Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Staircase in the Woods...

Staircase in the Woods - Chesterfield, NH
   After I wrote the post "Remnants" I decided to make the search for these bits of 'leftovers in the landscape' an ongoing project.  I have several projects going at all times.  I think that's a good idea for artists of any kind.  I remember that when I taught painting I encouraged my students to work on 2 or 3 canvases at a time.  This way, individual pieces didn't get too precious.  One can easily obsess about something if it's the only thing in your life.  The same holds true for the photographic project.  Having several going at one time keeps my mind fresh. I get a whole different viewpoint if I take a break from it and work on something else.

Madame Sherri's home c1950

    I had pinned a location onto my Pinterest board, "My On Location Bucket List", awhile back and I thought it would be a good place to begin this project. So, the first week in December found me driving to the Vermont/New Hampshire border in search of this staircase in the woods.  After a few missed turns, I found these stone stairs on a quiet, wooded hillside in the Madame Sherri Forest in Chesterfield, New Hampshire.  The forest was named after the eccentric and flamboyant lady who build her "castle" here in 1924.  It burned down in the early 1960's, three years before her death, and there are many who claim to still hear the echos of her long ago parties.  It certainly is a place of immense presence.  This photograph shows the house in the 1950's and the location of the grand stone staircase in my photograph above.  If you go to my Pinterest site you can find a link to get you to the story of this fascinating lady.

Two Staircases Diverge in a Woods

    I began, as I always try to do, with a 'visual listening' exercise.  Unfortunately, I didn't hear any music and laughter from one of Madame's parties but I did hear the whispers of this poignant landscape.  This was a place that ached to be photographed.  I made a few sketches and took notes of my reaction to the site.  This double staircase view had captured my metaphorical imagination.  The left staircase, easy to climb, safe, wide enough for two to walk together...the right one, steep and dangerous and space for only one to ascend.  It made me think of the Robert Frost poem..."Two roads diverged in a woods..." Only it was two staircases.  "...I took the one less traveled on and that has made all the difference."  I'll let you play out the staircase metaphor for yourself.

   As I slowly walked around the ruin, I remembered my visit to a very different ruin 9 months ago, on St. John in the US Virgin Islands.  The "Annaberg Encounter" was unforgettable and a very different experience  than the one in this peaceful forest.  Here there was no tragedy pervading the atmosphere, just a remnant from what seemed to have been a happy life.

   My family home burned to the ground years after I had grown up and moved away.  It had fallen on bad times and it seemed like a blessing.  Sometimes, it is better to remember a place as it once was than to see it run down and neglected.  I think Madame Sherri would have felt the same about her castle in the woods.  I remember visiting my old homestead 15 years ago, at least the site where it had once stood.  A lovely new home was being built in its place.  I would not have recognized the land except that the old brick barbecue, the one my mother and I had built decades before, was still there, a crumbling remnant of my childhood.  I took away a brick that day, as a memento.  I was sure the new owners wouldn't mind.  The old thing would surely be torn down when they got around to it.   It seemed that even way back then I was searching for 'remnants'.  As I left the Madame Sherri Forest I began to see that this new project could have great potential for my contemplative practice.  I also think "Remnants" will be one of those projects I will work on for years!


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