Let’s get the sketch out of the way, first. No, it’s not very good, but that is small potatoes compared to the experience of painting it.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but prior to this weekend I’d never spent any time in Corn Hill, which contains Rochester’s best-preserved collection of 19th century houses. I’ve driven through it, but to look at it, photograph it, or paint it—no, I’d never done that. So on Friday and Saturday, I spent a little time in lovely Lunsford Park.
Lunsford Park was laid out in 1837. It is surrounded by architectural gems, including a block of brick row houses, the Greek Revival home of canal engineer Col. Henry Cody, and a magnificent Second Empire rectory. There are two churches on the Circle as well: Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (1864) and the ruins of a lovely Medina sandstone gothic facade.
The sandstone stripe marks the end of the old, start of the new.
This ruin is what everyone assumes they know about the history of the American church. A proud Richardsonian Romanesque-style Methodist Church, its membership had declined to unsustainable lows by 1969. The departing Methodists gave the building to an AME (African Methodist Episcopal) congregation. It then suffered several suspicious fires, the last (in August, 1971) being the disaster that did it in. The AME congregation followed the example of its Methodist predecessors and withered away. They built a plain and functional sanctuary behind the surviving sandstone walls. Then they left too. Now it houses something called the End Time Deliverance Miracle Ministry, which has no internet presence and as far as I can see isn’t part of any denomination.
It seemed like there was nobody there: it appeared to be a squat barn of building (albeit very neat) with a hopeful name on a sheet of plywood above the door. A bit out of place in the lovely stillness of Lunsford Park, but it’s only a few blocks from Plymouth Avenue, and next door to it is an empty lot where a former city school stood.
I like churches and I like their buildings. I wandered around the circle for a while, looking for a subject to paint, but I kept coming back to this pile of stone. I looked at the memorial plaque to Dr. Charles Lunsford (1891-1985, Rochester’s first black physician), scuffed my feet through the falling chestnuts, took a few arty shots of the gazebo, and talked about our kids with a man sitting on a park bench, who—it turns out—is a member of End Time Deliverance.
He told me he was taking a cigarette break from handing out free clothes. For the first time, I noticed the steady stream of people coming and going from a back door, toting full black plastic garbage bags over their shoulders. He told me he remembered the fires, and that he’d played in the old church as a kid (a rather poignant story I heard several times that afternoon).
In my more sophisticated moments, I understand that painting ruins is (in our day and age) a trope to be avoided at all costs. But there’s something about the wrecked face of this church that I love. It reminds me of my childhood church, Delaware Avenue Baptist Church. The ivy glowed green, orange and red against the violet sandstone walls, and pigeons called across the autumn afternoon. I know better, but I was seduced.
I set up on the hatchback of my Prius so I could look straight up at the tower. This is a foreshortened view and, frankly, I did a pretty poor job of drafting. But perhaps that’s because I spent almost the whole afternoon talking. As I mentioned, men were handing out clothing and coffee to the neighbors. A little boy was there with his Daddy, working on repairs. The praise band finished practicing. The sound guy finished adjusting the sound. Teen girls finished their dance practice. The ladies of the church were off somewhere else witnessing, but when they finished, several of them stopped by. (“I still gotta check on them,” one of them told me, and as a blue-haired church lady myself, I totally understand that.)
One man spent quite a long time telling me about the church’s outreach, which includes summer picnics for the neighbors. At one point the conversation moved to race and faith. “I don’t see why it matters,” a man told me. “Black, white—we’re all one church.” And then he invited me to join them on Sunday (which I would have done, except that my husband was playing in a praise band elsewhere).
How many times have I driven around Buffalo’s East Side and lamented the death of the old churches that once proudly hosted German or Polish Catholic congregations? Under that surface decay, are they doing more of God’s work than ever? Conversely, how many of the beautifully-maintained faux-Tudor churches in the suburbs and countryside are dying from inside?
I would love to return and paint this church’s portrait, because it’s a portrait of an elemental truth: it’s not just that appearances can be deceiving
—they almost certainly are deceiving. But to be honest, I don’t have a clue how I’d start to depict the beating heart inside this old ruin. Any suggestions?
Immaculate Conception isn’t unscathed either; its steeple was hit by lightning and ruined.
Paint in the unfettered splendor of nature with celebrated artist Carol L. Douglas, in the bewitching, boundless and historic Adirondack Park—a week of unparalleled instruction at some of the wildest, most scenic painting locations the nation has to offer. Your outdoor adventure will be balanced by the comfort of an all-inclusive accommodation package at the historic Irondequoit Inn.
Eric and Liz Davis
·Basic package: includes 5 nights lodging and meals.
·Private non-smoking room with shared bath in either lodge or cabin accommodations
(Oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor)This class focuses on still life as a fundamental tool for developing drawing and painting technique. It is appropriate for both beginning and advanced students. Instruction emphasizes direct painting, where paint is applied solidly rather than through glazing. For watercolor and acrylic, the emphasis is on alla prima techniques.
High school juniors and seniors interested in pursuing a BFA are especially encouraged to sign up for this class. I have an excellent track record in helping students develop outstanding college portfolios.
Open Model Sessions, by invitation only Our open model sessions are moved to Friday afternoons. Please contact me if you want more information.
Autumn is always a difficult time to schedule, since I have obligations elsewhere and there is a surfeit of holidays. If your class is cancelled, you have the option of taking the other class that week, receiving a refund, or taking a private lesson. Just ask me.
The schedule, as it currently appears
Note: we will still be painting outside, as long as the weather permits.
Tuesday 9/11/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 9/15/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 9/18/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 9/22/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 9/25/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 9/29/2012 NO CLASS: workshop 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 10/2/2012 NO CLASS: workshop 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 10/6/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 10/9/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 10/12/2012 Model 2 to 5 PM
Saturday 10/13/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 10/16/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 10/20/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 10/23/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 10/26/2012 Model 2 to 5 PM
Saturday 10/27/2012 No CLASS 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 10/30/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 11/3/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 11/6/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 11/9/2012 Model 2 to 5 PM
Saturday 11/10/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 11/13/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 11/17/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 11/20/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 11/24/2012 NO CLASS: Thanksgiving 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 11/27/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 11/30/2012 Model 2 to 5 PM
Saturday 12/1/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 12/4/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 12/7/2012 Model 2 to 5 PM
Saturday 12/8/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 12/11/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 12/14/2012 Model 2 to 5 PM
Saturday 12/15/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 12/18/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 12/21/2012 Model 2 to 5 PM
Saturday 12/22/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 12/25/2012 NO CLASS: Christmas 2:30-5:30 PM