The Move: Rumor Squelched

1435937649892OK, we really are moving. We bought and sold in a week. But not France. Almost, but no. Why? It’s true, we tried. Look up “red tape” in the dictionary and it will describe anyone outside the EU trying to take residency there. But that’s OK. It got us out of neutral and in gear for change.

All our travels there will be easier in a few weeks, when we move to our new home in Highland Square, Akron’s closest neighborhood to what we crave. A smaller, charming turn of the (twentieth) century house on a much smaller lot, where we can still have a tiny front garden and a secret little courtyard in the back, without being enslaved to its upkeep. The organic grocery, library, pharmacy, restaurants and more are all easy walking distance. Just like we were seeking in France.

10x20 Stebner painting. "Morning Sun"

10×20 Stebner painting. “Morning Sun”

Of course it isn’t France, C’est ridicule! But it’s our new adventure, all the same, just a mile from Dorchester. Crazy but true. Now when I do cross the Pond to have a proper baguette, gorge myself on French cheese(and wine) and teach painting in the French countryside, whoever housesits(Jim’s increasingly France-smitten with each visit!) will have a lot less to care for. In the meantime, I can always strike up a French conversation at the coffee shop a few blocks away with my young French teacher, Nils.

Did I mention I’ll have a painting studio on the ground level of our new digs, to boot? Pas mal, pas mal du tout!

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Lenten Fasts

Self-Portrait, February 2014. oil on panel 11x14

Self-Portrait, February 2014. oil on panel 11×14

After a tease of sunshine and 60 degrees over the past couple days, fickle March has rallied her north winds and is blowing one more snow on us. All part of the lenten torment: giving up pleasure and offering deeds of discipline are not optional in such weather: they are imposed. I’ve expressed my opinion about Lenten sacrifices in past years here, but let me just say that I’d already declared that my sacrifice for this year would be to clean up the trails which have collected behind me like the wake of a motorboat or Hansel’s bread crumbs over the past months. That’s precious time I could be painting, so no questions about the validity of my spiritual sacrifice!

Nevertheless, I fear writing a blog about cleaning one’s own mess bears the possibility of emptying out all my faithful blog followers I’ve struggled to collect over the past three years. Hence, I offer, instead, a peak at some of the work I’ve done this late winter as the piles of paperwork, wood dust and painting rags collected. This collection will be seen at two upcoming shows in late April(Cleveland, Ohio) and early May(Patois Studio, Akron,Ohio). More can be seen in the gallery of my new website.

Hope of Spring, 11x14 oil on linen

Hope of Spring, 11×14 oil on linen

Summer Pleasures, Normandy. oil on linen 20x24

Summer Pleasures, Normandy. oil on linen 20×24

ENCHANTED APRIL

Winter Roses. Study for the afternoon.

Winter Roses. Study for the afternoon.

Who remembers the 1991 movie “Enchanted April” in which a group of disenchanted Londoners  collect in a Tuscan villa for an escape from the gloom of a dreary London winter? What they find is more than a vacation in the sun. The human experience they encounter is what I crave for the participants in my “Artistic Adventures” trips to France this June. I make the offer and see whose soul resonates with it. Then plan a French country getaway just for them.

6x8 oil on panel. Road's End. Stebner

6×8 oil on panel. Road’s End. Stebner

Though not disillusioned, the promise of six or more inches of snow tonight calls for mental escape. This trip has been my winter obsession; create a French fantasy for my small bands of travelers which will forever enrich their lives with memories fine enough to dispel any long winter storm.

Happily, all of the characters are in place for this two act “Enchanted June”. And the stage is set: a favorite converted mill in Normandy for the first group, followed by a stone house in Burgundian wine country for the second.

Victoria's already dreaming of cooking vats-full of coq au vin in this kitchen!

Victoria’s already dreaming of cooking vats-full of coq au vin in this kitchen!

How lucky I am to have a gallery of French memories, beyond tourist monuments,which includes waking to the aroma of yeasty baguette from the patisserie around the corner, hearing the cookoo call, and painting or lounging by a brook where fishermen, a stones throw away, are catching their evening meal. As much as I anticipate my travelers experiencing the things I love about France, I know it’s the things unexpected, the detours and turns in the road, which will give their trip its own unique flavor and make our trip a true artistic adventure. The human element is the crust on the pain au levan I can’t wait to bite into!IMG_2314For a reminder, click here to watch a great trailer about Enchanted April…

Neverland

I've never seen more hornbeam hedges in my life than here in Bavaria.

I’ve never seen more hornbeam hedges in my life than here in Bavaria.

Maybe not quite Neverland, but one of the joys of painting en plein air or any other creative effort, for that matter, is stepping entirely  outside time. Both yesterday and today, somewhere in the midst of trying to portray on a tiny 2 dimensional panel how I felt about  what I was seeing, I couldn’t for a moment remember where I was. Within a split second, I thought, for a moment, I was in France…then Germany…or was I home painting the covered bridge? Reality takes on a dimension apart from space and time, when painting. It’s pretty delicious, as our friend Anne would say.

And speaking  of delicious and Neverland(I digress to the profane), I found strawberries in the tiny market around the corner today, like I found in a tiny town in the Perigord last summer, the likes of which I hadn’t tasted since I was a little boy on my grandmother’s farm. The same color inside as they are on the outside and delicious, through and through. I’ve already had some for a snack and will finish them off after my late afternoon painting session with a glass of my new favorite wine: Blauburger. Something old and something new for this somewhat weathered boy. Most of all, something to really look forward to after another trip with brush in hand to  Neverland!

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Parisian Treasures

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An afternoon museum hopping is not a bad thing to do when you’re alone in Paris and it’s mighty chilly outside. This treasure of a portrait in the Petit Palais by Chales Giron was a real treat. I wish you could really get your nose up to it like I did. The mood created by such juicy brushwork and amazing values completely captured my imagination to the point I forgot about the chill of the wind-swept Seine outside. Now isn’t that a sign of effective art?

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Speaking of juicy brushwork and river breezes, just prior to discovering that Swiss delight, I stumbled upon an exhibit with Monet’s own plein air setup. In my mind, it was still out along the riverbank between Giverny and Vernon on a summer’s day and the man himself was busily working his magic under the shade of the linen umbrella.

But the pleasures of summer aside, this winter in France, I’ve made a commitment to learn to paint irresistibly plaintive winter scene’s, when I’m back at my own easel. It’s a message that’s been delivered through art museums and weeks in the chill of nature, herself. Misty mountains and snow-dusted trees have come to haunt my dreams. And (to quote the French), bref, if the color is good enough for the top of my head, why can’t it become the main character of my canvas, too?

But gray also brings me to the day’s end with another dusty, winter sky. Even without an amazing sunset, the City of Light offers its own brilliant sparks of joy to please the eye and soothe the soul. But can you imagine actually riding there on a blustery winter evening? The distant laughter tells me that such thrill is an art all its own.

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Last Day in the Country

One last day town-hopping through the countryside has increased my concern for packing my bags. Simultaneously, I’m lamenting the Brocantes left behind, including this settee and a stack of linen-lined antique baskets used to raise baguettes. Now I know there was no way to have the first without a container, but how great the the baskets would have been at all our tables! Had I only brought that long duffle suitcase, they’d be in it.

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But of everything I’ve seen this trip, this little enclave of medieval cottages built on a river dam fuels my imagination the most. Sitting next to a porcelain studio, they would make the perfect Patois art enclave: a place to live, paint, sell, teach and house traveling students. And I could fill them with all those tattered treasures I couldn’t bring home!

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Cameron Diaz vs. St. Jacques

20130116-163851.jpgFinding my country digs in the Auvergne felt a bit like Cameron Diaz arriving at her Cotswolds cottage in
The Holiday. The only difference being, I was driving myself in a Fiat, rather than being chauffeured in a Mercedes. Many winding roads and a snowy lane led me to my rambling, well-worn enclave of house, gardens, atelier/barn and chapel.

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After settling in and sharing conversation a lovely boeuf bourguignon dinner by candlelight with my hosts, I climbed into a bed stacked with double duvets to ward off the crisp chill in my room. This cold I remembered from my early college years living in a farmhouse heated by pot-belly stoves and my first Christmas with Jim, when we returned to my century home from Columbus in a snow storm to discover the furnace broken. That night, with a mattress pulled to the massive fireplace and dog and cat to keep us warm, I wondered if my rustic solution would be the end of Jim.

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Last night, I realized I’m on the pilgrim route of St. Jacques de Compostelle again. This winter in France trip has become an unexpected spiritual journey of sorts. Being far from my people, props and comforts of daily life in Akron has forced open my palm to receive a stranger’s gentle offering that most Americans are rather shallow. That arrow in my heart released its truth quicker than I could refute it. And as I drifted off to sleep, I could see my misplaced priorities as if they were reflected in the lake below.

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Morning in the Marais

When I awoke in the middle of the night, I thought today’s blog would be about facelifts. What do you suppose I had in mind? That was before I spent two chilly hours walking the Bourges Marais , the French word which sounds much better than our English swamps, this morning. Such swamps, in France, are lovely, rustic escapes, brought into submission as only the French might do. Just imagine perfectly irrigated community gardens bordered by shallow ditches wide enough for a punting boat and anchored by a hut of some sort or other. Even today, when snow is expected, men were out collecting winter crops or double digging the earth for spring planting.

Such marvelous gardening ghettoes are fertile ground not only for vegetables, but also inspire unique creativity beyond agriculture. Gates made of bed springs, scarecrows a la français, poetic plaques, as well as all sorts of fencing were artistic, Sanford and Son delights, squared. A Patois Paradise to warm my heart and feed my soul on such a gruff, Gallic morning.

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Giving and Receiving

IMG_2521About thirty-five years ago I started hosting studio sales events. In those days before internet shopping, it wasn’t unusual to have folks lined up at the door half an hour before we opened. But lines like that are only the phenomenon of places like Best Buys on Black Friday today. Even in the early days, the challenge of picking the right weekend would have benefited from the assistance of a Greek sibyl. About the time you thought you had it figured out, things changed.

So this year I’ve taken a new tact: follow up with open studio hours after the main event. Every Saturday in December I’m opening the studio from ten until one for shoppers to stop by and choose a one-of-a-kind gift of art in the intimate, peaceful setting of my home-studio. With a cup of tea or glass of wine to take the edge off the stress of the decision making process, what could be more civil?

Twos and Threes. Pont Autou, Normandy. Stebner oil on linen 30x30 sold

Twos and Threes. Pont Autou, Normandy. Stebner oil on linen 30×30 sold

Last Saturday, one fine husband made his wife’s holiday, purchasing her this lovely painting of a farm in Normandy which was down the lane from our mill-home last summer. It wasn’t a surprise present, but she got what she really wanted. And they got to take it home and make sure it was the right thing before they made the final decision. I wish you all could have heard the ecstatic joy and satisfaction when it went on their wall! The last thing I have ever wanted in my career was for someone to make a big purchase and not like it when they got it home. And the greatest joy in my career is knowing my work has made someone’s holiday and the days which follow more visually inspiring.

I wonder who the lucky person will be tomorrow…

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Painting Memories

 

Red Stone Farm, Stebner. 20×24 oil on linen panel

Painting commissions and sales have been brisk this fall and I suddenly realize  that I haven’t posted a blog entry in weeks. Following is a visual record of a recent large piece, recorded in stages. It was done from photos taken during a plein air painting session which was a lovely walk down the road from our dreamy Mill in Normandy this summer.

Twos and Threes: Norman Meadow. 30×30 Stebner oil on linen