Evolution of a Painting

This is a re-post from my Facebook page, March 1, 2010.

In 1988, black bear weren’t a common sight around Corry, PA. I had caught a glimpse of one during the spring while I was on one of my many field hikes into the swamps in and around Corry. I was sketching a beaver dam when I saw the big bear ramble through less than 50 yards away. I stayed as still as possible for several minutes after it disappeared into the underbrush, then I disappeared in the opposite direction.

The sighting stayed with me throughout the summer; I purposely scanned the woods and waterways for another glimpse of the bear. I planned to photograph it, but we never crossed paths, although it may have been out there, nearby, out of sight, watching me. Swamps have a plethora of hiding places. That’s why deer take refuge in them during hunting season.

From this near encounter came the idea for my next painting.

The hardest thing for me as a painter is getting my signature right.

Although the painting looks done, I wasn’t happy with it. I changed my signature again and got rid of the halo around the front of the bear.

As you can see in the above photo, I glazed the water with Ultramarine Blue. I decided that it looked too “vivid” so I changed it back (see photo below). Now I had a finished painting. Here it is at the gallery, April 1989.

Ravenwood, Chapter 14 [fiction]

Changing the Future, a Story, Part Two:

I hoped the crowd didn’t notice my nervousness when I took the stage and played the harmonica intro to ARC’s first number, a cue to the band to take the stage. Vree was last from the storage room behind the stage as she followed Amy, Dave, Riley, and Cheryl to the instruments and microphones awaiting them. I nodded at her when she passed, but she seemed far away, likely lost in nervous thought.

Amy took lead guitar and microphone, and was especially loud through the first set of songs. An hour later, she and the rest of us were on our last number. The music hammered the pine floor beneath my feet, vibrated up my back and down my shoulders, including the sore one Nancy’s book had caused.

It was the only time I thought of the strange woman during our performance.

Behind me, Cheryl attacked her drum kit; her sweat rained on me. Next to me, Riley played a Moog synthesizer and was the only one not wearing blue jeans or any of ARC’s monogrammed T-shirts. She wore a yellow miniskirt instead and had her manicured fingernails highly polished for the night’s event. Next to her, Dave expertly fingered his electric bass guitar while at the front of the stage, Amy and Vree sang harmony to a wave of arms and hands rippling across a sea of teenagers clogging The Roundhouse’s dance floor. Glittering strobe lights spun across them until our song came to a climactic crash of guitar, organ, cymbals, and drums.

Sudden houselights bathed the room in brilliant white light. I squinted out at the eruption of applauding kids who slowly emptied the floor, except where autograph seekers hurried to the stage’s only exit, adding to the crashing waves of squeals and noisy talk boxing at my numb ears.

I put away my harmonica and shoved its leather case into a front pocket of my jeans, then turned and caught Vree looking at me before she followed Amy off the stage. I hurried after her into the crowd of autograph seekers.

A redheaded girl in a lime green T-shirt with ARC stenciled on the front pushed up to me when I stepped onto the dance floor. She looked older than the rest of the girls in the crowd, and I figured she was a college girl from the campus over at New Cambridge.

“I love your band,” she said as she lifted the front of her shirt and asked me for an autograph. She was braless.

“No pen,” I said, but the girl held a black marker in front of my face. I hesitated, felt my face reddening, and smiled nervously at a linebacker-sized muscular guy behind the girl. He glared at me, lifted his meaty hands, and clenched them into mammoth fists at me.

“Sign my twins,” the girl cried out.

“You’re not at a strip club,” Amy said to the girl. “Put those away.”

“You can sign, too,” the girl replied. The crowd cheered her on. The guy’s stare remained fixed on me until Vree stepped up, lifted her own T-shirt, and revealed a pink bra.

“The only breasts Steve touches are these,” she said. Then she pulled down her shirt, whirled, and took me by the arm and led me around the stage to the wobbly round table inside the restricted equipment room.

Giddy from the event, I dropped onto an ancient footstool beneath a rattling air conditioner above me and laughed.

“You would find that funny.” Vree’s blue-green eyes peered down at me wonderingly. I nodded.

“Thanks for rescuing me,” I said. “I owe you.”

Suddenly, she kissed me on the lips.

“Get a room,” Amy said as she and the rest of ARC surrounded the table. They attacked a large red bowl of popcorn in the center, and then applauded when Vree’s auburn-haired mom arrived with a pitcher of root beer and plastic glasses filled with ice cubes.

“I heard what happened,” Mrs. Erikson said. She pointed at Vree who had taken a seat next to me. “Don’t entice the crowd, young lady. I don’t need any fines.”

“But, Mom,” Vree whined, “that girl and her anthropoid boyfriend started it.”

“And I took care of it,” Mrs. Erikson said. She turned her attention to Amy and Riley sitting side by side. “That last song was quite impressive. It got everybody dancing; including me.” She beamed. Then she snapped her fingers as though she had remembered something important. “There’s an elderly woman at the bar who wants to talk to you,” she said to Vree. “I can send her in, or you can go out there.”

“I’ll be out in a minute,” Vree said before her mother headed out into the noisy room of teenagers.

I thought about the claims Nancy Pennwater Stephenson had made. “Don’t go,” I said.

Vree stood and dodged Cheryl who hurried past her to practically dive on a duffel bag near the exit door. As Vree walked out the front door, Cheryl withdrew a large bag of green onion potato chips. Amy and Riley applauded as she hurried back, ripping open the bag and sending several chips flying to the floor.

Dave watched, almost transfixed by their frenzy. “Save some for the rest of us,” he said. The girls ignored him and shoved potato chips into their mouths. I turned away and wondered about Vree.

When she returned minutes later, she looked lost in serious thought.

“Are you okay?” I asked as soon as she sat. “You look—”

“I’m fine. Okay? Fine!”

I was surprised that she had yelled at me. What had Nancy told her to upset her?

Vree tapped my shoulder and whispered an absurdity at me. Then she stood and hurried out the back door. I let her go and said nothing to the others who saw her leave.

To be continued.

Ravenwood, Chapter 13 [fiction]

Changing the Future, a Story, Part One:

A Fourth of July gig at The Roundhouse had Amy’s band, ARC, scheduled to play at seven o’clock that evening. Vree’s parents were the new owners of the old roller rink that had been converted to a dance club, and they were happy to have a house band that featured their daughter.

I played an okay harmonica and Amy asked me a few weeks ago to play during some of the songs that night. She even listed me on posters as a member of the band after I agreed to play.

A half-hour before starting time, I went in search of Vree. She liked to sit inside the walk-in refrigerator before performances so she would stay cooler longer on stage. I sat with her and practiced tunes on my harmonica.

Ten minutes before seven, Vree left the refrigerator to use the toilet one last time before the show. I stayed behind, closed my eyes, and listened to the muffled sounds of teenagers filling the dining hall beyond the kitchen. I didn’t hear the refrigerator door open and close, or the old woman take a seat on the stool next to the shelves of lettuce and tomatoes. My mind was on my music when she coughed.

My eyes flew open and I sat up on my stool.

“Are you Steve Campbell?” she asked, then sniffled and took a Kleenex from her white sweater wrapped tightly around her, and brought it shakily to her blue nose with a wrinkled, blue-gray hand. Her painted nails matched her bright red lipstick. “Of course you are,” she said between dabs with the Kleenex. “It’s all in the book.”

“What book?” I asked.

“Don’t think me insane,” she said. “You are my father.”

“What?”

“It’s true.” She shivered for a second from the refrigerator’s cool air circulated by a large, slow-moving fan overhead. “My name is Nancy Pennwater Stephenson. My father, the man who raised me, was a physician—Henry Pennwater, from Pittsburgh. He was vacationing at Ravenwood in 1904, at a cottage at Alice Lake, and was hiking along a ridge line behind the lake when he discovered a young woman injured and in shock. She went into a coma before he could get her to the local hospital. He later transported her to a private facility in Pittsburgh where she resided in a coma for nine years. That young woman’s name was Verawenda Erikson.”

“Is this a joke?” I glanced at the door, waiting for someone to enter and yell “Surprise.”

“It’s no joke.” Nancy returned the Kleenex to her pocket, then pulled a large, black leather purse from the floor and placed it on her lap. “Before I show you this book, I need to explain who I am and why you must believe me.”

I glanced at my Timex wristwatch. I had five minutes left before I needed to take the stage.

“Your parents gave you that watch on your fifteenth birthday,” Nancy said. “Or, that’s what Vree told me.”

“How do you know Vree?” I asked.

“I told you. She’s my mother.”

I said nothing. Ravenwood was a weird place, but this was too weird.

Nancy said, “During her first months while comatose, it became obvious to the hospital staff that their mysterious Jane Doe patient was pregnant. I was born seven months later via caesarean delivery.” She took a black leather book from her purse and held it to her breast. “Henry took me in and raised me. He took Vree in, too, after she awoke from her coma. She suffered amnesia until last year while she was dying.”

“Dying? Wait a minute—”

Nancy held up a hand. “I wrote down everything she told me when her memory returned. It’s all here, just as she described it to me, including how the two of you used to sit in this very same refrigerator before her band went on stage.”

How did she know this?

“Who are you?” I asked.

Nancy held out the book. “The answers are in here. Please read it. I’m trying to save her life. She must stay away from Myers Ridge.”

“But she lives there.”

“I know. Please read the book.”

When my hesitant hand finally took the book, a hard slap of static electricity stung my fingers and shot pain through my hand, down my arm and into my shoulder. I recoiled from the offering and dropped the book. Tears actually welled in my eyes.

“I have to go,” I said, no longer interested in being a part of this woman’s craziness.

“I’m sorry about the static shock,” Nancy said. “It’s all about electrical fields and time travel—things I don’t understand.”

I spun and hurried out the door. It banged against the outer wall. The kitchen was empty of Mrs. Erikson’s usual staff. They were in the dining hall serving sodas and popcorn at the bar.

“There will be lightning and an earthquake,” Nancy called out. “Vree said there was an earthquake before she fell.”

I dodged past the stainless steel table with pots and pans hanging overhead. I rubbed at my shoulder as I went.

“It’s going to happen again, unless you change things,” Nancy said as I charged into the busy dining hall. “Change the future for us all.”

To be continued.

Ravenwood, Chapter 12 [fiction]

High School:

By ninth grade, high school became center stage for me, as well as Vree. That winter, she signed up for her school’s softball team and I signed up for my school’s baseball team. Only Vree ever developed into a star player.

Unlike my high school, which was built in the 1950s, Ravenwood High was a fancy building of brick, cement, and safety glass built in 1969. Located at Jefferson Avenue northeast of the center of town, the school housed grades 7 through 12, a big auditorium for plays and concerts and pep rallies, and a long and tall gymnasium for physical education classes and basketball and volleyball games.

Ravenwood High School

The school counselor and medical offices were in the heart of the building, giving students convenient access to all services. The administrative offices were in the east wing, and the main entrance and major corridor were centrally located to accommodate students, parents, and the community.

Slim gray lockers lined pastel colored hallway walls, and during the school year smells of food wafted from the huge cafeteria until 1 PM, and cookies and cakes scented the west hall all day where the Home Economic classes were located. Rally banners hung near the sports trophy case in the main hall and depending on the time of year, boasted demands for victories in football, basketball, wrestling, track, cross country, and baseball. Soccer, softball, swimming, bowling, golf and tennis were new sports added to the school’s athletics program and did not rank important enough for banners.

Behind the school was a spacious football field complete with fancy stadium-like lights, roomy bleachers, and soon-to-be-installed professional grade turf. Next door was the baseball field. It too had fancy lights and roomy bleachers as well as brand-new concrete dugouts, pitchers’ bullpens, and a well-tended mound. Dave played on the baseball team. He, too, was a star player. Ravenwood High’s colors were Navy Blue and White, and it proudly displayed the Fighting Eagle as its mascot and “Committed to Excellence: Wisdom Giveth Life” for its motto. After Vree made her softball team’s junior varsity squad, I wrote a few softball stories about her until June came and our schools emptied for another summer. We both graduated to tenth grade, and I spent the first few weeks recuperating from nine months of academia overload. I would not write another story about Vree until July 4, 1972.