Humans have been communicating experiences and decorating their living spaces with images for eons before we formed written language. Our homes, public spaces, government buildings and places of worship are filled with paintings, stained glass windows, and sculptures. Artists provide us with these images. We provide the artists with income. For most of us, the link between us and the artists is distant. Most of us do not have the art budget to keep an artist in house-and-home. We buy something anonymously at a home store or gallery. Maybe we meet the artist at a craft or art show, selecting an item from their booth. How different to commission a piece of art. We work with the artist from concept-to-collection.
This summer we had such an experience. We noticed an advertisement in our local paper for a “craft exhibition” at the home of a local artist/carpenter, Joshua Miller. We had visited his workshop some years ago, soon after he had purchased a secluded fixer-upper home. Along the road-edge of the property was an old country church, which he was making into his woodworking shop. We had subsequently seen some of his furniture at our local Lost River Craft Cooperative. We knew the quality of his craftmanship.
He had invited about half a dozen of his friends from the region (Harrisonburg, VA, the Lost River Valley, WV, and Cumberland, MD) to set up tables on his lawn. The field in which we parked had a sign warning to watch your step, as cows had been in pasture there recently. Each artist used a different medium for their craft, such as wood, sculpture, clay, glass, canvas, jewelry, etc. What we thought would be a 30 minute pass through along a summer drive in the country turned into a couple of hours of conversations. When was the last time that a craft show invited you to linger and share interests and experiences with the artists?
We came home with some decorations for our porch and birthday gifts. One was a small landscape painting by Meg Romero. She had developed a series of six-inch wood blocks on which she built up layers of colors which could easily be interpreted as sky and land with suggestions of farm buildings… of course, someone living near the ocean or in an urban area could as easily see what is familiar to them. Or, maybe you could just do your Rothko thing, and say, “What do you see?”
Anyway, she mentioned that she had a concept to do these for people based on places or events that were part of their lives. Say, the sky on the day of a wedding… The summer progressed and we received our invitation to the wedding of Linda’s niece. What do you get for the mid-30’s couple who have been together for years, and consolidated two households into one just a year before when they moved from the East Coast to Silicone Valley? We looked through the registry for inspiration, but kept our options open. Linda suggested that we see if the location, an outdoor wedding in Napa Valley, might offer a good image for one of Meg’s paintings.
The setting was beyond beautiful: a hill north of the city of Napa, overlooking the eastern slopes of mountains with volcanic remnants, and down to the south with the eastern and western slope nestling vineyards. Above was a clear sky. We arrived about 3:30. I scouted out the location with my camera, recording the vista.
The wedding occurred with these views as the sun began to take a low angle over the western slopes. As the reception and dinner commenced on the lawn, I slipped away several times to record more variations on the color of the sky. The wispy, white clouds from the afternoon had drifted away. I thought that, while a grand location, the sky was a bit monotone, without moisture providing a bit of drama.
Another glass of wine (Grgich Hill Estate Merlot) later, the color of sunset began to appear. Then to the far eastern horizon a billowing set of clouds appeared. These were too distant to be the cumulus clouds that we are familiar with in the East Coast, forecasters of a thunderstorm coming. Later, I learned that they were pyrocumulus clouds forming over the King Fire more than a hundred miles away in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
After returning home, we e-mailed Meg with our idea, including several photos of the sky-view from the afternoon to the sunset. She was thrilled with that someone had picked up her idea and contacted her. She set about drafting ideas and painting. We corresponded with her via e-mail, keeping track of the project. She inquired about what to call this process. I suggested, as in the age when people (not people representing corporate budgets) hired an artist to paint or sculpt a piece of art to commemorate an event, that we call this “a commission”, with her as “the artist” and we “the patrons”.
Well, maybe I’m being a bit pompous, given that this is a six-inch square sky-scape, not the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But, the idea has been fun.
The painting evolved. With the internet technology, Meg could send us photos along the way. Then we learned that she had completed several versions. We would have to decide which to place in the frame.
Linda suggested that we make a road trip to Cumberland, MD where Meg works in her studio. This is about 1 1/2 hours from our mountain home, and a scenic drive in Fall.
Around the same time Meg suggested that we come to her studio as the weekend would be Open Art Studio Tour time in Cumberland, and adjoining towns. Each Fall a couple of dozen artists in the region host open studio tours. We were ready to take the day off as garden season was pretty much over. Then two of Linda’s friends contacted us about getting together. Cumberland would be a couple of hours drive for them from Washington, D.C. Even better, studio tour, select our commission, and visit with friends in one day. All we needed now was some good food to enjoy.
We arranged to arrive an hour before the official studio tours began. We wanted to be able to take care of our business without interfering with other travelers whom Meg would need to attend to. As it turned out, Meg’s husband, David is a photographer. The bottom floor of the building is an antique shop. Meg’s studio is on the second floor, and Dave’s studio is on the third floor. An hour looking about and chatting was easily absorbed before we got down to the business of selection.
After that delicious lunch at the Baltimore Grill, and visiting several other studios, we returned to Meg’s studio to collect the framed commission. We picked up one of the other paintings to place the memories on our own wall too. I see more commissions in the future. I know of a grand location for a skyline of Rome… more on that later.