Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
order now for delivery by Sept. 2015

Monday, September 22, 2008

Crossing Thresholds


TILLMAN CRANE: "Photography is also a physical art. Photographers must be at a location to capture the image. We must experience the emotion of being there. We react: How does the place feel? What does the light do? Is it uplifting or depressing? Does it invite or repel? There are places where I feel history, where I feel things have happened. Men and women have lived and perhaps died here. They leave a part of themselves. Their spirit remains."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Reflections While Shooting at Olson House, Part 7: The geranium window faces south and floods the kitchen with light. Another window facing north permits the free passage of light and air. From the outside, either north or south, we can look through the kitchen and see the opposite yard. In three earlier photographs you were looking through or at the north kitchen window (1), (2), (3).

The geranium window was tended by Christina. It is part of Wyeth's Christina enigma. In "Wood Stove" (1962) he painted her seated, almost off stage, opposite the geranium windows. Center stage is commanded by the sprawling wood, cooking stove and by an empty rocking chair. If stove and chair are not exactly in conversation, they are, unlike Christina, at least intently present. The empty rocker nestles up to the geraniums. Across the room (and the picture) the back door beside Christina is open and seems to have some sort of connection to the back of the chair in which she is seated, but everything about Christina shrinks away from all these things.

How can one photograph in this room and not feel dwarfed by haunting presences? What can a complete stranger add to Wyeth's own intimate record of the place? Can one do more than acknowledge spirits that remain?

ANDREW WYETH (of "Wood Stove"): "This drybrush is intended to be a portrait of the Olson house, both outside and inside. Outside is total fragility. Inside is full of secrets. There's Christina sitting in the kitchen, on the left, and everything's in there - the stove, the geraniums, the buckets, and the trash. I had to overdo it here and reveal all the secrets. Some people say that artists ought to work for utter simplicity. I say to hell with that! Let's get it all in there! I'm afraid of editing too much; it's not natural to be simple and pure. It's not good, either, to show too much artistic ability. You have to fight technique, not let it take over. You can't be nice about things. Like painting a nude - there's got to be some ugliness there. I like to paint in places that are not too nice. That's why I like painting Helga. She's not in love with the neatness of life or things. My father tried to clean up my paintings. Once he took out the hook that Bill Loper wore for his severed hand. That's too neat; too nice. Can't be."