From the Original watercolor on paper, 24 ” by 18 ”, 1979
Note: Please click on closeups for detailed images.
Yaddo is a forty acre estate that meanders through woods, open fields and waterways. In the center, on a formal sloping lawn is an imposing castle-like mansion. At the turn-of-the-century this fortress-like building was the home of Spencer and Katrina Trask, who, following the tragic deaths of their four children, bequeathed their entire estate as a haven to future generation of artists; inspiring creativity by providing an intense parenthetical experience physically removed from day-to-day distractions, concerns and routines, and by blending fresh new artistic communities with personal sanctuary and seclusion. Katrina was herself a poet, and during the couple’s lifetime the mansion had seen many famous parties and housed many eclectic guests including, among others, artists and composers and writers.
The intense and eclectic mix of creative artists that I met during this period were extraordinarily. At 26, I was the youngest, and one of my favorite people was the oldest, a remarkable woman in her early 80s, - the now late Janet Lewis Winters.
Her room was around the corner from mine in “The West Room”. She was a poet, a historical novelist , librettist, and teacher but moreover a truly inspiratonal human being. We were early morning swimming partners, doing laps before breakfast in a small pool located in a quasi-Greek-temple revival style courtyard; a walled enclosure with pillars, statues and arbors. I loved these “baptismal” beginnings that cleared my head for an intense new day of painting, and I treasured our morning conversations that evolved into a wonderful “post-Yaddo” correspondence which lasted almost twenty years.
I had the pleasure of staying in an elegant room on the second floor of “the mansion” with its sunny concert room, elegant dining hall, grand hallways, sitting rooms and tiffany stained glass windows rising up from behind and around the master staircase.
On my first night when I tugged down the oversized blinds they released a lone bat that tumbled out onto the window sill, momentarily stunned. Quickly rejecting the idea of a bat flying about in my room while I tried to sleep–and with the image of Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” looming large, -I rushed to the front hall for a cup and saucer. I nudged the intense clump of brown fur and closed-umbrella wings onto the saucer and carefully covered it with the teacup, then hurried outside my hands clamped rigidly over the “bat-holder.” I stopped only when I reached the edge of the backdoor’s light, my heart pounding as I cautiously lifted the cup. From the saucer on my hand a small crumpled bat peered up at me, bright eyes glittering as it slowly angled its head and unfolded itself upon its winged and webbed elbows. And what a face! I was reminded of Theodore Roethke’s wonderful poem The Bat, not knowing at the time that Roethke had been a guest at Yaddo.
My guestroom was, despite (or perhaps in addition to) the “gift” of a lucky bat, very opulently decorated in a Victorian style with a marble bathroom, high windows and lots of red everywhere. But my studio was grander still. I could easily have lived in that airy comfortable open space that contained a daybed, a sink, a place to prepare a meal, a wood-burning stove, and large picture windows that looked out onto a wide line of semi-formal garden bursting with peony buds and blossoms.
Additionally, I was thrilled to find that the studio was a mere stone’s throw from an intimate turn-of-the-century greenhouse that had fallen into disrepair, the results creating endless visual possibilities. In the middle sat an old Franklin stove with an elaborate Rube-Goldberg-like system of rusty iron piping, venting into a side chimney of bright vermilion bricks. Weeds grew in the side beds and here and there were flats of neglected annuals and the occasional small plastic pot with a single onion or tuft of chives.
A number of panes were broken and missing from its glass roof creating engaging light patterns and interrupted views of the sky, clouds and trees. The combination of an open-and-closed grid-patterned glass-ceiling and the changing light and wind that moved the trees and clouds and illuminated the edges of shadows, throwing animated patterns of absorbed and reflected light throughout the greenhouse’s interior was dazzling. It was inside this greenhouse that I spent much of my time, painting there each day during the same period of morning and afternoon light. Later I would read Roethke’s poem “Child on Top of a Greenhouse” and wonder if, at an earlier time, this same greenhouse provided inspiration for him as well.
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