Full moon over Frenchman Bay

Nocturne by Matthew Menzies, from Sea & Sky 2013.

There’s something magical about painting a nocturne over water. It’s even better when there’s a full moon. My calendar tells me we’ll have that opportunity during our third annual Sea & Sky Workshop. Think of magnificent granite slopes at Schoodic Point, silhouettes of Jack Pines against the midsummer night sky, and moonlight shimmering on the ocean.

Yes, there are still openings for the workshop, because (as usual) I got interested in other things and forgot to do any advertising after Christmas. That’s one of the curses of being a one-woman shop. However, Bobbi Heath just showed me a nice system for keeping all the balls in the air. It pointed out to me that I juggle a lot of things—possibly too many things.
This is the fifth year I will be teaching in midcoast Maine, and my third season at Schoodic Institute. It’s the best place for raw, natural beauty without crowds on the whole Maine coast, and the Institute itself is set up for learning. The campus was created when a former Navy base was returned to the National Park Service. It is one of 19 National Park Service Research Learning Centers in the United States. They do all our meals and snacks, so we can concentrate entirely on painting. And you can bring non-painting guests, who will enjoy fishing, hiking, birdwatching, and more. 
We’ll study composition, color, drawing, and paint mixing in morning and afternoon sessions. By now I have a pretty intimate knowledge of Schoodic and the surrounding area. That means you get access to the best painting locations.
Even though we’re on an uninhabited peninsula, it’s still easy to get to painting locations. There’s a ring road with frequent pull-offs. And Schoodic itself is only 90 minutes from Bangor International Airport, for those of you who fly to Maine.
I’ve worked with people from raw beginners to those who already hold MFAs. I have more than fifteen years of experience teaching in watercolor, oils, acrylics and pastels. I’m a former chairperson of New York Plein Air Painters and my work is in public and private collections worldwide. I studied at the Art Students League in New York with Cornelia Foss, Nicki Orbach, Joseph Peller and others.
Dinghy, Camden Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas
“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,” student Carol Thiel once said about me. (By the way, some of my lessons can be read here.)
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. 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.
A discount of $50 is available to members of New York Plein Air Painters, Plein Air Painters of Maine or returning students.

And bring a night lamp! Even better, remind me to add night lamp to the supply list.

Working from home: the pros and cons

My last studio was neater than my current one. I wonder why.
I’ve had studios in my home and in a commercial space. Neither is inherently better. It’s just a question of what works best for you. 
Sometimes the decision requires no thought. If there’s no room in your house, a rented studio space is probably cheaper than moving. I started painting professionally in a corner of my kitchen. In some ways that was the most pleasant workspace I ever had, since it was light and bright and I could easily keep an eye on the kids. But it didn’t take long to outgrow.
The Hungerford Building in Rochester is a mixed-use building that is home to more than a hundred working artists. I had a studio there long before it had a First Friday event, but it was still open to the public. My workspace was large, with high ceilings, ample north-facing windows and good parking. I met many fine artists there. There were, of course, all the usual amenities.
On the other hand, some residents were careless with the security codes. That meant that the building was never truly secure. It was in a marginal neighborhood. I soon realized that it wasn’t safe after dark.  At the time, working at night was a necessity. I had young children who shortened my daylight work options considerably.
There was also the question of access. I was doing art festivals and fairs. My studio was on the fourth floor. This was accessible by freight elevator, but there was still a lot of trundling before I got my work, my booth and my tent down to the commercial loading dock. That freight elevator was the only option for visitors, too. It was cumbersome and hard to use.
There was also the rent, which added about $6000 a year to my fixed costs.
One of the downsides of a home studio is that you will end up storing paintings everywhere. This is the bedroom in our former home.
We bought our current house for the studio. This is my fourth home-based workspace. My husband works from home too, so in some ways you could describe this house as a large atelier with attached living quarters. It’s on Route 1, which is Maine’s commercial drag, and it has a small parking lot.
Owning my workspace is a financial advantage in the same way as home ownership. It also gives me greater flexibility in how I use the space. I can work whenever I want. There’s a nice kitchen. There’s a backup server and a good computer network. I can bring the elderly Jack Russell terrier to work with me. And of course, there’s no commute.
There is, of course, a downside: distraction.
“After each big painting I usually clean my studio before starting another painting. I got as far as dumping the dirty water,” Christine Waara wrote yesterday. “While dumping water in the laundry room I started doing laundry. While gathering laundry, I came across some letters I’ve been meaning to answer. Went to find some note cards to answer the letters and saw that the dehumidifier was full. Dumped the dehumidifier and… squirrel!”
Your kids will wander in and out of your home-based workspace. That’s usually a good thing.
I have a few tricks to manage my transition from hausfrau to artist. I leave my next piece on my easel, to remember where I’m going and what I was thinking about. I work regular hours whenever I can. Human beings are programmed for routine. Our brains settle down faster when we use them the same way at the same time every day.
Home-based workers end up being the gophers for our families, because our schedules are flexible. People stop by because they think we’re ‘free.’ But, overall, I think there is less of this than in a communal workspace, which sometimes suffer from excessive conviviality. And I never have meetings. The dog can’t talk.

We have a lot to answer for

The Young Schoolmistress, 1740, Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin. Chardin painted children concentrating. That is only possible when children aren’t worrying.
I spent two decades in a town where, as Garrison Keillor quipped, “all the children are above average.” It’s fringed by the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology,  and provides those professors a green, leafy suburb in which to hang their hats.
Jennifer and I taught Sunday school together years ago. She’s got a PhD and is a professor of optics. Another friend once lamented that with “only” an MA in Spanish literature, she was the least-educated person she knew. (Since my education was largely cobbled together, I found this funny.)
As you can imagine, the children of such parents never go to bed intellectually starved.
Jennifer met Helen, a former gang-banger from Braddock, PA, several years ago. She coached her in writing skills, among other things. Helen is a Resident Advisor for the mentally ill in an enclosed program. She suffers from sarcoidosis, recently came through a bout of homelessness and is the legal custodian of her two-year-old granddaughter. She is mixed-race and 52 years old.
Young Beggars, 1890, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. They have more to worry about than their book learning.
Helen and I have become good friends. Recently, Helen decided to quit swearing. She was putting quarters into a swear-jar when I realized she couldn’t divide by four. We started to probe the limits of her education.
She has read no classic literature or poetry. She does not know basic computation. She writes easily and breezily, but her vocabulary is on an elementary-school level. All of this might be understandable if Helen were a recent immigrant from the third world, but she’s a middle-aged graduate of an American high school.
Helen was born in 1964 to an interracial couple. Her physically-disabled mother was four months pregnant when her parents were married. Her father was a drug-dealer who did time. Helen was told in school that she was learning-disabled. I see no evidence to support that. To me, it seems more likely that she was unable to concentrate.
Buffalo Newsboy, 1853, by Thomas Le Clear, courtesy Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Expectations for the working poor were very different in the 19th century.
Right now, Helen is working on learning her times tables, and is reading the speeches of Malcolm X, the Book of Acts and Dickens’ Great Expectations. I assign her four vocabulary words every day, emphasizing what part of speech they are. We’ve discussed remainders, thesis statements, and how to outline.
“Aleara is learning her multiplication tables. My six-year-old granddaughter and I are learning at the same time,” she marveled.
One of the subjects we’re talking about is budgeting. That’s not trivial; that’s how the middle classes get ahead. But you can’t budget if you can’t do basic computations.
Pauvre Fauvette, 1881, by Jules Bastien-Lepage. The 19th century French poor were less socially-mobile than our own poor of the time. This little warbler was stuck where she was born
Next door to my old community is the Rochester City School District. It earned a public hiding a few years ago, for turning in the lowest black male graduation rate in the nation: 9%.  At the same time, it had one of the highest costs-per-student in the country: $20,333 per kid in 2013. But if you think I’m going to criticize the teachers, you’re wrong. I know many city school teachers. To a man or woman, they’re dedicated, serious, and optimistic.
We can argue about politics, money, motivation, broken households, family support, etc. but it would help by starting with an admission that something is seriously broken. For forty years, Helen believed the lie that this is the best she was capable of doing. We owe her grandchildren a better start than this.

The most famous painter you never heard of

Moonlight, c. 1883-1889, Ralph Albert Blakelock, courtesy of the High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia

With the time change, the rhythms of the night are all wrong. Between that, the full moon, and the low-pressure system that is bearing down on us, I’ve spent too many hours up during the long reaches of the night.

Whenever I watch moonlight, I think of Ralph Albert Blakelock, the most famous painter you never heard of. In 1916 he managed to set a record for the highest price paid for a painting by a living American artist ($20,000). Sadly, he was in an insane asylum at the time.
Blakelock was born on Christopher Street in what is now Greenwich Village, in 1847. He was just too young to have served in the American Civil War, at that impressionable age of boyhood where war is glorious and terrifying.
He started studies at what is now City College of New York, intending to be a homoeopathist like his father. After three terms, he dropped out.
Moonlight, c. 1885-1889, Ralph Albert Blakelock, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum
After the Civil War, many artists traveled through the American west under the auspices of the Federal government or trading companies. From 1869-72, Blakelock did a similar thing, but as a free agent. Traveling alone in the west at that time was a very dangerous matter. Blakelock lived among the Sioux for a time, traveled down the California coast to Mexico, and returned to New York via a fruit boat from Panama.
Almost completely self-taught, he began producing landscapes and scenes of Indian life based on his notes and sketches. His work was recognized and lauded, and he produced a show at the National Academy of Design. In 1877, Blakelock married; he and his wife had nine kids.
Moonlight, Indian Encampment, 1885-1889, Ralph Albert Blakelock, courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Blakelock may have been a great painter, but he was a financial incompetent and plagued by doubts about the worth of his work. He was simply unable to establish any kind of business to support his family. Profoundly depressed, he began to show signs of mental breakdown. Meanwhile, his wife and children lived in acute financial hardship, which was amplified by the Depression of 1893.
Blakelock suffered his first complete breakdown in 1891. For eight years he suffered from schizophrenic delusions until he was committed to the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital in Orange County, New York. At the time, that was the backwoods. He would live there almost until his death.
And that’s where his story went from tragic to sordid. The 19th century romanticized mental illness. Rich people visited asylums for fun, watching the antics of inmates with great interest, or inviting them to be entertainment at their parties. Newspapers printed stories of the odd adventures of lunatics. Blakelock, with his quirks, his odd way of painting, and his weird behavior, was perfect fodder for this cruel mania.
Enter the swindler, in the form of one Beatrice Van Rensselaer Adams, née Sadie Filbert. Her questionable charities were outweighed by her political and social credentials. Blakelock was a perfect lamb to be led to slaughter. Adams established the Blakelock Fund to support his family, but of course, its purpose was to enrich her.
Moonlight, 1885-1889, Ralph Albert Blakelock, courtesy of the Corcoran Museum. Are you detecting a theme here?
Harrison Smith, a reporter for the New York Tribune eventually convinced Blakelock’s keepers that he was, in fact, a famous artist with work in a major retrospective in the city. When taken to New York to see the show, Blakelock confided to Smith that several of the paintings on exhibit were forgeries. Since the man was a diagnosed lunatic, however, Smith kept this information under his hat.
At the time of his death on August 9, 1919, Blakelock was hailed by the London Times as “one of the greatest of American artists.”
Blakelock painted in the style we now call tonalism. Popular between 1880 and 1915, it emphasized mood, myth and spirituality, in landscapes that were rendered in dark, neutral tones. Tonalism was in part an emotional reaction to the profound, heartbreaking damage of the Civil War. It was the perfect métier for a fragile, broken man.

Sneering and sniggering to the bank

Naked, 1988, by Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons has been found guilty of plagiarizing the work of a popular French photographer. A French court has ruled that Koons’ Naked (1988) ripped off a black-and-white photograph by the late Jean-François Bauret (1932-2014). Although unknown here in the United States, Bauret was successful enough to have earned the Ministry of Culture’s Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His 1975 postcard picture, Enfants, was a popular seller in France.

Bauret’s widow was awarded a penalty payment of €44,000. That translates into US $46,937.88. Half of it, roughly, will cover her legal fees. That doesn’t compensate for seeing her husband’s endearing portrait of children turned into a sniggering, sexualized bit of American camp culture.
Enfants, 1975, by Jean-Francois Bauret
Ten months ago, Naked sold (or didn’t sell, to be more precise) for $5.7 million at Phillips’ 20th century and contemporary art sale in New York. When pressed on the subject, Phillips’ CEO Edward Dolman admitted that the porcelain sculpture went to the artwork’s third party guarantor. The fact that vast sums of money are exchanged for works nobody wants is the first hint that what we’re talking about here is fungibility, not creativity.
This is the fifth time Koons has been taken to court over his Banality series, which purports to show the dullness of the objects of our modern life by making equally dull, but really pricey, copies. In fact, the whole point is to sneer at the working and middle classes, who can’t afford to surround themselves with exquisite objects.
String of Puppies, 1988, by Jeff Koons
In 1989, photographer Art Rogers sued Koons for stealing an image for his sculpture “String of Puppies.” Koons was sued over the sculpture Wild Boy and Puppy, which was clearly a rip-off of Odie from Garfield.
Both times Koons claimed the fair use exemption by parody. Both times, he lost. The court held that he could have made his general statements about parody without copying those artists’ specific work.
String of Puppies, by Art Rogers
Fashion photographer Andrea Blanch sued Koonsfor using an image entitled Silk Sandals by Gucci, published in Allure in 2000. There, Blanch lost because the courts held that he did not own the image copyright to the sandals themselves. The resulting work, Niagara, is also substantially different from the original photo.
French adman Franck Davidovici filed a counterfeiting lawsuit over the artist’s 1988 work Fait d’Hiver. According to Le Monde, the penalties, if Davidovici prevails, will be quite a bit higher than in the Buaret case. The plaintiff demands the sculpture itself, along with an additional €271,000 in damages. “Even if that the claim is only brought against the edition of Fait d’Hiver currently in France for the Pompidou show—there are three other copies—the total requested damages could theoretically stretch well into the millions,” wroteAlexander Forbes. He then went on to mention the issue that bedevils this all: that the works in question are no longer owned by Koons himself, but are being hustled on the aftermarket. They’re commodities.
Fait d’Hiver, 1988, by Jeff Koons
Koons is an appropriation artist, so naturally he takes the broadest possible view of the fair use exemption. And appropriation art sells, which is why Koons gets millions for work of dubious intellectual and technical quality.
There is no consistent answer to the question of where artistic appropriation becomes copyright infringement. It sometimes seems to have mainly to do with which end of the stick you’re holding.

The original ad by Franck Davidovici. The penguin makes all the difference.
In 2011 Koons sent a cease-and-desist letter to a San Francisco store and gallery for selling balloon dog bookends. Attorney Jedediah Wakefield responded, “As virtually any clown can attest, no one owns the idea of making a balloon dog, and the shape created by twisting a balloon into a dog-like form is part of the public domain.” He then went on to skewer Koons as, “a retired stockbroker whose sculptures and other works are well-known for copying pre-existing forms and images from popular culture.”

Meanwhile, it is still unwise to appropriate another person’s photograph for your reference material. The Bauret case reinforces that. But if you’re thinking that the rich and famous get richer and more famous by flouting the law, I can’t argue with you.

George Stubbs, hipster

Whistlejacket, 1762, George Stubbs. (National Gallery, London)

“Why did George Stubbs not paint in a background in Whistlejacket?” is one of the most commonly-asked questions of art history. The short answer is, because he was such a good draftsman, he didn’t have to.

Stubbs himself related that he had placed the unfinished painting against a stable wall when Whistlejacket saw it. Thinking he was seeing another stallion rising to attack, the horse began “to stare and look wildly at the picture, endeavouring to get at it, to fight and kick it,” raising his handler off the ground. At that moment, Stubbs decided the painting was done.
That’s a great story, but it glosses over the fact that oil paintings are not usually developed as discrete subjects floating in empty space. The medium isn’t amenable to this kind of treatment. Oil paintings are generally developed as whole pieces, from the bottom layer up. Disregarding this requires the highest mastery of drawing, because there is no way to hide pentimentoon a plain background.
Mares and Foals Without a Background, 1762, George Stubbs
Whistlejacket was one of several equine portraits Stubbs painted in 1762 during a stay at Wentworth Woodhouse in South Yorkshire. He was there on the invitation of Charles Watson Wentworth, Marquess of Rockingham. A leading grandee of the Whig party, Rockingham had been educated on the Continent. In short, he was a rarified British peer, separated from the rest of us by money, education and breeding. According to his wife, his primary interests were gambling and horses.
Stubbs painted at least three paintings without backgrounds while at Wentworth Woodhouse. Mares and Foals Without a Background and ‘Whistlejacket’ and Two Other Stallions with Simon Cobb, the Groom are both arranged carefully on long empty canvases. Whistlejacketcontinues that formality, rising in a classical dressage air. Since Whistlejacket himself was a notoriously temperamental racing stallion, the pose is almost certainly a fiction.
Pangloss (“Rufus”), c. 1762, George Stubbs. (Indianapolis Museum of Art)
What strikes us as so modern about Stubbs’ horse silhouettes was probably a nod to classicism on his part, homage to the architectural friezes of Greece and Rome. This would have appealed to men of letters during the Age of Enlightenment. Stubbs went on to use the device in later animal and human portraits.
George Stubbs was born in Liverpool in 1724, the son of a currier. He worked with his father until the latter’s death in 1741, whereupon he was briefly apprenticed to a minor artist named Hamlet Winstanley. From then on, he was self-taught.
Stubbs was fascinated by anatomy, both equine and human. He spent six years studying anatomy at York County Hospital. Among his early works is a set of illustrations for a text on midwifery, from 1751.
Plate from The Anatomy of the Horse, 1766, George Stubbs.
In 1756, Stubbs embarked on a quixotic quest for equal knowledge about horse anatomy. Hanging a series of horse carcasses from the rafters of a barn in the village of Horkstow, over the course of 18 months he flayed and sketched layer after layer of equine tissue.
Stubbs created a set of frontal, lateral, and posterior views that would become the basis of his book, The Anatomy of the Horse: including a particular description of the bones, cartilages, muscles, fascias, ligaments, nerves, arteries, veins, and glands. This treatise was hailed as a groundbreaking work of artistic and scientific merit and was the foundation of his future career.
Stubbs was curious about anatomy to the end. His last unfinished project, begun in 1795, was A comparative anatomical exposition of the structure of the human body with that of a tiger and a common fowl. It was unfinished at the time of Stubbs’ death at the age of 81.

A family affair

Natalie MacMaster is touring with her husband, Donnell Leahy, playing in the hotspots of Caribou, Rockland and Brownfield, ME before heading off to the bright lights of New York and Boston. We jumped at the opportunity to see them in the intimate Strand Theatre in Rockland last night.
MacMaster is a member of a famous Cape Breton fiddling family that included the renowned fiddler, Buddy MacMaster, among others. Cape Breton fiddling is the older brother of Highland fiddling, transported to Nova Scotia after the Highland Clearances. Once you’ve heard it, it needs no further introduction.
Leahy, who’s Irish, toured extensively with his seven siblings. His style of playing is more emotive, throatier. “I grew up in Ontario without that kind of [Cape Breton] style around me. But I listened to my father play the fiddle. I listened to the radio. I listened to accordion music because I had a friend who was an Irish accordion player,” he said.
As you can imagine, they’re both superlative players. But they were not the stars on the Strand stage. That honor went to their five eldest children: Mary Frances, Michael, Clare, Julia, and Alec. (Baby Sadie sat out the show.) The kids played the fiddle. They step-danced. They sang The Mary Ellen Carter. Their teenaged cousin has extended his winter break from school and is traveling with them, playing the pipes.
The Painter and the Buyer, 1565, was a self-portrait by proud paterfamilias Pieter Bruegel the Elder

 With such a family legacy, it’s no surprise that the kids are about ready for their first big break. That’s coming soon, with an appearance scheduled on Steve Harvey’s Little Big Shots later this year.

Artistic dynasties like the Leahy-MacMaster clan are now rare, but that hasn’t always been so. There was the Boothfamily, who are now remembered mostly for their ignominious assassin. The family of Johann Sebastian Bach included 50 musicians of note for two centuries. The same is true for the descendants of the Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. For women like Artemisia Gentileschi, a family workshop was a safe space to pursue an unconventional career. And there is, of course, Maine’s own Wyethfamily. I could go on for pages.
Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1638–9, is by Artemisia Gentileschi, who had the advantage of being trained in her father’s workshop.
What has changed? Public education tends to dilute parental influence even as it democratizes knowledge. Children are in school while their parents are in offices far away. Fewer children are being trained in any craft now, as we educate a nation of generalists. Moreover, we expect our children to self-actualize, to make and follow their own dreams rather than go into the family business.
Watching the Leahy kids on stage with their parents, I’m inclined to think we need more of that, and less factory education. I look forward to their future careers.

Our obsession with parts

Northumberlandia and her oddly erect breasts, courtesy of Wikipedia.
We face our first morning trip downstairs with trepidation. The elderly hound tries his best, but he hasn’t got control of either his bowels or his bladder. He’s confined to a small space, but some mornings the mess he makes beggars belief. It can take a while to get him and the floor clean again. All that happens before our second cup of coffee.
That miasma is a good metaphor for the other mess I see most mornings: friend requests from strange men on Facebook. If I let them in through the net, almost immediately I get a message like this:
“You are so beautiful! I’ve been looking for a woman like you. Thanks for accepting me as your friend. I’m a US Army General presently serving in Afghanistan. I’m 52 years old, and widowed. Please email me or send me your email address. I will send you my pics. My email is [email protected].”
We all know what these bots are looking for: intimate photos, and then money. At first I thought about sending them pictures of my incisions. But then, I thought, why not send them something truly intimate? My medical file contains images of the tumors and growths that have been removed from my nether regions over the last two decades. And colonoscopy pictures are pulsating, pink, and dang fascinating.
“I need regular wound care for my ostomy,” I would write in confiding tones.
Map of Northumberlandia, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Northumberlandiais a geoglyph that somehow reminds me of the modern obsession with our breeding parts. She was designed by American landscape architect Charles Jencks, and built on the Blagdon Estate.
That’s the hereditary home of Matt Ridley, fifth Viscount Ridley, author of The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. This book argues that all human behavior must be understood through the window of sexual behavior, since we’re just a product of evolution, anyway. Northumberlandiais made from excavated material from a nearby open coal mine, shaped in the form of a woman’s torso.
Anthropomorphic landforms exist pretty commonly in nature; there are Sleeping Giant, Sleeping Warrior, and Sleeping Princessmountains all over the globe.
Cerne Abbas Giant, courtesy of Pete Harlow.
Britain is especially partial to geoglyphs. These include the ancient Uffington White Horse, the newer Long Man of Wilmington, and many more modern examples. The Cerne Abbas Giant is ithyphallic, so I suppose Northumberlandia evens up the score a bit.

It’s her boobs I object to. They’re clearly silicone-enhanced. As an argument for Ridley’s thesis that sex drives everything, and as an image of what is considered sexually attractive in 2017, Northumberlandia is a perfect motif. It’s also a great example of what peers of the realm used to get up to when unconstrained by job or money. PG Wodehouse would have had a field day with the Viscount’s Folly.

Courting dementia

By Carol L. Douglas

Since I was a young woman, people have debated whether there’s a connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. Aluminum in cookware and in antiperspirant were both singled out as possible triggers for dementia. Recently, a reader sent me a link to a story that screamed: “Doctors Now Have Warning: If You Use Aluminum Foil, Stop It or Face Deadly Consequences.”

I have no comment on the food safety of aluminum foil, although I doubt that Faithpanda.com is peer-reviewed. My Dear Reader sent it to me because she knows that when online political conversations get too stupid, I put on a virtual aluminum hat to block the signals.
This sometimes takes the form of a small still life I did several years ago, above. When I can’t make time to paint, I do these small paintings to keep my mind and hands limber. They never take more than an hour. They’re just intended for my personal amusement.
By Carol L. Douglas
This week, I can’t even paint still lives. The days are getting longer, which means it will soon be time to go outside to paint. But looming over every March day, like a great black blot on the landscape, is our income tax return.
“In bouillabaisse you are likely to find almost anything, from a nautical gentleman’s sea-boots to a small China mug engraved with the legend ‘un cadeau de Deauville,’” wrote PG Wodehouse, and the same is true of our tax code. And just like Bertie Wooster faced with that soup, we shrink from stirring it.
“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” is a quote from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. It came from a legal decision written in 1927, and it’s inscribed over the door of IRS headquarters. Holmes was born in 1841 and served in the Civil War. I doubt he’d recognize much about the modern tax code.
By Carol L. Douglas
I doubt he’d be able to even file it. About 56% of American taxpayers rely on paid preparers to do their return. Another 34% use tax preparation software, making a total of 90% of taxpayers who seek some form of help. Revenues for the tax preparation industry (the people, not the software) are around $10 billion a year. That’s because nobody who’s not a trained preparer can understand the tax code.
I do not mind paying my taxes, but I do mind the endless record-keeping necessary to keep from paying too much. I mind the occasional midyear summonses to explain myself, and I especially mind the fact that I get to pay income tax in more than one state.
At any rate, as you probably already suspect, there won’t be much painting done this week in my studio. If you want me, I’ll be at the dining room table, courting dementia.

The Dog with Nine Lives

The Beggar of St. Paul, Carol L. Douglas, is a parable based on Watteau’s Pierrot, 1719. A younger Max was the model for the American dog who eats better than starving Africa.

While I was in the Bahamas my elderly Jack Russell terrier, Max, stopped eating and drinking. My husband, who professes to hate this dog, spent many hours tempting him with various delicacies. Nothing worked.
Jack Russell terriers are very long-lived. Our vet says the old man is nineteen. Since we got him second-hand, I can’t say for sure, but he’s slightly younger than our college-sophomore son.
In January, I thought for sure that Max was done for. I packed him up and took him to the vet to be put down. On the way, I stopped at the North End Shipyard, where I ran into Sarah Collins and Captain John Foss of the American Eagle. Neither had met Max before, but they came out to my car and said a kindly hello and goodbye to the old thing. When I got to the vet, they announced that Max’s wound had healed nicely, and he still had a few more miles to go.
That wasn’t the first time he’d fooled me. When he was a mere lad of 17, I took him in because he was having trouble breathing and was bloated in the midsection. I was sure he had a tumor. “He’s getting awfully fat,” the vet said. Oh, the indignities of middle age!
Max spends most of his working day in my studio.
But now he seems to be in renal failure. My goal is to let him slip away naturally, since he isn’t in pain and still seems to enjoy our company. To that end, I called the vet’s office to ask if they can help me when the time comes. Early March is no time to dig a hole here in the Northeast. They warned me that dying at home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Jack Russell terriers are ferocious little beasts. Max has killed an African Grey Parrot, two cats and innumerable songbirds, which he could pluck out of the air in his youth. I never left him with small children until after his teeth fell out.
That ferocity made him an exceptional guard dog. I am used to traveling alone to paint, and would often bring him with me. Compact, he would sleep in a tent with me or allow me to stash him in a van overnight while I couch-surfed. He would stand guard while I worked in isolated places. Nobody ever walked up to me without him knowing.
The last time I took him along was to Boothbay Harbor last spring, which is when I realized that his judgment was impaired. “I am not going in after you,” I told him repeatedly, but he still took outrageous risks for such an old dog.
When the model didn’t show up at the Art Students League, my daughter Julia and Max volunteered. Kathy Gulrich captured his wriggling in a wonderful chalk drawing.
On Friday, I made meatballs. I slipped a bit of raw meat to my ever-present sidekick. I watched sadly as he sniffed it, and then in considerable surprise as he ate it. Ultimately, he ate four ounces of the stuff.
Since then, he’s been eating small amounts and drinking chicken broth. I am not fooling myself into thinking that the old geezer is going to survive much longer, but he always surprises me.
If you’ve ever attended an old person, you know that death is not predictable. You can’t schedule it. Perhaps our inclination to euthanize our pets blinds us to that reality. But where there is life, there is hope. Sometimes it takes a frail old dog to remind us of that.