I really liked the style of William De Garthe and tried my hand at ships coming out of the mist and men fishing off the grand banks but my painted oceans left little to be desired. And then I discovered Joseph Purcell from Lunenburg who became my mentor even through he never met me. I tried to duplicate the haunting realism in his waves of the deep. His slashes of a palette knife created surf that left me breathless. The light shining through the pipeline of each wave curl, the frothy crest and the motion of heaving and rolling as if the sea was a living, breathing entity, captured my soul. Tela Purcell, his wife, told me that women usually don't like the floor to ceiling painting of her husband's deep ocean masterpiece. She said they aren't comfortable staring into the face of so much water. Well I don't know about the rest of the female species, but I loved it! I could feel the motion and swells as if on a swing, rising high and then falling. I was head over heels in love, but the huge painting had a $39,000 price tag, so I decided a little crush was the better way to go and bought a small 8 1/2" x 11". After a quarter of a century I finally had an original Purcell. I don't know why I'm so drawn to his work and mesmerized by his oceans when I can't swim a lick and have a life long fear of being in water over my head.
I've had a few experiences with near drowning. Once at the Mahone Bay pool in the early eighties. I could do a bit of froggy paddle in the shallow end but watching the kids spring off the diving board into the deep, pop up and swim to the side in mere seconds gave me a false sense of ability. So I dove off, sunk to the bottom and stayed there for what seemed like an eternity. Apparently I have the floating skills of a rock and it wasn't a good time to find out. I heard the whistle blow to clear the pool as I began to slowing inch my way to the top and by the time my head breached the surface I was just about gone. There was more water in me than the pool and I was choking and spitting and thrashing wildly. They threw in a life preserver which I had the where-with-all to grab and was hauled to the side like a beached whale. It was family swim and all the little kids and moms were lined along the edge looking at me as if I was some strange, deep bottom creature, never before seen. To add to the humiliation, I was lectured by the guard not to pull that again in front of an audience of preschoolers....not one of my finest moments.
Those who don't study their history are doomed to repeat it so one day at Sweetland beach I paddled a bit too far out over my head so when I tired to set my feet down, the distance between the bottom and the surface was over my 5' 7" height. The depth was probably only an inch taller than me but I panicked and start drowning yet again. I'm trashing around and screaming as I bobbed up and down totally ignored because I was so close to shore, but on my third trip under someone finally realized I wasn't fooling around and dove in to save me, well he actually just ran in a few feet. Another one of life's embarrassing moments but hey, another story to tell.
Out of three kids, none of us can swim. Our father being the classic worry wart, who suffered debilitating cramps in cold water, never allowed us to have the full beach experience. Any time the water reached our knees, he would be shouting from the sand, "Don't go out any farther, you'll drown and I won't be able to save you!!!!!" The panic in his voice set up a mental block that water was dangerous so that ended any chance of learning to swim. I know it's fear and not a lack of physical ability that impedes my aquatic skill because during the stupid teenage years, I had a few beers and was able to comfortably swim back and forth to the Clearland Lake raft. I was like a stealth missile, smooth and confident, steering toward the target with ease. Now I don't recommend water spots while under the influence but I was young; just making a point that psychological bonds can hold you back even though you are more than capable of breaking them.
Like all good parents, mine sent us for swimming lessons but they were taught in the early morning in the freezing saltwater of our harbour and on top of that, or maybe I should say at the bottom of that, was a filthy brown sludge that oozed up between our toes. All of five on that first day of class, as the murkiness and jelly fish surrounded me, I asked the instructor....."Julie, what's that brown stuff?" She spared no feeling when she simply replied "Shit". Back in the day before our sewage treatment plant, all the toilets emptied into the harbour. Well that was it for me! So later when the instructors at Brownie camp tried to throw me out of the boat to get my swimming badge I screamed and bawled like a baby until they rowed me to shore. That was pretty much my last chance at swimming lessons. So I'm a life jacket kind of sailor, with a heavy respect for the water.
Being content to be an observer, I tried my hand at creating its beauty through paint. Try as I might, I just couldn't manipulate the paint to express the wild energy the ocean exudes. So I decided maybe landscapes would be easier and took up painting farm scenes, trees and houses. The above painting was called "Old Milk Cans" after the two rusted cans in the foreground next to a broken down wooden wheelbarrow in front of a deserted homestead with broken window panes and missing doors. I painted in oils so I had several days of editing before the drying set in so I played with it until I was happy. I also painted a scene with a rusted abandoned truck living out its days in a field called "The Last Run". I wonder what ever became of this as I have nothing to show for those days when I sniffed oil paints for a hobby.
There was a charity event for a $200.00 and under sale at the Lunenburg Art Gallery and on a lark I submitted my painting. I never intended to sell it, or maybe I just didn't think it was good enough, but I thought the experience would be fun, maybe rub a few elbows of real artists and learn something through osmosis. So I attended the fanfare of opening night without any expectations. No purchases were allowed until the show was officially opened but prospective buyers had been hovering around their choices as not to loose out. So as soon as the curator of the gallery completed his speech a man pretty much ran to the wall behind me and grabbed my painting. Everything was pretty much a blur after that.
The man, Mr. David Crouse, said he was in the evening before during the preview and fell in love with it. I was flattered beyond words and posed for the local paper to take pictures but it didn't seem real, thank goodness this picture exists to prove it happened. Now, I don't want to take away from my shining moment but I did notice that my painting was the largest one hung in the gallery. The other seasoned artists brought smaller pieces, like in the picture below my painting, a size to fit the price tag. For the $199.95, my larger piece was darn good value as the frame had cost me $55.00 and the gallery took a hefty cut for charity, but that's okay, I was happy and got treated like a real, honest to goodness artist for the first time in my life. It was a taste of things to come and I liked the flavour.
Weirdly, it was the very last time I painted. I guess life got in the way or maybe starting out on top was a good time to make an exit. I didn't have the self esteem I have today, and maybe deep down I felt it was a fluke and I didn't want to sully my new found fame with a line of failures. It was convoluted but confused thinking.
I met my husband shortly after and life became filled with couple things, so the oil tubes and brushes have been gathering dust. I'll have to be content to enjoy nature in the flesh, in the flowering of my garden, and ocean view of my window....