.Abovee is a painting I did of Rockport a couple of years after the year I am writing about, but it seemed to fit. This painting was done from a historic photo, but a lot about Rockport hasn't changed much.
I worked out an arrangement with the art association that allowed me to work a few hours every morning and then at noon I would go and work in the shop. Rockport is a tourist town, but It also has been an art colony. It was traditional for the artists to own their own galleries and show only there own art. Rockport in those days had many small art galleries.This set up an unusual situation for the individual artist. In the rest of the world, a for a client to come into a gallery and find the artist themselves standing there, was disconcerting, it seemed odd and maybe unprofessional. But in Rockport, when they came in ,they were expecting that.
The two "glassblowers and I set about making the shop space fit our needs and getting our inventory together for a couple of weeks, and then we opened the shop for the Christmas shopping season. We had tiny twinkling Christmas lights which made all of the little glass animals sparkle. I painted nothing but 8 x 10s, one a day. The shop was tiny, and I had only half of it, so it was like doing a show in a piano crate, but it worked. Rockport at Christmas was magic. Most of the town was built in the federal style and was arrayed on ledges and hills around a protected harbor facing the ocean. Some of the buildings in the town, including the one across the street from our shop went back to the revolution.
When the big torch was running the shop was steamy hot, although it was cold outside. Our windows were always frosted and flocked with ornate crystals of ice. People swarmed in to see the glass rods stretched and twisted into little flower pots and lacy pianos and silly elongated dachshunds. It was all very lovely and in the evenings we were often open late . I sold some little paintings, and was beginning to know a few people about Bearskin Neck, the narrow spit of rock, sticking out into the ocean, upon which our shop was located.
We were really low tech. For instance, we did take MasterCard- Visa but that was in the days before the card readers. We had one of those sliding imprinters, that made a frottage of the customers card, but we had to call the card company every time and get an authorization code to write on the slip. We had a payphone in the shop, a legacy from a previous owner, and we would feed it a coin and call in the card numbers.
In the town square, about a hundred yards from our shop was an enormous illuminated Christmas tree, and the town decorated all of the light posts about town with little trees and wreaths covered in tiny lights.
Working at the art association introduced me to a lot of its members. There were still a lot of the oldest generation about then, and I knew many professional artists who are gone now. Many of them had studied painting in New York before the second world war and could reminisce about Raphael Soyer or George Bridgeman. They remembered Aldro Hibbard and Max Kuehne, they remembered when the town was mostly artists, shopkeepers and fisherman. Today it is a suburb of Boston. There were also a number of old retired illustrators and widows and children of well known artists . That whole world is gone now. Only one or two of those artists are still alive. If you had asked me who the Rockport artists were then, I could have read off a list of about fifty. Of that list, perhaps five are still alive today. Looking back, it was a pretty egalitarian place, and I had some good friends among those elderly members of the Rockport Art Association. Considering I had shoulder length hair and fixed my shoes with duct tape and wore my only sweater every day, they were relatively accepting as soon as they understood I wasn't dangerous.
One of my jobs was to carry jugs of water down to the sketch room in the basement of the farthest gallery. where in those days there was no running water. That brought me into contact with Martha Nickerson, whose bailiwick the sketchrooms were. At first she was upset that I might be taking over her job, but soon we got on well, and she pretended I was a grandson. That got me into the sketch groups so I could draw from the figure about eight to ten hours a week.
Though I still was very poor, I look back on this as a wonderful time in my life. It seems to always appear to me under glowing Christmas lights and populated with smiling faces of the artists all now passed away. The colonial architecture that formed the sets along the quiet streets in the blackness of a Massachusetts winter evening gave that time the feeling of a movie about the turn of the last century. Many movies have been shot in Rockport because it is so beautiful.
I was painting so hard and taking in all of the ideas that had defined Rockport painting for nearlt a century. I learned new things about color and I realizerd I knew next to nothing about design. It was exciting using all of those little paintings I made to learn about the Rockport style of painting. I was selling my paintings for eighty five to one hundred and twenty five dollars a piece.
One of the artists, not a famous one, but a kind one, Joe Rimini, came into my little gallery and sitting at my easel, gave me a lecture on color. He threw ideas at me like painting passages exactly the opposite of their intended color and throwing the real color down into that, he taught me about using formulas based on color wheels and weird broken color systems . Rockport painting has often had a lot of color.There were good old paintings in the town buildings and in the art association for me to study.
I didn't have money to frame all of my art so I hit upon the idea of painting on the round, flat stones from the waters edge behind my shop, where the tide lapped at the back of the building. I painted all of these rocks with dumb subjects like lighthouses and lobsterboats, surf scenes and pictures of motif number one, the old fish shack in Rockport Harbor, that is the symbol of the town. As silly as the subjects were, the color theory applied to those rocks was wild. I ran endless variations on color schemes and formulas. I tried out odd groupings of pigments and restricted palettes. I did a lot of those rocks.When I say painted rocks, it probably conjures up an image of something a whole lot less cool than these. I built a glass shelf in a gilded nook to display them. They looked very grand indeed in that presentation. I sprayed them with Krylon so they had a gloss like a wet pool ball. I sold dozens of them for ten, twelve, fifteen dollars, It paid for my groceries.
I knew an antique dealer up the street who had a a shop in a great location he called the Musee. He saw my painted rocks and asked if he could have a few for his shop on consignment. They often looked antique, like something Victorian. I had forgotten he had them when one weekend the phone rang and it was Jack, from the Musee, who said. "I have someone here who wants to buy this rock, what should I charge them?" I told him "Jack, just about anything you get for a rock you're ahead!"