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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Painting Sabbatical: The Big Picture

I am on a painting sabbatical and my focus is on the habitat in and around the Darby Creek watershed, which runs through the district where I teach and empties out into the Delaware River at the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge.

I've been focusing on both built and natural environments, especially trying to find views where they overlap.  In some work this means I'm focusing on older buildings that appear in some way surrounded or engulfed by natural elements. In other pieces this means I'm finding fragments of past industry along the creek itself.  I like including elements from the past into my work; it gets me imaging what a place used to be like and how it has changed.  I have been attracted to older buildings in my work for a long time.  I think this is because I like something about the proportions and details that are often present in the roof shapes, facades and dormer windows, for example.  I love the Darby Creek because of its intimate scale, variety of land it runs through- woods, suburban, urban- and ultimately the wildlife it supports, but I've also been learning about the textile mill industry it used to support. Today fragments of mills and bridges can still be found along the creek.

I've been thinking about a thread that connects this interest in architecture with creek-settings.  Using a creek as a focal as a point of orientation is giving me direction as I move along its route, sometimes painting right along the creek, and sometimes painting in nearby neighborhoods.   I am also planning to paint the creek as it passes through the John Heinz Refuge, a place that is extremely important migratory bird habitat.

Waiting, 1/3; oil on linen, 10 x 10" [painted at Tinicum but done prior to my sabbatical, I can see how this piece fits in the big picture] 

 While I feel like I've been problem solving how to fit these two elements- natural and built habitats- together, I've also come to realize how a sizable amount of my work actually fits into a larger puzzle. In addition to painting along Darby Creek, I have been painting along Cobbs Creek, Wissahickon Creek, and, Riddly Creek, and also painting some of the older homes near these places.  I am starting to see how I've spent a good deal of time painting the habitat of several tributaries of the Delaware River.  Since this is where I live, it makes sense, but I had never really thought about it quite like that.

With this larger framework in mind, I'm especially excited to be focusing on Darby Creek, the creek that I come into contact with most, due to where I live, work and spend recreation time.  As a birder, the John Heinz Refuge, also known as Tinicum, plays a crucial role in my observations.  I've gotten familiar with many different bird species that either live year-round or migrate through the refuge, and it expands my notion of habitat.  I've also been watching the building of a beaver dam and marveling at yet another form of habitat taking shape along the Darby Creek.  This seems like the fitting culmination of this body of work, but we'll see what happens!

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