how to close the gender gap in the art world (here and here), I suggest that we quit apologizing for being women. It’s not like male artists don’t work other jobs at points in their careers (including child care). The bottom line is, no matter what lip service they give to feminism, many intellectuals don’t really like the things women actually do.
Yesterday I wrote about a survey confirming the gender gap in the art world. (Women in the arts earn 68¢ for every dollar earned by men.) That sparked a lively conversation, which I’m sharing with you more or less verbatim:
“It’s interesting when there’s a group of painters set up and you notice passersby only going to engage the male painters, or they ask if he’s teaching a workshop.”
“I was asked to join a co-op. When I showed up, they were surprised; they thought I was a man. Last week Steve was helping me bring my work in and someone asked if I was helping him.”
“I was set up during International Paint-Out Day at Otter Cliffs about six feet from a man who was outfitted in his painter’s vest, high leather boots with his pants tucked in, and a big brimmed safari hat. I saw many vacationers strolling around the rocks, but most of them would just go and look at the guys’ easels. One couple just kind of walked around until they saw where we were standing and walked all the way from the shoreline up to his easel, and bought the painting. It was his first time out, and he was new at painting, but he looked the part and that’s all it took.”
I’ve taken to carrying a riding crop so that passers-by will know I’m the teacher. Just kidding.
“That’s one of the reasons why I sign my paintings with only my last name. It doesn’t indicate my gender.”
“An artist friend painted a very large oil. She walked into the gallery as the sale of said painting was going on. The man buying it was introduced to her, and exclaimed, ‘A little girl like you painted this?’ And walked out of the gallery.”
“I won the top prize at a plein air event. My work sold adequately; about the same as it would have in a gallery. A few paintings later, the auctioneer was trying to gin up business, and said, ‘c’mon guys, So-and-So is a professionalartist.’”
“Back when I used to do a pretty full schedule of summer shows, I cannot tell you how often people assumed ‘JC’ was my husband. He’s tall; I’m small—bigger presence. It used to irk me that once he redirected them to me, they were always so surprised.”
“On too many occasions I’ve had to defend my right to use my initials as my business name and signature, always to male artists. At least one told me flat out that if I was truly proud of who I was and my work, I wouldn’t have to hide behind my initials.”
One of the best posses I ever rode with was this group of women at Adirondack Plein Air. From left, Mira Fink, Crista Pisano, me, Marlene Wiedenbaum, Laura Bianco, Kari Ganoung Ruiz and Tarryl Gabel.
I’m going to add one more story of my own, about a gallerist who refused to even talk to a friend about representation, averring that “women can’t paint.”
Yesterday, Sue Baines, owner of The Kelpie Gallery, commented, “I think across the board, we need to be retrained, from female artists who apologetically price their work for less, to the art buyer/collector who undervalues a female artist’s work.”
“Bluewald,” 1989, by Cady Nolan, is the top-selling work by a living woman artist. It sold for $9.8 million at auction in Spring 2015. If you think that’s a lot, compare it to $58.4 million for a Jeff Koons.
Artists are generally politically liberal. So why are they more backward than the rest of society in compensating women?
I’ve written about gender inequality in prices achieved by male and female artists. Now a large study confirms that the gender gap is alive and well for those holding art degrees. Women in the arts earn 68¢ for every dollar earned by men. That’s far worse than in the broader economy, where women can expect to earn 79¢ for every male-earned dollar.
The study used data from the 2011 Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP), which included almost 34,000 respondents, all of whom held degrees in the arts. Of this group, about half were not working directly in the arts sector. A quarter were creators themselves. Roughly speaking, it isn’t having an art degree that kills you economically; it’s having an art degree and being female that’s deadly.
Working for a non-profit organization is almost as much of a liability as being female, it turns out. That will earn you a $17K drop in salary if you’re male or a $7K drop if you’re female.
“Mirror Room (Pumpkin),” 1991, by Yayoi Kusama. She tops the list for living women artists in terms of the aggregate value of her work sold at auction: nearly $216 million at the end of 2015.
And if you’re thinking it would be better in other places than in the troglodytic United States, think again. A similar survey in the UK found similar results.
Artsy did an excellent analysis of the data, here, and it’s worth weeping over.
One reason women’s salaries lag in every industry is that women are far less likely to negotiate job offers than their male peers. I know two young women who took the wages they were offered at their current professional jobs. The first is a programmer; the second is a gallerist. In the case of the programmer, her employer—a heartless, multinational defense contractor—has since worked to reduce the gap, since her boss wants to retain her. In the case of the gallerist, the initial insult was compounded by violations of labor law such as asking her to train on her own time.
Spare me the liberal pieties about social justice, my art-industry friends, until you are willing to promote, support and compensate women equally with their male peers. What I really want for Christmas is to never read news like this again.
A lot of my artist friends spent the weekend doing holiday painting sales. I’ve done this myself. Not everyone wants to go to the mall and brawl, but the idea of a National Day of Shopping is infectious. Selling paintings on Thanksgiving Weekend works.
However, I took the weekend off to celebrate in the Berkshires with family. Having taken no exercise and eaten way too well, I find myself going into the holiday home stretch six pounds heavier. I blame that on having a beautifully-appointed kitchen and way too many cooks.
Visitors often pronounce my kitchen in Maine poorly laid-out and equipped. There is only one work surface. It is near neither the stove nor refrigerator. I don’t care; it’s a light, bright space with running water and electricity. That makes it a great improvement over many people’s lot in life, and better than some places I’ve lived.
“Stewards of an Ocean Liner Above and Below Decks,” The Booklovers Magazine, May 1904.
Last June I sailed on the American Eagle out of Rockland. My purpose was painting, but I naturally gravitated—as most passengers seemed to—to the galley. As I made pies last Wednesday, my thoughts kept returning to how hard each task would be on board a boat. Imagine, for example, trying to put a raw pumpkin pie into a hot oven when the whole room is moving.
I have a thing for woodstoves, and the heart of the American Eagle’s galley is its Atlantic Fisherman woodstove, made in Nova Scotia. It has a rail and spring system to stop pots from flinging themselves off the stovetop in heavy weather. It also is connected to the boiler that supplies hot water to the showers.
Otherwise it works like a normal woodstove. It was fired up each morning at 4:30 by cook Matthew Weeks. In addition to regular meals for passengers and crew, he and Sarah Collins turned out pies and cakes.
Today my biggest concern is to keep my weight under control. At the time the Eagle was built, Americans were not worried about stoutness; they were concerned with acquiring, processing and storing enough food to power their highly-physical lifestyles. That was as true on boats as on land.
Pies have been known since antiquity, with both the Greeks and Romans having written recipes for their pastries. The medieval coffyn was a great way to make food in the most primitive conditions; it can be baked with a minimum of fuss and you can throw almost anything into it. Most importantly, it’s a convenience food; you can take it with you.
1870s galley stove on board the USS Constitution, Photo of the galley stove taken between 1897 and 1905 by Thomas E. Marr. (USS Constitution Museum)
In our culture, it’s a minor miracle when one can actually make a pie from scratch, never mind that it’s done with a food processor, mixer, electric stove and refrigerator. Now imagine doing that in a cramped, rolling galley, with very little room to maneuver, and an oven in which you must control the temperature by tossing blocks of fuel in.
At least Sarah and Matthew don’t generally need to worry about scurvy. Roughly 30 million people bobbed across the ocean to the Americas between 1836 and 1914, and all of them needed to eat on the way. To travel that route under sail took weeks, sometimes months. With the advent of the steamship, the time was steadily cut down. By the 1950s it was done in about a week.
My own grandfather came to this country in 1919 on the ocean liner S.S. Caserta, which had recently demobbed as a troop boat. It was capable of carrying 1200 passengers at a clip. Even at that size, the cooks were still working with woodstoves, using food and fuel they’d stowed before their voyage.
I tip my hat to the humble ships’ cooks who fed our ancestors. Without them, none of us would be here today.
“The Cliff under Owls Head,” is among six paintings heading to the Kelpie Gallery today.
I have been the assistant to some fine chefs over the years. I usually get fired. “Needs a high degree of supervision,” said one. “Too slow,” said another. So it was with relief that I allowed my ServSafe food service manager certification to expire this year. (Why I had it is a whole ‘nother story, which I shan’t tell you until the rest of the gang are safely rounded up.) It’s of little use to know that potato starch is a potential food allergen when you have no idea what to do with the stuff in the first place.
Nonetheless, as I sometimes huff, I can bake; it’s just straight-up high-school chemistry. I just don’t do it often. This means I get elected to make the pies at Thanksgiving. Well, that and the fact that nobody wants me in the kitchen on the actual day.
I also make cranberry chutney because the recipe came from my mother’s good friend. Nobody admits to actually liking it, but it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.
I seem to have turned into a matriarch, something I have a hard time reconciling with my youthful sex appeal. Nevertheless, there appear to be some 18 of us gathering in Massachusetts. That means a lot of pies, and I have to make them early.
Paintings rising on the dining room table. No, wait, that’s bread dough that does that.
I also need to deliver some paintings to the Kelpie Gallery in S. Thomaston. Neither pies nor paintings spring fully formed from one’s imagination; they require actual time and effort, darn it. So the question was how to meet both obligations, and the answer was, imperfectly.
By evening, I had six paintings on my dining room table, which were not the complete inventory she asked for. One of them is putting up quite a fight. It’s been sent to time-out until it sees the wisdom of not changing its value structure in mid-painting. The rest look great, and I’m reminded again how a fresh set of eyes see new things in your work.
Pie crusts make me far more nervous than painting. My solution is to become extremely methodical, measuring the lard and butter into individual sets over here, and the flour and salt into individual bowls over there. The trouble is, my bedtime is 7 PM. My ancient food processor knew I was tired and was throwing tantrums. I called in backup: my unflappable husband. He measured while I laid hands on the dough and pronounced it good.
Pie crusts in progress.
Then I went to bed and debated whether eight pies is really enough for 18 people. This is a recessive Italian gene. One can hide it, just as one can straighten one’s hair, but it still surfaces at the least opportune times.
That had better be enough, I told myself grimly. I need to bake those pies, load our car, and head down the road, stopping only to drop off the paintings and the dog (hopefully in the right places). Have a lovely and blessed holiday, my friends.
Now is the time to buy an artist you love—possibly even yourself—a special gift for Christmas. Spend a week painting with Carol L. Douglas in one of the most beautiful venues in America—inspirational, mystical Schoodic in Maine’s Acadia National Park. And if you reserve before January 1, you can save $100!
Far from the hustle and bustle of Bar Harbor, Schoodic has dramatic rock formations, pounding surf, and stunning mountain views that draw visitors from around the world.
At 440 feet above sea level, Schoodic Head offers a panoramic view of crashing surf, windblown pines and enormous granite outcroppings laced with black basalt. Across Frenchman’s Bay, Cadillac Mountain towers over the headlands of Mt. Desert Island.
You might look up from your easel to see dolphins, humpback whales or seals cavorting in the waves. Herring gulls will visit while eiders and cormorants splash about.
A day trip to the harbor at Corea, ME is included. Far off the beaten path, Corea, ME is a village of small frame houses, fishing piers and lobster traps. Its working fleet bustles in and out of the harbor.
Your instructor, nationally known painter and teacher Carol L. Douglas, has taught in Maine, New York, New Mexico and elsewhere, and regularly returns to Acadia.
Concentrate on painting
Meals and accommodations at the beautiful Schoodic Institute are included in your fee. This former navy base is located right at Schoodic Head. It gives workshop students unrivalled access to the park.
All skill levels and media are welcome
Carol Douglas has more than fifteen years’ experience teaching students of all levels in watercolor, oils, acrylics and pastels. Her Acadia workshops are very popular. “This was the best painting instruction I have ever had. Carol’s advice in color mixing was particularly eye-opening. Her explanations are clear and easy to understand. She is very approachable and supportive. I would take this course again in a heartbeat.” (Carol T.)
It’s easy to get to painting locations on the Schoodic Peninsula. A ring road with frequent pull-offs means you never walk more than a few hundred feet to your painting destination. And Schoodic itself is only 90 minutes from Bangor International Airport.
The one-week workshop is just $1600, including five days’ accommodation in a private room with shared bath, meals, snacks, and instruction. Accommodations for non-painting partners and guests are also available. Your deposit of $300 holds your space, and if you reserve before January 1, you can save $100 off the price.
You can download a registration form here or a brochure here. Complete registration forms should be returned by mail to Carol L. Douglas, PO Box 414, Rockport, ME 04856-0414 with your $300 deposit. Or email the form here and make a credit card payment by phone to 585-201-1558.
Refunds are available up to 60 days prior to start, less a $50 administration fee. Final payment is due 60 days prior to the start of the workshop.
In an isolated field in northeastern Finland, a group of one thousand human effigies have stood watch since 1994. They are The Silent People of Suomussalmi, and they were the brainchild of artist Reijo Kela. Although his work is often called “site specific,” his scarecrow army actually wandered around since its birth in 1988—including a tour in Helsinki—before coming to rest in Suomussalmi.
The Silent People were created by Kela as part of performance piece, Ilmarin Kynnös, which documented the life of a farmer in Suomussalmi in the early 20th century. This period included the bloody invasion of Finland by Russian troops in the Winter War of 1939-40 and the subsequent depopulation of farm areas in the post-war period. At the end, Kela’s farmer fades into the people of history, the Silent People.
Photo courtesy of Olesya Lysenko, Russia
This part of Finland has been, until modern times, been called the Land of Hunger. The famine of 1695–1697, for example, killed a third of Finland’s population. The Silent People’s clothes hang from their frames in mute testimony to that.
Scarecrows are ephemeral creatures, made to last a season or two and be replaced. A scarecrow built in 1988 would be, in dog years, quite dead. Yet the Silent People remain meticulously dressed, their peat heads lovingly plumped up. They are maintained by the young people of Suomussalmi through the auspices of the Suomussalmi Youth Workshop.
Kela had initially intended the Silent People in his film to be played by actual humans, but was unable to hire actors. He then commissioned the first 240 stick figures to be made by the Youth Workshop, whose mission is to train local unemployed kids. That number of scarecrows corresponded to the number of unemployed youth in the town, which has fewer than 9000 inhabitants.
Photo courtesy of Timo Newton-Syms, United Kingdom
Each June, a group of kids and adults arrive at the field carrying replacement crosses and trash bags filled with clothing. The figures are stripped, revealing the Silent People to be a field of crosses. Some of the youngsters dig fresh peat heads for the figures (in lieu of straw) while others redress the figures in fresh clothing, which includes pullovers, shirts and undershirts. The old clothes are taken to the dump to be burned. In late September, the same group goes back to the field to dress the figures for winter.
The town works hard to maintain the figures primarily because it has economic benefit: the Silent People have become a tourist attraction. But there’s also identity involved. “To me, these effigies are the people of Kainuu. Life here has been so tough, they have been fighting to earn their living and their daily bread, really. So they are not people who make revolutions. They are humble, but they still, somehow they’re proud in their humility. They are not people who you can crush under your shoe,” a woman told researcher Karen Vedel.
Ours is a very young country in comparison to Finland, and yet I see our ancestors also marching away from us into a misty past. The challenge lies in telling our similar story without merely copying The Silent People of Suomussalmi.
There is fantastic depth of field in this landscape by Giles Wood.
November is officially Gratitude Month, according to the internet (so it must be true). I don’t know where it started, but a few years ago, it was popular on Facebook to list something for which you were grateful every day of the month. I liked it, and I have continued playing even as my friends have all moved on to fighting about politics.
It’s very easy to do, once you stop writing obvious lists like, “my husband, my kids, my job, my…” and start thinking about what makes you smile: a shaft of sunlight on your bedroom floor or the susurration of leaves in the wind.
Landscape by Giles Wood.
We all understand that we can always find something to complain about. Therefore the obverse must also be true: there is something for which to be grateful. It may be a small pinprick of light in a dark world, but it’s there.
Paying attention to the happiness-producing things in my life makes me see more of them, which is why I’m so grateful for this Gratitude Month thing.
Gratitude has nothing to do with objective reality. If it did, I’d be swearing right now, since my back has been out all week.
But that allows me more time to read than usual. Indeed, my last gratitude-insight occurred late last night when I read this letter from an artist to agony aunt Mary Killen in The Spectator. Most artists understand the problem of being broke in the company of wealthier people, but that isn’t what made me laugh aloud. It was when Killen suggested that the writer pretend to want to paint nocturnes at supper-time. “You can splodge away while they are out. You never know, you might learn something.”
Interior by Giles Wood. Nice linoleum.
That’s a winning solution, even by Killen’s devilishly clever standards. How does she understand the artist’s mind so well? It turns out that the queen of advice to posh Britons has been married for 28 years to painter Giles Wood. Their house is so run down it’s called “the grottage” by their circle of friends.
And he’s a very good painter. His drawing is lovely, his paint handling is economical, and he seems to be using a half-box easel that’s missing its tray. His website badly needs a redesign and his studio appears to be a mess. Dude, you’re one of us!