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Fine Art

I was not expecting to be able to go with Dorothy to the museum today because I received that dreaded envelope in the mail a couple of months ago–the one that says “Jury Administration” on the return address.  However, last night I called the number they provided and learned that my juror pool was canceled and my jury duty fulfilled.  That’s what I call serving my civic duty.

This meant my day was free, so Dorothy and I drove to Katonah, where we met a friend for lunch and a trip to the Katonah Museum of Art.  As we sat down, the friend seemed to be trying to say something.  She sort of stammered and waved a Bed Bath and Beyond bag around vaguely, and I figured that she was trying to ask Dorothy something without actually asking it.  Dorothy’s face suddenly lit up in recognition, and she turned to me.  “Remember when I said I had another birthday present for you but it wasn’t ready yet?”

I did remember, now that she mentioned it, though my birthday was nearly two months ago.  “Well, this is it,” she said and our friend handed over the bag.

I opened it and pulled out a large picture mat.  When I turned it over, I saw that it was a pencil portrait of Muttboy.  As it turns out, our friend wanted to find some project to keep her mother occupied.  She heard from Dorothy that my birthday was approaching, so she suggested that her mother could put her artistic talents to use in drawing a portrait for me.  Dorothy found a good photo of Muttboy and passed it on.  Some things got in the way–our friend’s mother moved from new York to Connecticut, for one–but the portrait was finally ready.

I really love it.  I immediately recognized which photo Dorothy had chosen: one where we are hiking near Bear Mountain in northwestern Connecticut.  Muttboy is staring off in the distance with that long-suffering but eager look that says, “I know you need to stop, but I need to keep hiking, so could we please, please get going again?”  It is probably a little silly to have a portrait of your dog, but I think it is perfect.

After lunch, we headed to the museum.  There are several small museums like this one around our area, and they are really perfect for a quick afternoon visit.  The Katonah Museum is small enough that you can see the full exhibit, and spend a lot of time carefully looking at the paintings, but be finished in a couple of hours.  Although I love the Metropolitan Museum of Art more than I can say, I get a serious and painful case of museum back after spending too much time wandering the halls.  The smaller museums do not overload you with too much of a good thing.

To my great delight, the museum’s special exhibit was called “All Things Bright and Beautiful: California Impressionists” (running through October 5, so go soon).  The paintings, all done in the first 25 or 30 years of the 20th century owed an obvious debt to the French Impressionists, but the scenes, the light, the palette, were all quintessentially Californian.  I did not recognize any of the artists’ names, which probably says more about my poor training in art history than anything else, but I was completely taken by their vision.  The scenes of the rugged, squared-off rocks jutting into the Pacific mesmerized me with the deep turquoise and cobalt of the sea against the harsh geometry of the stone.  Several artists showed their deep fascination with the California poppy, and one landscape (sadly, not one shown on the museum website, so I can’t give you a link) showed the California hills covered in oaks and eucalyptus in the distance, with the foreground a rich mixture of the golden poppies and dark lupines.  A trail winds through the flowers, and the artist got the color of the soil–that ruddy brown sandy soil of the coast–exactly right.  I found myself growing homesick for a place that does not exist any more.  It was more than a little sad to think that the landscapes depicted in the paintings are now covered with subdivisions and strip malls.

Sometimes I think that is the real reason I can’t go back to California.  California has always had that dream-like quality; there is something not quite real about it.  Even when I was a little kid, I felt that the best California was something not quite reachable, something strangely remote and ineffable.  For me now, even that semi-real, semi-dream state is gone and I can only mourn the loss of a place I knew as intimately as I know myself, but a place that nevertheless remained as aloof and unquantifiable as an old, half-forgotten acquaintance.

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