Two men look out through the same bars:
One sees the mud, and one the stars.
(Rev. Frederick Langbridge)
Chambered Nautilus, 1956, Tempera on panel,
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
I spent the week in Maine, reconnoitering for my summer workshops, and generally considering how I can best shed the nautilus shell of my current life. After all, if you look at that shell, more and more compartments are… not empty, but collecting dust.
Having just visited the Farnsworth again, I’m reminded of Andrew Wyeth’s painting, “Chambered Nautilus.” (The Farnsworth has many lovely studies by Wyeth that demonstrate just how meticulously he prepared each of his paintings. Any serious painter would benefit from studying these drawings, and I strongly urge you to visit the Farnsworth and spend time with them—in particular the studies for Maidenhair
“Chambered Nautilus” shows Wyeth’s mother-in-law gazing out her bedroom windows during her final illness. Initially, Wyeth considered using a conch shell. “It is believed that someone just brought the nautilus shell and he preferred it, but I like to think that it was symbolic,” Erin Monroe of the Wadsworth Atheneum told
the Hartford Courant. “He often designated objects as stand-ins for people, and a nautilus has all these chambers. His mother-in-law was confined to a chamber and couldn’t leave.”
Wyeth himself had this to say
about the painting: “I did the picture right there in the room…and she would talk to me about her childhood in Connecticut. She was a great woman, one of those people who never grow old.”
But of course we all eventually do
grow old, and the reality is that eventually most of us end up with our worldly goods pared down to a nursing home bed and a recliner. Still, before that happens, “…I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep.”
Most of us do a pretty good job of blooming where we’re planted, and my family has been no exception. We came to Rochester for work, and we’ve had a good run here. But I have always used it as a launching pad. In the earliest days, I traveled back to the Buffalo area to see my design clients, and after my kids were old enough, I started traveling to NYC to take classes, traveling around the East Coast to show paintings and traveling elsewhere to paint and teach.
|We thought it might be a lot of fun for students, but it just trades one
nautilus shell for another.
By all rational standards, 2013 is a mad time to think of picking up sticks. We’re still in the throes of economic malaise, I’m definitely getting older, and we still have a kid in school. But there is an insistent refrain in my head: “It’s now or never.”
And so I debate options: move to an art town and open a gallery? Buy a small house in Deer Isle and turn out work that I in turn sell to other galleries? Do I even need a permanent home? With that last idea in mind I stopped in Amsterdam, NY and looked at trailers and motor homes. I was intrigued, but when I got back to Rochester I realized that I do like my own bed.
Where does this all end? I don’t know. As my pal Loren said last week, “The options are infinite.”
“True,” I answered, “but the parking is limited.” Which is not exactly true, but our time here on earth certainly is. And I want to spend as little of the rest of it as possible dusting the inside of my chambered nautilus shell.