STONE AND CANVAS©️
Nana Cook and Charlotte Madison
Copyright 2019 offices;
#38 Cucamonga Junction
My quota for the art show was twenty-five paintings.
Connie and I met occasionally, she had worked with me making “Madness” props,” so whenever G.B. longed for a Sunday drive or needed to speak to Wayne on off time, he took me out to their ranch where Connie would show me her horse, pet chicken, dogs and cats, her kitchen garden and unique improvements they made on their property.
I loved to explore her craft house. Wayne with their son had built it to contain all the crafty raw materials and finished objects she had accumulated and made over the years. He had built it with his heart as well as his hands. It was clean snug and brightened by a skylight. It was a studio where she could work and set up finished pieces to assess, store or display.
The new aromatic raw wood gleamed gold in the sunshine . It had an “old west” false shop front above the windows and for Dandy her horse, a hitching rail ran along the board walk verandah. Hanging on the exterior walls, were old iron findings and a rusty now venerable old pitchfork leaning still ready and waiting.
Whenever I tried on my own to find their place I inevitably got lost and never arrived. I even had trouble finding my way home. I tried tying hot pink survey tape at each fork in the road so I could retrace my steps if necessary. However I found myself following government survey tapes and still got lost. All the while G.B. would pace the floor in a roaring panic as he waited for word of me.
The first person to discover I had an impossible sense of direction was my son Lee. At twelve years of age he began to speak out, “Mother we just came this way. Mother the sun’s in our faces and you’re trying to go east. Mother you are going the wrong way.” I struggled like a hooked fish on a deck but finally put my trust in Lee after I circled the state of Nevada following a right turn in the dark of night —instead of going left.
I admitted to being really vague when it came to choosing directions, so it was not unexpected that G.B. would demand I take an escort, female of course, on my painting trips deep into the hills, particularly since I was still healing and unsteady.
I chose to ask Connie to accompany me as working together on the show made us good chums and I knew she, as a habitual hiker, would enjoy to roam while I painted. She was filled with enthusiasm and the next morning caught a ride into Ash Fork with Wayne, armed with her lunch kit and canteen.
Each painting day we loaded up the camper and headed out early to Geronimo, Santa Cruz, Supai Red, Golden Buckskin, White Elephant, Mills quarries and Cucamonga Junction — where ‘tis said, “Back in the fifties out to Cucamonga Junction, ya used ta be able ta help yerself, ta all the stone ya needed — fer nothin’ —an’ ya’d get a little hooch besides.”
We used the camper as it had a high centre and could rock and roll along pot holes, slick high crowned clay, deep dust bowls, and steep stretches where the monsoons had washed the caleeche down to bare rocky tracks —nothing could stop us.
As soon as I chose our spot, Connie grabbed her kit and canteen, and headed out to explore canyons for cow skulls, mesa tops for antlers, rubble piles for beautifully colored scrap rock, and in special places to enjoy petroglyphs and ruins. I seethed with an eagerness to follow her, but instead I sat inside the open back door of the camper and rather petulantly painted mountain vistas, cactus rock doodlers and quarries.
Heading home we would lurch to a stop at the sight of any beautiful dead tree, a Century Plant, cow by the side of the road — for the last painting of the day. We always tried to be home in time for G.B.’s dinner but invariably he would be there pacing the driveway or watering the garden — waiting for us.
If we had not been late enough to make him really angry, he would eagerly scan my work to praise or criticize each piece. It always surprised me that his opinions were so astute, except when he said “Well Damn it Charle, who but y’all’d paint a beautiful valley from atop a mountain an’ then plant a tumble-down, li’l old, pull trailer with a pile of rubble right in front of it all. God Dammit all Charle y’all’re so stupid! Who’d buy that?”
“It’s so old G.B. — I hate the look of trailers in town, but the old quarry trailers become beautiful in their decrepit condition—in the same way quarry kids, grimy and tattered, glow from play in the dusty red earth beneath gnarled green trees and burning blue sky.”
I pulled out a sketch I planned to paint and would entitle “The Gathering Bag.” “Look G.B. No glamorized city child has the beauty of that eleven year old with her tousled red curls, long misfit faded dress, oversized boots, men’s sox and her gathering bag. G.B. she was carrying a home made faded old denim shoulder strap bag. She said it was her gathering bag “and Miss Charle it’s filled with my treasures.”
The next week I went alone to paint “The Gathering Bag,” so I could clear my thoughts for a portrait of the child I had hired to pose with her bag.
She had been waiting and watching for me down by the road with the bag slung over her shoulder. She held it with such confident dignity, knowing how fortunate she was to own the bag and its contents.
“May I see your treasures before you pose Honey?” I asked.
“Yes Ma’am.” She replied and pulled from her bag a large dry insect she had picked off a truck grill. To protect it from contact with other treasures as she ran across the red earth, she had put sand in the bottom of her bag then pressed the beetle into the sand. There were other treasures: tiny beautiful rocks, a broken arrowhead, obsidian chips taken from the place where the tool maker had labored, then discarded the damaged piece. With shinning eyes she pulled out a six inch piece of string., I did not dare ask what she found to treasure in that.
“May I bring something for your bag next time you pose?” I asked thinking of the quartz desert roses we had gathered near Phoenix, and obsidian teardrop needles we had found in cone like formations along either side of a dry stream bed.
“Yes Ma’am.” She replied wide eyed and beautiful. By then her six glorious brothers and sisters had clustered around to show me their favourite things and lead me with such delight, up to their hovel, a small, broken axel trailer. The children dived through the unglazed windows into ratty looking mattresses, and as they considerately waited their turn to proudly show me some treasured finding, they picked at peeling plywood curling back with the dampness of too many monsoon summers and too many winter snowfalls. The father had parked their old hooded pick-up beside the trailer. All this was the family’s home.
“Anyone want to help me gather wood for breakfast?” Called the father. All the children but the girl with the gathering bag ran to his side as he meandered out into the sunshine from the deep shade of Juniper trees.
The mother pulled aside a sooty screen cover and stirred ashes in an immense soot encrusted iron pot, she began to throw in paper and faggots, recovered it with the wide screen and then began preparations for breakfast. The little girl and I wandered down to my camper where we would start the painting.
Much later in the day when I reached home I ran to G.B. kissed him and said, “I love you G.B. You’ve brought such wonderful things into my sight and soul. Do you realize how fantastic life is for that family? They have all those brothers and sisters and their mother and father in reach every moment of the day. They can hear all the family stories and wisdom, at all the appropriate times. They have learned to love and treasure the simplest gifts of nature."
I was thinking, they see so clearly each reward work brings, and how hard that work can be. They know worry and discomfort but the children have innocence, they know how little it takes to survive, how few possessions a person needs, and how much love, joy and happiness they have in each other. They don’t even know stress. I wish I could see what kind of people those children will grow up to be.
“God Dammit Charle y’all’re strange.” He said in an agonized whine. “They’ll probably end up like ever other no account, lazy, good fer nothin’ drunk. Get pregnant or get someone pregnant, run away and spend their life hurtin’ people!”
“Oh no G.B. not that little family, they aren’t drunks, they are beautiful people, like a cluster of angels.”
“Ohhh.” He moaned in torment as he settled himself on his sofa to dream away the words of his Strange Canadian Painter Lady.
On some painting trips I was alone, with Shirley, Lorraine, or the group of us all but mostly I was with Connie. She had a gentle, joy filled yet calm way that prepared me well to paint — and paint I did. I reached my quota — twenty five canvases, plus a few rock paintings.