Classic Art Series: 5 – Freda

A11722.jpg

Camille Pissaro, “The Artist’s Garden at Eragny” 1898 – Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Freda pulled another weed from the garden and then stood to rub her back. Another long hot day… I’m ready for some lemonade. I wonder if the painters are too?

She picked up her weed bucket and headed toward the house. She dumped the weeds in the trash receptacle, dropped the bucket next to the step below the kitchen door and entered the shady coolness. Freda gathered some lemons, sugar and a pitcher and proceeded to squeeze the lemons. That’s a good day’s work. The pain in my back proves it and should help me sleep well tonight. She hummed to herself as she worked. I wonder how Jeb’s doing. I’ll drop the lemonade off to the artists and then bring him a glass. Might even get a hug for my effort.

Freda stopped to chat with the three artists in residence for the week as she poured them each a glass of the cool tart lemonade. When Jeb had retired from his English professorship at a university upstate, they bought this small bed and breakfast. It had been a financial struggle to repair everything broken or run down when they moved in. Not quite in the city, and not quite on the coast, they had few guests registered those first few years.

One day, as Freda had been perusing a literary magazine, she had an epiphany – to advertise it as a quiet country residence for writers and artists. Since then, word had spread like wildfire and they kept a steady business – especially in the summer. They usually booked out their rooms by the week, nine or ten months in advance.

Freda and Jeb offered a clean quiet home with a full breakfast and an hors d’oeuvres cocktail hour every evening. Often, guests would call a cab or borrow their bicycles to ride the ten minutes to town for lunch or to see the sites if they didn’t have their own vehicle. Guests were lucky to taste the rich vegetables that Freda grew in the garden, which was her pride and joy. 

Both Freda and Jeb considered themselves lucky, now that they had a steady business. It afforded them an opportunity for a weekly vacation away every year, and also allowed Jeb the free time to paint, which had been his dream since boyhood. Freda walked to the studio now with a glass of lemonade, taking in the sun reflecting off the windows and wiping her brow.

“Hello, my dear,” said Jeb, when she opened the door. “My, but you are a welcome sight with that lemonade.” He picked the glass from her hand and took a long swallow. “Mmm…just what I needed.”

Freda studied the portrait on the easel. “Who is that? And why have you painted her into a mermaid?”

Jeb chuckled at Freda’s sarcastic tone. “Don’t worry, love. It’s just a mermaid – no one in particular.”

Freda let out a long sigh. “I’m not sure why you think it necessary to paint all those fantastical portraits you paint. Why can’t you just paint the landscape. There’s so much beautiful land and country here, and the scene constantly changes with the seasons. You can even catch different creatures like deer and raccoons to put in the paintings.”

Jeb laughed, “Oh, Freda, there’s not much imagination in that, now, is there?”

Freda looked abashed. I don’t know why he so greatly values imagination, but it makes him happy, so I’ll try to be understanding. She pecked his cheek, gave a small wave and headed back to the kitchen.

***

“Freda,” said Jeb, six months later. “Let’s open presents.”

Freda laughed. “Oh, Jeb! You’re just like a little boy at Christmastime!”

She picked up a gift box from under their large Christmas tree and went to sit in her rocking chair in front of the fireplace, holding the gift in her lap. Jeb followed suit, sitting next to her in his own rocker. They both sat quietly for a moment, listening to the pop of the fire and admiring the twinkling lights on the tree. They never booked guests over Christmas week, instead keeping their pretty property quiet that one week per year for themselves.

“Well, I guess I’ll go first,” said Freda, handing Jeb the box. He opened it slowly and carefully, savoring the amount of preparation that had gone into the pretty packaging.

Lifting the box top he exclaimed, “Oh, Freda! These are perfect!” Jeb lifted three fine paint brushes. “They must’ve cost a pretty penny; however did you afford these?”

“I’ve been saving a little here and there this year. They are sable,” she answered shyly.

“My love, you always manage to surprise me. They are so soft, they almost feel too precious to use.”

Freda laughed. “You’d better use them! That’s what I bought them for, and I know you’ll take good care of them, just like you do of me.” Jeb stood and hugged her.

He sat back down in his chair and then pulled his gift box up from the floor where it had been leaning against an end table, and handed it to her.

She studied the wrapping paper and asked,”Did you paint this?” At his nod, she added,”It’s beautiful.” She stroked the paper intently.

“Open it, Freda.”

Freda slid her hand under the tape on the back of the package. She could tell it was a frame from the way her fingers caught on a wire. She gingerly slipped the paper off the edges and let it fall to the floor. Very carefully she turned the frame over.

She lost her breath for a moment. When she regained it she said, “Jeb, this is beautiful.” Tears sprang to her eyes and her hand flew to cover her mouth as she tried to regain her composure.

The painting was a landscape of their bed and breakfast, taken from the angle in front of the garden. In the picture, Freda stood turned toward the sun with a blissful smile on her face.

She continued, “I guess you did find a creature to paint, after all!”

Classic Art Series: 4 – August Part 2

E11039.jpg

Paul Cezanne, “House of Pere Lacroix” 1873 – Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

…continued.

There, in all her glorious dark hair, stood Pila d’Arezzo. August lost his voice. The two men looked at each other, one sick from guilt, the other sick from love.

“Hallo, Jackson.” She waved at the barkeeper. “Can I get a beer?”

Eduardo whispered, “What’s she doing here? I never seen her come in here before!”

“Me neither.” August moved to the other side of the booth for a better look.

Pila looked around the room, caught August’s eye and smiled. His throat went dry, but he managed to smile back at her. She thanked Jackson, picked up her mug and walked toward them. August looked swiftly around the room, noticing the lack of patrons.

“Hallo, Eduardo. What’s your friend’s name?”

Eduardo stuttered, “Hallo, Pila. This is August. August, this is Pila.” He looked at August with wide eyes and a slight shake of his head.

August caught Eduardo’s meaning and put a radiant smile on his face. “Won’t you join us?” He slid closer to the wall and she sat down next to him. He could smell her perfume.

She studied him a moment. “Don’t you walk the path every day?”

August’s eyebrows shot up. “Uh, yes I do. I, uh, like to get my exercise.” She’s noticed me.

She nodded. “Yes, that’s good. Say, have either of you seen anyone messing with my garden?”

“That’s an interesting question, why do you ask?” said August.

“Today someone was digging again. I know you do our gardening, Eduardo, but this was on the north side where you don’t work. Bitzy, mi amor perro, found it and almost fell in! I’d hate to have to put up a fence, but I can’t have my baby getting injured. This was the last straw for my parents and they want to put up the fence. I told them I’d come to the village and see what I could find out.”

August looked pointedly at Eduardo. Eduardo shrugged and said nothing.

She continued. “I don’t know what else to do. We may have to put up the fence, but I’d hate it if you couldn’t walk the path, August.” She looked at him with doe eyes.

Eduardo let out a big sigh. “Oh, okay. It was me. Some guy from the city paid me fifty dollars to get this flower for him.” He held the flower out to Pila. She stared blankly at it.

“Have you been the one cutting our flowers, Eduardo?”

“No, but I know who’s doing it. That guy hired a couple other guys to get this flower before he asked me. They didn’t know what they were doing and kept bringing him the wrong flowers.”

Pila just stared at Eduardo. She didn’t say anything.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am. I can give you the fifty dollars.” He looked sheepish. “Please don’t call the police.” His head hung low.

She looked at August. He shrugged a shoulder.

“Do you think this is done, Eduardo?”

“I don’t know, Ma’am. If the guy doesn’t get the flower, he may come back.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment and then, “I’ll tell you what. If you help me catch him, I won’t tell the police you took it first. Just plant it back where you found it and then call him and tell him you’ve changed your mind, but that if he wants it, he can get it himself. Tell him we will be gone this evening. I’ll call the police and they can wait for him.”

Eduardo nodded.

“August, will you walk back with me?” August nodded. They stood up, said goodbye to Eduardo, waved at Jackson and left the bar.

“So…” began Pila. “How do you like the pond?”

August felt his face flush. “It’s lovely. The scenery around it is so pretty this time of year.”

“I’m not usually forward, but do you think you’d like to have a coffee with me some time?”

Butterflies erupted in August’s stomach. “Yes. Yes, I’d like that very much.”

Classic Art Series: 4 – August Part 1

E11039.jpg

Paul Cezanne, “House of Pere Lacroix” 1873 – Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

August peered over the pond. What is she doing now? I can’t see her through the trees anymore. Autumn needs to come fast so the leaves fall. I need to see my beloved again.

Every day August strolled the walking path that tread from the center of the village, to the outskirts of town and then across the d’Arezzo estate. The d’Arezzo family had allowed villagers to walk the path into the forest for almost a hundred years, but August had recently heard they may soon revoke the privilege.  Destruction of the estate’s large gardens had occurred on several occasions and even with complaints lodged to the village council, the desecration had continued.

August walked the path to try to see the d’Arezzo’s daughter, Pila; but he also wanted to keep an eye out and perhaps even capture the criminals. If he did, Pila might think him a hero and take notice of him. He walked the path every day, yet she had only waved to him once. I wonder if she knows I walk to see her. I walk to protect her.

As he stared across the pond, he saw a rustling in the small scraggly trees on the opposite side of the pond. His heart leapt. Might she be walking to the pond? How should I stand? Should I lean against this tree? Should I pretend I don’t see her? 

A red plaid covered elbow came through the tall grass. August ducked behind a bush. The rest of the man soon followed the elbow through the scraggly trees. He carried one lone flower, roots and all. He walked along the edge of the pond to where a wheelbarrow rested, constantly scanning the area. The man put the pink flower in a tan mesh sack, laid it gently in the wheelbarrow and covered it with some other foliage. Then he picked up the wheelbarrow and whistled as he pushed it back through the scrub.

What was that about? August hurried deeper into the trees further along the path, to where he could look down the estate’s long driveway. He kept himself hidden in the trees and waited. Within a few minutes an old rusty truck with a bunch of gardening tools in the bed drove out from the main house. As the truck passed, August saw the driver – Eduardo! What is he doing?

August headed back toward town on the path, thoughts roiling around in his head. He was thirsty from the walk, so when he was back in the center of the village, instead of going up to his flat he stopped at the pub for a beer. When he walked in, he felt eyes on him.

“Hallo, August!” Jackson, the barkeeper, called. August nodded and took a seat at the bar. “You wanna pint?” Again August nodded.

Jackson watched him take a long pull from the mug. “You alright, hefe?”

August surveyed his surroundings. The few patrons paid him no attention, but his head paused mid-swing at the two men in the corner. “What’s Eduardo doin’ over there?”

“Dunno.” Jackson shrugged, drying a glass. “Why? Why don’t you go ask him? You’ve known him since primary school.”

“Who’s the guy with him?”

“Dunno.” Jackson shrugged again and put the glass up on a shelf. “You want me to go ask him?” Jackson laughed and shook his head. “It’s no my business. I keep to myself.”

August stared at Jackson. Maybe I will go ask him. For Pila. He stood up, nodded at Jackson, picked up his mug and walked toward the table.

“Hey, Eduardo! How’s it goin’ man?” August clapped a hand on Eduardo’s back and slid into the booth next to him. He held his hand out to the man across the table, dressed in fine clothes. “Hallo, what’s your name, amigo? You no from around here, eh?”

The man looked at August’s hand but did not take it, so he let it drop. The man glared at Eduardo.

“Hey, August. I’m kinda busy,” said Eduardo, his smile not quite reaching his eyes.

“Yeah,” August said, nodding and smiling. “I see you made a new friend here.” August saw the mesh sack sitting next to Eduardo on the booth bench. “What you got there?” He pointed at the sack.

“Oh, that’s nothin’. Just something I picked up at work today.”

“Oh yeah? Where you workin’ now?”

“Uh, I work up at the big house. Doin’ a bit of gardening.”

“That right? I didn’t know that. How long you been workin’ up there, man?” August turned to Jackson. “Hey Jackson, bring us a round, will you?”

Eduardo raised his hand and waved at Jackson. “No man, I got to go.” The other man glared at Eduardo, got up and left the pub.

“Hey, August, you gotta let me out, man.”

“Eduardo, we been friends a long time, no?”

Eduardo nodded and shrugged. “So?”

“Did you take something that does no belong to you?”

Eduardo’s eyebrows shot up before guilt covered his face. He squinted, quickly recovering. “What you talkin’ about?”

August glared at him. “I saw you take something up there and put it in your barrow, man.”

Eduardo’s eyes closed and he let out a long sigh. “Aw, man. You did? You saw me?” At August’s nod, he continued. “That guy out there,” he threw a thumb toward the front door, “he paid me fifty bucks to get him this flower. I figured, hey, what the heck. It’s only one flower, right?”

“Eduardo, if that guy is paying you fifty bucks, it’s probably worth a lot more than that, right? I mean, he looks like he’s from the city. He’s got those expensive clothes and not a nice face.”

The bell above the door jingled. August watched Eduardo’s face pale as he saw who entered the pub. August turned.

To be continued…

 

Classic Art Series: 3 – Roderick

A11193.jpg

Claude Monet, “Woman with a Parasol” 1875 – Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

“Thank you, Ma’am, for letting me sketch you. I will take my sketch home and paint it out. It should be ready for you to pick up by next Wednesday.” The woman nodded. Roderick handed her a note card with a fake address on it. He bowed formally to her and then watched her walk away with her son. He pocketed the coins she gave him.

That was quite convenient. Maybe I should sit in parks during the afternoon more often. She wasn’t rude to me at all. And she didn’t slap me just for offering. He looked at the sketch. This should build up my pocket just fine. I’m sure I can copy it several times and sell it as I walk through the rest of Virginia. Ladies and gents are usually sympathetic to a man who’s lost his dear dear wife and son.

Roderick put his sketch book and cedar pencil in his breast coat pocket as he stood up. He straightened his hat, pulled at his lapels and began walking. He had a tent on the outskirts of town and needed to change from his fancy clothes before they began to stink. It was another hot day. Oh, I can’t handle this heat all summer. He tugged at his collar.

Maybe I should head north after I pick up more pencils in Tennessee. I hear it’s cooler up there. He put his hand in his coin pocket and jangled it. It has been a productive week here, but I think it’s time to go. Never too long in one place.

“Hey there! You!”

Roderick turned around slowly, placing a big plastic smile on his face.

“It’s me! James Merriwether. I wonder how you’re coming along on my wife’s portrait?”

“Oh, hello, Mr. Merriwether. Well, it’s a good thing you spotted me. I’ve had an issue with my paints and I am missing a particular yellow that I need to finish it. I was actually just on my way to the general store to see if they carry it. Seems this is a pretty big town and I shouldn’t have to order it.”

Merriwether nodded in understanding, but raised an eyebrow. “Aw, that’s too bad. I was hoping to come by your house and get a glimpse?” He nudged Roderick with his elbow.

“Yes, that is indeed too bad.” Roderick put on his sad face. “Well, it’s been good to see you. Perhaps you could give me ’til Tuesday to finish? That is, if the shop has the paint.”

Merriwether looked at the ground. “Why, that is distinctly disappointing. But, alas, what can I do. I will come by Tuesday lunch to pick up the portrait.” With a lift of his hat and a nod he walked on.

I’d better get a move on. I really do need to get to Shelbyville for pencils. I’m getting a little too old for this game. Maybe with all the traveling I do, Zeb will give me some to sell. Humph. That’s it. I’ll try to sell the pencils. Maybe try to make an honest living for a change. 

 

Classic Art Series: 2-Cicely

A12236.jpg

Paul Cezanne, “Harlequin” 1890 – Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Cicely held her paintbrush aloft as she stared at the model dressed in the harlequin costume. Hmm… What scene should I put him in? I can’t believe I’m having so much trouble with this assignment. It’s been at least twenty minutes and I haven’t thought of a thing. It must be his eyes… they’re so sad.

He glanced at her. She blushed, quickly averting her eyes to look at her blank canvas. Oh, he caught me staring! That is so embarrassing. What do I do now? She tapped her brush against the easel. Mr. Kanton cleared his throat. She stopped tapping and peeked around her canvas. The model was looking back at the floor again.

Whew. What am I so worried about anyway? Staring at the model is what we’re here for, right? To look at and paint the model. Well, maybe not stare at the model. And maybe do some actual painting. She chuckled softly.

“Something funny, Ms. James?” her teacher croaked, arching a furry eyebrow at her.

“Um, no, sorry, Mr. Kanton.” She blushed again, and stared back at her blank canvas.

Cicely parked her brush between her teeth, folding one arm under the other. I wonder if he does this a lot. How can he stand there for several hours in the same position? Do his legs cramp up? I wonder if he has another job? Maybe he’s a student too, like me. The model caught her again.

This time she did not look away. Instead, she stood a little taller and dipped her brush in paint. She glanced at the canvas and made a black stroke. Then she glanced back at the model. Harlequin winked. She made another stroke on her canvas, this one smearing sideways. She grabbed a paper towel and tried to swipe away the paint. Her face burned. Did he just wink at me?

She peeked around her canvas again.

“Ms. James?” said Mr. Kanton from behind her. She jerked, putting another glob on her canvas. Holy cow, I didn’t even hear him walk up behind me! “You seem to be having a problem today. Can I help with anything?”

“Um, no thanks. I’m just trying to figure out which scene to put him in.”

Mr. Kanton cleared his throat. “Well, from the look of this canvas, it appears you’re going to be sacrificing him on a cross.” He raised his eyebrow at her.

Quickly thinking while trying to save herself some humiliation she answered, “Yes, yes, I am.”

She glanced at the model. Harlequin smirked at her. She dropped her brush. Paint spattered across the floor.

“Ms. James. Why don’t you go ahead and pack up for today. You are causing quite a distraction to my other pupils. We will see you again on Thursday.”

Cicely dropped her brush in the mason jar half filled with water, and then wiped up the paint from the floor. Her face blazed as she packed up her paints. Wasn’t even any reason to unpack them today. What is wrong with me? She could feel all eyes on her, especially Harlequin’s. She dare not look at anyone as she walked to the locker wall where she stored her items. She turned the lock back and forth until it clicked open, thrust her apron and paints inside and clutched her bag. Turning abruptly around, she smacked into Harlequin. He slipped a card into her bag.

“Mr. Thomas! Get back into position!” roared Mr. Kanton.

Harlequin winked at her and turned away.

Cicely fled.

Classic Art Series: 1 – Sarah

A17050.jpg

Auguste Renoir, “Oarsmen at Chatou” 1879 – Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

“Don’t go out again!” Sarah called, as she stood on the bank stomping her boot, hiking up her skirt. She looked at her boots and tried to kick the mud off.

“Oh, dear, leave the boy alone,” said Daniel, her husband, waving at the boy to go ahead. He winked at her. “He’ll be back in time for dinner, and the exercise is good for him.” Daniel stuck his hands in his coat pockets, searching for his tobacco pack.

“Don’t fret so, Sarah, the boy is proud of what he’s made. Can’t say I’m not a little bit pleased with it myself.  He was fair easy to teach,” her father said, watching the boy paddle further from the shoreline. “I’m sure she’s water tight and he won’t have any problems.”

“Yes, but Dad, he’s too young to be going all over the river on his own. You should have made it a two-seater, then you or Daniel could have gone out with him.” She saw Daniel shake his head and turn back toward the house. She stared after him.

“He’ll be fine. Why, I was what, half his age, when I went down to the river fishing on my own. My mother never fret so.” He patted her shoulder. “Now, now there. It’ll be alright, my girl.” They both turned and started walking toward the house.

“Well, if you think so.” She sighed. “I’d better check on dinner.”

“This ole’ man has built up an appetite!” Sarah laughed as he patted his belly.

***

Sarah heard shouts. She dropped the hot dish she had just pulled from the oven onto the stove top and ran to look out the window. Several men were gathered at the river bank. Daniel ran down the hill toward the crowd and her father trotted after him. She quickly untied her apron, threw it on the table and followed them, slamming the screen door so hard it opened back up and stood slightly ajar.

Sarah ran. Oh that boy! I knew something would happen to him. I just knew it!

Coming upon the group of men, she pushed her way through, relieved when she saw her son. She clutched him to her chest, squeezing him tightly.

“Ma! Let go!”

Sarah pushed him back and searched his face. She held his face tightly, cheeks squishing through fingers in both hands.

“Ow!”

“Sarah, let the boy go,” said Daniel, pulling her hands away from their son’s face. “He’s fine. But look what he found.” He pointed at a huge fish laying on the beach. She looked at it, then around at all the men, confused. She looked back at the fish and noticed it had fins on its top side.

“What is that?” she asked incredulously.

Her father was the first to answer. “Why, I do believe it’s an old bull shark. I seen them down in Louisiana when I was traveling around selling insurance. I don’t know how it got so far north, though.” Her father shook his head, still studying the creature. It’s tail flapped, smacking the sand loudly.

“Can you eat it?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I don’t think you’d want to. How you gonna filet it? It’s too big. Look at its teeth. It could bite ya.”

She laughed nervously. “Well, I’m not going to filet it.” She turned to her son. “How’d you catch that anyway?”

“I didn’t. It followed me in my boat. It made me nervous, so I paddled back to shore. Luckily, I got back first and was able to jump out and pull my boat up; but Ma, the thing threw itself right at me. That’s how come its on the shore!”

“Oh, my…” Sarah threw her hands to her face. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yes, Ma. What should I do with it?” They both turned toward Daniel. He lifted his pipe and shrugged. All three looked at Sarah’s father.

“Anyone got a hammer? We could try to eat it. I figure if we all hold it down, maybe we can all have a bit.” The few surrounding men started mumbling in agreement.

“Oh my, dinner!” Sarah turned and ran back to the house. When she walked into the kitchen, there stood a sheep. She screamed, “Daniiiiieeeellll!”