The newest piece on the easel is a large painting I started a month ago. It’s been a slow and delicious process bringing this piece together. It’s slow, because I’m using tiny brushes on a large surface to create the kind of texture I want. It’s delicious because it’s about very early spring and the colors involved have the aura of magic about them– delicious because it reminds me of earlier times. Its edge is its subject matter. It’s a painting about a barn. I tend to shy away from barn painting because that subject is so hackneyed and sentimental that it offends. It did occur to me that those sentimental barn paintings’ emotional source is the same source I’m tapping into– a sense of loss.
The barn I’m painting isn’t anonymous. It’s Fred Washam’s barn. Fred and Sarah were my dear neighbors for 30 years or so. When I was a young mom I had a studio and office on the second floor of the front of my house and I could look down on Fred as he drove up the highway on his tractor to his brother Joe’s farm, and then watch Joe do the same going the opposite direction. The brothers farmed until they couldn’t farm anymore. Fred, always wearing a smile, was the kindest person. A photograph of him hangs in the Bradford Store– Fred as a young man beside a team of mules. He died of Parkinson’s Disease and grieved us all. Joe lived into his nineties, in the house where he grew up, just leaving us this past year.
Sarah, Fred’s wife, was the consummate farm wife. Her flowerbeds were spectacular and the subject of many of my paintings in the 80’s. When it was Halloween she would invite my children to come for treats and there would be homemade cupcakes and candies. She even made, from scratch, the host we used for communion in our church. I know it’s a strange comment, but it was a lovely and evocative host, with character. There was something of the Mystery baked into it. Not at all like the cardboard chips in other churches.
To paint this barn is not to say “look at this sad remnant”. In my heart it says their legacy lingers. The love and kindness these neighbors invested in me, my children, and in all the neighbors and their children is not lost or forgotten. The barn still stands solid and generous upon the land, and Sarah’s cherry tree blooms in glory in front of it. The big oaks that sheltered their family, their lives and laughter are still there. As long as I’m here to paint about it, in some way they are still with us.