In April, 2001, I went to Wilton, Connecticut, for an artist’s residency at Weir Farm National Historic Site. The farm was the weekend home of American Impressionist, Julian Alden Weir, and is the only National Historic Site dedicated to an American artist. It is also Connecticut’s only national park and has been continuously used by artists since 1882.
Against the Window by Julian Alden Weir - 1884
You may not have heard of J. Alden Weir (I hadn't either at the time), but he was one of the first American Impressionists. Oh, yes, we had them here, too.
With friend, Childe Hassam, Weir founded the influential Ten American Painters,
Ten American Painters
(not in order) Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, John Henry Twachtman. Robert Reid, Willard Metcalf,
Frank Weston Benson, Edmund C. Tarbell, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Joseph DeCamp, and Edward Simmons
the first American art movement to look inward—examining everyday experiences and appreciating nature found close to home. The Farm drew other artists of note as well; John Twachtman, Albert Pinkham Ryder and John Singer Sargent; who came to paint, fish and bond.
detail from Weir Farm: 144 Views by Ann Huey - 2001
Although I didn't know anything about Weir at first, I was excited to learn about him and his important legacy. These painters weren't quite as radical and controversial as their French predecessors, but it was still a major artistic breakthrough to bring the movement across the ocean and into polite Victorian-American society.
Today, the Farm remains virtually untouched by inappropriate development.
Spring at Weir Farm / Ann Huey / 2001 / paper, poms, acrylic
The landscape is rolling with meadows, criss-crossed with stone walls, forested with dense woodlands.
Still preserved are Weir’s home and studio and adjoining property is managed by The Nature Conservancy.
I was there three weeks and painted everything I saw
(click here to view my Weir page) ; inside and outside, growing things, woodsy creatures, furniture, stone walls, groceries, tools, weather, me, Weir Farm folks, and old photos in books of Weir, his wives (he had two, but not at the same time), and fellow artists.
Weir Farm: 144 Views - Ann Huey - 2001 - 30 x 60" - acrylic on wood
"If I Lived to 102, I Might Be An Artist" - Ann Huey - 2001 - 60 x 30" - acrylic on canvas
While I was there, I lived in a house rented by Weir Farm to house their residents. I had it all to myself and it was very large and very nice. There were no curtains on the windows, so at night, it was a little spooky, but there was an awesome radio station that played unusual music and I read a couple of novels that kept me from hearing things that go “bump”. And then there was wine.
During the day, I worked in the studio a few hours, then explored the woods—at every turn was a bird or other creature, a pond, a flower, a moss, a stone, a rock… no... lots of stones and rocks! Upwards of a zillion probably. I think someone told me that there are more stone walls in Connecticut than anywhere else in the world? And that if you connected all the stone walls and laid them end to end, it would reach around the globe once or twice or… well, obviously, I don’t know my fun facts.
Now, getting to Weir Farm was a little adventure. Herewith lies the story behind the painting:
“I Know Where I’m Going”.
"I Know Where I'm Going" - Ann Huey - 2001 - 30 x 60" - acrylic on canvas
In April of 2001, I flew in to the (then) teeny tiny Hartford airport, then took a bus to a motel. The next morning, I took some mode of transportation to Weir Farm, which is in Wilton. Somewhere along the way, I had to call the local taxi service. That’s when I met “crazy cab-driving lady”. She was a friendly sort, full of off-the-wall comments and such. "Typical small-town eccentric," I said to myself. I, being from the big city, made that judgment in the blink of an eye, and as it turned out, was dead-on accurate.
I told her where I needed to go—the house where I’d be staying—and that I had a map and all kinds of detailed directions and instructions. Well, crazy cab-driving lady either didn’t know how to read a map (she had one of her own, but I think it was just for display purposes) or she was trying to run up the meter or wanted to find the place through divine reckoning, for she would have none of my fancy big-city notions about maps and directions. She told me: “I know where I’m going” with an exasperated snort and kept on going, down one rabbit hole then another. I started to worry when she admitted she’d never even heard of Weir Farm. To put that in context, this area of Connecticut is dotted with charming postage-stamp-sized towns, where everyone seems to know each other. If you had a scooter, you could easily see everything and go everywhere in no time at all. And Weir Farm, while not Disneyland or one of your more popular casinos, is a national historic site and park, for crying out loud! Furthermore, it's Connecticut--a state with half the square footage of the whole Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, although that is a bit of a rough exaggeration.
So, crazy cab-driving lady and I drove up one hill and down another, around some bends, through some woods, and still she wouldn’t look at the dang map. Maybe she couldn’t hear me? She had wads of cotton stuffed into both ears. Whether it was to keep something from getting in or from getting out, I wanted no part of either option . She kept turning around to look at me while wrestling the steering wheel of this giant automobile from the tan era of 1970’s cruise ships—as it yawed and pitched, her assortment of dashboard garbage yawed and pitched, too, the rearview mirror crap yawed and pitched, as well, but also tinkled in a dull and sad way—the little blue bear, his face smudged with dirt or something nasty looked like a sad, but cute, blue Jesus on the cross.
It was getting dark.
Stephen King started to speed-write a short story in my imagination...
Crazy cab-driving lady takes me deep into the woods in her hearse, er, taxi cab, which is also crazy. And possessed. The woods are dark and deep but definitely not lovely. We arrive at a shack, dark and lonely, its empty windows don’t warn me away, but rather whisper “come in… heh heh”. Crazy cab-driving lady says sweetly and Satanically: “Home, sweet home!” grabs my luggage and disappears into the dark gray of the shack. Inside, she lights a candle. I ask how much I owe her (I've already decided she's not getting much of a tip) but she just chuckles and shuffles to the door. It sounds like she’s wearing house slippers. Lavender house slippers. In the blurry light of fear, I see her reaching up to her ear, which looks just like a map of Africa with all the countries in different pastel colors. She unplugs the cotton stopper.
The unholy howling hounds of hell unleash a heapin’ helpin’ of Haides hospitality!
It was as if the most heinous of all AM radio station commercials were amplified, amphetaminified, Satanized and synthesized through an atomic meat and organ grinder. The noise was so loud you could taste it and it was frozen sheet-metal-covered liver-on-a-stick. The carpet shampoo jingle alone was enough to sever the senses. That's when I knew what was happening.
I was being jingled to death.
And then, she unplugged the other ear…
Bless her heart, the crazy cab-driving lady got me to my destination just at sunset and was proud of her accomplishment indeed. She said she’d never been up this particular road before and wanted to come in to see what this place was like. I forget what I said, but I discouraged her with extreme prejudice. I got inside and locked all the doors, feeling lucky to have all my limbs as well as my soul intact.
A few days later, I needed to go to the next town and my only option was to take a cab. As I dialed their number, I thought “naaaah—they must have other drivers…”
This time, she wanted to take me on a little detour to show me some of the sights…
The painting hung in my friends LouAnne’s and David’s home for many years. They are great supporters of mine and have purchased many paintings in the past and they were thinking of buying this painting, too. Instead, I loaned them the painting and it hung over their beautiful mantle in their beautiful living room in their beautiful home. They loved the story of the crazy cab-driving lady and it didn’t seem to disturb their sleep or psyches to have her hanging out with them all those years.
Although, one day when I went to their home, I thought I heard a loud, grotesque radio jingle coming from inside. I started to breathe again when a smiling David opened the door to welcome me in...
...wearing lavender house slippers...!
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