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January 30, 2007

It was cold on Pontoosuc Lake yesterday. The wind on my face was numbing as I walked from the Blue Anchor to the north shore. But God it was beautiful.

Look at those twin peaks and the clouds! The snowy mountain at the right is Mount Greylock, at 3,491 feet the highest in the state. From his farmhouse in Pittsfield, Herman Melville could look up from his desk as he wrote Moby Dick and see Greylock.

The summit is graced by a tower that was originally designed as a lighthouse in Boston Harbor. I can't remember why it ended up at the top of the mountain.

Besides its grandeur and the views from the top, I have personal connections to the mountain. One of my kids, Mike, holds the record for the fastest bike ride up Greylock in the annual fall hill climb. He set it 20 years ago when he was in high school. Mike was a strong rider. He spent six months at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs when he was 16 and competed in the Junior Olympics in Italy.

Another connection: I rode my bike up Greylock a lot when I was in my 50s. But never fast and never in the race. Julie Sell, a young reporter at The Eagle, went up with me once. After the first bad climb, we had to pull off the road and sit in the shade of a tree. She was faint. I was worried. I shouldn't have been. After a few minutes she recovered, and we took off. I didn't see her again until the top, where she waited for me. It's an eight mile climb.

Once I peddled my road bike to the top on Jan. 1. So I figure that I hold, or at least share, the record for the earliest Greylock ascent of the year. In that way I'm like our late cat Sheba. She had one kitten and I always figured that tied the world record for smallest litter.

The New Year's Day, I rode to the top, was in one of those weird winters when there was only a light covering of snow on the road and it wasn't slippery. In retrospect, it's amazing that I wasn't too hung over to ride. On another winter descent, I skidded in the snow and almost knocked myself out when my head hit the road. That was before I started wearing a helmet.

This is another one of those freak winters. Just 1.6 inches so far this month, compared to 18.8 in an average January. And the lake didn't freeze over until last week. I don't think it's ever been that late before. Now the ice is thick and it's great to be back on Pontoosuc. But I could use a day without wind. Yesterday I decided it was too cold to take my camera, which I regretted. I warmed up in the car a little before I got out to take the shot I used with this post.


January 28, 2007

This is part of an ongoing series of pictures I'm calling Inside Out for now. Maybe Looking Out. You've seen a few of the others. They'll all be shot from inside the house.

It occurred to me that photographers like Todd Hido and Gregory Crewdson have done wonderful things shooting the outside of houses. And Crewdson has brought his melodramas to the interiors. This is a twist. Of course, as I always discover when I think I've hit something new, its been done before. Lots.

This shot of intersecting jet streams was taken from the downstairs bathroom. Because the lower two thirds of the window is shielded by translucent Plexiglas for privacy, from that room the only view is up.



January 27, 2007

In Memoriam (working title), 50"x40.5", oil on canvas and collaged canvas.

This is the latest painting in the Dresden Firebombing series. I like its richness and simplicity.

I don't know what the golden plaque's hieroglyphics say. It would be hard for me to think of appropriate words.

Estimates of how many the Americans and Brittish killed at Dresden, Germany, are all over the lot. But it seems that it was at least 30,000. Maybe three times that number. This was a city that was bombed by the Allies in the fading months of World War II. Not because it had importance militarily. It didn't. Dresden was incinerated simply as an act of terror to break Germany's will to keep fighting. The victims were almost all women, children and old men. The young men were gone to war.

We bombed Dresden for much the same reason we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to save American lives by speeding the end of the war. And Dresden was only one of a number of German and Japanese cities that were burned to that end.

There are a lot of terrible things about war. But one of the most frightening, and perhaps one of the most understandable, is that almost anything goes. We see that again in Iraq, as we saw it in Vietnam.

Getting back to the painting, I started trying to get surfaces like this - on a much smaller scale - in the latter part of the Scarlet Letter series. Only then I was doing it with acrylics. I had fallen in love with the work of Marcia Myers, whose layered fresco paintings are gorgeous. Looking at the detail above from In Memoriam, I realize I haven't been able to duplicate what she does. But I like where the effort to do that has brought me.



January 26, 2007

This is a shot from another bedroom window, this one looking west, at 7 a.m. on Tuesday. Instead of taking pictures from the bedroom windows yesterday, I was up there taping joints in the sheet rock Babbie and I put up more than a year ago.

The room had had fiberboard walls covered with wallpaper painted white. That and the angles cut into the room by the roof - it's a 1 1/2 story house - gave the room an old cottage look that I liked. In fact some of the houses in our neighborhood bordering Pontoosuc Lake had started off as summer cottages.

But Babbie had something a little more finished in mind. We had done the downstairs rooms over years ago and they looked much more permanent after the fiberboard disappeared.

So we, an aging team, put up the sheet rock. By the way, it had been resting against the wall on Babbie's side of the bed for years. Mike and I had hauled it upstairs. It was there so long it had become a fixture. Finally, Babbie said it was time - way past time. So in the summer and fall of 2005 we put it up.

Now after a long pause I'm tackling the taping. It isn't that I don't like spreading joint compound. I do. It's just that I'd rather be down in the studio painting. That and the fact I'm a procrastinator. And then making the insulated hatchway into the attic slowed the already stalled project. That door was needed to fill the hole the firemen had poked in the ceiling last spring when we had a roaring chimney fire.

I was forced to take action when it started getting cold. Frigid air coming down from the attic had started flooding the room, making it uncomfortable at night.

So we have a hatch in our bedroom ceiling. (It will be much easier for the firemen to check the chimney next time.) And now two walls - well most of two - have at least one layer of compound on them.

This fall my brother in law, David Bates, said the room looks like a construction zone. When he gets out here this spring, he's going to be impressed. It will look like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. Won't it?


January 25, 2007

This is the Bousquet Ski Area in Pittsfield taken from my bedroom window last night.

The ski area, as it does every cold night, was making snow. We have only had about two inches so far this winter. It's almost February and I haven't used the snow blower yet. Can't remember a winter like it. The ski resorts are getting killed.

The view of Bousquet from our house is something new. The Kowalczyk brothers are building 50 houses in what was woods and overgrown fields beyond our street. You can't see them from our house. But as they cleared trees, we suddenly got a view. An unexpected bonus for taking some of our hiking trails.

The bright lights on the right side of the photo are from the moon reflecting off aluminum flashing on the roof of Joan's house behind us.

Todd Hido, the photographer (see Jan. 7 post), has been a bad influence on me. I only used my camera before to take pictures of models and of my paintings. But since seeing his soulful landscapes, I'm shooting everything in sight.

Driving back from the Lenox Library yesterday afternoon, I kept framing shots through the windshield, ala Hido, but in my imagination. It's good I didn't have the camera. But I wish I had. The clouds were amazing. Safety experts are saying cell phones and other electronic devices are distracting drivers. On a scale of 10 to 1 how would you rate taking photographs while driving.

Maybe I'll just take them at red lights or when Babbie's driving.


January 24, 2007

War is a subject I keep coming back to. The Dresden Firebombing paintings are part of a number of attempts I have made at grappling with the subject. This painting comes from a series I did a few years ago. This one is called The King Falls.

It's big. It's lush. And I haven't seen the painting for a long time. Unstretched, it's rolled around a Sona Tube, along with dozens of others nestled between the joists of my studio ceiling. I put four to six paintings on a roll. More paintings are stored in Michael's bedroom. Babbie's threatening to turn it into a bedroom again. That's why the whole Dresden series is painted over old paintings. Space is the enemy.

Anyway, I feel a great attachment to these war pictures expressed through chess pieces, bullets and lipsticks. I think I have five of them. The one on the left is Rumor of War.

Attachments you form to paintings are strange. I have real feelings for some. Others just make me shrug. Some I like despite myself. Some represent a time when I was figuring out how to do something new with paint, for better or worse. And then there are the ones I come across occasionally that I totally forgot.



January 22, 2007

Angel of Incineration, new version, 69"x48", 2007.

This is the revised version of Angel of Incineration from the Dresden Firebombing series. I was unhappy with the flames in the original.

So I decided to douse the flames and substitute angel's head and torso. Like the wings, they were cut out of canvas and glued down with paint. It was hard to control the lighting glare shooting this photo.

I just finished the paining last week and have done another in the series since then. I'll show you that one soon. It's going to be hard to photograph because it has a shiny surface. Maybe I can haul it outdoors to shoot it once the paint dries.

If I decide I like the original of the angel better, it's too bad. It's gone. I did like the idea of representing her simply with wings. Doesn't it feel strange - irreverent maybe - to be discussing artistic judgments about such a horrendous event?


January 20, 2007

Sky over Springside Park on Thursday.

Todd Hido, the photographer, has been a bad influence on me. Ever since I saw his pictures I've been shooting landscapes. Or in this case a skyscape. Next I'll be shooting from the car, like he does. Berkshire drivers beware. Look him up on Google. And on my Jan. 7 post.

This afternoon my hooded sweatshirt arrived from California. On the front it says Jam. On the back: save the blenheim. The blenheim is a kind of apricot. One blenheim tree grows in the back yard of my nephew Eric Haeberli's house in San Francisco. It's the remaining tree of what used to be an orchard. He and his partner make jam from their limited harvest. It's starting to catch on. To meet demand, they're making arrangements to boost their apricot supply by going to area farmers who still raise this vanishing variety.

Take a look at their web site, It's fascinating. Also take a look at That's the Boston Globe web site. One of their food writers did a short piece on the jam and ordered some herself.

Fashonista that I am, I wore the jam sweatshirt under my black double breasted overcoat to a reception for the artist John Stritch, 81. I'm a big admirer of his abstract paintings. They're powerful. The show's at the Lichtenstein Art Center in Pittsfield until Mar. 4. See it if you can.


January 18, 2007

A lot of people experienced a wild ice storm this week. We got off easy, although you wouldn't know it from this shot of our forsythia bush.

My friend Leslie (you'll find her blog in my links) wrote engagingly recently about five things people don't know about her. Once she got a John Denver haircut. She challenged me to do the same thing. Not to get my locks shorn like his, but to disclose five secrets. Here goes:

1. A mild-mannered reporter by day I sometimes beat people up at the drop of a hat in my dreams. Hunter Thompson once wrote that a Hell's Angel would sock you for looking sideways at him. That's me when I dream.

2. I suffer from adored-child syndrome, according to my wife.

3. I still agonize about things I did or didn't do in high school.

a. Why didn't I try to catch that long pass that Billy Pallor threw on the first play of the North Tarrytown game in 1952? It was pouring rain. NT was our big rival. The game ended 0-0. There was no one anywhere near me. Except Angelo Monty, our big star who ended up playing for Georgia. He was 10 yards ahead of me. This was a special play that Coach Millman had put in for that game. It was a good play. We were both clear. "You take it," I shouted to Angelo as the ball went over my head. Coming back, he made a diving try but missed. "Why didn't you try for it?" he asked me as we returned to the huddle. That's a question I still agonize about.

b. Why did I screw that kid who bought my car in 1954? This is the way it happened. Actually it was at the end of my freshman year in college, not high school. Russ Kingman a star hockey player at Brown sold me a 1947 Ford convertible for $100. His parting advice was never to run it over 45 miles an hour. That was because, it turned out, it burned so much oil they had poured sawdust into the engine to try to tighten things up. I was so upset that he screwed me and so anxious to get my money back - I made it as a waiter at college - it didn't even occur to me that I was as bad as Kingman when I turned around and sold it to a kid from my high school. His mother saw my mother a month later and told her that they were very disappointed because her son had "looked up" to me.

4. Sometimes I think that if I was reincarnated I would like to take a shot at being a woman. That way I'd get to see life from the other side. And I could wear much cooler clothes. At 71 I've developed an interest in clothes. Never much at punctuation, I'm not crazy about periods.

5. I would like to own, and fire (not in anger), a Mac-10 automatic pistol, the one they call the street sweeper. How's that for being politically correct? Of course Babbie would exercise a veto. She wouldn't even come down to my studio when I was painting my gun series a few years ago. The one to the right is of a Mac 10.

Here's a bonus revelation. If you read Leslie's blog, you'll occasionally see comments posted by Brooke's Baby. That's me. Why Brooke's Baby? Guess. (Hint: It's something Brooke's baby and I share.)


January 16, 2007

Not yet titled, this collaged painting is 76.5" x 84". It is oil and enamel on canvas.

Well I keep telling you I'm going to show you this one and here it is. It's part of the Dresden firebombing series. I showed an early version on Jan. 1.

For better or worse, I've changed a lot of the figures around since then. Most of the figures in the bottom half are new. I sketch them on canvas and then cut them out and attach them. I've painted the figures and dripped the hieroglyphics on in red enamel. I still haven't decided what to do with the white object in the corner. I did drip my name in red into the black slot on its surface. I don't usually sign my paintings in front. That's because a teacher at Berkshire Community College suggested to the class that I thought a lot of myself when I brought in one painting signed.

Some friends have urged me to leave the white area alone.

But I keep thinking it needs some toning down. Right now it's basically raw canvas with a little black paint smeared on it.

What I had in mind when I did this, was that people had taken refuge from the firebombing by jumping into the Elbe, which flows through Dresden, only to drown or die of their burns. After the fairly early stage shown in the small photo, I started thinking that the bodies were spinning in a slow eddy. I can't decide whether I liked the earlier placement of the bodies better. In the new version I think they look too orderly.


January 13, 2007

Just the other day I proclaimed January 11 the first day of winter. Well it was also the last.

Yesterday was pretty balmy and today it's 50 and raining. The new ice on Pontoosuc Lake was steaming hard this morning, cover the lake in a shroud. The ice may not survive. I may not get to walk on the lake this winter.

This photo is of the bayberry hedge between our house and Woody and Rose's. It was dripping rain this morning. Where we should have a foot of snow we have grass, and it's looking pretty green.

Bob Kisken called from Wyoming today. It's minus 7 there. Maybe winter's simply going to bypass the Northeast. My snow blower's chomping at the bit, anxious for a little action.

I've been postponing showing you the latest version of my new painting (see Jan. 1 post) because I'm not sure what to do with the bottom left-hand corner.

Riley had a half day of second grade Friday so Babbie and I took her to lunch at Spice, the fancy new downtown restaurant. Riley picks out what she's going to wear every day. Sometimes she likes fairly bazaar combinations. But Friday she wore a pretty brown dress and a short sweater. We had a wonderful time. Our waitress's daughter Madison, who is in Riley's class, came over to say hello.

Then the wild child (Riley) came home with us. We played a word game, we played dollhouse - I'm the doctor who fixes up grandpa, who always manages to fall off the roof - and the rest of the kids. Then we played wolves and monsters. Babbie was the monster. The monster was trying to eat us, but we kept doing a frenetic dance to scare her off. Then I carried Riley around on my shoulders. Then we roughhoused. Then I fell asleep. Babbie, fortunately, is more durable so an adult was still awake when Shannon arrived to pick her daughter up. God bless you, Riley.


January 11, 2007

The sun tries to break through at Springside Park, Pittsfield.

This was the first day of winter, according to my sensory calendar. I shot this photo of the sun trying to break through at Springside Park, one of my favorite haunts these days.

Snow covered the ground but it was no more than an inch deep. Normally at this time of year, there's a heavy layer of snow here. But what can you expect when just last week the temperature hit 65? Driving to the park I noticed that Pontoosuc Lake is frozen over for the first time. In a normal year I'd have started taking walks on the lake weeks ago. The ice is still thin. If it stays cold, it will get a foot or more deep.

The think I like least about winter is having to scrape my car windshield. I used to be jealous of Dan Boino in the composing room at The Eagle. He had had one of those automatic car starters installed in his pickup. He could just stand at the window in the composing room and press a button on his remote and the pickup would burst into life. No windshield scraping for him.

The things I like best about winter are sunny days and moonlit nights. Moonlight becomes you, as the old song said, and so does sunlight - if the you is snow. I know. That's a stretch. I like the pussy willow softness of the hills without their foliage. I love walking on the lake. And this winter I'll try Springside for the first time. It has meadows, light woods, heavy forest, and its big. It even has some gulls. I shot this one this morning.


January 9, 2007

I was driving around Pittsfield today thinking about how I'd like to take shots from the car like Todd Hido. (See Jan. 7 post) Then my minded shifted gear and I was thinking about Gregory Crewdson and the dramatic contrast in the way the two men take pictures.

Where Hido needed only a car and a camera to grab his shots in Roaming, Crewdson works with a crew of dozens. He's like a Hollywood director. He has grips, best boys, a big budget, the whole thing.

And where one shoots what he sees, the other manufactures the scene, shooting what's in his imagination. Both come up with haunting stuff. Look at the Crewdson below, Untitled (Ophelia), which was shown several years ago at MASS MoCA in North Adams.


I picked the one of the house on fire because of my familiarity with the building. It is on Crane Avenue, a Pittsfield street I use frequently. The house has a history. Not too many years ago a young mother in deep mental distress seriously wounded her children with a knife. It happened while I was working at The Eagle and I edited the story.

Now the house has been memorialized, not for what happened there, but for a drama that took place in Crewdson's mind. The fire was staged and extinguished by the Fire Department. I think this was shot in the summer of 2005. The artist left the house with scorched siding. That annoyed me. It wasn't in great shape before he came. But it was an eyesore after he left.

Crewdson spoke at Williams College last year. The Williams College Museum of Art has a fine show in which Crewdson explores Edward Hopper's influence on his work.(It runs through April 15.) After the reception, I told Crewdson that the condition he left the building in bothered me. He said officials had told him not to worry about cleaning it up because it was going to be torn down. That's true. It's marked for demolition. But it is still standing. Crewdson said he would do something about it. And he did. The scorch marks have been eradicated. I was also interested that Crewdson knew about the stabbings.

Another thing that connects me to this shot is that it shows the stone yard at John's Building Supply, a yard I wandered through on many a Sunday morning looking for the right slab of bluestone for a backyard bench and for stones for walls and walks in Babbie's gardens. The woman there joked that I had bought enough stone to sink the back yard.

Below is another Pittsfield shot. Crewdson brought in the Fire Department to hose down the streets. He had smoke machines blasting. He had heavy duty lighting. He had Jennifer Jason Leigh, a friend. She's the actress sitting in the car in the middle of the intersection of North and Eagle streets. You can't see her here. I can't remember if she's recognizable in the real photo, probably seven feet wide. But he wanted her there and he directed her as she took her pose. The real photo is a computer generated composite of a multitude of shots they took of the scene. The Berkshire Museum, under it's new director, Stuart Chase, has renewed its interest in art after a long hiatus. The museum now owns this one. I think the artist and his gallery gave them a break on the price.



January 7, 2007

Todd Hido is a photographer whose work I stumbled across prowling the internet the other day. Looking at photos from his book Roaming is like seeing the land through a glass darkly.

Many, maybe all, of the shots are taken through the windshield of a moving car, like the one above. You can even see the drops of rain on the left side of the windshield.

The beauty of the photo is breathtaking. But it also conveys a sense of - of what? Is it foreboding? There is that suggestion of a funnel cloud on the right horizon.

Roaming was published in an addition of 3000 by Nazraeli Press in 2004. Now used editions are selling for more than $200. And one of his previous books, House Hunting, is now selling for $1,200 to $2,400. I don't know what they cost originally, but on the surface it seems like it must be a giant escalation. Hido, who was born in 1968, currently has a show, Between the Two, at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco.

Both photos by Todd Hido. The one on the left is from his book Roaming. The sad-eyed girl is from his new book, Between the Two.



January 4, 2007


Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Ad Astra (To the Stars), 1894, from ArtDaily Newsletter.

This astonishing painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela is part of a major exhibit of his work at the Groninger Museum, the Netherlands, that ends April 15.

Gallen-Kallela, who lived from 1865 to 1931, is called Finland's greatest artist. The heart of the exhibition are his paintings of The Kalevala, an ancient epic poem credited with helping shape Finland's national identity. Here are a few lines to give you a sense of it:

Now the daughter of the Northland,

Honored by the land and water,

Straightway takes her choicest raiment,

Takes her dresses rich in beauty,

Finest of her silken wardrobe,

Now adjusts her silken fillet,

On her brow a band of copper,

Round her waist a golden girdle,

Round her neck a pearly necklace,

Shining gold upon her bosom,

In her hair the threads of silver.

I have only read a little of it. But it sounds like good stuff.


January 01 , 2007

Work in Progress, 76.5 x 84 inches. Collage and oil on canvas.

Underneath the figures of collaged canvas and paint is the painting Confluence ( see Dec. 29 entry.) What we've got here is the early stages of what I'm calling In the River at this point.

The painting represents people who I imagine sought refuge in the Elbe River from the heat and flames of the Dresden firebombings, only to die in its waters. For the last couple days I have been peeling off some of the figures and repositioning them on the canvas. I'll keep doing that tomorrow, to come up with a configuration I like.

After this photo was taken, I stained some of the figures with dark colors, letting the gold shine through. The figures end up looking like leather. In places I had pushed matches into the wet paint to secure them to the surface, and then ignited them. The matches form the hieroglyphics that I had brought into the previous paintings with dripped paint.

I still have a long way to go on this painting. And then we'll see whether it was worth sacrificing Confluence. Maybe I'll show you some more photos of the piece as I go along. By the way, Happy New Year.




Seth Harwood, writer

Leslie, poet

Joe Goodwin, painter

Lisa Reinke, painter

John Mitchell, commentary

Charles Guiliano, MAVERIC, art critic

Saatchi Gallery



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