29 Dec Maryland Revisited: Clutter Literacy and Waltzing Grande Dames

Driving south to Maryland on Christmas Eve to visit family, I was struck visually by a spectrum of landmarks that I have known and passed along Interstate 95 for at least forty years. They include an isolated Victorian in New Haven; the orange, steeply, pitched rooftops of a closed HOJO’s in Connecticut; a grounded ferry in the meadow lands of New Jersey; several distinct, classic mid-Atlantic farmhouses that spread out along the Interstate in Delaware and Maryland; and the skewed horizon upon crossing the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge with traffic careening over the Susquehanna River. The sense of mystery and fascination I carry for these distinctive places are memory posts for key aspects of my life’s journey. Their significance lies in their having survived a radically changed landscape. Like a wizened elder, they bare witness and beckon me with great urgency to paint their near-forgotten history, preserve their dignity and place on the American landscape. These beacons of years gone by will soon vanish like all of our unmet dreams. But they still remain today and for me as captivating icons posing somehow the possibility for personal reconciliation and fulfillment. It is my strong intention to begin a series of paintings that respond to these old friends this early Spring when I make my annual March painting trip to the mid-Atlantic.

It is amazing how vastly different the culture of Vermont is compared to the suburban regions of the mid-Atlantic. The intensely populated outlying regions of Baltimore, for starters, are also mirrored by the large number of deer which graze along roadsides and create an obstacle course for motorists who frequently hit them. There is simply so much “stuff”…so much unsightly clutter that feels so incongruous with the surrounding nature that it hurts. In my life time I have witnessed vast areas of prime farmland transformed into cities of town houses and malls. In years past, I have rescued hutches, and raised paneled doors from doomed farmhouses in the wake of the perilous earth movers. I was forced to visit one of these mall complexes to seek out Ritz Camera, to complete a holiday task for my mother, and the transfiguration of the land was complete. Navigating one’s way through these new town centers requires a kind of “clutter literacy,” which does not acknowledge the otherwise significant assault to the senses. However, all this being said, I very much desire to paint these blinding worlds which swallow up the human race. I feel compelled to paint these indecipherable environments – not for novelty sake, but to help me live and see more consciously.

I did encounter pristine swaths of classical countryside which I have known intimately from my boyhood. What fantastic beauty…what creamy, rolling hillsides bleached blond by winter and crowned by tall tulip poplars. Small streams carve out high, ruddy clay banks through sumptuous meadows. Like a ballroom filled with waltzing Grand Dames, elegantly-limbed black walnut trees and lacy barked sycamores perfectly graced near the stream banks.

On Christmas Day, I walked through plowed fields in search of Native American projectile points which have revealed their secrets many times before. There was a thick ground cover as well as sharp sunlight, which made such a search too difficult. I did find a quartz flake.

In conclusion, it is interesting to wrestle with my nubile Vermont residency in the context of old-timers when my own cultural heritage relating to Maryland is so deeply rooted within me, as well as within generations of my flat-landed ancestors. It makes me sad to have uprooted my beloved soil; the original land, the primary educator of my senses and all that I love!