Sunday, June 23, 2013

Research Melds with Art in Vermont

In college I learned to relish inhaling the scent a toxic chemical (turpentine) in a fume-filled art room during a class entitled “Introduction to Oil Painting.”  I also discovered the excitement of biological research.  Would tree seedlings rise up in protest if I grew them in bark mulch rather than real Vermont dirt?  How low could internal temperatures plunge in bats.  They were merely trying to hibernate in peace while I subjected them to the indignities of “wearing” a rectal thermometer as I lowered the temperature of their milk cooler cave to a point below freezing.  Would I end up with something besides bat popsicles?

My store of knowledge grew exponentially.  I discovered that hours in a green house quietly urging tree seedling to grow were tantamount to a mini Hawaiian vacation in the middle of Vermont blizzards.  Bats weren’t real keen on hibernating in a milk cooler so happily crept out of a hole the diameter of my index finger which, in turn, enabled them to populate the halls of the science building.  Their silent protest at the indignities of spending the winter with a probe stuck up their south end somewhat degraded one budding biologists carefully calculated sample size. 

But I’ve rarely linked the loves of painting and research. -- until Susan McKibben, a college classmate called.  “Would I be willing to paint the cover of a yearbook commemorating our 50th Middlebury College class reunion in June, 2012.“  Gulp!  I need visual images from which to paint. 

It was time for some research.  Enter Google and Yahoo Images -- even Google Maps.  Enter the alumni office’s photo collection.  Enter my own Alaskan photos and memories of wind and blowing snow.  Like a mad scientist probing the depths of a bat, I dove deep into the world wide web for images to stitch my model together.  Yes, research and painting combined -- pure bliss.  Why hadn’t I figured that out 50 years ago?

I didn’t make the reunion, but I could save on delivery costs.  Who needs UPS, FedEx or the USPS when you own a car?  I could deliver the painting in person -- just hop on a ferry for an 18-hour ride from our Alaskan home to Prince Rupert, British Columbia and then a little drive to Vermont.   No problem.  OK, I had already planned a trip to visit my brother in NY that fall.  I merely added a side excursion to the campus for the first time since the 1960s.  I even got treated to lunch out of the deal.  Some friends sure know my weak spot.

                         Winter Memories    16 X 20 inches    Alkyd on Canvas

By the time I finished Winter Memories, I needed more of a Vermont fix.   Why not try an abstracted painting of the campus?  In my research I had discovered one photo by Barbara Ganley that particularly appealed to me.  So, with Barbara's permission I gave it a try.

                          Campus Colors    16 X 20 inches    Alkyd on Canvas


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