Petrified Forest Residency, Day 5, September 30, 2010

Sept 30, 2010

6 AM:

This (early) morning we went to southern entrance of park, where a stabilized  petrified-wood building, dated around 1250 AD, is located. It’s about a mile up an easy walking trail and represents something of the Puebloan culture that inhabited this area. Officially called Agate House, the structure has been stabilized and restabilized over the years. The petrified wood pieces have been mortared, originally with local soils, but later remortared, probably at times with Portland cement, in the 20th century.

It is unclear how authentic the construction is; the ranger said it was stabilized, not reconstructed, after being excavated in the 1930’s (although she wasn’t quite clear about the dating. The CCC guys were working in this area in the 30’s so that seems like a possibly accurate time period. ) It has been restabilized a number of times since.  The Agate House is said to have been part of a large walled compound, although my eyes could detect nothing else human-made in the surrounding landscape. The ranger said the walls of the large compound are quite obvious when seen  from above, but since the remaining building sits on a high point, well above the surrounding landscape, I suppose I can be forgiven for my inability to detect any further building. In fact, I find it amazing that these structures can be found at all, although I understand that pot shards were wide-spread until “gleaned” early in the century. And perhaps a bit of training in archaeology would enable me to improve my eye for lost habitations.

The southern part of the Park is particularly known for its petrified logs, which are everywhere, all sizes and shapes, with beautiful minerals showing in the fractured pieces. The logs were apparently fractured from earth movements over the millions of years that they laid there, and are now in evidence because of the erosion of the softer soils around them.

The landscape is fascinating – soft prairie grasses surrounding multi-colored logs, mostly red, but some in various other mineralized colors. This is also perhaps the area most heavily gathered from prior to protection from the government beginning as early as 1906 (and perhaps still heavily stolen from in spite of the precautions, warnings, signs, and heavy-duty finger shaking from all sides.) The rocks are indeed almost irresistible (I am resisting!); luckily (I guess) immediately outside the park as well as in the town of Holbrook, large commercial outfits sell the rocks that have, so we are told, been legitimately gleaned from private lands. There are also small shops inside the park where vendors sell artifacts made from the gorgeous stone, paperweights, beads, sculptures, etc.

My aim this morning was to paint Agate House, as a companion to the painting of the Painted Desert Inn. I wanted to include it in its landscape, giving it context.

Agate House, 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2010

This photo is particularly bad: the hues, on this computer, look wildly off from the way they look in the painting –this is not a snow scene, regardless of how it looks on the computer screen. I am actually rather pleased with this painting, although it will, as usual, need a bit of tweaking. The pleasure in part comes from survived having walked 3 miles before I could begin painting (up and back to scout and up again to paint) and from having started the painting at 9:30, when the heat had already begun to have a bit of a bite. So my pleasure comes from a variety of sources.

I realized during this bit of exercise that I might have an idea about how these paintings might be presented so they can be seen singly but also in context. This “notion” will probably change, but it helps focus my next choices of painting places a bit.

I’m envisioning a rectangular set of paintings (think quilt blocks presented singly in a rectangular shape), with 4 or more in the center, surrounded by four longer landscapes plus four corner blocks.

I am imagining keeping the natural elements, landscape and landforms, on the outside edges, while the interior paintings  will be of the human cultural manifestations. There are plenty of human elements to be painted, both in context as well as without context but with clear readable scenes.

Here’s one human context that bemused Jer and me; apparently the trail to Agate House and a longer trail through ravines of petrified wood called the Long Log Trail was once a two-lane road:

This is the trail, with the center stripe of the old road still holding its own. The buildings in the background are of the south Park Compound, including a museum which we haven’t explored much yet. It’s on the list….

Of course, plans about presentation are all speculation. We are on Day 5 of our visit, so in 9 days, the plein air painting will be completed. After that, photographs will have to suffice. I am asking Jer, who has the best camera, to take photos of elements that I might not get to or that might need to be redone. But he is an editor to his very core, so unless he gets specific instructions, all but his very best photos are deleted before I have a chance to snatch them. Another reason to have a plan – asking politely for a set of photos is easier than trying to snatch them from him before he tidies his files.

We couldn’t bear to drive back the 22 miles to the Park’s southern end to paint more of that territory this afternoon,  so I painted at Pintado Point, five or so miles away from our northern-end apartment. Because I have a presentation scheme in mind, I decided I should start in on the bigger horizontal boards, 12″ x 24″. I started painting this big board a bit late, after 4 PM. Jer reappeared at 5:30 (the park closes and the sun disappears at 6).  I had forgotten how much time it takes merely to get some paint all over the board, let alone get the paint to do what you want it to do. So this painting is rough. The northern part of the Park is of the wildly colored rocks and soils, like those I did earlier this week, although this painting also includes Pilot Rock, an isolated eroded butte that can be seen for miles around.

Pilot Rock from Pintado Point, 12 x 24″, oil on masonite, 2010

I’m discovering that the tourists in the late afternoons are not only much more numerous than at 6 AM (this I can understand) but they are also far more talkative. I think the long day of driving and stopping and driving and stopping finally breaks down their reserve; they yearn for a bit of humanity against the landscape. So the artist gets to chat away, which is fun, but also difficult to paint around. This particular painting needs more work, but it shouldn’t be difficult to manage.

Four of the ten paintings on the back patio (all in varying states of completion) are now dry to the touch, which means they can be readily reworked. The desert definitely has some advantages over humid Portland. And there’s a 30% chance of rain tomorrow; the clouds this evening were glorious. Who ever would have imagined that a Portlander could be excited at the thought of rain?

Reported from Apt. K, Petrified Forest National Park, September 30,2010. –June

4 thoughts on “Petrified Forest Residency, Day 5, September 30, 2010

  1. Diane, I had exactly the same thought as Barbara — that when you show up at her door, I am going to be right behind you. I want to see _her_ desert. As I am learning more and more, every desert — and every person’s desert — is different. We have been traveling back and forth through the Park to painting spots, and each time I see something new — a ravine that opens into badlands that can only be spotted from one place on the highway, for example. Today (Monday) I painted more of the wood, and that is still a thrill.

    Barbara, it was you who found the site from which I ordered my desert hat — the one I wear every time I paint. I can’t stand it ordinarily, but when I paint, it’s absolutely essential. Not only does it block the sun in the most important ways, but it also helps focus — a bit like a sun-bonnet –cuts out the side views.

    Thanks for checking in, guys.

  2. Oh that would make me very happy. Of course June would have to drop down also. It would be interesting to see what we each created if we were standing side by side at one point in the desert. (With several gallons of water, and big hats of course.)

  3. June, I am enjoying your unique style of journalism as much as your paintings. Both are serving to draw me into the desert — quite foreign terrain for me. Someday I will appear at Barbara’s door in Deming — “Hi. show me the desert!”

  4. June, you are no longer a Portlander, but a desert rat (that is a move up the ladder closer to the gods). Desert rats become excited by the rain, speculate on the size, content, and direction of clouds, and when the rain does comes we don’t run for cover, but stand and feel the sensation of it on our upturned faces. Of course we are award of the power of water and never, never step into an arroyo if we see coulds at any distance. I am so glad the opportunity to work at the Paited Desert went to someone who would not just lkie the pretty colors, buy love the land.

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