Spring Visitor, egg tempera painting
When I was twenty-four, I built a house. And though I didn’t know it then, when I landscaped the yard, I was also planting inspiration seeds for this enchanting egg tempera painting, Spring Visitor.
Around that house I planted trees, shrubs and flowers; maples, sweet viburnum and jasmine. Imagined the trees growing tall—providing shade for the porch and branches for children to climb someday. Shrubbery offering cover for birds, flowers attracting butterflies and bees. I made bird feeders, and in the backyard created a pond with a waterfall and erected a wood fence.
In my painting, a humble wren perches on that wood fence. The flower is from a drawing in one of my sketchbooks of a dogwood in my brothers yard in South Carolina. He was in college at Clemson while I was building my house.
This painting is the second version. The first version was a sweet painting of a bird in a flowering dogwood tree. I toiled on it for two weeks then scraped it off.
Painting is like writing. A process of discovery. You begin with an idea, then find what you are actually trying to say is something else all together.
The first painting was inspired by a memory. The further I got into it, I realized the heart of my idea was about respect.
Twenty-five years after I built it, I returned to see how the house was holding up—see how the trees had matured. As I rounded the curve, the house came into view, and my expectations evaporated.
The house was still there — but abandoned — not a sole tree, bush or flower remained in the yard. Not even a leaf.
I slid from my van and stood in the yard and looked around at the barrenness. In my mind I pictured the sandy vacant lot before I built the house. Remembered the year I spent designing it in my head. Offsetting walls so the sun would stream through the windows at different times of the day and seasons.
The deals I made—bartering for heart cypress I shaped and lacquered to trim the interior. The fireplace hearth of Tennessee field stone. Building oak cabinetry with raised panel doors and the stained glass window I crafted for the front door. The constant trips in my old Ford truck with my dog T.J. Hauling tons of materials; lumber, stone, bathtubs, concrete and plants. Recalled the men who trusted me and supplied materials. When I ran short of money, each one simply saying, pay me when you can.
I remembered raising walls by the strength of my back and dreaming of my unborn children filling the rooms with life.
Children did not come after several years. So I converted a bedroom into a studio and set my mind to painting. To express feelings too strong for words.
These memories flowed through me as I painted Spring Visitor. Mixing egg and pigments, brushing layer upon layer, feeling the textures of the fence I made, the bird I fed, the flower in my brother’s yard. A word that kept coming to mind was respect.
Maybe Spring Visitor is a painting about respect.
Respect for the muscle and sweat I poured into that house. For my younger brother working to put himself through college, and for the life of this bird. Respect for the men who had faith in a young dreamer, taking him at his word when he promised with a steady look in the eye and firm handshake to pay them back.
And I did. Every one.
In the larger context, respect for all my brother, sister painters who put beauty into the world. Respect for other viewpoints, for anyone who overcomes challenges to rise above baseness and cruelty to make this world a better place for themselves and others.
Words backed with integrity. Honor and humility. Dreams steeled with determination, creating beauty and striving for excellence.
These things are worthy of respect. These ideas can make paintings.
You can build a life on these virtues.