Monday, January 30, 2017

Colonial Charm, Southern Hospitality, And The Perfect Kitty

After visiting Frederick, Maryland, for Easels in Frederick, it quickly made the list of possible places to settle down if we ever decide to go back to a sticks and bricks life.

Frederick and its surrounding communities are picturesque, and the people are friendly. Just as I have come to love some of the great neighborhoods of New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and St. Louis, I fell for downtown Frederick immediately, with its great shops and restaurants, and blocks of lovingly maintained colonial townhouses. It’s the charm of salvaged history coupled with all the desirable modern amenities. Frederick is also relatively affordable yet within easy driving distance of other great cities like New York and Washington D.C., something we took advantage of the first chance we got. So what’s not to love about Frederick?

The icing on the cake of the Easels event was our housing hosts. The couple have deep roots in the area, and we learned some interesting local history from them. They also gave me these playing cards as a gag after hearing about our bear adventures (exaggerations) in Cumberland. Love, love, love these people. 

Our hosts also have a young golden retriever named Summer, and of course we photographed and painted her. She’s such a gorgeous girl, how could we not?

Probably my favorite memory from this event was a peaceful morning Patrick and I spent at Monocacy National Battlefied. Patrick painted the historic Thomas House, and I was able to capture a vivid sunrise while he did. 

Patrick also painted a barn on the property of our housing hosts that ended up winning a light award at Easels … no shortage of historic barn charm in Maryland.

As soon as Easels in Frederick was over, we had to hustle to Richmond, Virginia for Plein Air Richmond, which started the day after Easels ended. Again we lucked out with a great host couple who could have not been more gracious and welcoming. They have two dogs who make the most adorable pair, especially side by side - big Bentley and little Dudley - so more pet photography and painting of course ensued. It was about at this point that Patrick and I realized that if we could just travel the country photographing and painting pets for portraits, that would be our ultimate dream job, a next level of joy even above the dream jobs we are already living. Maybe someday we’ll get there. Patrick loves painting pets - they are by far his favorite subject. We loved Bentley and Dudley's painting so much it ended up on our latest business card.
I tagged along with Patrick to Maymont Gardens, one of the Plein Air Richmond painting locations, out of sheer curiosity because I had never been there before. It’s a beautiful place, and well worth visiting, but I didn’t get any photographs of it because I ended up on a cat run.

After Patrick had scouted and picked a location at the garden, which produced another of my favorites of his plein air paintings this season, I wandered off to explore. I never got my camera out of its bag, because I stumbled across a scrawny cat, crying loudly. He was very friendly, and VERY hungry. He was pretty underweight, and had a small wound on his lower gums, something I have seen before in my years of work with animal shelters and rescues. It’s the type of injury that frequently occurs when a starving animal gnaws on things that aren’t particularly edible, in hopes of sustenance. From what I could tell, this little fellow was living under a bush at the garden, either a stray or dumped. He was very friendly and trusting with people, and while he was underweight and a little dirty, he wasn’t filthy, so perhaps he hadn’t been living in the garden for very long. I found a garden employee and asked if he knew about this cat. He did not, and said he would check with the rest of the staff. I went back to kitty, who continued to rub up against me, crying loudly. Anyone who’s ever had a cat knows that sound. It doesn’t matter how well fed they might be, cats can scream for food like they’re about to die. I decided to run to a deli down the street from the garden and pick up a can of cat food. Kitty came running as soon as I came back to his spot in the garden, and it broke my heart to see the speed at which this little fellow wolfed down his food - he was clearly starving.

A park volunteer came at this point with some food in her hand. As soon as she found out there was a stray cat in the park, she had rustled up the remnants of a staffer’s fast food breakfast in hopes of catching the cat. She was adamant about the urgency. “We can’t leave him here,” she told me, because of all the wildlife in the park - a hawk could get him, or he might wander into the bear sanctuary. At about this time I ran across one of the organizers of Plein Air Richmond from the Brazier Gallery. She suggested that I contact the Richmond SPCA, which happens to be the beneficiary of the Plein Air Richmond event. To make a long story short, I drove to the Richmond SPCA to get a cat carrier, and the Richmond SPCA agreed to check the cat for a micro chip. We were hoping we might be able to re-unite the cat with his owner. He was such a sweet and friendly feline that it seemed plausible that someone might be missing him. The SPCA was great - they gave me a carrier and a blanket, and I headed back to the garden to get the cat.

Until fairly recently, Patrick and I had four cats. We loved them to pieces, and they were spoiled rotten. The only thing I don’t love about cats is trying to get them into carriers. Most of them fight you like it’s a death match. I have a scar from trying to get a cat in a carrier. When I got back to the garden, I was dreading this part. I even asked the Plein Air Richmond representative from the Brazier Gallery to back me up, because I fully expected a fight. But bless his heart, this guy didn’t fuss or fight at all. Not even a squirm. He was as docile and gentle as could be. He whined a bit in the car on the way to the SPCA, but that was it. Cats seem to universally hate car rides as much as they hate carriers. I remember thinking “Wow, this little guy is perfect.”

Sadly, there was no micro chip. The Richmond SPCA then gave him a quick check up. He was under weight and dehydrated, but there were no outward signs of serious illness or disease. Unfortunately, because there was no micro chip, kitty’s next stop was the city animal shelter. The SPCA called ahead for me, because it was a Sunday, making sure that I could get in, and that the cat would be taken. They also promised to pull kitty back over to the SPCA as soon as possible. City regulations require that strays go to the city animal shelter and be put on hold for a certain number of days, which gives their owners a chance to find them if they are lost. I went to visit kitty at the shelter every day while we were in Richmond, and I felt really guilty about him being in a cage, but at least he was no longer starving, and I didn’t have to worry about him being injured or eaten. The city animal shelter took good care of him, and the SPCA pulled him as soon as his hold was up, and while it took quite a long time because he is an adult cat, little Potter, as he came to be named, was finally adopted.

I can’t say enough good things about the Brazier Gallery and the Richmond SPCA. Both parties stepped up immediately to help an animal in distress, and to get him out of danger. I can’t thank them enough. 

I still think about Potter from time to time, because he was a perfect gentleman. Even at the city shelter, he remained friendly, and it must have been scary for him. I really wanted to keep him for myself, but Patrick is terribly allergic, and I am mildly so. We could get away with having cats when we lived in a large space, but in an Airstream, it would never work. So we can only spoil other people’s cats these days. If you have one, give your cat a good cuddle for me. I miss always having a warm lap and falling asleep to a good purr. - Kimberly

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Miles and Mountains and Bears Oh My

I have a thing about bears just like I have a thing about sharks.

After Paint Annapolis, we headed for the Allegheny Mountain Range to get to Cumberland, Maryland, for Mountain Maryland Plein Air. Climbing mountains is no problem for the Ford F-250, but it was a bit of a sweat for the Smart car. The Smart was a boon in Annapolis, but we were definitely glad to have the truck in Cumberland, because it allowed Patrick Saunders to reach painting locations that the Smart just couldn't.

Patrick picked up his welcome packet shortly after we arrived, which included this brochure. It should have immediately set off a round of irrational bear fear, but at this point we were lunching in a rustic restaurant with a gorgeous lake view, and I was so enthralled with the beauty of the area that I couldn't get that worked up about being in bear danger just yet.

We quickly learned that when you attend a painting event and they go to the trouble of putting a brochure like this in your swag, it really means something. We ran into not one, but two black bears for the first time in our lives in Cumberland. We still haven't been to any other plein air event anywhere in the country where they put an animal warning pamphlet in your materials, but I will say that this part of the country is so pristine that it's more than worth the risk. Just seriously watch yourself, and not just in the woods. I mean in your subdivision even. Get some bear spray and keep it handy.

We stayed with a terrific host family with some adorable pets. Two very sweet cats frequently visited our room to let us fawn all over them, and to cover our suitcases and anything clean with cat hair. Just like old times. We felt right at home. Even though all of our cats are gone, we still take a lint brush everywhere we go, because our pets raised us right.

Patrick painted one of the cats as a gift to our hosts, but sorry, no photo - it was a relatively short event and the days were long and we didn't get around to photographing the painting. Oops. There were also two dachshunds in the house who actually protected us during a bear visit by barking like crazy. We met one of the dogs, but not the other, because apparently he has a habit of biting anyone who isn't family. Can't blame him though. He's a weenie living in bear country, so he has reason to be defensive. You might be able to catch his heroic and life saving barking in this video I shot of a young black bear strolling through the side yard of our housing hosts after checking their humming bird feeder for food. I will never forget seeing this one's long dark claws gently wrapping around the feeder after rising up on two legs to expertly assess whether there was any liquid to be drained from the thing. Bears are smart, ya'll.

This wasn't even our first bear sighting. Patrick Saunders and I went for a walk just one day before this video was shot and didn't get two blocks away from our host house when a black bear emerged from some bushes and waltzed into the street maybe 100 feet in front of us. Patrick says it was a small bear, maybe even the same one, but it looked huge to me, and he also claims it turned around and headed back into the bushes as soon as it saw us, but I wouldn't know, because I did an immediate about face. I walked, as slowly as I could make myself walk, straight back to the house, because the only thing I could remember from reading the bear brochure is that you are not supposed to run from bears, because they might decide it would be fun to chase you or something. So all of this is to say, when you're in bear country, GET BEAR SPRAY. Just in case. What if that bear hadn't seen or heard us coming and we'd walked right up on it and startled it? GET BEAR SPRAY. The end.

One of the first places we visited for Mountain Maryland was Swallow Falls State Park, to see the Muddy Creek Falls. Definitely worth a trip, but Patrick wasn't feeling it for a painting, so we explored the park, looking for inspiration. We really enjoyed the trails along the Youghiogheny River and Tolivar Creek, and witnessed damage done to hemlock trees here, some of which are more than 300 years old. Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in 2012, and as you can read on the posted sign, caused so much heavy, wet snow to fall all the way in Garrett County that many trees snapped and uprooted. Incredible to think that weather from a hurricane that struck so far away could cause what they call a superstorm here.

Hemlock tree damage from Hurricane Sandy in Swallow Falls State Park

Not long after reading this sign, we got a lesson in the power of nature, and how fast mountain weather can change. We were enjoying a sunny June day in this park when we snapped these photos, and not a half hour later, we had to scramble to find shelter under a rock formation, because not only did it start to rain, suddenly there was hail. It passed almost as quickly as it came and the sun popped right back out. Good thing we were close to a rock overhang that we could pass the time under when the short storm hit. We didn't need shelter to protect ourselves, but we did need it to protect Patrick's painting canvas and my camera gear.

Once the coast was clear, Patrick found a spot at the Lower Falls that he wanted to paint. We were able to get off the trail and out onto a rock formation that jutted pretty far into the water so that he had a better vantage point to paint from. While he painted, I continued to explore the park.

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts
Lower Swallow Falls - Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

I found Tolliver Falls to be lovely as well, and more secluded. I only have iPhone photos of it though because the trail was pretty treacherous after the rain and hail, and I didn't want to risk damaging my good camera if I slipped and fell, so I left it behind with Patrick.

Tolliver Falls - Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Tolliver Falls - Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Needless to say, we had a beautiful day at Swallow Falls State Park.

Another place we visited that really knocked us out while we were in the Cumberland area is the Savage River State Forest. It was wonderful just driving through it, and we even found a park that is adjacent to the forest that has the biggest, most secluded dry campsites we've seen yet. You are surrounded by forest if you camp at Big Run State Park, and your nearest neighbor at the next campsite is almost a city block away, if you even have one. We put Big Run on our list of places to camp with the Baked Potato if we ever come back this way. The only problem would be finding enough open sunlight in the forest to charge a portable solar panel so that we could keep the Airstream battery from getting too low, but that's a small price to pay for the most pristine dry camping sites we've ever seen. The trees, the creek water ... it was just perfect. You can camp at Big Run and spend weeks just exploring and hiking the Savage River Forest - they are next to each other and connected by roads and trails. Here's an iPhone video I shot of the forest as we drove through it.

During our drive, Patrick found a snapped tree he wanted to paint. This painting ended up being one of my favorites among his plein air pieces in 2016. When I look at it, it reminds me of yet another beautiful day we spent in Maryland, and I can almost smell the air again in that forest.

"Historical Record, Savage River Forest" (oil on panel, 16"x20") by Patrick Saunders won an Honorable Mention Award at the 8th Annual Mountain Maryland Plein Air. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

The Cumberland area and the entire Allegheny Mountains region are clearly well worth your time to visit. Just get some bear spray first and you'll probably be fine.

Next up, Frederick, Maryland, which we liked so much it's now on a very short list of places we would consider settling down in if we ever get tired of life on wheels. - Kimberly


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Plein Air Streaming: Year of the Dogs

Plein Air Streaming: Year of the Dogs: Some of the wonderful dogs we met in 2016. All reference and paintings photographed by Saunders Fine Arts . The year of the dog is n...

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Plein Air Streaming: 16 Together In 2016

Plein Air Streaming: 16 Together In 2016: 2016 was the busiest year of my life. Together, Kimberly and I traveled from coast to coast, border to border, through 30 States, attending ...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Yaaahhhr Not Fraahhm Maaaahhhhland, Ahhhhhrr Yaah?

St. Anne's Church, Annapolis, Maryland. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Nope, I'm not from Maaahhhland. Born in New Jersey, raised in Nebraska.

So forgive me if I know nothing about crabs. Soft shell crabs in particular, in this case. Don't know about eating soft shell crabs, how they are traditionally prepared, and definitely nothing about picking crabs. Patrick Saunders was forced to pick crabs (one) at Plein Air Easton, but I managed to avoid it. Totally not interested in that experience. One of our lovely hosts at Easels in Frederick patiently explained to me that picking crabs isn't really about doing it for food, because it's tedious work for relatively little pay off. Picking crabs together is a social thing. Something you do with family or friends for fun. Like a cocktail party game, or a family activity, I guess. Still don't get it. And that's okay. I don't need to understand. Whatever floats your boat.

But anyhoo, the Maryland Federation of Art's Paint Annapolis was the first of eight almost back to back plein air events Patrick participated in just this summer. He was fortunate enough to be accepted into every event he applied to in 2016, sixteen of them in all. We did not expect this. We figured he'd maybe get into half of them. And then when he got lucky, we had to figure out how the h**l we were going to get from one place to another fast enough.

So, we hightailed it to Annapolis, Maryland, right after all of Patrick's events/workshops in Missouri. We debated whether to take both my Smartie as well as the tow vehicle, but once we got to Annapolis we were glad to have my little golf cart. The streets of downtown Annapolis are colonial - extremely narrow, and the area is such a tourist destination that parking is a challenge. One of many things I love about my little blue car - it can fit almost anywhere. You could practically leave it on the sidewalk and not get a ticket, because authorities don't even seem to recognize it as a real car. I can't count how many police and state trooper cars I have whizzed by in this car while speeding, and nothing happens. They don't even look up, or they look away. It's like they assume that a Smart can barely go fast enough to even be on an interstate. Or, more likely, I get the feeling that these often pretty macho guys don't want to pull me over because they don't want to be caught dead standing next to my little clown car. And now that I have said that I have probably jinxed myself and better watch my speed.

On our first night in Annapolis, we went to McGarvey's Saloon & Oyster Bar for dinner. To be honest, we picked this place solely because they actually had a Dogfish Head beer on tap, which is still a big deal for us. Our favorite craft beer is not available in all states, and even where you can find it, it is rarely on tap. Turns out they were already out of this beer for the night, it was such a popular special. Oh well. So I order a soft shell crab sandwich, foolishly assuming that I was ordering some kind of crab meat salad sandwich. NO. You order a crab sandwich in Maryland, you literally get a crab on a piece of bread. They season it and cook it whole. It's little legs were sticking out of my sandwich when it arrived, and I felt terrible. It looked a little like a large, flattened, hairless spider. Maybe if meat was served like this I would finally go full vegan. No offense Maryland, but I just don't get how anyone eats a crab whole like that. Just wow.

I ate the french fries. And the tomato and lettuce. The waitress, looking at my plate as she took it away, said, not unkindly, "Yaaahhhr not fraahhm Maaaahhhhland, ahhhhhrr yaah?" Nope. Clearly, she had seen the stricken look on my face before, many times. So, if you order soft shell crab, be clear on whether it's a salad mix or an actual crab. Lesson learned. I should have photographed my poor little crab, but I was so weirded out by the whole thing that I didn't. I am sorry crab that I wasted you. I had no idea.

We walked past The U.S. Naval Academy that evening before dinner. The campus is beautiful, and definitely worth a visit. Patrick painted an old stained glass window while there, sorry no photo. You see a lot of young people in the Navy in downtown Annapolis every day in their dress whites. I was so impressed with how white their clothes were, and how white they seemed to stay. How on earth do you get and keep dress whites like that clean? I would feel like I could never sit down, or really do anything. But they run around, eat, and go about their daily lives in those whites, and I never saw any dirt or stains on any of them. Very impressive. If I wore white like that I would look like a dirty napkin in no time.

Our host couple were very welcoming and interesting. She's an art therapist and he is an attorney who is very active in crewed boat racing in his spare time. They also have an amazing art collection. Their home is like an interactive art museum. They live amongst inspiration in a variety of mediums. Love it. When we met them, they had just come home from a day on their boat. Patrick painted a lot of boats while in Annapolis, because it's all about the boats here. We are land people who went to the home of water people. Summers here are as hot and humid as in the Midwest, so the best place to be in Annapolis during this time is on a boat enjoying the Chesapeake Bay.

Paint Annapolis was where Patrick took a swing at his first ever nocturne painting. I was very proud of him for this. He had PRK surgery on his eyes a few years ago, and while the benefits of the procedure make it well worth it, one sacrifice is not always being able to see as well at night over time. Lights tend to fan out into blurry circles, and he finds it hard to see color well. He hated the painting, and wanted to paint over it, but I talked him out of it, and it won an award. Patrick thanked me at the awards ceremony for talking him out of scraping it down. Such a thoughtful and humble guy. He's a keeper.

"Night Falls On the Maryland Inn" (oil on panel, 12"x16") by Patrick Saunders won a second place nocturne award at Paint Annapolis. 

Since Patrick was brave enough to try nocturne painting, I decided to take a swing at night photography, something that's outside my comfort zone. This is a long exposure of the Maryland Inn at night. Not terrible for a first try, not great. Definitely fun though and something I want to keep practicing.

A long exposure of the Maryland Inn, which dates back to the end of the American Revolutionary War. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Our first full day in Annapolis was Memorial Day, and we spent some time at the Annapolis National Cemetery. I took some photos of unknown soldier headstones. The sheer number, and the precision of placement, of white headstones in military cemeteries really drives home the human cost of war. I also can't imagine the pain of not having your loved one's remains. To never know for sure where they are, or where they might have ended up. I can't even wrap my head around what it must be like to have to learn to live with that.

An Unknown Soldier buried at Annapolis National Cemetery. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

The next morning, we headed to Herrington Harbour North Marina Resort, where we found many people living on their boats, sailing the world. This place is much like a high end RV resort, with similar amenities. Boating is a much more expensive way to live than RVing though. Definitely out of our price range. And I'm an earth sign. I'm not really keen on any body of water I can't see to the bottom of. I have had a huge fear of sharks ever since my parents took me with them to see "Jaws" when I was about eight years old. Not that I really had anything to worry about, growing up in Nebraska, but irrational fears are just that. Completely irrational.

"Morning After the Holiday, Herrington Harbour" (oil on panel, 16"x20") by Patrick Saunders

Patrick and I are often drawn to capturing the same things, but we try not to post them together, because we don't want them to be compared to each other, since oil paintings and photography are very different animals. I have posted a few similar scenes in this blog, so just don't tell him. It will be our secret.

Herrington Harbour North Marina Resort. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

We also had the chance to visit Historic London Town & Gardens, a lovely event space on Chesapeake Bay. Patrick did a nice azalea painting there. The man can paint a floral like nobody's business. All those years he spent at Hallmark painting flowers with Gail Flores have really paid off. You should ask Patrick to tell you his wadded up toilet paper story.

"Azaleas In The Glade" (oil on panel, 9"x12'') by Patrick Saunders

We really enjoyed our week in Annapolis, but as soon as it was over, we had to hustle, because we only had one day to go from the ocean to the mountains for Mountain Maryland Plein Air. From shark territory to the horrors of black bear country next. - Kimberly

Tuesday, September 27, 2016