AS OF June 1, 2016, my new website is http://russellpowell.net/. Please visit there to see my new artwork and writing. Thanks.
“DRIFT FENCE IV” is from early June. The rest — presented in the order in which they were completed — are from the week ending July 5; the last in the series was painted during the final throes of Hurricane Arthur, while the shack shuddered and swayed and the windows whistled and rattled. Despite the lashing rain, the interior of the shack stayed dry except for a couple of inconsequential drips and some bubbling around the sashes.
In And About The Dunes
Artwork created in and inspired by the dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore
Truro Public Library
May 27 – July 31, 2014
Tuesday, May 27, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Oil and acrylic paintings and linoprints
Russell Steven Powell
Photography Trish Crapo
Wood carvings and collage Christa Edlund
Tuesday, June 17
A 27-minute video documentary program about the artist shacks in the dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Produced and directed by Russell Steven Powell, Shack Time was chosen for the 2001 New England Film and Video Festival and aired regionally on WGBH-TV in Boston.
Shack Time includes rare photographs by Walker Evans: a stunning portrait of shack owner Hazel Hawthorne Werner, and Eugene O’Neill’s Lifesaving Station leaning into the Atlantic Ocean following a storm. Poet Cynthia Huntington and writer Annie Dillard read from their work, and there is a rare photograph of Jack Kerouac typing in the dunes. Late shack owners Ray Wells and Laura Fowler are interviewed. Julie Schecter co-wrote the script.
7 Standish Way, North Truro, Massachusetts
“IN AND ABOUT THE DUNES,” an exhibit of photographs by Trish Crapo, wood carvings and collages by Christa Edlund, and my acrylic and oil paintings and linoprints, will open at the Truro Public Library on Cape Cod Tuesday, May 27, continuing through July. The exhibit will feature work created in and inspired by the dune shacks in the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Crapo, Edlund, and I were awarded 2013 summer residencies in the Margo-Gelb dune shack by the Outer Cape Artists in Residence Consortium (OCARC). The one-room shack, which was once owned by painter Boris Margo and his wife, printmaker Jan Gelb, sits on a high dune overlooking the ocean.
An opening reception for “In And About The Dunes” will be Tuesday, May 27, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The Truro Public Library is located at 7 Standish Way in North Truro, Massachusetts. Regular library hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Trish Crapo lives in Leyden, Massachusetts, where she works as a portrait photographer and as a freelance writer and photographer for the Greenfield-based daily newspaper, The Recorder. During her OCARC residency she took photographs using a variety of methods and equipment: 120 film in a plastic Holga camera; 35 mm film in a cardboard pinhole camera she built from a kit; and digital images with a small Lumix camera and with her smartphone. Her photography and collage has been exhibited at galleries in Boston, western Massachusetts, Vermont, New York City, and — as part The War and Peace Project — in Moscow and in Tula, Russia.
For more information, visit her website at trishcrapo.com.
A resident of the Cape for the past 30 years, Christa Edlund has been making carvings of birds for 20 years, and has shown her work at the Museum of Fine Art in Dennis, the Guyer Barn in Hyannis, Provincetown Art Association Museum in Provincetown, and the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. She earned her bachelor of fine arts degree from Kansas State College. In addition to her carvings, she will exhibit some of her Sailor’s Valentine collages.
THE SOURCES OF INSPIRATION in the Cape Cod dunes are as multifarious as tides, and equally mysterious, guided by forces ethereal (moon phases), and elemental (ocean currents, distant storms).
High and low tides arrive reliably twice daily on these shores, at roughly six-hour intervals. But where they end, the intensity of their waves, and what washes up on the beach are never the same.
I paint with regularity, gradually over time achieving greater consistency, recognizable style and themes. But the sources are many, and they are often unpredictable.
In some cases the idea for a painting surfaces full blown (“Straw Hat”); in others, the original concept takes an unexpected turn along the way (“Weeping Woman”).
Sometimes the idea appears unformed, seemingly from nowhere, an unnamed energy or emotion like a lightning bolt suddenly stabbing the stone-flat sea: 30 seemingly innocuous words (or less) of a familiar voice heard during my daily phone check (“Voice Mail”).
Other times, without preconception, the painting reflects my particular mood or circumstances (“Sun God,” painted during a blazing hot day).
Sometimes, what begins as an exercise in color, form, and brush stroke gradually coalesces into a unified theme (“Harbor”).
These examples are some of the work I completed during my recent two-week stay at Boris’s shack in the Provincetown dunes.
I HAVE JUST RETURNED from two glorious weeks living alone in a one-room dune shack. I did all of the things I had hoped to do, without pressure or distraction:
I painted daily, in acrylic and watercolor (some of the results are posted here).
I wrote daily journal entries, an essay, and three long letters to friends.
I read three novels, three issues of Harper’s (cover to cover), a friend’s poetry manuscript, a work of nonfiction, and parts of two other books.
I walked and swam, and took lots of photographs.
I had just enough food to make it through without once having to walk into town, returning home with half a box of Triscuits and some peanut butter.
My two weeks encompassed the longest days of the year, and a full moon. I rose at dawn before sunrise and watched the night sky dim without artificial light, only lighting a kerosene lamp one time (and that for just a few minutes).
Most valuable—and difficult—of all, I did nothing. I drank my morning coffee sitting on the deck watching tree swallows dive and glide around me and the birdhouses they occupy in front, to the side, and at the rear of the shack.
I resisted my compulsion to activity during this early hour, even to read, listening to the mockingbird and song sparrows, breathing in the pink, fragrant beach roses that rise around the shack.
Without effort, I observed the wide band of continually undulating dune grass—there is always a breeze, from a whisper to a gust—cresting 20 feet above the beach, and absorbed the view of ocean beyond, with its seals and seagulls and boats of various shapes and sizes, and its tides rising or falling every hour of every day.
I watched ocean turn to sky: deep to powder blue, bright pink, menacing green, slate gray.
I practiced doing nothing, several times a day, and I got better at it as time went along.
What happens next is a mystery, of course. But I will continue to cultivate the good habit of beginning my days doing nothing, substituting my ship-like front porch for the ship-like deck of the shack.
MOST DAYS had (at least) two distinct types of weather, strong winds and whitecaps in the morning calming to a cloudless sky by mid-afternoon, prelude to a slow, broad sunset. Or the reverse: rose to peach to lemon dawn replaced by rolling banks of seagull clouds before noon.
Perspectives from a week in Boris’s shack in the Provincetown dunes, May 11 to May 18, 2013.
AS THE WEEK PROGRESSED, the fruit began to vanish before our eyes.
Perspectives from a week in Boris’s shack in the Provincetown dunes, May 11 to May 18, 2013.
FEW RECENT INVENTIONS are as frivolous and wasteful as the single-serving coffee maker. One brand we found washed up on the beach far away from human traffic along the outer banks of the Cape Cod National Seashore last week had five parts: the outer plastic shell, the peel-away foil lid, and a heavy paper filter sandwiched between two plastic mesh disks. All for a single cup of coffee.
For what? Are we so busy and important that we cannot spare the few extra minutes to brew a cup using one of the myriad conventional coffee machines and systems? Is our fix for caffeine (or simply a hot drink, since many of these are decaffeinated) so urgent, our narcissism so great?
It is no wonder that most of the rest of the world is skeptical or incredulous when Americans preach about air pollution, water quality, endangered species, or climate change. “Seriously?” they ask. “You want us to take responsibility for curbing unneeded garbage and waste when you proliferate senseless products like this?”
You would be doing better by the environment by pitching your single-serving coffee machine into the ocean rather than using it, adding these foul cups to the landscape or landfills one by one, drip by drip.
* * *
THE SINGLE-SERVING coffee cup carcasses pale in numbers, of course, next to the empty plastic water bottles glistening along the beach. Aside from the underlying deceit of these things—no safer than most tap water, and astronomically more expensive—the bottles (and plastic bags, another common site on this remote stretch of sand) are deadly to sea turtles and other marine life, which mistake them for jellyfish, part of their natural diet. Once they ingest a plastic bottle, they die.
* * *
ON MOTHER’S DAY we found more than one dozen deflated Mylar balloons along a one-mile stretch of beach, and several more scattered across the dunes in the days after. Many of them read “Happy Mother’s Day,” a sad irony given their ultimate destination, littering the surface of Mother Earth.
* * *
I AM PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE that I have been awarded a summer residency in a dune shack by the Outer Cape Artists in Residence Consortium (OCARC). OCARC awards six two-week residencies each year in the Margo-Gelb shack, from May to October. The one-room shack, which was once owned by painter Boris Margo and his wife, printmaker Jan Gelb, sits on a high dune overlooking the ocean.
OCARC was founded in 1995 in response to a request by the Cape Cod National Seashore to establish a residency program in one of its historic dune shacks at the edge of the Atlantic “back shore” in Provincetown. In the summer of 1995, OCARC was awarded the Margo-Gelb shack by the Seashore, with the first residencies being held in 1996.
OCARC is made up of four nonprofits: the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill, and a dune shack advocacy group, Peaked Hill Trust.
Days before I received this news, I learned that my name came up in the annual lottery for a week in a shack (this occurs once every few years; I last “won” a week in the dunes in 2010). I go there for a week this May, a prelude to the residency to follow. Three weeks in less than two months in this rare space is unprecedented for me, and sure to produce some surprises.