Conflagration ~ Giselle Gautreau

“Conflagration” by Giselle Gautreau : Oil on panel – 36″x48”

 

Details on the painting:

We’ve known Doug Lawson and his wife Giselle Gautreau in various ways for over thirty years. Doug is a writer and sailor of small boats, including Melonseeds. Giselle is an artist, a painter. We’ve always had much in common.

gisellegautreau.com
instagram.com/gisellegautreau

Before moving back to Virginia, they lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, which is, among many other fine things, fire country. Our daughter, Amanda, lived just a few miles away at the same time, so with one trek to the West Coast we could visit both.

 

 

Driving the countryside – whether in the mountains or valleys, even on the coast road and into the redwood forests – Terri and I were struck by the scars of past wildfires. Everywhere were unexpected reminders of its constant presence and destructive force. Some even still smoldering.

 

 

Back east, we would sometimes get texts from Doug and Giselle during fire season. On the smell of smoke, the strange color of the light, an ominous glow over the ridge, or throbbing pulse of choppers swinging buckets through the night sky overhead.

Years of living with the constant threat and visible presence of wildfire leaves scars on the psyche, as well as the landscape.

 

 

Safely back in Virginia, I suspect as a form of self-therapy, Giselle recorded the surreal aspect of that experience in a series of paintings, including a large one she called “Conflagration.” It hung in their house here for several years, and we always admired it.

 

 

After our own personal experience with fire, though, Terri and I saw it in a new way. A grass fire burning away across a wide field, it seems at once oddly normal, menacing, and beautiful. Fire thrives as a living part of the landscape, moving across it like a heard of cattle or flock of birds. A natural but dangerous predator, a pride of lions hunting gazelles.

Soon Terri and I realized there was a place for this painting our house – now saved from the fire, but still scarred by it. As we are, too.

And so it does.

 

 

 

Hidden Quarry Artisans ~ Boats and Sideboards

Sideboard in figured cherry by Timm Schleiff, oil painting by Giselle Gautreau

Details on the painting, and that story, here:
“Conflagration” by Giselle Gautreau

 

Terri and I first met Timm Schleiff back in 2009. He rolled in late one night to the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival in St. Michaels, after driving all day from West Virginia. He was starting a new trade as a custom boatbuilder, and was pulling the first boat he set his hand to: a Herreshoff Coquina. Terri pointed him to the campsites – he must have just slept in his van that night – and told me later about the nice young man she had met. The next day we found him on the docks by his boat.

 

Timmo’s Coquina in 2009

 

If you don’t know anything about building boats, I am here to tell you that no one I know, save Timm, would attempt a Coquina for a first try. Herreshoff was a lifelong designer of elegant yachts, and this was the daysailer he designed for himself at the height of his career.  A graceful boat with fine lines and a fast sailer, but challenging construction for even experienced builders. And Timm’s boat was a real beauty, complete with bronze fittings, hand made cleats and leathered oars.

 

 

 

 

We took a sail with Timm on the last day, helped him shuttle to the ramp and load up. Exchanged information, and have kept in touch over the years.

 

Timm in his Coquina in 2009

 

 

 

Turns out the business of boat building is even more challenging than the building, especially in the mountains of West Virginia. Boats are complicated, take a long time to complete, and boat owners are notoriously persnickety clients. Timm decided to broaden his horizons, and spent two years honing his craft at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, one of the premier craft schools in the country.

A few years later, he bought an old quarry in Lewisburg, WV, built himself a shop and a sawmill, and opened business as Hidden Quarry Artisans, where he has been doing very well. Now he and his wife Maria, also an artist, are building their own house. And raise over 80 hives of bees with a honey business in addition to everything else they do.

Timm’s Instagram has many photos of past work.

 

Main Shop at the quarry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Terri and I began replacing what we lost in the fire, we made a concerted effort to collect things made by friends and family if possible. Even when it means having fewer things. We already have paintings by friends Giselle Gautreau, Curt Bowman, Eleanor Hughes, and Randy Smith. Tools from Dennis Keener, a handmade bookcase and books from all my buddies in the extended TSCA sailing group. This list goes on.

So I contacted Timm about making a piece of furniture for us, and sent a couple of photos of things we like. A few weeks later we got a simple sketch back and a proposal.

 

 

Timm sent some progress photos now and then, and a couple of weeks ago the sideboard was ready for finish.

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, Terri and I drove to Lewisburg to pick it up. I think the photos speak for themselves, but needless to say, we’re delighted. Timm’s craftmanship is amazing. The wood is figured cherry from trees cut in Pennsylvania.

 

Finished piece in the shop

 

 

Timm in the shop in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paintings by Giselle Gautreau on the left, Curt Bowman on the right.  Handmade clock and ceiling fixture. Table and chairs from Terri’s grandmother. Secondhand store lamp and weathervane angel.

 

 

Wellerman Sea Shanty TikTok

Uploading this for some friends.

A young scotsman recorded himself singing a New Zealand sea shanty. For a drum, he thumps on a wooden box in his lap with a gloved fist. Posts it on TikTok.

Somebody likes the song and takes that, duplicates parts and remixes it to make the sound richer. Reposts it.

Then some guy takes that and sings a bass harmony, which he adds on top. Reposts that.

Others pick up and add other parts, all recorded just on their iPhone mics, with videos of themselves in front, the previous ones receding further back. It starts to look like a funhouse mirror.

I’ve added a minute of each, end to end, so you can hear the increasing complexity. You’ll want to listen with headphones or good speakers if you can to hear the layers building.

At the end I added Hank or Jonathan Green explaining the history of the song they’re singing.

Boat Buddies Bookshelf

 

Back around Christmas,  a bunch of the guys in the sailing group started asking about making a delivery from Philly, Delaware, and Jersey – “a major award” they called it, and promised it was neither a leg lamp nor Brandi, the  rubber mermaid fender. This week they showed up for a tour, with the goods in tow.

 

 

Most of us sailors are also readers. There was much relief that the boats were safe, but it hurt them to hear that my library had burned. So they banded together and brought me a new handmade bookshelf and four crates of books to fill it. Totally blew me away.

 

 

Apparently, this has been in the works for some time. I may not have this exactly right, but apparently Paul S., a teacher, salvaged some clear Douglas Fir from the old bleachers during a gym renovation. He delivered it to Kevin B. at the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival  in St. Michaels, who then drove it back to DC to build the shelves. Meanwhile, over a dozen of the guys pitched in and put together a collection of books. Emily says they contacted her to see if she could suss out what I needed.

Many of the titles they sent were those I had before the fire and were on my list to find again and replace if I could. Many I have not heard of, but now look forward to reading. Add these to the books from Doug L. and Dave G., and I’m well on the way to restarting the library again.

Pete P. even tossed in a framed print of me sailing in Caesura with the tops’l up, taken on one of my last trips with the crew.

 

 

Thanks guys!

All of the above, including just seeing good friends again, made me realize how much I’ve missed it. By the time warm weather returns I should be ready to get on the water again. Even Steve E. has been prodding with a standing invitation, so it’s long overdue.

 

Paddling the Canal at Winter Harbor

 

direct youtube link

 

We snuck in a few days at Winter Harbor this year. We had to forfeit last year, and missed it. Too much life going on. But this year, with the house nearly done we felt we could take a few days off and not lose the chance again. Glad we did.

The sailboats are still in storage, but we took the canoe, paddled it over and back. I took photos and video as usual, but just haven’t had time to look at any of it. Went back tonight, back at my editing station again finally, and got a nice feeling from this part. Enjoy.

May we all have more days like this in the coming year.

 

 

 

Things We Saved: Sails, a Jewelry Box

 

The floors got refinished Friday, so we had to stay out of the house all weekend. This finally made some time for a chore postponed for a year now – washing the Melonseed sails.

Jim Drake, a fine boatbuilder and fellow sailor in the Old Bay Club, got in touch shortly after the fire, so soon I think there was still steam rising from the snow. He asked what he could do to help.

The night of the fire, the fire marshal generously offered to take us into the house to retrieve anything of value. We were so numb we couldn’t think. He went in and pulled photos off the walls, and found Terri’s handmade jewelry box, black as ebony, and brought them to us. I could only think of one thing – my sails, stored in the basement where the fire started.

We went in by the basement door wearing headlamps, and waded  through shin deep sooty water, still raining down from the floors above. By the light of the headlamps I could see gear and tools and wood bobbing around in the black pool. The shop looked like the hold of a sinking ship. We grabbed the sails rolled up in Tyvek, and carried them out into the yard.

In daylight the next morning, I could see that, miraculously, they had not been scorched, but were covered in soot. When I heard from Jim, maybe even that day, the only thing I could think of was this boatbuilder friend might be able to figure out how to clean them.

And he did. A short time later a box arrived from his sail loft, containing two pounds of special cleaning powder and a set of simple instructions. For a year now, the sails and the cleaner have been stored in Doug’s rented garage, waiting for me to attend to it. Besides being consumed with house construction, the prospect of trying to clean the sails, perhaps only to find them beyond saving, was enough to put me off. With move in day coming in less than a week, and the wet floors keeping other tasks at bay, seemed like it was now or never.

They soaked in a tub of hot water with the cleaning solution overnight, stirring with a soup ladle every few hours. This morning I pulled the plug. Trying to rinse them from outside the tub was a full contact sport, like wrestling a jellyfish. I finally gave up, stripped down, and just got in the shower with them. Which worked out well, but I will spare my gentle readers the photos of that particular step.

They hung from the rope swing out in the wind and the sun all day to dry. I must say, they look almost as good as new. Cleaner than they were before the fire. There are only a few faint smudges left, adding character. I’ll always remember where those came from.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, and Terri’s jewelry box? Another friend, fine cabinet maker Todd Leback of Vaneri Studio,  took on the task of restoring it and sent a photo. It looks like the original birdseye maple again.

 

 

Two more things to make our Christmas a lot more cheerful.

 

 

 

 

Wood is Beautiful

 

Almost done. Scraper to smooth, followed by one last finish coat.

Then design the bases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scottsville, Virginia

postcards from the road