When bad things happen

It’s not what you say or what you do, but how you make people feel that matters the most.
Damariscotta Overlook, by Carol L. Douglas.

Yesterday started auspiciously enough, with clearing skies and a warm sun. I was potting around in my studio when I noticed something awful. The rain on Saturday night had pounded torrentially on the roof above our heads. It also washed its way down an interior beam of my studio and across four of my watercolor landscapes. They were fixed with Krylon acrylic, and the result was a series of sticky driplines.

I reeled. The damaged work represented a quarter of my oeuvre for this residency. “I bet you feel like crying,” Clif Travers said, sympathetically. If he’d looked closer, he’d have seen tears pricking at the corners of my eyes.
Well, there was nobody to blame and nothing I could think of to do about it. My studio space at the Fiore Art Center has a spanking new roof, door and siding. Water must have migrated along a beam from elsewhere and down the wall. This was freak damage, which can happen anywhere, at any time. Furthermore, our work—as precious as it is to us personally—is still just stuff. It was a rotten experience, but by no means did it rise to the level of disaster.
Damariscotta Lake, by Carol L. Douglas. I’ve finished this residency with eight pairs of landscapes, one in oils, one in watercolor.
“It’s no use crying over spilt milk,” I told myself sternly, and set off to paint.
Paint is a perverse mistress. I’ve struggled for a month in oils (which are my primary medium) while watercolor has flowed much more smoothly from my brush. Here on this last day, in the grip of distress, the paint flowed freely from my brush. In fact, it went so smoothly that when Anna Abaldo of Maine Farmland Trust contacted me about the damaged paintings, I declined to talk. Why drag myself back to earth when my work was going so well?
Clouds over Teslin Lake, by Carol L. Douglas. This was painted in 2016, and is quite small.
When we eventually met up, she—with very few words but immense compassion—made me feel infinitely better. She has a plan to deal with the damage, which is in itself reassuring. More importantly, the experience cemented my already-high confidence in her character. “At the end of the day it’s not what you say or what you do, but how you make people feel that matters the most,” said Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.
Point Prim, watercolor, by Carol L. Douglas. This was painted in 2017, with a pretty bad head, I’m afraid. That’s all Poppy Balser’s and Bobbi Heath’s fault.
Later that evening, Lois Dodd—who’s a personal idol and Maine’s greatest living oil painter—came for supper. I’m totally star-struck around her, and can’t think of a thing to say. However, she’s a lovely, warm, articulate lady. She critiqued one of my paintings. That’s an experience I’ll treasure.
David Deweyslipped me a small notebook before our meal. It contains a series of charts that were the basis of Joseph Fiore’s color exercises. They’re little mathematical puzzles, and they fascinate me. Today I’ll stop at a drugstore and buy some graph paper, and tomorrow—my painting finished for this residency—I’ll sit quietly and try to puzzle them out. I couldn’t ask for a better end to a lovely month.

Protecting art damaged by Hurricane Harvey

Yesterday I received a note from a reader in La Porte, Texas, one of the areas hard hit by Hurricane Harvey. “Any tips on taking care of a wet oil painting? It is on a wood frame and is lying flat. We took it out of the large external wooden frame and it seems to be drying. There is not a backing on the canvas.”
Surf on Saco Bay, by Carol L. Douglas
I turned to Lauren R. Lewis of Lewis Conservation Services in S. Thomaston, ME, for an answer. Here is her advice:
As the flood waters recede and people return to what remains of their possessions, many difficult decisions need to be made and challenges will need to be addressed. While the first impulse would probably be to contact professionals to deal with your artwork, books, photographs and other keepsakes, local conservators will likely be overwhelmed with the amount that needs to be done.
Perhaps next you would turn to the internet, but I would encourage caution when reading advice on how to deal with your priceless possessions. There is much information on the web that might actually cause further damage. Where, then, should you turn for advice? I am attaching some articles, links, and practical advice that I hope will be helpful in your salvage efforts.
Take care of yourself first. Mold growth and toxins in the flood waters risk your health, so please use safety gear (gloves, respirator, etc.). This cannot be stressed enough.
Link to keeping yourself safe after a flood:
The most important first aid that can be given to flood damaged items is to remove any water and to dry them. Lay things flat, preferably on a moisture-wicking surface like blotter paper or even on a platform made of screening, so that air can reach top and bottom of the item. Use fans to move the air, but make sure there is no loose paint that might be lifted by air movement. The goal is slow, even drying. Don’t use hairdryers. Don’t try to flatten photographs before they are dry as the surfaces will be easily damaged when wet. Keep paintings on stretchers if possible so they dry with even tension.
Once the items are dry they can be reviewed by a conservator for further treatment.
National Heritage Responders is a group of conservators trained to deal with disasters. An article in Museum of Modern Art blog deals with contemporary paintings damaged in flood.
Stay safe and please share with anyone that could use this information!