Saturday, May 16, 2015

Plein Air Painting in Farm Country

The Mountain Maryland Plein Air Competition takes place in two weeks. I've been getting out everyday and practicing, studying and observing. I'm nervous, there are some real contenders, but I want this so badly that I have to get good at it. Eventually.

Along with my dogged perseverance and determination, there are sweet perks to this genre. One is being outdoors and becoming very cognizant of surrounding sounds and movement. Rustling woods behind me (always gets my attention), tones of bird calls and the light whisper of a breeze in the grasses. I go out alone - a gift I give myself.
Set up in a cornfield. It has since been plowed under.
For the past two weeks I've painted old abandoned barns in farm country not too far from my home. I try to be respectful and not trespass on anyone's property. At almost every place I set up, the landowners make an inquisitive visit to see what the heck I'm doing and who the heck I am. After feeling assured that my intentions are safe (I hand out business cards), they will spend some time chatting about the history of the farm. This information is priceless...and...these local family farms are rapidly disappearing.

Spook Hollow Road, oil on panel, 8"x10" plein air.
Most of the families lease out the farms and property while they engage in other careers. Above is Spook Hollow Road and I'm told it's so named for a haunted farm that was in the vicinity. Tired farm buildings are to the left of the road (not in my painting). The crumbling house was the birthplace of the owner's father who worked the farm for 89 years. The house was built on an existing foundation dating to the 1700's. The owner told me that when he was a child (he's about my age - 60's) they would plant a personal vegetable garden behind the house and when tilling the soil would unearth relics from the Revolutionary War such as buckshot, coins dated in the 1700's, tools and other ancient artifacts. Can you imagine?
Baker Farm, oil on panel, 8"x10", plein air
The Baker Farm is still very much a working farm but the barns above are no longer in use. The owner explained the endeavors of his relatives who work several large acre tracts in the area. That's the thing - the close-knit ties within generations of families that I find so fascinating. This particular owner works a day job as an engineer. As we spoke, very large and very modern machinery tilled the field across the road.
Dairy Farm, oil on panel, 8"x10", plein air.
I didn't have a chance to meet the owners of the dairy farm. They were too busy tilling a nearby field as trucks and equipment came and went. The buildings were a blend of old and new and the barns were full of holsteins. I felt sorry for the cows, wondering if they ever grazed out in the sunshine. But I respect the lifestyle, it's harsh and demanding and at least there are plenty of birds and bugs everywhere - unlike the vast GMO crops I experienced in southern Arkansas. But that's another story...

Pondering all this, a hawk flew overhead with two crows in angry pursuit. As one crow dive bombed the hawk, the hawk spun a complete 360 to thwart the antagonist. Was this some type of metaphor for this disappearing aspect of American life?

I'm no philosopher,

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