Friday, December 4, 2009

Phantom Animals

Page from my field journal, 21 September 2009, and excerpt from a letter written 9 September 2008.

D restored the windows in the dining room - they're tall and narrow (8 feet), and the upper sashes have stained glass surrounds - little panes of different colored & textured glass. The windows are beautiful now [and] turned out so well, that yesterday D... cleaned up a similar surround on the door...that leads to the Juliet balcony. Now there's a work of art in the room. At least one thing is restored as the ice swan of history keeps melting away.

D and I used to periodically journey across the river for fresh chickens and other provisions at a [farm] outside the hamlet of Preston Hollow in the foothills of Schoharie County. In the hamlet, we would drive past a cluster of houses, including a shed on the door of which was painted the ghostly, graceful image of a white horse, leaping. It took my breath away the first time I saw it, it was so beautiful and unexpected. Anytime we drove past I would ask D to stop for a moment so that I could gaze at this masterly image, a simple, vernacular gesture beautifully rendered, like a Lascaux cave painting, on a simple shed door. I think it must have been there for many years, this extraordinary piece of public art, right there in the elements (hence, perhaps, its faded ghostly quality) for the enjoyment of common passersby. I wish I had taken a picture, but I am rarely organized with a camera.

One day when we drove past, the image was gone. The dismantling of beauty - an indifferent plywood door took its place. I hope yahoos didn't destroy it (yahoos destroyed virtually every bit of original woodwork in our house, except for the stained glass windows). I hope the image isn't in someone's private art collection. If the image of the horse is no longer out there in the elements in Preston Hollow where the artist intended it (and created it with such obvious love and exuberance) then I hope at least that it finds its way to a place such as the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan, to be preserved for posterity and displayed for many to enjoy.


Second thoughts on my conclusion today. Someone's private art collection would be okay for a time. But maybe eventually it should go to a museum.

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