A new acquisition which you can’t see until next summer, and thousands of historic photos you can browse at any time.
The Lumber Schooner, Fitz Henry Lane, 1850, Penobscot Marine Museum
This summer an important painting by Fitz Henry Lane was donated to the Penobscot Marine Museumin Searsport. The Lumber Schooner has close ties to the local community. It’s been in the same family from the time it was painted in 1850 until it was left to the museum by the late Ellen Guild Moot.
Edward Dyer Peters was born in Blue Hill, ME in 1785. He and his brother John entered the lumber business in Ellsworth before he was fifteen years old. Ellsworth, located on the Union River, was a major lumber port. For example, in 1859, when the town’s population was 4,009, Ellsworth had nine sawmills, eight box-makers, thirteen shipbuilders, eight brickyards, five pail factories, two gristmills, one tannery, one carding machine, one pottery maker, two edge tool factories, and a carriage manufacturer.
Ship in Fog, Gloucester Harbor, ca. 1860, Fitz Henry Lane, Princeton University Art Museum
At that time, the lumber trade in Maine was speculative. Lumber was cut here and shipped to Massachusetts, where it fetched whatever ship captains could get for it. In 1811, Peters founded the Davenport, Peters Co. and moved to Boston to act as a wholesale lumber agent. He maintained an inventory and sent orders back to Maine, thus establishing a stable price structure for Maine wood products. When he died in 1856, he was a very wealthy man.
By 1850, when this painting was made, Fitz Henry Lane was Boston’s most popular maritime painter. Born in Gloucester, he was steeped in saltwater. He likely would have followed his father into the sail-making trade had he not been paralyzed as a toddler from ingesting jimsonweed. After an abortive apprenticeship as a shoemaker, he returned to his first calling, art. He was largely self-taught, refining his skills while working at a lithography shop in Boston.
Clipper Ship ‘Southern Cross’ Leaving Boston Harbor, 1851, Fitz Henry Lane
In addition to his views of Boston, Gloucester and the Maine coast, Lane did commissioned portraits of sailing vessels for Boston merchants. This painting, one of three bought by Peters, was probably such a commission, since it’s one of the modest lumber schooners of Maine upon which Peters built his fortune.
Lane often painted boats in close proximity. Whether this was artistic license or reflected the activity of the coastal shipping scene, I can’t say. Coastal waters were very busy in the 19th century. Penobscot Bay often saw more than 10,000 sailing vessels in a season. Shipping by water was (and remains) the cheapest way to move cargo long distances.
Salem Harbor, 1853. Fitz Henry Lane, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Here, the lowly lumber schooner is seen off Gloucester’s Eastern Point Light, Boston-bound. There’s another coastal schooner, a fishing schooner, and a lone boat out fishing, all in a small patch of flurried water. Imagine creating such a scene of trucks on Interstate 90, and you begin to see the genius of Fitz Henry Lane.
You’ll have to wait until May to see this painting, but Penobscot Marine Museum has a great collection of maritime photographs that are perfect for curling up in front of the fire. The National Fisherman Collection is a collection of pre-digital images of the commercial fishing industry. In 2012, Diversified Communications of Portland, ME, donated the magazine’s entire pre-digital archive to the Museum. Curators have already digitized, catalogued and released thousands of images. If you can’t find something there to amuse yourself, you’re not even trying.
What’s shifting in 2017 holiday marketing? A lot, especially with email.
Off Marshall Point, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
If you sell paintings, you’re in retailing. And if you’re in retailing, you’ve probably learned by now that holiday sales are an important part of your business. While all retailing sees a jump during the holiday selling spree, the jewelry sector posts more than a quarter of its annual sales during the holidays. That’s important because jewelry sales and painting sales have much in common. They’re both luxury items, and their value is primarily aesthetic.
For a decade, seasonal spending outpaced the US economy, meaning we were concentrating our money more in that one-month period. Then, in 2016, something changed. Seasonal sales were down, except for automobiles and gasoline.
One year does not a trendline make, but I’ve noticed a few things this year. The absurd deals that created Black Friday culture weren’t in my Thanksgiving newspaper (which cost $4, by the way). Retailing is in a major meltdown right now, with bricks-and-mortar stores closing in the face of new consumer trends.
Tilt-a-Whirl, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
But the thing that really hit home was the abuse of my in-box over the past week. I’ve been deleting a fewhundred email ads a day without even opening them. I receive multiple, similar offers from the same vendors. They’re all companies I like and have purchased from, but they’ve created a wall between me and the emails I need to see. In other words, they’ve tipped email into a black hole as a marketing strategy.
How does an artist make his or her voice heard in that cacophony? The short answer is, we can’t. I’m only looking at mail from my close friends and business associates right now, so if you sent me a seasonal special offer, it was deleted without opening.
Glen Cove Surf, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
Artists must watch retailing trends carefully. It’s not enough to understand what others are doing now, we have to understand what others plan to do. I watched a webinar recently about creating an email marketing funnel. This is an advertising concept that converts brand awareness to sales. Like every other one-person shop, I could be a lot better at it.
The presenter taught us how to collect email addresses and then qualify and refine information about the buyer. That was fine, but it ignores a basic reality: people sent and received 269 billion emails per day in 2017. With all that chatter—and it’s so much cheaper than snail mail—it’s almost impossible for your message to stand out with any clarity.
Marginal Way, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
In the end, on-line sales will have created new and different problems from the ones they seemed to fix. As always, the muscle will lie with the big marketers that have the time and talent to tinker with new strategies, not with sole proprietors like us.
What’s a poor artist to do? First, realize we’re not alone in this. Every small retailer faces the same problem. From my vantage point, we do the same things we’ve always done: reach out to regular customers, create opportunities to buy, and carefully analyze the competition’s marketing strategy. Above all, we have to be open to new ideas, which is why I’m trying out Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
Some things I think are invaluable, and a few that I don’t.
Do you have a beginner artist on your list? A good place to start is with a gouache kit and a spiral-bound field sketchbook. This is an inexpensive way to start learning about painting.
Every year, a million knock-off French box easels appear nestled under aspiring artists’ Christmas trees. Don’t buy one if you really love the recipient: they’re heavy, cumbersome, and discouraging. I’d rather see a painter start with a $15 tripod easel and a folding table than with a box easel. I did.
A compass is a good stocking stuffer for the field artist.
For oil painters, a pochade box and tripod is a better option. Guerrilla Painter boxes have flooded the market. If you buy one, keep it small; my large one is too heavy for serious field work. Open M boxes are beautifully-made and very expensive. Good with your hands? Here’s a pochade box I built for under $50; it serves me well and it can be paired with a less-expensive tripod.
If what your artist really needs is a studio easel, I think aluminum mast easels provide good value for money. I use Testrite aluminum mast easels in my teaching studio. If your artist likes to work big, go with their hinged professional model. I’ve had one for decades, and it takes work up to 60” square without complaining. It’s been more reliable than wooden easels in the same price range.
These Panel-Raks are a devilishly clever idea. I should get some for myself and stop using Bobbi’s.
An invaluable accessory for oil painters is a stainless steel brush tank with a leak-proof lid. Yes, artists can use glass jars with tightly-screwed lids, but they make a mess in the field. Get a small one for the plein air painter. Cared for properly, it will last a lifetime.
A painter might appreciate the parts to make his or her own watercolor field kit. See below.
If your pastel artist is still juggling loose boxes of pastels, why not splurge and get him a traveling box? I have an earlier version of the Dakota Traveler, which I love. The Roz Box has its fans as well. Silicone Colour Shapers out-perform tortillons and stumps for blending.
In our house, Santa doesn’t bring presents, but he does fill stockings. He always remembers sketch books. I like Strathmore’s Visual Journals with smooth Bristol paper and #2 mechanical pencils, but you can scale that up or down as your budget requires. You might add micron pens if your list includes teenagers.
Artists love to experiment. How about a set of sumi-e brushes and some ink?
Learn how to draw a pie plate, dish, cup, or vase. I’m throwing in my secret pie crust recipe, so you can learn that too.
When drawing round objects, we have to look for the ellipses, which are just elongated circles. Ellipses have a horizontal and a vertical axis, and they’re always symmetrical (the same on each side) to these axes.
The red lines are the ellipse and its vertical and horizontal axes. The two sides of the axes are mirror images of each other, side to side and top to bottom.
Same axes, just tipped.
This is always true. Even when a dish is canted on its side, the rule doesn’t change; it’s just that the axes are no longer vertical or horizontal to the viewer.
This is where I learned that I can’t balance a pie plate on the dashboard while traveling.
As always, I started by taking basic measurements, this time of the ellipse that forms the inside rim of the pie plate. (My measurements won’t match what you see because of lens distortion.)
The inside rim of the bowl.
An ellipse isn’t pointed like a football and it isn’t a race-track oval, either.
It’s possible to draw it mathematically, but for sketching purposes, just draw a short flat line at each axis intersection and sketch the curve freehand from there.
The horizontal axis for the bottom of the pie plate.
There are actually four different ellipses in this pie plate. For each one, I estimate where the horizontal axis and end points will be. The vertical axis is the same for all of them.
Three of the four ellipses are in place.
Next I find the horizontal axis for the rim, and repeat with that. It’s the same idea over and over. Figure out what the height and width of each ellipse is, and draw a new horizontal axis for that ellipse. Then sketch in that ellipse. The pencil marks are freehand; the red is measured on my computer.
Four ellipses stacked on the same vertical axis.
Because of perspective, the outer edge of the rim is never on the same exact horizontal axis as the inner edge, but every ellipse is on the same vertical axis. We must observe, experiment, erase and redraw at times. Here all four ellipses are in place. Doesn’t look much like a pie plate yet, but it will.
The suggestion of rays to set the fluted edges.
If I’d wanted, I could have divided the edge of the dish by quartering it with lines. I could have then drawn smaller and smaller units and gotten the fluted edges exactly proportional. But that isn’t important right now. Instead, I lightly sketched a few cross did lines to help me get the fluting about right. It’s starting to look a little more like a pie plate.
Voila! A pie plate!
Now that you’ve tried this with a pie plate, you can practice with a bowl, a vase, a wine glass, or any other glass vessel. Meanwhile, here’s my pie-crust recipe. Nobody in their right mind would ask me to cook, but I can bake. This week I noticed that while I have a written recipe, I’ve changed it around enough that it’s unrecognizable.
I use a food processor, but the principle is the same doing it by hand.
Double Pie Crust
2.5 cups all-purpose white flour, plus extra to roll out the crusts
Thoroughly blend the dry ingredients. Cut in the shortening (lard and butter) with either a pastry blender or by pulsing your food processor with the metal blade. It’s ready when it is the consistency of coarse corn meal. (If it’s smooth, you’ve overblended.) Sprinkle ice water over the top, then mix by hand until you can form a ball of dough. If the dough seems excessively dry, you can add another teaspoon of ice water, but don’t go nuts.
Divide that ball in two and flatten into disks. Wrap each disk in wax paper, toss the wrapped disks into a sealed container and refrigerate until you’re ready to use them.
Don’t worry if the dough appears to be incompletely mixed or the ball isn’t completely smooth; mine comes out best when it looks like bad skin.
Let the dough warm just slightly before you start to roll it out. And while you don’t want to smother the dough with flour when rolling, you need enough on both the top and the bottom of the crust that it doesn’t stick. If you’re doing this right, you should be able to roll the crust right up onto your rolling pin and unroll it into your pie plate with a neat flourish.
(If you’ve never rolled out a pie crust, watch this.)
I use this crust for single- or double-crusted, fruit and savory pies.
New styles of work blur the line between family and job.
The modern-day sweatshop.
My granddaughter, age 2, sits at the table while her mother, an engineer, works. If Julia stops focusing on her screen, my granddaughter taps her hand and says, “work, Mommy!”
This holiday I drove to be with my kids. My husband was in the passenger seat, tethered to a hotspot, working. He’d also worked on Sunday. My son was in the back seat working (albeit on his own project). When we arrived, my son-in-law was in his office working. The next day, he and my daughter got up at 4 AM so they could finish their workday before the remainder of their company arrived. My husband chose instead to work during his usual daylight hours.
On Thanksgiving, I was the only one who had to work: I got an alert that one of my current workshop adshad a date wrong.
This morning I awoke at 5 AM to a flickering light outside. My son-in-law was outside replacing the thermostat on his tractor. Once again, my daughter is sitting at the kitchen table telecommuting.
Above is a chart of the labor-force participation rate in the United States. In the past few years, it has stabilized at 63%, which was, coincidentally, about what it was in 1950. However, in 1950, the non-participating part of the labor force—women—were providing support services for the other part. That is no longer how the population is divided.
In 1950, more than 80% of men were working, and just 33.9% of women. That steadily equalized until the end of the century. Since 2000, women’s participation in the workforce has started to decline along with men’s. The participation rate of women is projected to be 59.4% in 2020 and 55.1% in 2050. Meanwhile, the participation rate for men continues to drop.
Those who do work, work a heckuva lot. A Gallup report from 2014 estimated that the average full-time worker in the United States works 47 hours a week, one of the highest figures in the world. Salaried workers averaged 49 hours a week. Nearly four in 10 said they work at least 50 hours. And the highest numbers were recorded by the self-employed.
One question I wasn’t able to answer is, what are the nearly 40% of the population who aren’t working doing instead? I’d expected retirement numbers to be rising as Boomers age, but the percentage of older workers staying in the workforce is rising. They simply don’t have the money to retire.
One of the great jokes of modern times has been the statement that “a woman’s place is in the home.” Until the Industrial Revolution, that was the economic center of the family; both partners worked at what we now call home-based businesses.
I like telecommuting. It has returned the American worker to his or her home. But sometimes I think the lines are too blurred. For some of us, all there is, is work.
If you say grace tomorrow, you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Freedom from Want, 1943, Norman Rockwell
I had a painting teacher who hated Norman Rockwell. She was in agreement with the art establishment of her time, which derided him as ‘just an illustrator.’ They also rebelled against his view of America, but that wasn’t what she said. “He has no sense of perspective,” she told me. “He just layers objects to give the illusion of depth.”
For some of his cover art that was true. Consider The Runaway (below), painted for the September 20, 1958 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It’s just three figures square to the picture plane, surrounded by the horizontal lines and miscellany of the soda shop counter. If that was the only Rockwell painting you ever saw, you could be forgiven for thinking as she did.
The Runaway, 1958, Norman Rockwell.
Compare that with Shiner (also below), from the May 23, 1953 cover of the same magazine. The little girl is again square to the picture plane, but there is a second focal point at the top right. They’re tied together by the linoleum. We’re seeing the subject from a kid-height viewpoint. Rockwell understood perspective quite well, thank you.
Freedom from Want was painted during World War II as part of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series. The series was meant to illustrate a passage from President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union address of January 6, 1941, when Nazi Germany occupied most of Western Europe. The paintings were so idiosyncratically American, however, that they instead have come to represent American values. Freedom from Want is now irrevocably entwined with the American holiday season, which kicks off tomorrow.
Shiner, 1953, Norman Rockwell.
The foil for the whole painting is the white-on-white table, surrounded by a wreath of faces. If you’ve ever wondered about Rockwell as a painter, study that table. He’s as brilliant with the whites as Joaquín Sorolla, albeit in a much more American way.
The table is significantly foreshortened and the centerpiece—a fruit bowl—is at the very bottom of the picture. That and the truncated faces at the bottom make you wonder how much longer the table actually is.
This clever cropping make you think you’re looking at a snapshot of someone’s dinner. Of course, you’re not. He painted the figures from life, using his friends and neighbors as models. About the turkey, Rockwell said, “Our cook cooked it, I painted it and we ate it. That was one of the few times I’ve ever eaten the model.”
Note that there’s almost no other food on the table. Such is the magic of his realism that Rockwell makes you believe it’s an overloaded table. In fact, that was the criticism of it at the time, that it depicted indulgence while Europe was starving.
Of course, Thanksgiving is a meal of excess. (I myself plan to make seven pies today.) But if you say grace tomorrow—and I hope you do—you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by President Roosevelt all those years ago:
“When I was a child middle-class people didn’t have original art in their homes, unless one of the family was an artist,” said painter Bobbi Heath. “Things are different now. Original artwork is available at a price point equivalent to buying a poster and having it framed. You can find it online, at art fairs and open studios, especially this time of year. And you don’t need a gallery owner to tell you what you should like. Spread your wings and hang something on the wall that makes you happy.”
When I was a kid, our public library had an art-lending program. You could borrow a painting or print, hang it on your wall for a while and enjoy it, then return it and borrow another work. That was as profound as checking out books.
Art is a tool by which we can dream. It has the capacity to transport us out of our current situation. The hospital where my friend lay dying had beautiful floral paintings in its cancer wing. When I had to step out of her room while they did a procedure—which was often—I found myself staring into those paintings. They were my path out of a sad situation.
Our choice of paintings is one of the primary ways we express ourselves in our personal spaces. Bob Bahr used to write a column for Outdoor Painter called Artist as Collector. It told you as much about the artist’s personality as the artist’s own work did.
This little mussel by Susan Lewis Baines is available through the Kelpie Gallery.
“One thing I have learned after 20 years working with art is that the ‘price’ of a work of art has nothing to do with its value,” said conservator Lauren R. Lewis. “The value lies in how you connect with a work of art on an emotional level. I have never been able to get on board with the idea of ‘art as investment.’ The art market is fickle, so I never recommend that someone buy a painting with the intention of selling it later at a profit.”
I have clients, a married couple, who pared their lives down to almost no material possessions. They own two large oil paintings—one by Marilyn Fairman and one by me. As nomadic as their life is, they hang those paintings in a prominent place wherever they land. Art brings a language of beauty to our lives,” one of them told me. “We have contentment and constancy from looking at our beloved pieces.”
White Pines and Black Spruce by Carol L. Douglas is available at pleinair.store
“Unlike generic prints from the nearest big box store, original art comes with a story about where you found it, why you bought it, or the super cool artist you bought it from,” said painter Chrissy Pahucki.
Original art is less expensive than you might imagine. I was at a gallery last weekend where there were hand-drawn colored pencil works for less than I was considering paying for a mixer attachment for my daughter for Christmas. Less, in fact, than a coffee-table art book, but with more staying power.
“Buy art because you love it,” said Lauren Lewis. “Buy art because it makes you feel good to look at it. Buy art because you need to have it in your life. That is how you tell the worth of a painting.”
Everyone has a door somewhere in their house, right? It’s a great subject to practice drawing.
I’m sure you have a door almost exactly like this one somewhere in your house. It’s commonplace, but it’s also a series of repeating shapes that can teach you a lot about perspective.
I left it slightly ajar, but it doesn’t have to be. Seat yourself as far away as you can get from it. The closer you are, the more difficult it is to keep your measurements straight. I’d like you to sit at a slight angle to it so you can think about perspective.
This is intended to be a fast drawing, taking you no more than 15 or 20 minutes. The same rules apply to a careful drawing, of course; you’d just be more meticulous in your measuring and marking. But you’ll learn just as much going fast.
My first task is to figure out the angles of the top and bottom of the door. (My camera distorts perspective so what’s in the photo won’t match what’s on my drawing.) I do that by holding my pencil along the bottom of the door and figuring out the angle.
I find that setting my pencil down on my paper at the appropriate angle helps me see it better.
Then I do the exact same thing on the top.
Note that the shelf at my eye level is completely horizontal. Any level surface at eye level has to be horizontal; that’s a hard-and-fast rule.
Two-point perspective, courtesy Luciano Testoni. All those lines traveling off to the vanishing points on the left and right? Let’s call them rays.
The picture above is classical two-point perspective with a lot of extra bells and whistles. I don’t want you to get bogged down in it; I included it so you can compare the rays in that drawing to what you see in your room. Notice that when you look at lines high in your room, the ‘rays’ travel downward to the sides, where the so-called ‘vanishing points’ are. When you look at objects near the floor, the rays travel upward to the vanishing points. That’s because the vanishing points are always at the viewer’s eye level.
My measuring hashmarks
Next, I do that nifty measuring thing that involves holding my pencil in front of my eye and using it as a ruler. Since the height is already determined by my angled lines, I just need to figure out how wide the door is relative to the height. I figured the door is a little less than half as wide as it was tall. Later, I’ll find out just how off I was.
This shape is called a trapezoid, and there’s an easy way to find its center. Just draw an X from corner to corner as shown. That’s very useful information in perspective drawing, because it helps you place windows, doors, roof peaks, etc. correctly. Make a habit of finding it.
And here’s a quick-and-dirty way to get the perspective right. Divide the two side lines into equal units—thirds, quarters, eighths, or whatever other units you can mark off by eye. Then just draw lines connecting the corresponding sides. The 1/3 point on the left gets attached to the 1/3 point on the right, etc. You’ll have the perspective rays right in one try.
I never get my measurements right on the first try, so I’ve learned to not fuss too much on my initial measurements. The great thing about repeating shapes is that your mistakes are easy to see. I realized the door was slightly too short and wide, so I adjusted them slightly. I also took out the free-hand curl on the right-bottom corner. Note how useful the center point is in placing the central spine of the door. I know that the moulding around the glass is the same width all around, so this is one of those repeating shapes I can use to check my work. (Of course, it’s going to be ever so slightly wider on the side closer to me.)
No, I can’t draw a straight line, not without a ruler.
My finished drawing. I would have enjoyed putting in all the details, and I could always be more careful, but I still have letters to write. You can finish it or not, to your heart’s content.
Next week, I’m going to have you draw a pie plate. That means you have to finish up the leftover pie before Monday. And a reminder, you can post your homework here. There are lots of people reading Monday Morning Art School; I’d love to see some drawings!
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
Trooper Meditating Beside a Grave, 1865, Winslow Homer, Joslyn Art Museum
Tomorrow is the celebration of the consecration of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA, where President Abraham Lincoln delivered what is now known as the Gettysburg Address. Since that day in 1863, when Union Soldiers marched with Lincoln from the bustling town to the cemetery, people have marked the occasion with a solemn parade on the Saturday closest to November 19.
At first, it was Civil War veterans themselves who organized the remembrance. As they petered out, it became reenactors, from both north and south, coming together to make a powerful statement of unity.
Union and Confederate veterans shake hands at the Assembly Tent at Gettysburg, US Library of Congress
This year will be no exception, but participants and visitors have been told to not bring backpacks or coolers to the parade route or other scheduled events. They’ve also been warned not to engage with ‘anti-Confederate groups’ that might be in the crowds on Saturday afternoon. This is because they’ve received a ‘credible threat,’ which is now being investigated by the FBI, state police and local cops.
Reenactors are the dramatists of history. They tend to be fascinated with specific periods, learning about them with great accuracy. I know specialists from the French and Indian War, the Revolution, nautical history, and the domestic economy. But the most visible reenactment community is the Civil War one.
Sharpshooter, 1863, Winslow Homer, Portland Museum of Art
They are, in my experience, history buffs with a strong creative streak, well-read and meticulous. They’re not donning the blue and grey to advance any kind of political agenda. They’re harmless. For many people, seeing a Civil War reenactment is a cheap and painless history lesson.
“A 2012 ACTA survey found that less than 20 [percent] of American college graduates could accurately identify the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation, less than half could identify George Washington as the American general at Yorktown, and only 42 [percent] knew that the Battle of the Bulge occurred during World War II,” reportedNational Review.
If Americans weren’t so woefully ignorant of their own history, could a book entitled Did Lincoln Own Slaves even exist? It was written by a college professor in response to his students asking dumb questions. That should indicate the depth of our cultural illiteracy problem.
Organizers have played down the threats to Civil War events. They don’t want to alarm the public unnecessarily. But as citizens, we need to calmly consider why they’re happening and what we ought to do about them.
Song of the Lark, 1876, Winslow Homer, Chrysler Museum of Art
“I believe it’s part of the monument issue, about rewriting history,” one reenactor told me. The parade isn’t about reenactors strutting their stuff, she added, but about recreating the historic parade itself.
“Truly, you can’t change history, only the story that’s told,” she noted.
Intimidation always threatens free speech. “I am afraid that the threats will make it so expensive for the local governments that we will no longer be welcome to put on the events. Then they win,” another reenactor told me.
The Civil War is something we should never revise, downplay or forget. Almost one in 30 American citizens died in the fighting.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote George Santayana. I’d add a coda to that: Willful ignorance is the worst offense possible against your fellow citizens. We all end up paying for it.
An amendment to the Rockland building code brings us full circle back to Pop Art.
Robert Indiana’s art sign is on the left and the commercial Strand sign on the right. Which is art? Photo courtesy of Coastal Maine Realty.
Heading into Rockland, ME from the south, you can’t help but notice Robert Indiana’smassive Electric Eat sign on the roof of the Farnsworth Art Museum. It’s been there since 2009 and has become a fixture of the local skyline.
The piece was initially commissioned for the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. Fair attendees immediately queued for the non-existent restaurant. After a day of frustration for all concerned, the sign went dark. It wasn’t relit again until it moved to Maine.
In its original setting, the piece blurred the line between art and life a little too effectively.
While the piece is unequivocally good for Rockland’s cityscape, it was also the bellwether for an issue recently facing Rockland’s town board: when is a sign a sign, and when is it art?
The question facing code enforcement officer John Root was whether a sign proposed for the front of Ada’s Kitchen constitutes art or advertising. It will read, simply, “East.”
Ada’s Kitchen is owned by Jen and Rick Rockwell. “There’s no such business as EAST,” Rick Rockwell told the Pen Bay Pilot. “EAST is a concept. It’s a general direction. The object of this piece is to celebrate the past of Rockland. It speaks about our proximity as being in the eastern part of our country, in the most eastern parts of our state.”
I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, 1928, Charles Demuth, Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is proto-pop.
The paper reported that Jen Rockwell told the City Council, “further north, toward her establishment, drivers start speeding up due to their perception that there’s nothing more to look at until the ferry terminal.” Well, now she’s talking about advertising. I’d have to disagree with her anyway, because one of my favorite signs in town is for the Rockland Café. That’s very close to their location.
But Ms. Rockwell was right that the visual concentration is weighted to the south end of town. She was, in essence, critiquing Main Street as a work of art in itself, and saying its balance is off.
Rockland has successfully recreated itself as the northeast’s art mecca. With art sales, I suppose, comes public art. Not all of it is going to be by artists of the stature of Robert Indiana, but a Code Enforcement Officer isn’t qualified to judge aesthetics. Nor, I suppose, does he want to.
Campbell’s Tomato Juice Box, 1964, Andy Warhol. Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on wood. Museum of Modern Art. This is full-blown Pop Art
He does need to assess whether the sign is properly sized, lighted and hung, and to be sure that it won’t swing loose in a Nor’easter or fall and crush visitors. To do that, he needs a specific code addressing art signs, and now he has one.
My own definition of art is that it’s something that’s useless for any practical purpose. The Rockland City Council came close to the same conclusion when it concluded that a sign is art if it doesn’t advertise the product being sold by the business. In other words, you can hang an art lobster up if your business is selling hand-knitted scarves, but you can’t hang a lobster up if you actually sell lobsters.
Then one looks at the sign for the Strand Theatre and realizes that it’s as much an art statement as anything on Main Street, even though it advertises their specific business. That brings us full circle to Robert Indiana’s work and the whole Pop Art movement of the 1960s. Their goal was to blur the line between mass culture and fine art. And now it is done.