August 18, 2011

Raymond J. Steiner and visitors to his studio

VISITORS TO THE Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountain Regions may be puzzled by signs with numbers and arrows sprouting up along roadsides during the warmer months — not to worry — they are there to announce annual Artist’s Studio Tours held in towns and villages throughout the area. An event that has grown over the years — spreading from town to town — the signs designate participating artists who opened their “inner sanctums” for a look-see. Here where I live in the Town of Saugerties, we held our 9th Annual Tour in mid-August this year with over forty artists taking part in the event — I was #31. Voluntary for the artist and free for those who take the tour, it gives tourists a chance to get “inside looks” and artists a chance to advertise — and sometimes even sell — their work. Maps are usually prepared and available at local stores and online to promote the event. Although I can really only speak for myself, I’d say that it’s a safe bet most artists find the event trying — if not, in fact — overwhelming. I certainly do. This was my second time at volunteering to open my studio for visitors — and even now, some four days later, I’m not sure why I did. Oh, we sold a couple of paintings and several books, but the onslaught of strangers tramping through my private hide-a-way was, at times, a bit much. Most people know that I am pretty much of a dedicated and curmudgeonly hermit who doesn’t even have a telephone in his study, and that I am not always open to “drop-ins.” (I used to have a shade with “GO AWAY” printed on it that I pulled down when I was inside conjuring up my latest ‘creation’ du jour). My usual line is, “If you’re ever in the neighborhood and passing by, I’d appreciate it.” Anyway….here I was glad-handing people like some frantic insurance salesman, walking around with a smile pasted on my puss trying to appear delighted by the intrusion. Part of the problem, of course, is that those on the tour do not coordinate their visits with other tourists — so they come in ‘clumps’. At times you are left staring at your walls and shaking your head; at others trying to answer questions and remember names. But — I ought not complain. After all, I did do it once before and knew what was coming, but STILL I VOLUNTEERED! (Gotta write that down somewhere so that I remember it next year.) On the plus side, I had a couple of nice moments that will long linger in my mind (and probably induce me to volunteer again next year). An ex-junior/senior high school teacher, I was happy to see several former students and old colleagues drop in. Most only knew me as an English teacher (from 40 years ago!), so discovering that I also painted was a surprise for them — anyway, it was a pleasant experience to re-connect. A special moment was when a little girl asked Cornelia what the name was of a painting that attracted her attention. “Ocean Grove, New Jersey”, Cornelia told her. She then implored her father to buy it because “it’s where my friend lives!” He indulged her and I signed it especially to her on the back of the canvas. The high-point of the weekend, however, was when a little girl came over to me and asked, “How do you paint with a knife?” I took her into my studio — along with her mother — and said, “Come, I’ll show you — it’s easier than trying to explain it.” I took out a little 3×5 canvas board, squeezed out some Titanium white, cerulean blue, olive green and sap green — and proceeded to “smear” with the palette knife. “First,” I said, “ spread some blue up here, then pull some white through it…..see?..clouds in the sky!” Within minutes, the room filled up with onlookers. The little girl called to her father as he squeezed into the room, “Daddy! He’s giving me a lesson!” I don’t know how much of a lesson it was, but soon the little canvas sprouted a tree, a distant hill, a field, some bushes. “Now,” I said, I take one of these fan brushes and make a few swishes to look like grass — so sometimes, I do use a brush.” She was delighted — almost as much as I was, I think. I then asked her what her name was. “Charlotte,” she said. I turned over the little canvas and wrote: “For Charlotte” — and then signed and dated it. “Here,” I said, “it’s yours. Don’t touch it yet since it’s still wet, but you’ll be able to touch it tomorrow.” (I customarily use alkyds.) It was wonderful to watch her gently hand it to her father who cradled the tiny canvas in his large hands, protecting it from those pressing around. What a rush — and come to think of it, I probably will volunteer again next year.