This extraordinary Eastern Orthodox church, known or recognized by most Clevelanders, is a legacy of the 19th century, perched on Starkweather Ave. in Tremont overlooking a vast industrial landscape of steel mills. From its vantage point, one could watch as three to four successive generations of husbands, fathers and brothers￼￼carried their lunch pails, descending the pitched slope each day to toil in the blast furnaces, coking ovens, open hearths, BOF’s, hot and cold strip mills and myriad support facilities that drove Cleveland’s economy through much of the 20th century.
With that as background, last week I posted the image (see below) on Facebook, “White Oaks, Between Snows, January”, as an “experiment”, promising to explain more about it this week. It hadn’t been my intent to raise expectations for something revelatory, only to glean some small, additional insight into the evocative nature of a scene known intimately to me but not the audience. In this instance, unlike the recent book, there was no essay, not even a short descriptive narrative to inform the image.
So, what does one see and what generates a response or creates a connection? And how similar or distinct is that connection between the artist and the observer? The title here provides only a small bit of context, identifying the species of tree, the season and month of the year. The only other information is visual; that which may be observed directly or inferred from the various elements in the image itself. Whether or not a viewer connects in some way would seem to depend upon experiences and associations held in his or her personal inventory. Beyond that, there is the instinctive or intuitive response to the aesthetic -also dependent on experience and association. Since the posting I’ve had only a few responses; a few on FB and a few others in offline conversations.
George Bilgere, one of this country’s acclaimed poets, found connection through the visual elements, “I like that burn and sparkle of energy, the glitter of the winter-resistant leaves in the middle. … but I do sense the image’s forthright power.” And Michigan artist, Chris Hammack saw the trees as “silent observers”, much as I have personified them in my own mind. Another artist and friend, Laurel Hecht, commented, “The deep dark woods in the back..fun to think about.” This sense of mystery represents much of my own attraction to the image and locale as I visit here every week or two and experience a similar reaction each time, one I had hoped to communicate through the photograph.
John Ruskin, many western scholars would assert, was the 19th century’s most famous art critic, though his reputation at that time as a polymath and contemporary Renaissance man elevated him into even higher spheres of ideas and endeavors. An extraordinary draftsman, watercolorist and philosopher, he championed the interrelationship of nature, art and society, positing:
“Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty.” J. Ruskin
In the spirit of his observation and my own obsession with American Sycamores, I post this image taken yesterday (November 30) late in the day after a light snow collected in the crevices and shadows of the forest floor just above the banks of the Chagrin River. This image, I think, is eerily reminiscent of Gustav Klimt’s slightly abstract portrayal of trees, especially the beech and birch forests that attracted him.
Departing Hinesburg VT. (15 miles south of Burlington), 10 days ago, Kate and I drove south on Rt. 116 through small towns and villages like Bristol, Starkville and New Haven Mills before reaching the college town of Middlebury, home to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the oldest and one of the world’s most acclaimed writers’ conferences. Since its founding in 1926 it has attracted many of this country’s greatest writers, including such luminaries as Frost, Welty, Stegner, Cather and numerous other notable national and international poets and novelists.
Notwithstanding the picturesque Middlebury campus, the photograph below was taken in the small, rather nondescript village of New Haven Mills, immediately preceding the college. It showcases the old Lampson School (now a home) occupying several acres on a hillock overlooking the village and the New Haven Mills’ river. The scenery and 19th century character of the village can be intimated through this image. Built in 1868 and included in the “National Register of Historic Places,” it has been cited for its beautiful, Italianate architecture. For me it held particular interest having grown up in the Connecticut Western Reserve of northeast Ohio. We lived in a historic old farmhouse constructed originally in the tradition of a Connecticut home to which was added an Italianate styled section in 1843. The older, original section of the house (my childhood home) was constructed between 1815 and 1817 by John Seward, the first minister of the Connecticut Western Reserve.
This morning (Wednesday, Oct. 19) provided for an unanticipated closeup as migrating mallards, after holding tight through freezing rain and the season’s first trace of snow, burst into flight at the west end of the marsh . In deeper water, 100 yards to the east a pair of redheads and a raft of lesser scaups, more backsides visible than heads, were tipping and resurfacing like “drinking bird toys”, as they foraged below.