The Postmaster’s House
Part One 2004
I left the appointment and climbed into my shiny new black, Dodge Caravan with its drop-down DVD player (what an invention) and nine seats, enough for day trips for visiting relatives. Spring, so ambiguous and such a tease, was announcing her arrival. The sun was warm and bright in the clear, blue sky. The day was perfect. On a gentle breeze, a hint of wanderlust flew into my car window.
I had not been in this village for several years, but without hesitation I headed toward a specific destination. My car seemed to know the way. Nostalgia pulled me along the quaint main street. I noticed a charming wooden house on the corner with its symmetrical proportions. Two windows on the front of the freshly painted, white facade were like two large eyes keeping benevolent watch over the town. Looking right at home, a yellow pick-up truck was parked in front. So small-town-Ontario, I thought. I continued along a bend in the road that followed the curve of the Nith River. I veered left, then left again. The street here was of gravel, narrow and lined with picked fences and shrubs. I stopped in front of the home whose pull I had felt since climbing into the car.
I entered through the picket gate and approached the first building on the left. A painted sign hung from black, wrought-iron scrolls. It read, “The Postmaster’s House”. Like the main house, this smaller building was painted white. I remembered it used to be the studio. I tried the door but it was locked, so I followed the path approaching the house. I felt ambivalent, a little bold, coming uninvited but I had to find out if the artist still lived here. I knew his artist wife died a few years before.
The home was quaint – a lovely, rambling, white cottage of the Regency period. A charming brass sign beside the door told visitors this was a heritage dwelling. I had not been here for twenty years but it looked the same as I remembered. The gardens, though not in bloom, helped create peace and tranquillity.
Twenty years before, I came for the two artists ‘Open House’ held each fall. It was as charming an experience as I had ever taken part. In those days, sherry was offered to each person who accepted the invitation to come and browse. Christmas music played quietly and visitors were invited to make themselves at home, as they moved from room to room, inspired by the watercolours. Every wall in every room was a gallery. But because it was also the home of two artists, it was comfortable and welcoming. I wanted to know if the husband still had Open Houses. If the tradition survived the years and the death of his wife, I wanted back on the mailing list.
I knocked and the door was opened by a petite, perfectly proportioned, mature woman with peaches and cream skin and ‘good bones’. Her lovely blue eyes were framed by blond hair pulled up and back from her face. She asked if she could help me. I told her I had come years before and wondered if I could make an appointment to return to see paintings. She invited me to step in. A tall, distinguished man approached and peeked around her. I remembered this impish smile and this handsome face, tho’ he would not have remembered me. I realized from out initial chatter that he had remarried, and to this lovely woman who ironically was also an artist. They insisted I come in and look around. I politely protested, but they assured me it was not inconvenient.
Inside was as I remembered. For a home a century and a half old, it had been beautifully maintained. The wide plank floors shone. The walls were painted white or deep, warm tones which set off the framed paintings hung everywhere. They drew your eye and each told a story. One was of a vivid, red barn, old and still, but somehow imbued with life. Another was of an antique wire basket filled with eggs in Martha Stewart neutrals of taupe, cream and grey. Tufts of grass jutted up throw the bottom of the basket. It was so magical, I could visualize those eggs, hard-boiled, sitting in white antique egg cups on the harvest table in the large next room, a large kitchen. I continued my stroll.
I was a stranger, casually meandering through someone’s home but I was made welcome by the man’s chatter. The dining room table was meticulously set with white plates resting on large gold chargers, napkins were placed just so, and a floral center piece completed the effect. I envied the graciousness and talent, the attention to detail that was evident everywhere I glanced. Each room was more lovely than the last.
The man went about making a bed in a room visible from the dining room. While he worked, he said to come in and see those paintings as well. Even there, the serenity and beauty continued – the white linens and down-filled duvet were a cloud on which to dream. I took my time.
Next was a rectangular hall, its walls lined with more art. A roughly finished wooden bench held an assortment of unframed but matted watercolours. I peeked through them and stopped at one which created a visceral reaction. I wanted to buy it so I could revisit the restful, delicious scene whenever I chose. It depicted two fishing huts, one painted an alive, cherry red. The other was soft apple green. In front of the huts two yellow dinghies rested by a wharf. This was Nova Scotia at its most beautiful. And, it was a water scene – my weakness since I am landlocked in south-western Ontario. But it was this artist’s incredible use of colour that set his art apart from so many others I had seen.
I expressed how fortunate an artist was, to be able to preserve beauty and memories on canvas. I mentioned I was a writer, attempting to accomplish the same thing, attempting to paint a picture with words. But while a writer is nose down to a keyboard and seeing black and white, an artist is perhaps more fortunate – surrounded by vibrant colour, each brush stroke evoking light, life and memory.
The woman then mentioned, almost off-hand, that her art was all contained in just one room, another bedroom off this hall. At her invitation I looked in. This room, like every other in the home was furnished and decorated like an upscale inn.
I gasped when I noticed one watercolour resting against the pillows on the bed. I wanted to be there – in that scene. In that moment, given the opportunity, I would have sold my soul to the devil to make that exquisite place my own home. I asked her to tell me about it. She said it was a village in Provence where she and her husband went each spring to paint. It was called Ville Sur Auzon – the village on the Auzon River.
What is it that creates such an emotional, visceral response to a visual experience? That is why beautiful art is so cherished. I have dreamed of visiting Provence, Tuscany, Santorini. I have dreamed of wandering their ancient towns dressed in their sherbet-coloured roof tops along rolling, sun-dappled green hills. I have dreamed of the warmth of the land, the warmth of the people. I make-believe I am sipping their wine within view of their vineyards. I decide. I will buy this painting and I will feel I have been there, where only my dreams have taken me.
A quaint street in Ville Sur Auzon. The two artists took me to their studio where I fell in love with these two watercolour paintings by Elizabeth Joan Roe McLorn. I think Joan thought it strange that I chose these unfinished works (‘under paintings’), but during this visit, I knew I wanted to paint – and I could see ‘the process’ in these under paintings.
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See part 2, ‘The Postmaster’s House (2)’, posted July 1, 2013, for more on these artists, and how painting watercolours began for me.