Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Easel on Down the Road to Illinois

When I got in the car last week, I was not sure I would drive the 2 and 1/2 hours to Chicago. I had just received a text from one of my all-time best friends, Mary: the Skyway was closed due to 60 mph wind gusts. Now, I am a brave driver, with lots of trust in my car, but it is a dinky, little Honda Fit and I could just picture it plucked off the bridge, the way of Dorothy. I decided I would go as far as the bank (4 miles) and try and catch Mare on the phone. The wind was bending the trees along Blue Star Highway and pitching leaves and bits of branch in every direction. Allen (when consulted) said, "Execute Plan B!" But - dang it! - weather has not stopped me once in 48 states... how could I let it affect the easiest destination of all?

I made the drive just fine, keeping my eye on double-semis as I maneuvered the steering wheel to balance the wind's push. I headed directly to Mana Contemporary in the Pilsen neighborhood on the south side of the city. 30 years ago I lived spitting distance away in the center of an artists' enclave. It felt like going home.

The old freight elevator dropped me on the 5th floor in an large area with tables and chairs. There was a gallery on one side, an art library next to it. Hallways branched out in several directions. One of the tall metal doors was open and I glimpsed a huge canvas with giant gestural paint strokes. I found Eddie, one of my besties from Saugatuck, in his bright sculpture studio around the corner. I lugged my gear inside and saw a magnificent view of the Loop through a bank of windows on the back wall. The Sears Tower (I refuse to remember its new name) sat solidly in the foreground, clusters of buildings like blocks at its feet. Wowzer! Eddie gave me a big hug and introduced me to the artists that were preparing lunch on a stove in the corner. I joined them for their midday meal of deep-fried egg yolks on spinach and pasta. (Yum!)

While I enjoyed chatting with others in the same profession as myself, I was anxious to start painting. I have recorded the Chicago skyline in any number of mediums throughout my life and I know it takes vigorous focus to render it in a believable fashion. Plus, I was surrounded by artists of all kinds who were successful enough to afford a studio in this amazing community. My heart pounded.

I calmed myself by sketching on paper. These were non-organic shapes in a certain order. All I had to do was look! Soon, I painted the outlines on canvas, carefully stretching the Sears Tower from top to bottom, not unlike the lighthouse I painted in Maine a year ago. I kept the colors to warm and cool grays, mixing with only ultramarine blue, burnt orange, yellow ochre, medium red and white. When the buildings were filled in, I splurged with cobalt blue and a medium yellow to swing the clouds around them. Done... for now!

It was with great relief that I piled my stuff into my car and headed west towards LaGrange. Mary and Mark live in a delightful home, simple and surprising design playing lightly throughout the rooms. We ate chicken vesuvius, drank red wine and laughed by a roaring fire. The next day I was flying to Austin to visit Peter; I would leave my car at their house for the weekend. Visiting my son bookends "Easel on Down the Road", as a trip to see him was the first in this series.  

And so, I had a superior experience in Illinois, the state where I was born and raised. Exceptional people provided me with space, comfort and convenience. I filled up on friendship and food. As I near the end of this project, I realize that if love is the wealth of life, I am very rich indeed!


  1. I have enjoyed this project. How easel through Canada?

    1. I will surely need another project! The thought of this one ending is really making me sad.

  2. Love your story and writing style! The painting is pretty darn cool too!