Winter scene on an island showing a red house and a boat house
That’s the description and this is the back story of a very recent painting commission (see more examples). Sometime in November I sent an email invitation to a bunch of my friends and acquaintances to come and see my work at the “I Made it! For the Holidays” market at Bakery Square. But lots of my friends don’t live in Pittsburgh so I included a link of what I was going to be featuring at the market, my custom house portraits, which need to be ordered ahead of time. For many people the holidays are a time when they think of commissioning me to paint one as a gift .
I was so thrilled to hear back from a dear friend from childhood who wanted to order one for her husband. Susan and I had been out of touch for years but got back in touch a few years ago finding each other through mutual childhood friends.
She mailed me a book of photos of their vacation house on Lake Champlain, in Vermont. It is a house she had grown up going to in her own childhood as well. I decided on a view that shows not only the house but also the lake setting. It was such a lovely and unforgettable experience for me to work on the painting and I was dreaming about Lake Champlain as I drew and painted it. I also have a memorable Lake Champlain chapter in my childhood, though further north than Susan’s place. It is a 114 mile long lake so there are plenty of places for people’s memories!
My friendship with Susan comes from a time in my life of cherished childhood memories though these had nothing to do with the lake. I had a group of girlfriends who were especially important to me from age 10 to 13 and Susan was one of them. Because we were all the same age and gender, and during winter we all skied every weekend and school vacation on Mt. Mansfield in Stowe, VT- we discovered each other. Our group coalesced over a period of time and thereafter we always looked for each other. On any given ski day as lunch time approached we noticed who of us had stuffed our own brown bag lunches into a crevice inside a wood wind tunnel on top of Mt. Mansfield- not wasting any ski time by taking it inside to a locker. If we hadn’t found each other skiing before lunch we would always catch up with each other at the Octagon at the top of the single chair with our frozen solid sandwiches. Giggling, burning our mouths on hot chocolate and eating saltine crackers was followed by skiing together all afternoon until the lifts stopped at 4PM.
My most vivid memories involve long adventures in the woods, skiing off trail. Perhaps the trail that gave us this idea of exploring the woods on skis was the Perry Merrill because it was like skiing through the woods on a magical voyage away from the ski area. Then we began to try to find new ways to ski from top to bottom without going on any trail or only small parts of trails. I remember a time or two taking our skis off to walk across streams. It was a wonderful experience of play, exploration and independence. I wish all kids could experience the outdoors with this amount of independence.
Here is how the gentle Perry Merrill woods trail was made. In 1933, state forester Perry Merrill was in charge of Vermont’s Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps, and the first task he had for his men was to cut ski trails on Mount Mansfield, and other future VT ski areas. The first cut by the crew headed by Charlie Lord was the Bruce Trail on Mount Mansfield. After the Bruce trail was finished, they cut the Nose Dive, Chin Clip, Perry Merrill, Teardrop, and Lord trails, rounding out the first six trails that make up Stowe.
Painting can be a wonderful meditation on all sorts of things. Thank you Susan, for our continued friendship and for allowing my mind to travel to Lake Champlain, to Mt. Mansfield and to our childhood times while painting your house portrait! I am glad your husband loved it. I was thrilled to get your card with my painting on front of the card!