Here's a painting by one of my favorite artists, Rockwell Kent. Partly I like him because he makes me feel so at home. For all of us that means different things, but when I cast my eye back in time to childhood I think of winter and deep snow. My father always wanted to live in the woods and eventually got enough money together to design and build a house on a steep hillside by the south shore of Lake Ontario near Rochester in the town of Webster. I was an impressionable 4 when we moved in, in the snow, in 1952.
The property had to be reached by a long sloping driveway with the house at the bottom. Even though we hired a man with a plow to clear us out after major snows, he just would do a rudimentary once over leaving lots of white stuff to deal with. If you didn't get out there and shovel it almost bare, even with a running start from the dry garage, you weren't going to make it up the hill.
Needless to say, all of us did a lot of shoveling, including the three children. It was kind of fun except when the wind blew in from the Lake as it usually did. But it kept you warm to keep moving and since we weren't going anywhere until the road was cleared, we didn't complain much. The deep woods after a heavy snow is a sight to behold. It is unbelievably clean and as the snow is so soft and sound absorbent, incredibly quiet. Everything stops when it snows like that. You have no choice but to stand and look around at the transformation of your once familiar surroundings.
Little children are by nature ego centric. They have to be. But witnessing heavy northern snows gave me the unmistakeable lesson that nature was much bigger than I was and far more powerful. You developed a healthy respect and, when she showed her beautiful side, an awe for her artistry.
I remember reading a passage in one of John Irving's earlier novels where he spoke of how often memories of childhood fertilize the best writing. He observed that for any specific memory to persist in one's mind for decades it had to be stated and vivid to begin with. I think he was on to something. So much of the art I admire has this childhood memory ingredient. In many ways most of the painting I've done over the last four decades has been a reverie on growing up in the woods by the Great Lake. And when I've traveled to landscapes far removed from what I knew as a boy, such as a painting trip to Tucson, AZ, I've found the terrain almost too "foreign" to paint.
One of the things my father did every morning before leaving for work was to, without fail, put new birdseed on the bird feeder he'd built outside our kitchen window. Well, I do the same.Wanting to share the spectacle, I placed a cast iron rabbit (who the family affectionately knows as "Bob the Rabbit") in my front yard in Baltimore facing my bird feeder. Standing tall at 12 inches, he's cuts an impressive figure. And he's worked out a good relationship with our local bird population. Here he is watching our avian friends as the snow piled up today.