Freedom from want

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.

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.

Shiner, 1953, Norman Rockwell

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:

Freedom of Speech

Freedom from Want

Freedom from Fear

Freedom of Worship

This was originally published in 2017. Have a very blessed holiday!

Freedom from want

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.
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.
The Runaway, 1958, Norman Rockwell
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.
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.
Shiner, 1953, Norman Rockwell
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:
Freedom of Speech
Freedom from Want
Freedom from Fear
Freedom of Worship
This was originally published in 2017. Have a very blessed holiday!

Our blessings

Roosevelt called for freedom worldwide. Norman Rockwell’s paintings were so distinctly American, however, that they came to represent us.

Freedom from Want, c. 1941-45, Norman Rockwell, courtesy National Archives at College Park

I had a painting teacher who hated Norman Rockwell. She was in tune with the art establishment of her time, which derided him as ‘just an illustrator.’ In fact, Rockwell understood painting just fine. Very few artists of any time could have balanced the plane of the table in Freedom from Want so elegantly.

Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms were meant to illustrate a passage from President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union address of January 6, 1941. Nazi Germany occupied most of Western Europe, and the outlook for western culture looked grim. America was still steadfastly isolationist. Roosevelt exhorted his fellow Americans to think beyond our own borders. His Four Freedoms were universal rights of mankind, and he felt an obligation for America to help preserve them in Europe.
Freedom of Speech, c. 1941-45, Norman Rockwell, courtesy National Archives at College Park
Norman Rockwell’s paintings, however, were so idiosyncratically American that they have come to represent us. Freedom from Want is now irrevocably entwined with the American holiday season, which kicks off tomorrow.
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’s legacy as a painter, study that table. He’s as brilliant with the whites as Joaquín Sorolla, but in a cooler, more American way.
Freedom of Worship, c. 1941-45, Norman Rockwell, courtesy National Archives at College Park
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.”
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.
Freedom from Fear, c. 1941-45, Norman Rockwell, courtesy National Archives at College Park
We’re so swamped in bad news that it’s easy to forget how blessed we are. “No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy,” wrote Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen. Americans are particularly blessed with freedom of speech: in 2015, the Pew Research Center polled 38 countries around the world in 2015 and found that Americans are more tolerant of free speech than other nations.
Fear is tough to measure as it’s subjective. However, attacks on American soil have been blessedly few; most of our wounds are self-inflicted. And we are free to worship where we want, and to have lively debates in court and the media when religious rights and other rights intersect.
If you say grace tomorrow, you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by President Roosevelt all those years ago.
Have a very blessed holiday! (There will be no blog tomorrow.)

Freedom from want

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:
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom from Want
  • Freedom from Fear
  • Freedom of Worship

Have a very blessed holiday!

In praise of ships’ cooks

The American Eagle's stove.

The American Eagle’s stove.
A lot of my artist friends spent the weekend doing holiday painting sales. I’ve done this myself. Not everyone wants to go to the mall and brawl, but the idea of a National Day of Shopping is infectious. Selling paintings on Thanksgiving Weekend works.
However, I took the weekend off to celebrate in the Berkshires with family. Having taken no exercise and eaten way too well, I find myself going into the holiday home stretch six pounds heavier. I blame that on having a beautifully-appointed kitchen and way too many cooks.
Visitors often pronounce my kitchen in Maine poorly laid-out and equipped. There is only one work surface. It is near neither the stove nor refrigerator. I don’t care; it’s a light, bright space with running water and electricity. That makes it a great improvement over many people’s lot in life, and better than some places I’ve lived.
“Stewards of an Ocean Liner Above and Below Decks,” The Booklovers Magazine, May 1904.

“Stewards of an Ocean Liner Above and Below Decks,” The Booklovers Magazine, May 1904.
Last June I sailed on the American Eagle out of Rockland.  My purpose was painting, but I naturally gravitated—as most passengers seemed to—to the galley. As I made pies last Wednesday, my thoughts kept returning to how hard each task would be on board a boat. Imagine, for example, trying to put a raw pumpkin pie into a hot oven when the whole room is moving.
I have a thing for woodstoves, and the heart of the American Eagle’s galley is its Atlantic Fisherman woodstove, made in Nova Scotia. It has a rail and spring system to stop pots from flinging themselves off the stovetop in heavy weather. It also is connected to the boiler that supplies hot water to the showers.
Otherwise it works like a normal woodstove. It was fired up each morning at 4:30 by cook Matthew Weeks. In addition to regular meals for passengers and crew, he and Sarah Collins turned out pies and cakes.
Today my biggest concern is to keep my weight under control. At the time the Eagle was built, Americans were not worried about stoutness; they were concerned with acquiring, processing and storing enough food to power their highly-physical lifestyles. That was as true on boats as on land.
Pies have been known since antiquity, with both the Greeks and Romans having written recipes for their pastries. The medieval coffyn was a great way to make food in the most primitive conditions; it can be baked with a minimum of fuss and you can throw almost anything into it. Most importantly, it’s a convenience food; you can take it with you.
1870s galley stove on board the USS Constitution, Photo of the galley stove taken between 1897 and 1905 by Thomas E. Marr. (USS Constitution Museum)

1870s galley stove on board the USS Constitution, Photo of the galley stove taken between 1897 and 1905 by Thomas E. Marr. (USS Constitution Museum)
In our culture, it’s a minor miracle when one can actually make a pie from scratch, never mind that it’s done with a food processor, mixer, electric stove and refrigerator. Now imagine doing that in a cramped, rolling galley, with very little room to maneuver, and an oven in which you must control the temperature by tossing blocks of fuel in.
At least Sarah and Matthew don’t generally need to worry about scurvy.  Roughly 30 million people bobbed across the ocean to the Americas between 1836 and 1914, and all of them needed to eat on the way. To travel that route under sail took weeks, sometimes months. With the advent of the steamship, the time was steadily cut down. By the 1950s it was done in about a week.
My own grandfather came to this country in 1919 on the ocean liner S.S. Caserta, which had recently demobbed as a troop boat. It was capable of carrying 1200 passengers at a clip. Even at that size, the cooks were still working with woodstoves, using food and fuel they’d stowed before their voyage.
I tip my hat to the humble ships’ cooks who fed our ancestors. Without them, none of us would be here today.

Holiday multitasking

"The Cliff under Owls Head," is among six paintings heading to the Kelpie Gallery today.

“The Cliff under Owls Head,” is among six paintings heading to the Kelpie Gallery today.
I have been the assistant to some fine chefs over the years. I usually get fired. “Needs a high degree of supervision,” said one. “Too slow,” said another. So it was with relief that I allowed my ServSafe food service manager certification to expire this year.  (Why I had it is a whole ‘nother story, which I shan’t tell you until the rest of the gang are safely rounded up.) It’s of little use to know that potato starch is a potential food allergen when you have no idea what to do with the stuff in the first place.
Nonetheless, as I sometimes huff, I can bake; it’s just straight-up high-school chemistry. I just don’t do it often. This means I get elected to make the pies at Thanksgiving. Well, that and the fact that nobody wants me in the kitchen on the actual day.
I also make cranberry chutney because the recipe came from my mother’s good friend. Nobody admits to actually liking it, but it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.
I seem to have turned into a matriarch, something I have a hard time reconciling with my youthful sex appeal. Nevertheless, there appear to be some 18 of us gathering in Massachusetts. That means a lot of pies, and I have to make them early.
Paintings waiting on the dining room table.

Paintings rising on the dining room table. No, wait, that’s bread dough that does that.
I also need to deliver some paintings to the Kelpie Gallery in S. Thomaston. Neither pies nor paintings spring fully formed from one’s imagination; they require actual time and effort, darn it. So the question was how to meet both obligations, and the answer was, imperfectly.
By evening, I had six paintings on my dining room table, which were not the complete inventory she asked for. One of them is putting up quite a fight. It’s been sent to time-out until it sees the wisdom of not changing its value structure in mid-painting. The rest look great, and I’m reminded again how a fresh set of eyes see new things in your work.
Pie crusts make me far more nervous than painting. My solution is to become extremely methodical, measuring the lard and butter into individual sets over here, and the flour and salt into individual bowls over there. The trouble is, my bedtime is 7 PM. My ancient food processor knew I was tired and was throwing tantrums. I called in backup: my unflappable husband. He measured while I laid hands on the dough and pronounced it good.
Pies in progress

Pie crusts in progress.
Then I went to bed and debated whether eight pies is really enough for 18 people. This is a recessive Italian gene. One can hide it, just as one can straighten one’s hair, but it still surfaces at the least opportune times.
That had better be enough, I told myself grimly. I need to bake those pies, load our car, and head down the road, stopping only to drop off the paintings and the dog (hopefully in the right places). Have a lovely and blessed holiday, my friends.

White knuckle travel

The wreck of the SS Ethie is strewn across the beach at Martin's Point.

The wreckage of the SS Ethie is strewn across the beach at Martin’s Point.
The steamer SS Ethie set sail from Cow Head, on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, on December 10, 1919. Although Captain Edward English knew that some kind of storm was building, it was the last trip of the season, and he was under pressure to get his passengers home for Christmas.
Within a few hours, the storm blew up into a blizzard. The Ethie was making no progress, burning almost all of her coal just staying off the rocky ledges and bars of the coastline. Captain English knew his ship was lost; his priority now was to get the 92 people on board to shore alive.
Number one thing I am thankful for tonight: I am not on that freighter.
Number one thing I am thankful for tonight: I am not on that freighter.
He beached the Ethie just north of Sally’s Cove, in one of the few inlets not barred by reefs or cliffs. His crew sent out a rope, which was picked up by a local Newfoundland dog. A breeches buoy was rigged up to carry the passengers and crew ashore, including a baby girl who rode to shore in a mail sack. There were no fatalities.
The dangers of the Great White North are based in the land itself, in its impossible cold and empty vastness. On the Atlantic Coast, the sea is the force that controls lives. The remains of the Ethie are still strewn along the beach and I wanted to paint it.
Stunted trees in the Gros Morne National Forest. This is the beginning of the Appalachian mountains.

Stunted trees in the Gros Morne National Forest. This is the beginning of the Appalachian mountains.
I hit the road from Botwood before dawn. The remnants of Hurricane Matthew had confounded expectations and run up the Atlantic Coast. Our ferry was canceled. We had an extra 24 hours to use as we pleased—as long as what we pleased was possible in a storm.
Studded snow tires are like an arms race. They work, but they also chew ruts into the road. The water runs into them, causing water to pool and freeze, creating more potholes and ice. The ruts have plagued me since Anchorage, as they make steering difficult.
They also fill with water in heavy rain. In the half light of a storm, they are difficult to track. After several hours, my hands were knotted around the wheel.
The shoreline ranges from ledges to cliffs.

The shoreline ranges from ledges to cliffs.
By the time we reached the Ethie, it was clear I was going to do no painting. Needles of sleet were driven by high winds. I took reference photos and debated my next move.
My friend Annette found me a haven with one of her many relatives. Mary wanted to push farther north to see the Viking encampment at L’Anse aux Meadows. What a dilemma: eat Thanksgiving pie with nice people in warmth and comfort, or push through another 350 km to see a desolate and windswept headland in a storm?
Need you even ask?
It got steadily worse as we went north. Sleet was followed by snow. We saw our first sanders of the season. The wind blew so hard that even the potholes had little waves on them. Crosswinds blew our car sideways. And I learned that hydroplaning and cruise control were a difficult combination.
Trawlers at a boatyard in Port Saunders, Newfoundland.

Trawlers at a boatyard in Port Saunders, Newfoundland.
We stopped in Port aux Choix for our Canadian Thanksgiving dinner: gas station hot dogs and coffee. The clerk, a very lovely woman, discouraged us from heading any farther north. “There’s a lovely B&B down the street,” she suggested.
We slid into St. Anthony behind a sander. Still, I had to put the SUV in 4WD to park it.

We slid into St. Anthony behind a sander. Still, I had to put the SUV in 4WD to park it.
We arrived in St. Anthony right behind a sander. We’re drinking bottled water because of the storm, but otherwise we’re warm and cozy. Tomorrow we will head to L’Anse aux Meadows. Mary is going to tromp around and consider the Vikings. If I’m lucky, the wind will slow down and I can paint.
But I’m absolutely certain we won’t be home by Wednesday.

Turkeys

He was a Friend of Mine, Jack Owen, watercolor on paper. A demon cat for all you cat fanciers on the internet.
Happy Thanksgiving!

I don’t feel like working any more than you do, but if you’re bored, here are some turkeys from the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA). I’m proud (and relieved) to tell you that no student of mine has a chance of ever being featured in their gallery.

 

Waterfall, Anonymous, oil on canvas. Best thing about this? It came from a flea market in Buffalo.

Trees, wheelbarrow, and birds, Anonymous, oil on artboard. I’m almost certain a tree that big would tip that wheelbarrow right over.
The Picnic, Anonymous. Move over, Manet. Le déjeuner sur l’herbe has been pwned. 

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Freedom from want

Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell, 1943
This Thanksgiving Day the average American will consume more than 4500 calories, accordingto the Calorie Control Council. I’m all for eating right, but I think the capacity of our nation to throw an annual bash is an unequivocally good thing.
Thanksgiving is the most universal of American holidays—celebrated by people of all religions, by new immigrants, and by wanderers like my friend Martha in Edinburgh, who has located a 6 kg. turkey and a circle of friends to share her holiday.
Freedom of Worship, Norman Rockwell, 1943
Perhaps that’s why Norman Rockwell chose it to illustrate Freedom from Want in his Four Freedoms series. The painting celebrates family, love, and happiness. Critics who call it an illustration of American overconsumption perhaps don’t notice that there is almost no food on that table. There is no wine; there is only water in plain, clear glasses. The black suit and white table are almost Puritan in effect. What abundance there is comes straight from the hosts’ hands, and the joy around the table comes from each other.
Freedom of Speech, Norman Rockwell, 1943
The arresting composition may be why this painting is one of Rockwell’s enduring favorites. Many of his covers for the Saturday Evening Post were done as one-dimensional knock-outs, with no perspective to speak of. This view from the bottom of the table, with its luminous white-on-white table set starkly against Grandpa’s black suit, is a masterwork of composition. (Rockwell said that it was the easiest of the four paintings.)
Freedom from Fear, Norman Rockwell, 1943
Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms in seven months’ time, during which he lost 15 lbs. They were based on President Franklin Roosevelt’s Annual Message to Congress in 1941, which were dark days for those in opposition to Nazi Germany. As we take time from holiday preparations, it’s worth contemplating Roosevelt’s words:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!