Thursday, August 6, 2015

Wild about Wysocki

I am a HUGE fan of Charles Wysocki's art. His Americana/primitive style reminds me of my home as a child where my mother decorated with Early American furniture and many homespun items. I just bought the Wysocki print above--"The Three Sisters of Nauset"--and the one below of Rockland Breakwater Light. Both of these lighthouse sites occupy a special place in my heart, with memories of visits to them.
Wysocki captured the Three Sisters Lights in a bygone era when they were active on the backside beach of Cape Cod. They were the only set of triple lights in the United States. As far as I know, the only other set of triple lighthouses were on the Casquets, a rocky isle in the Channel Islands of England. Painters were at the triplets when Wysocki created this image. The woman on the far right is picking flowers. There's a dog lying on the grass by the near lighthouse, probably the lightkeeper's pet. The wagon says "Old Cape Cod Pie Company." I'll take a piece, please!
This image shows the lights in their heyday, back in the nineteenth century. Wysocki did a good job capturing elements of the actual triple light station.

When I first saw the sisters--or I should say "sister"--there was just one left on the beach at Nauset. The photo below is from 1979. (You gotta love those stylish sunglasses I wore!) The "Sister" behind me, according to the clerk in my hotel, was being used as a food stand on the beach next to a dirt parking area.

Later, I discovered the other two sisters had been decapitated and hauled a few streets away and attached to either end of a beach cottage. Here's an picture of them from 1922. Without their lanterns, they look like urns.
I bought a print of this Wysocki painting too--Rockland Breakwater Light. Wysocki painted it all spruced up and homey, as it would have looked in its lightkeeper days when a family lived it in. I love the warm yellow glow in the windows downstairs.
My family hiked out the breakwater to the lighthouse in Rockland in 1986. It was a crisp October morning. Leaves were flying from the trees where the breakwater connected to land. The first fifty feet or so of the rocky hike was slippery, due to the wet leaves that nature has pasted on the boulders of the breakwater. It was slow and careful going as we made our way out to the lighthouse. About three-quarters of the way, my kids--ages seven and twelve--discovered a dead seagull lying in a crevice of the breakwater. They stared at it pensively and asked what could have happened to it. Their father told them it was probably old and sick. Reminders of mortality greet us now and then!
Charles Wysocki loved lighthouses. He painted quite a few of them, and most of his paintings were either of real lighthouses or inspired by real lighthouses. Born in Detroit on November 16, 1928, he was the son of a Polish immigrant and Polish girl from Kansas. His father came to America to find a better life and eventually went to work for Ford Motor Co. Charles Wysocki knew as a child that he someday wanted to be a painter. He served in the army in the early 1950s and then went to art school in Los Angeles. His many trips to New England with his wife and children provided grist for his paintbrush.
Check out some of his beautiful and nostalgic pieces--
"Gnarled Viewpoint" is in my print collection too. It must have been inspired by Maine's Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. The little fogbell on the front side of the tower and a curl of smoke rising up from the chimney of the house provide just enough information to let us know the keeper is in residence. I'm a fan of driftwood, and the large piece in the foreground has such character! What you don't see is the extensive rock ledge in front of the lighthouse. It's where most photographers and artists stand to capture Pemaquid Point. Wysocki chose a different view; I like it!
"Winter" has a hint of Nauset Lighthouse, the more recent Nauset Light that was brought up the shore of Cape Cod from Chatham in the 1920s when Chatham's twin lights were discontinued. The cast-iron lighthouse was disassembled, barged up to Nauset Beach, and then reassembled on the beach and given a daymark of half-red and half white. Its twin remains at Chatham. The two images below show the present Nauset Beach Light and the remaining twin at Chatham. (Both images from Wikimedia Commons.)
Today you'll find Nauset Light as one of the highlights of Cape Cod National Seashore. I had a wonderful visit with the owner of this lighthouse in the early 1990s. Mary Daubenspeck used it as a summer place and invited me to spend a day with her. Imagine owning a lighthouse and its keeper's dwelling as your summer home!!! I remember carefully tiptoeing to the edge of the cliff and looking down the sandy bluff to the beach below. Many a shipwreck occurred there. At very low tide, Mary told me she could see the foundation bricks of the old Three Sisters lighthouses--the first set of triplets that were destroyed by erosion.
Mary willed the Nauset Light to the National Park Service, and some years later after Mary's death from cancer, the lighthouse and keeper's dwelling were relocated back from the cliff to keep them safe from the cape's notorious erosion problem. At Nauset Beach, the cliff loses about three feet a year!
Wysocki captured the Nauset Light itself, but he created his own adjoining house and some other buildings that were never part of the scene at the real Nauset Lighthouse. I like to think he plucked a beautiful lighthouse from its natural setting and gave it some Wysocki flair.
"Dreamers" is a lovely Wysocki creation--two boys who've come to the beach by horse and buggy to relax. Notice the horse's reins are tethered to a rock on the ground. The lighthouse is none in particular I know, and I'm not sure if Wysocki ever said which lighthouse inspired him. New England has many white towers like this. The bellhouse can be seen to the right of the tower in the background. A small bell hangs from it. In front of the lighthouse are horns, which Wysocki said were for the firehouse. Perhaps the gray building is the firehouse. I wish I could go back in time and sit down with Charles Wysocki and find out how he cobbled all these elements into one painting and what the story is behind them.
"Twilight Sentinel" is another painting with bits and pieces of real and imaginary scenery. It's fun to study Wysocki's work, as all of his paintings contain so much detail. I notice on this one that the lighthouse door is open. Someone has come to call, probably a salesman, judging by the wagon parked out front. That horse is waiting so patiently. Wysocki painted wonderful horses. This one has white socks. I love the moody sky, the neatly stacked pile of wood, the patches of snow, and the bell with a rope attached to its ringer.
Here's one I used to give my students as a writing prompt. What's the story here? Write about what you think is going on. Wysocki titled it "Jayson Sparkin' the Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter." Jayson brought the nice buggy. Maybe they're going for a ride. I love how Wysocki captured the look of the Fresnel lens in the tower.
Sometimes, Wycocki called a painting just what it was. Here's "Gay Head," with the actual Martha's Vineyard lighthouse in fine detail on an autumn day. Mr. Wysocki would be glad to know this lighthouse has been saved--recently moved back from the cliff where it sat precariously, at the mercy of the wind and waves and erosion. I'll bet President and Mrs. Obama have this print. They vacation near this lighthouse.
I've sent Wysocki's lighthouse Christmas cards several times. They are so fun that I want to crawl in the pictures and enjoy the holidays with the lightkeepers. West Quoddy Lighthouse is pictured first. It has the correct number of red and white stripes. (A postage stamp issues some years ago did not!)
The next two holiday lighthouses are kind of generic. I'd like to ask Wysocki which lighthouses inspired them. The first is called "A Present for the Lighthouse Keeper." The bottom one is "Take Out Window." Check out the moose looking for a Christmas treat at the window!
And, did I mention Wysocki was a member of the U.S. Lighthouse Society?
Here's a 3D puzzle from Wysocki. It goes for big money these days on eBay. Someday, I'll get in my stash of mad money and buy myself one. The light in it actually lights up!
Charles Wysocki also loved cats and did many paintings of cats based on his own pet felines. If you read my blog regularly, you know I love cats! Below is my favorite Wysocki cat, "Frederick the Literate." I think his tail might be tickling that little staid owl on the shelf below him.
Books and authors and cats, as you know, go together. This is especially true when the author--ME--loves cats and lighthouses and writes books/articles about them.

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