As many of you know, Steven and I have designated "Sabbatical Sundays" as the day we turn off our cell phones and computers, and find another way to enter the day. As much as I love solitude, it is curious to see the extent to which my mind is captured by the impulse to check this or that on my gadgets– fingers and a mind that resist being still. You could say that these Sundays are a kind of mind experiment. One Sunday Steven woke up and said "Let's go east!" This is the day of the week we often get in the car and head out on adventures without the advantage of GPS– and both of us having a tendency to get lost. So without any plan, we left before breakfast and drove through the rolling hills of central Kentucky. I was captured by all the old tobacco barns with the "hex" signs.
Barns with "hex" pattern
I was not driving, but often saying to Steven: Stop! When I took the top picture, we were unaware that we were blocking the driveway of the couple who lives here. When they pulled up, I was uncertain about our welcome. As it turned out, they were delighted that we were taking pictures of their barn. They were quite proud of its beauty, and insisted that it was not a "hex" pattern, as local folklore states, but a quilting pattern specifically chosen. She quickly pointed out another barn on their property which featured a different quilting pattern, and wanted to know which one I liked the best, as one was hers and the other her husband's– I said they were both beautiful!
The tradition of "hex" signs goes back to Pennsylvania Dutch folk art in the 1850's. The talismanic meaning of protection from danger or harm has been replaced by a decorative approach. The "stars in circles" in the quilt patterns are reminiscent of the older fraktur forms. It made me reflect on how ancient a practice it is to have some form of protection over an entry or door, and how much we have lost from our oral traditions.
We continued east on Highway 22. We had not even consulted a paper map, and so "found" ourselves turning into an unknown old Kentucky River steamboat town named Gratz. What was once a lively port for steamboats stopping at Clay's Lick Landing (1845-1930), has almost become a ghost town. I haven't discovered anyone else who has ever been there.
It was Sunday, so the one remaining shop, the "New's Cafe", which touted groceries, antiques, lunch specials and a sign in the window: "Don't follow me, follow Jesus", was closed. We have vowed to return on a day when we can peruse the antiques and partake of the lunch special.
On our way back home we discovered the Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe in Frankfort, and I had a lovely cappuccino and breakfast burrito. The wall of the cafe is lined with bookshelves from a 1950's library and opens to a new and used bookstore. I took longer eating and painting in my sketchbook, so Steven went into the bookstore. He was delighted to find something he had lost several years ago: all eleven volumes of Will and Ariel Durant's The Story of Civilization.
This is perhaps another one of my leaps of imagination, but for me these Sunday adventures, besides just being fun, are an opportunity to invoke the unknown. There is that quality of adventure and synchronicity that is associated with travel. Being an artist is essentially the continuous practice of calling on what we cannot see, and of conferring life on the invisible by attempting to give it form. And by beginning with what is in front of you:
The lines of the weathered wood on the barn, and in the grasses, reminded me of my visit to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and Van Gogh's ability to render a scene by repeating only one brush stroke– so that is what I tried in my sketch.
What do you do to invoke the unknown? I'd love to hear from you.