Into the Next Phase

Painting at the Taylors’ property outside of Dubois

For four years, I wrote between 2,000 and 5,000 words a week for PleinAir Today–usually closer to 5,000. Ten stories, 51 weeks a year, no vacations, no breaks, lots of reportage. I didn’t have time for anything else, but it fit our household rhythm, for the most part. And we certainly found the money useful.

I quit in March, and life has been much better, if a little scary without that income.

Now I can announce that I’m writing a book on the history of visual art in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. It will book me up for a year, and then I hope to slide right into another book project.

The change is gratifying to me, but rather than feeling jubilant, I merely feel free to accomplish what I’ve known I could do. A full book is something I’ve never done (let’s ignore the horrific sci-fi novel I wrote in 2002), but I feel pretty good about my abilities.

Certainly the prospect of visiting the Dubois area of Wyoming a few more times in the next months buoys my spirit. My wife is thrilled for me, and well, I guess this is just a happy post. Ω

Renewal in Maine

ahhhhh, Maine!

Every once in a while, fortune truly smiles upon me. An example is meeting Mary Erickson, an artist, a connector, a lovely person. I met Mary at a painting event in the Adirondacks, and we got along well, in part because most people get along well with Mary, and in part because we shared a love of birds, nature, and painting.

Mary likes painting Maine, but she likes to do it with friends. So she started renting a house called Nanatuck outside of Port Clyde, and inviting painting friends to stay for a week and share the costs and cooking. This expanded into six weeks, and a rotating cast of characters.

We had lobster for dinner one night. Tough life.

It’s impossible to describe how Mary manages to stay out of people’s business, encourage their endeavors, smother any emerging drama, foster fellowship, and in general create an environment that is productive, fun, and drenched in beauty. For a week at the end of August, I was a part of the Nanatuck tribe–there to write about artists, but also to be a part of the whole experience.

Painting-wise, I was a guppy among whales. Don Demers was there, and I was reminded how no matter how good a photo of his work may be, it is even better in person. I don’t know of another marine artist who is better at capturing water, sky, and atmosphere. Everyone else was also represented by high-end galleries and enjoying considerable success with their art.

The Happy Clam’s lobster roll, with sides of red cabbage and some amazing, turmeric-tinged spätzle.

Unless you drive to a bigger town to shop, you will find that chicken costs more than lobster in Port Clyde. So what is a hungry artist to do? I sampled lobster rolls from various shacks, and came away the most impressed by the roll at The Happy Clam. I must admit that the delicious spätzle that was an option for a side dish swayed my opinion somewhat. On my last full day in Maine, I came close to a lobster hat trick–I ate leftover pasta with lobster for breakfast, and had a lobster roll for lunch. Alas, no lobster at dinner. Tough luck, huh?

Marsha Massih made this incredible rice dish. I wanted fourths!

Maine. The ocean is manganese. The rocks are volcanic, with folds and layers forming ridged granite with much personality. Fog coming off the ocean is grey and cool. Cormorants, American goldfinch, mergansers, gulls, and blue jays are common. Kingfishers, osprey, cedar waxwings, eiders, Canada geese, and chipmunks abound. Pines turn the landscape a deep dark green. The sun can be brutal. The people are friendly. The blueberries are small and flavorful.

Daniel Ambrose sketching on the shore

My first painting was pretty bad. I was just getting used to the colors. I was trying to figure out how to get verticals into the vistas. The weather was so changeable, and the tide was dramatic and seemed quick.

Soaking my feet at Drift Inn Beach

I soon realized that paintings of any size at all would require two painting sessions at the same time of day. Two of my paintings were completed that way. I painted one triangle painting 80% on site, and it might be my favorite of the trip. On my last day at Nanatuck, I started a painting that went nowhere. But when I finished it up back home in NYC, it turned out well.

“Marshall Point Triangles,” 2017, acrylic, 6x8ish

The renewal of old friendships and the development of new ones, the art-making, the food, the beauty of Maine, the simplicity of our days were fantastic, but the most important aspect of my week at Nanatuck was being Bob Bahr. At home, I am Daddy. I am a husband. I am a writer known only on the phone and online. I am a painter who posts to Facebook and Etsy. At Nanatuck, I was a person, relatively unknown, free to be me, free to be social or antisocial, free to be generous and gregarious or reclusive and resting, free to experiment or to paint traditionally, free to let my personality come out. I am loved at home, but I am old news, seen in one way. Being around supportive people, creative people with little experience with me, allows me to reestablish what makes me, me. I don’t know if this makes much sense, but I can’t stress how important it is.

So, thanks, Mary.

Painting at the Anderson Farm

 

Reporting From Dubois

Reporting From Dubois

While doing research in Wyoming, I reported on this weeklong event, which was great for the participating kids–and extremely edifying and helpful to me. The Boys & Girls Club of Dubois, along with Traci Jo Isaly, put together a team of instructors that included local historian Stephen V. Banks, backcountry guides and Sheep Eater experts Meredith and Tory Taylor, geologist Johanna Thompson. Tom Lucas, a Dubois artist and arguably the premier craftsman of traditional Shoshone items, taught drawing. Isaly guided the roughly dozen kids through the making of figures that explored local history and their own inner histories. The Susan Kathleen Black Foundation underwrote the program, which is called PLACE (People Land and Community Education). It’s programs like this that make me proud to be a part of SKB.

A Sense of PLACE: SKB and the Boys & Girls Club of Dubois Team Up

Intensive Immersive Wyoming Trip

Intensive Immersive Wyoming Trip

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

I just returned from a great trip to Wyoming, where I was working on two writing projects. I had two tasks–to report on an event sponsored by the SKB foundation, and to do research for a writing project on the history of visual art in the Wind River Mountains and their adjacent valleys.

Wyoming feels like home to me, especially Dubois. I started most days with a 5×7 painting, often before 6 a.m. My research took me to Cody, Jackson Hole, Dubois, and Pinedale, and along the way, I visited friends, ranches, restaurants, and a little patch of land called Yellowstone National Park. The Grand Tetons impressed as usual, the wildlife made my heart beat faster, and the research was fruitful. Most days I cooked my own food, as I was staying at a friend’s vacation home.

Here’s the lowdown, by the numbers:

• 3,700 miles in the air going from NYC to Wyoming and back
• 1,197 miles in a rental car driving around the state of Wyoming
• 11 days
• 14 in-person interviews
• 1,174 photos
• 3 videos
• 6,620 words of note-taking
• 13 paintings

Work like this makes me feel alive.

 

The 5x7s I painted in acrylic while in Wyoming. (I gave away the 13th one.)