Monday, July 18, 2011

A little trip to Cape Elizabeth

This weekend I went to a plein air event in Maine. It was one of those one day wet paint auction affairs that seem to be all the rage now. I have done a few in the past but it is not really my preferred sector of the art market, I would prefer to continue to operate at retail through galleries. I decided to do this one partly because I knew it was a spectacular area on the Casco bay. I know the next great bay above the Casco very well, thats the Penobscot bay. I have lived up there. I haven't "worked" the Cape Elizabeth area, well, I painted the light house there once with my friend Stefan Pastuhov about fifteen years ago.

I also like to do the land trust events. I have spent an enormous amount of my life painting on properties owned by land trusts. The owners who have great sweeps of wooded hills or pasture don't want to sell it for fear it will be cut up and built over, instead of continuing in it's rural, beautiful and often historic state (this is New England). In return for allowing the public access to the land, almost like a park, the owners get a break on their taxes so they don't have to sell the property, which seems inevitably to lead to construction of expensive vinyl homes . An awful lot of the quiet old New England nooks and crannies and unspoiled places are on these trust properties. You don't have to join a club or pay a fee, just set up and go to work. They usually love seeing painters around.

The artists and staff of the CELT (Cape Elizabeth Land Trust) met at about 8:00 in the morning at their headquarters where they handed us box lunches, maps of the area, guides to local something or other, and pages of instructions. I had chosen a location at the light house early in the process because I knew it was a fabulous view. The 25 or so participating artists were spread out around this small cape. There was a published guide to our locations with explanatory material.

I met old friend Caleb Stone in the parking lot and we drove to the big state park where Portland Head light is. It really is an unbelievably spectacular location. It would make a good Bierstadt or Moran subject. From the moment we got to the light house we both started back pedaling away from it . We backed up as far as we could, a couple of hundred yards until we were at the edge of the park, backs to a cyclone fence where private land began. We walked out a narrow goat path through dense fields of poison ivy till we emerged on the ledges overlooking the light house. This location, though hard to get to, allowed us to look up the coast at the light house, rather than at the light house with the sea behind it.

Caleb and I set up our easels by about ten, I guess, and worked in the sun nonstop until 3:30, when the "rules" said we had to return to the great tents of opulence with our paintings to be previewed prior to auction.
We put our easels up and put our wet paintings on them with no frames in a huge tent Brutal.The tent complex was enormous, here is a picture of that.

This is a very wealthy area and the estate on which the event was held was vast, elegant and looked like late 19th century New England with open fields with stone walls and mature hardwood trees, weathered barns and dirt roads.I know many people think of that stuff as sentimental but I love to paint it, and somebody ought to, because it is going away fast.

Me and a fine box pressed maduro with a 52 ring size moved up to the parking lot to watch the arrival of the "swells". The fields quickly filled with lines of expensive foreign cars and SUVs from Detroit. I thought the lot looked pretty good. I like to see all those fine automobiles it bodes well in these things.

I returned to the event through a gantlet of greeting women with elegant black evening dresses on. Of course I look nothing like the invited guests. They are all in jackets and ties. I am wearing a paint splattered jean and T shirt combo and have been baked in the sun since breakfast.I tower over everyone else and I have shoulder length hair. I stand right out. Its kind of comical. All the other artists are dressed as they have come from the field so we are readily identifiable to the paying attendees. I still have the cigar.

I take my gift bag and then one of the women hands me a little foil package, and I smile and keep moving with the now gathering crowd surging on up the hill to the great tent. I thought, did she really give me a condom? I can't imagine I am going to need one. On closer examination (which I had to do kind of surreptitiously until I knew what the mystery thing was) the little foil package contained a tiny, folded cloth soaked in insect repellant. The CELT organization REALLY does things right, they are well organized and with great style. This is the third year they have done the event and it is obviously growing.

Here is a view of the back of the tent with the auction beginning. We had about an hour and a half of wine and great spreads of food . I stayed out of the wine, it makes me fall down. I am talking to all the people and generally being 32 feet tall. I have done a lot of the meet and greet and am very comfortable in the artists role there. I think all the years in retail made any fear of strangers go away. I am not shy.

Here is the one shot 18 by 24 that I made. It was a morning and noontime picture. I shot the photo at the top of the page as I was leaving so that is why it has different light. Well part of why anyway. I had to paint like a madman to get all of that onto that canvas in the allotted time and make it finished enough that I could walk out with it signed. That's not really my thing. I want to make and sell paintings done in 30 hours not 3 hours.That is my usual practice. But that was the days assignment.


Tim said...

Better safe than sorry in ALL regards, that´s a good motto to live by.

I was actually handed a condom the other week, and I thought "Nice, now my Soltek can dip one of its legs in sand" That or I could make a very boring balloon animal.

Daniel Corey said...

Hey Stape, it was fun chewing the fat and those little wrapped hotdogs with you.

Billy Guffey said...

"I thought, did she really gave me a condom? I can't imagine I am going to need one."

Glad I didn't have a mouthful of coffee when I read that, Stape. Too funny!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Welcome to the world of plein air painting events, Stape! I do a few of these. The opportunity to meet new friends and paint with old ones makes up for the pressures of time, Official Rules and having to act like a professional. (I do put on a fresh shirt for the evening events.) Hopefully it won't be your last.

Robert J. Simone said...

Portland Head Light is beautiful. And I am sure you know, the most photographed lighthouse in the world. I have been there. In December, no less. Which is saying a lot for a Florida boy. The wind blew so hard that day I could hardly stand. Loved it!

Nice one shot painting!

knoxblox said...

I sympathize with you about the time constraints.

That was a great view, and those rocks look like excellent subject matter that beg for more time spent painting them. I hope you get to return and do it up right sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

Members of the The Purpoodock Club were surely in attendance.

Plein Air Gal said...

OK - I'll be the one to ask ... And how were the SALES at this auction? Sometimes the auction portion of these events are wonderful and sometimes they can be outright insulting to the artists (like you) who break standard to participate. Twice I've seen paintings by nationally recognized artists go for under $500 when they would normally command $3000 or $8000 because the auctioneer did not put them up with a reserve!

David Teter said...

Cool that you paint for these land trust events,
too much of here and everywhere is carved up.
Gone forever, thanks developers.

Nice job avoiding beaks by the way.

Mary Byrom said...

Nice job Stapleton ! Its good to stand out at those events - it helps to be very tall. It is a "short" event & they get better at it every year. This was their 4th year.
Cape Eliz ia a nice big area of bits of open land to paint. A cougar was spotted near the horse farm early one morning a couple of years ago.
Robert I think Portland Head Light is #2 . The Nubble is # 1. ...or maybe they are still arguing over it...

Jesse said...

Stape, you are a much braver man that I. Facing crowds of well dressed art lovers is tough.

Antonin Passemard said...

I have to say I like your 3 hours painting a lot more than your 30 hours painting which I love also ... It is vibrant and loose ... I do not what you want to do with this peice of information or if you even care but I spoke ....

Brady said...

Nice painting!

I'm with you, I like to take a lot longer on my paintings.

And for those needing a way to carry wet panels, might I suggest a Panelroo?

This is actually an idea I was trying to tackle and came to a similar solution, but artist Jason Daniel Jackson has them ready made.

His website:

And I have no affiliation, just something I saw on James Gurney's blog.

Cynthia Hillis McBride said...

Lovely painting, even if it was completed in under 30 hours . . . but do I see beaks?

stapeliad said...

A wonderful painting and I enjoyed reading about this event. You know how to tell a story very well. :)

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have been careful.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Dan Corey
Good to see you again too, fellow pirate.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bill Guffey ;
A little vulgar perhaps, but good fun.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Michael Chesley Johnson;
I am willing to do a few, but it is not my new method of making a living.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Can they put light houses up on sand?

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are a bunch of good sites at that park. I hope to go back.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The Purpoodock Club?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Plein Air Gal;
I mad less than retail but good money for a days work. No frame either.

Stapleton Kearns said...

David Teter ;
I wrote about beak avoidance tonight in fact.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary Byrom;
It is not an area I know very well.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have done that lots of times. no big deal.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I hear that a lot. Many people prefer "looser" work.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will check that out.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Cynthia Hillis McBride;
I hope you don't see beaks!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.