Saturday, April 12, 2014

Nathaniel's Blog March 23rd, 201- "Me and My Easel"

Just got back from the museum.  Transcribed more letters onto the computer, while Brian tended to a new exhibit.  I'm pleased to say that the transcriptions are getting easier with time.  Occasionally, I find it more difficult and emotionally draining, but it mostly depends on the content of the letters and who wrote them.

Tonight I was mostly working on letters to friends while I was serving the in the 7th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, more commonly known as 'The Bloody Seventh'.  We didn't start out with that moniker, it came later.  But for the first six months of our existence we were basically guarding the railroads from Confederate raiders.  These letters were from that period.

I enter the building where "The Crypt" is located.  But instead of going into the club itself which is located in the basement level, I head upstairs.  As I've indicated before, I bought the entire structure back during the Great Depression.  It's a four story affair that takes up a small block downtown.  I keep the place in good shape so no politicians can get any funny ideas about declaring the place 'run down' or an 'eyesore' that needs to be pulled down.

The ground floor is currently being renovated to become roller skating rink.  Yes, you read correctly.  A Roller Rink.  There's already some really good hardwood floors and open space down there. It won't be a huge affair, more like a couple of small rinks.  The smaller of the two will be for lessons or private parties, while the other will be more like a regular place.

I had thought about making one of them and Ice Skating Rink, but the refrigeration equipment would have to get run down into the basement area.  Plus there was the risk of any leaks dripping down into The Crypt itself. 

Anyhow, above what will become the roller rink are three floors.  The 2nd floor is comprised of mostly empty office spaces, while the 3rd floor contains empty small apartments.  Occasionally I'll rent a couple out, but not for very long.  I'm not keen on anyone living full time in the same building where I stay whenever I'm in town.  

Then there's the fourth floor, which is closed off to all unless I invite people up.  The entire floor is one gigantic open space that I use as my art studio.  Mostly the room is filled with canvases, oil paints, pastels and the like.  There's a big window that looks out into the sky that I love to work near, especially on nights when there's a full moon, like tonight.

I wander over to where my easel is and pull out one of the many canvasses I've been working on.  That's one of the tricky things with oil painting, you have let each layer dry before you continue.  So whenever I do settle in to work in here, I'll have several pieces under way and a lot of paint on my palette.

I tried my hand at painting after I 'came back'.  It was in the late 1890's, shortly after the death of my first wife Madeline.  We'd been traveling in Europe at the time she passed.  Feeling lost and alone I'd found myself wandering the streets at night.  One evening I'd run across a gallery where a local artist was giving a demonstration.  I wandered in and sat down to listen.

By the time he'd finished, I was eager to talk to him about doing a portrait of my dear Madeline.  Alas the  speaker refused, but another fellow who had attended the talk was only too happy to talk with me.  He was an older man, Professor Otto Hofstadter.  I often wonder what turns my existence would've taken had I not met him that night.  Much of man I have become I owe to him.

We spent many evenings talking and eventually Otto found an artist who was renowned for his portrait work.  I still treasure the portrait Mr. Sargent did of my Madeline, but I remember him more fondly for taking me under his wing.  I studied oil painting under his watchful eye for three years, but then I had to return to America to deal with issues regarding my Madeline's estate.  

But like any good pupil, I continued to learn more from other teachers, some of them recommended to me by my mentor.  I did not see him again until 1918 when we met in England.  He had just been hired by the British Ministry of Information to paint a series of images depicting the Great War (World War I for those not familiar with the original name of that conflict).  His depiction of the victims of 'mustard gas' I still find hauntingly realistic.

I like to think it was my time with Mr. Sargent that got me to try and learn new things.  Otto, being a professor, got me to take night classes and expand my education. But that's a story for another entry.  Right now it's time to get down to some painting.  Light is just right and I know what I want to work on. 

I turn to my unfinished paintings and pull out the one of Brian's daughter Lisa.  She's going to be turning sixteen in a couple of months.  And since I'm doing her portrait in oils, I really want to make sure its fully dried and finished in time.