I came across an early clip of The Rolling Stones the other day. Just 18 months into their career, they were on the Mike Douglas Show in 1964 covering Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away". They of course added their own touch; Brian Jones with harmonica, Mick Jagger, maracas. On the playlist to the right were other notables covering the same song, and I gave several a listen. These covers too, had their own interpretations-- there were fills, riffs, flourishes, orchestras and full blown horn sections. All were good.
Then I went back and listened to the original recording by Buddy Holly himself. At first listen, the track sounded almost "naked" in comparison to everything I had just listened to. But wait, no-- there in variant Bo Diddley beat was the simple bone structure of something new and thrilling; a foundation and a potential for a genre whose story was just beginning.
So I was reminded when, hiking in Rattlesnake Meadow in my hometown around the same time, of a quote from the American Painter Andrew Wyeth. "I prefer winter and fall," he said, "when you feel the bone structure of the landscape --the loneliness of it-- the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it-- the whole story doesn't show."
This haunted wetland in winter offered something basic and beautiful. Not that I hadn't painted it before, I had-- once, and small (4" X 12")-- and based on a photograph I had taken of the place on a hike there a few years ago. But when I went looking for a photograph of that painting afterwards, I came across other photos I had taken that day, photos I had forgotten about, and realized that the subject had hardly been explored, and deserved a larger platform.
Nestled in nearly 1,000 acres of woodland, much was done to reveal the original "bone structure" of this area when a pair of beavers came in some years ago and dammed the brook that ran through it. The resulting lake drowned several acres of trees and the choke-hold of brush that had invaded through the years. When the beavers were removed and the dam broken up, the result was again an open swath of grasses hugged on all sides by rugged hills. Considering that the developer of the town had created a string of nine man-made lakes just southeast of here, it's ironic to think he had originally envisioned this area as the largest of them all. It never happened, but the beavers provided a kind of late prototype there for a bit. In the 1960's, an environmental group had the area officially declared a wetland, preserving this hidden gem for perpetuity. It won't fade away anytime soon.
And rattlesnakes? According to several historical accounts this place was, indeed, literally crawling with them at one time, but the early Dutch settlers who first inhabited the area went out and systematically eradicated them. Recent reports, accounts and even warnings issued by local municipalities, however, show that the viper --the eastern Timber Rattlesnake-- is making a comeback.
In writing about "place" --in nature specifically-- Norman Maclean offers a spectacular line when describing The Big Blackfoot River in his novel "A River Runs Through It": "...The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time...". It would seem that the artist Andrew Wyeth was also attentive to that foundation. Of course, Rattlesnake Meadow is not the sweeping majesty of Montana, it's a small place in Northern New Jersey. Still, as an artist I think it almost obligatory to know the story of where you are, and to paint it like a friend. Add new sentences and paragraphs, of course-- write whole new chapters, even.
Last weekend I was at the art store, using up my Christmas gift certificates and wish-shopping, when I spied a canvas size I hadn't seen there before: 12" x 36"-- a wonderful panoramic thing, and I am a sucker for the panoramic perspective. I knew immediately what I would do with it: paint Rattlesnake Meadow. Again. And bigger. "Better", however, remains to be seen.
(Prints and other imaged merchandise of this painting available Here).
Paul Jacks, A Walk through Rattlesnake Meadow, September 30 2022.
Middle of the meadow, October.
Related Posts: Light and Longing
Kenneth Stoors, "Chimney in Rattlesnake Meadow".
(All other photos by Paul Jacks).