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A Sweet Good-Bye... with a Story Behind It

I said good-bye to a dear friend this morning…. That was how I felt as my painting drove away to its new home. Each painting becomes a dear friend because so much time is spent in creating it, from carefully observing details, to contemplating a path for conveying my feeling about the scene into a 2-D space that will communicate to others, to choosing my palette, to working out the best process and techniques. Hours are spent alone with the piece and it truly becomes a dear friend. I've also heard artists refer to a painting as a child and understand that as well as it comes from us as a sort of offspring. However, as much as I feel like each painting springs forth as a part of my soul, it also seems to take on a life of its own with its own personality. Our children also do that and then they become our friends. So, child and friend each painting becomes. And then we say good-bye.

This one was especially sentimental because it was the first painting I did after beginning my new life in West Virginia. Whenever I’ve shown this piece, I find that people are always amused by the story of how it came about, so I’d like to share that with you.

When I married Ray and moved to West Virginia in 2012, he had already been living here for a year and had scoped out many beautiful places that he wanted to show me. We’d go for drives and I loved the beauty of this state. One day he turned down a very narrow road called White Water Avenue. He said he thought I’d like it, and after several scary curves (because of the road being so narrow), we rounded a curve to the left and on our right saw the most beautiful historic homestead. Ray slowed the car down, knowing that I would like to take this scene in. He knew that I was looking for inspiration for paintings and that I loved history and cemeteries and he had an idea that this might inspire me. He was right. I determined that I would paint it from the first time I saw it.

Over the next few months, I took several photos for potential paintings during our many hikes and camping trips. However, as I was thinking about what scene to paint first, my mind kept coming back to this homestead cemetery. In our travels around the state, I had observed that small family cemeteries are very common in this state. At first, I wanted to stop at them all, and we did stop at several of them. I’ve always loved old cemeteries; something about the history and lives they represent along with the peacefulness has always attracted me. So, after seeing how they dotted the landscape here, they meant even more to me as part of West Virginia’s heritage. As fall was beginning to set in and the leaves began to change, I watched the weather forecast for a clear morning. I really wanted to get photos at sunrise because of the dramatic shadows the light creates at that time of day. One evening I announced to Ray that I was going to drive out Whitewater Avenue before sunrise to get photos. He said he’d be my driver, so early the next morning we were off.

This was the view across the road from our destination when we arrived just before the sun rose.

As we pulled up to the driveway, the gate at the end was closed and locked. Well, that wasn’t going to deter me. I was on a mission! I think Ray might have been a little surprised when I told him I was going to crawl under the fence and find a way to the cemetery hill. He decided to wait for me at the car. After crawling under the fence, I climbed a hill and disappeared into a little woods. Ray tells me he was worried when he heard gunshots in the distance – we knew nothing about who owned this property, but I emerged on the other side of the woods at the edge of the cemetery. Oh, it was so beautiful! There was a mist rising in the distance just in front of the family home. I took several photos from several angles, and, as the sun rose and the lighting changed, I took more. (I wish I had more of the pictures to show you but they were lost when my computer had a bad fall. The couple that I have are scans of printed photos that I was using for reference.)

Back in my studio, I laid out my composition. I changed the scene slightly by moving the old, rusty, iron fence closer to the gravestones to be included in my painting – they call that “artist’s prerogative.” Since it had been quite a while since I’d worked on a painting of this scale, it took me several months. I had to dig back into my mind for what I had learned about the process and techniques to use. It challenged me and I loved being immersed in this peaceful scene for the process. It will always be my friend no matter where it lives.

Fun to see an old Facebook post about the process

I originally titled the painting “Cemetery Sunrise” which I thought had a ring to it and I still like that title. However, I had just been juried into Tamarack (a prestigious gallery known throughout our state) and really wanted to enter it into an exhibit there. One of the requirements for acceptance into the exhibits is that the piece must fit the theme that the gallery has chosen, and the first exhibit coming up for me was over the Christmas season with the theme of Wonderland Tea Party. How in the world was this painting going to fit that theme? Well, the prospectus said they were looking for pieces that were fanciful, quirky, and mysterious…. I thought of a way to make it fit. I changed the title to “Spirit of Seasons Past” and quoted Charles Dickens in my entry form. It was accepted!

Tamarack is also a conference center and while my painting was on exhibit there, Ray’s new boss, Ami, who was attending a conference walked through the gallery and told us that she really liked my painting and that she also loves to walk through old cemeteries. I enjoyed meeting someone who appreciated them as much as I did and she became a friend over the years that Ray worked for her. Through the years, the painting has received many complements, won awards in different exhibits, and I’ve sold many reproductions of it in the way of prints and note-cards. I think that many people think fondly of family cemeteries and appreciate the history and meaning they represent. I am not as gifted with words as I am with visual art and just loved how former English teacher, Susan Johnson interpreted this painting in her column following the Mountain Color Art Show of 2016. Here is a photo a portion of the article for you to read.

Portion of article by Susan Johnson in the Nicholas Chronicle, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016

Although many people expressed their enjoyment in viewing the painting, for some reason investing in a painting of a cemetery to hang in their homes is a challenge. In fact, that’s what I was told by the owner of the property when I had the opportunity to meet her. That’s a fun story too…. Here, I’ll tell you quickly:

One day a lady came to my studio to purchase something; she saw the painting on the wall and asked me if she could take a picture of it because the property owner was her friend and she wanted to show her. (Small world for sure) I said that would be fine as long as I wouldn’t get in trouble for having trespassed on their property in order to paint it. It turns out the owners are super nice people who live out of state. The home has been in their family for years and they now use it for a vacation home. After Nancy showed them the photo, they invited me to bring it out to the home so they could see it in person and I could get a close-up view of the house. They gave us a tour of their beautiful home and invited me to come and walk through the cemetery any time I wanted to in the future. Susan (the owner) told me that she liked my painting style but didn’t want a painting of the cemetery. She said she would like a painting of the house, though, and asked me if I would paint it using bright spring greens in the landscape. (To Koontz Farm in Spring in my gallery - just click and scroll down.)

Coming into the back of the house, The view from an upstairs balcony out to the graveyard, Us with the painting in the dining room of the house

So, you see, Spirit of Seasons Past has so many stories around it along with the fact of it being my friend, that it has a special place in my heart. I was thinking about contacting a history museum because it seemed like it could have a good place there. However, it is my friend and I wanted to be sure it had a loving home. So I waited.

If you know me, you know that Jesus is my best friend and I ask Him to guide me every day. Well, a little bit before Christmas, I was kind of concerned that my Christmas sales would be low because the show I normally did wasn’t fitting into our schedule and I’d been busy working on a large commission and hadn’t taken the time to promote print sales or create a calendar as I had done previous years. So, I asked Jesus to give me an idea of how I could create some compensation for my work at this time of year. When I ask Him for help, He usually answers me with definite words in my head that are so very different from what I would be thinking that I know it’s from Him. Three people who had expressed interest in buying different paintings instantly popped into my head. One of them was Ami who had loved my cemetery painting, but I hadn’t seen her in at least a couple of years since we had moved. I thought it might be a good idea to contact her, but I put it off. So, my loving God had to remind me. About a week later, Ray was in a meeting in Charleston and guess who else was there and ended up sitting next to him? In their conversation, Ami brought up my painting and mentioned how much she liked it. Ray came home and told me about it and I laughed and thanked God for the reminder.

I contacted Ami and made her a deal because I wanted my treasured painting to have a good home. Her response was immediate acceptance with the comment, “I adore that painting.” That just gives me tingles because it means so much to me that my beloved friend is going to have a good home.

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