Sunday, January 25, 2009

Haystacks Luminist Landscape

Haystacks Luminist Landscape, painting by Jan Blencowe

About This Painting:
Lovely light and a panoramic view of haystacks in the saltmarsh

Title: Haystacks

Media: acrylic on linen
Size: 36 in X 12 in (91.4 cm X 30.5 cm)

Price: $900 unframed + $60 s/h in the USA

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Salt Hay Harvesting History

Years and years ago, up until 1900, it was common for the salt hay, spartina patens that grows in the coastal salt marshes of Connecticut to be harvested. Farmers mixed the salt hay with their good English hay to make it go further. It seems it was a tricky business feeding salt hay to milking cows, apparently if not done correctly it would adversely affect the taste of the milk. Because of the spongy, marshy ground most of the harvesting had to be done by hand using a scythe. The horses used during harvesting wore special marsh shoes about 12 inches in diameter which functioned like snowshoes. The salt hay was stacked in the marsh to dry. The stacks were built around large stakes driven into the ground called staddles, these would prevent the haystacks from being swept away with the tide.

I first became aware of salt haying when I was doing research in 2006 for my show A Year at Hammonasset. This beautiful state park is just a couple of miles from my home and I painted there for a whole year to put the show together. On the walls along with the paintings I provided a lot of information about the history, geology and evolution of the park. It was really fascinating learning about the rich agricultural history right in my own back yard. Sometime after the show I became acquainted with the paintings of Martin Johnson Heade, an artist associated with the Hudson River School, though not all scholars agree that he is best placed in that movement. Nevertheless, he painted haystacks in the saltmarshes in Connecticut and other New England states which are the inspiration for this painting. I just love the salt marshes, and apparently Heade did also. I'm always thrilled when I can make a connection with an artist from the past. It reminds me how artist are part of one great brother and sisterhood, in a conversation that spans the ages. Like Heade I also like a mysterious emptiness in my paintings as well as glowing half light that takes on an almost spiritual dimension. Although salt hay is no longer harvested the salt marshes (those that are left anyway) have remained largely unchanged over the century. The bottom painting of the salt marsh in Southport, CT looks amazingly like the salt marsh just 2 miles from my home and if it weren't for the haystack it looks as if it could have been painted there yesterday. Perhaps this means I have painted my first historical painting, depicting a time period other than my own. I wonder where that will lead.

Heade's Sunlight and Shadow: The Newbury Marshes (1871-1875)

click the above link for an audio explanation of this painting

Martin Johnson Heade

Newburyport Meadows

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