Nova Scotia Plein Air Painting Retreat: Part 2
|Back Bay, Chester
9×12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
[For Nova Scotia Plein Air Painting Retreat Part 1, click here.]
Tuesday we headed in the other direction, to Terence Bay. Terence Bay is the site of another tragedy. In 1873, the SS Atlantic wrecked with a loss of 560 souls out of about 990 passengers. The ones recovered are buried in a mass grave just below the Anglican church that overlooks the bay. A trail takes you through the cemetery and to a memorial for the lost. A very nice interpretive center tells the story and also raises funds for restoring the Terence Bay lighthouse.
|SS Atlantic Memorial and Burial Site|
|Terrence Bay Light|
The area around the lighthouse is very beautiful: rugged, windswept, waves crashing. But the wind was blowing so hard that painting anywhere but in a foxhole was impossible. I found the equivalent of a foxhole—a little hideaway between some rocks near the waterline. Sitting on a rock lowered me even more, and with my back to the wind, I was comfortable enough. Except for my buttocks. I ended up sitting on my roll of paper towels, which was quite cushiony.
|Painting at Terrence Bay|
|How the Innovative Painter Keeps His Spirits Container from Tipping Over|
6×6 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Afterward, Trina and I went off exploring again, following every little road that seemed like it might head to the water. One place, a small bridge connecting Hennessey Island to the mainland, seemed the perfect serene spot, but it could only manage one or two cars, so was unsuitable for a group. Sometimes you just have to go with taking a few photographs.
|Peggy’s Cove, Morning
9×12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Following the explorations, we found ourselves back at Peggy’s Cove again. That place is truly irresistible for a painter. Town wasn’t quite as busy as the holiday weekend, so I set up in a more open spot. I parked my car back at the information center and hiked into town where I saw some cars parked. This seemed very much a public spot to me. The cars were from a variety of places, including Texas, and so I set up two feet in front of them on the gravel pad with a view of some fish houses. About halfway into my painting, I heard a car horn behind me. I usually ignore those, because the noise is always meant for someone else. But after about ten blasts, I turned to see what the problem was. Two guys in a car were looking at me. The driver, shouting across his passenger, asked if I had permission to paint in that spot. I responded, “It’s public, isn’t it?” “No, it’s not,” he said. Flustered, I apologized, but then he said it was all right but he usually asks for a painting in exchange. I replied we’d have to see how this one turned out. After he drove off, I just couldn’t get rid of the fluster, especially after the embarrassment of all that rude horn-blowing. I always try to do the right thing and feel terrible if I’m chastised. So, I hurriedly applied a few final strokes, packed up and left.
I was positive I had set up on public property. After all, there were cars parked there with plates from other provinces and even the US. Later, discussing this with the others, we decided this was a local joker just giving me a hard time. But maybe he really was the property owner, and I was indeed trespassing. I know signs can be ugly in a tourist town, but private property where parking is a free-for-all should be clearly marked as such. Maybe the guy thought I belonged to the car from Texas.
(As an aside, I should say that the day we set up on Lobster Lane, we made sure to stay at the edge, keeping the way clear for traffic. This is a one-lane road that goes to a couple of cottages and a fish house or two. A lady from the information center saw us there and said, “It’s okay to paint there, but just to let you know, sometimes the cottage owner will need to get through.” And the Peggy’s Dogs lady said she had no problem with us painting a few feet from her cart.)
|The DeGarthe Studio (right)|
I de-stressed by visiting the DeGarthe Art Gallery, right across the street from the information center. I’d never heard of William DeGarthe until we started researching this retreat. From Finland, he came to Canada at 19 and finally settled in Peggy’s Cove, where he sold paintings to tourists. It wasn’t long before he developed a bevy of collectors, including the Imperial Bank of Canada. After he died at age 75, his widow donated part of his work to Nova Scotia, which established a provincial park with his home in Peggy’s Cove as the centerpiece. The home is now the museum. His studio, unmarked, sits down by the water, a lonely red building with that iconic view of the cove. The paintings in the museum seem to show two different types of painting: quick sketchy oils for the tourist trade, and more larger, more finished paintings destined for collectors. DeGarthe was also a sculptor; you can see a nearly-finished sculpture carved into a rock ledge behind the home, the “Fishermen’s Monument,” which contains 32 figures. The ashes of both DeGarthe and his wife are interred in the monument.
|Peggy’s Cove Sublime
8×10 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Wednesday was a day of not just wind but also fog. Even so, we went back to Peggy’s Cove, where I did a demonstration at a spot overlooking a little cove, the water of which seemed incandescent in the fog. I did a second painting for myself here as well, after a cup of coffee at a little shop down the road. Afterward, we did some more exploring and ended up on Croucher’s Point Road and visited the eponymous gallery, which has some wonderful work by William Rogers, Ivan Fraser, and others.
Later, as we continued to explore, we found a delightful spot on Paddy’s Head Road in Indian Harbour with a view of the Indian Harbour lighthouse. I did a quick painting and met another artist who lives nearby. We had a pleasant chat, and she welcomed me as another artist enjoying her view. Shortly, her grandchildren from British Columbia joined her, and they went down to the beach on the other side of the road. I’m sorry my car alarm went off went I bent over with my keys in my pocket, disturbing their afternoon.
|Peggy’s Cove Preservation Area|
Thursday, the rain came. We’d been hearing it was coming all week, but were pleased it held off that long. The only ones who painted were one or two participants who didn’t mind tweaking plein air paintings in the dim light of the garage. (It’s almost impossible to rent a space that also has an area suitable for painting, but fortunately, we had an empty garage.) We all went out for lunch at Rhubarb, just up the road, and afterward, the rain changed over to scattered bits of drizzle, so Trina and I took a walk on a short trail in the Peggys’ Cove Preservation Area. The trail goes up a nearly-treeless bluff with granite boulders and a fine view of the cove. The rolling breakers were awesome, and you could sense their power from afar.
9×12 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Friday, our last day, we drove off for Chester. A painting acquaintance recommended it, and our scouting trip earlier in the week proved it had some good scenery. Chester is a quiet little village, somewhat gentrified in that its waterfront hosts mainly pleasure craft; I don’t think I saw a single work boat other than the Tancook Island ferry. A great town for walking in, you can get some excellent coffee and visit some galleries plus enjoy the waterfront, all on foot. (Sure, you can drive if you want to, but just park at Parade Square Road by the Chester Yacht Club and go for a stroll.) It was such a beautiful day, I made two paintings before we headed home to pack and for our farewell dinner.
|Preparing for Critiques|
|Our Happy Group|
So, it was a great week. I was happy to learn there’s a lot to see and paint on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. I even enjoyed the spectacle of all those motor coaches lining up in Peggy’s Cove. (Maybe that was a perverse enjoyment, but there was plenty of room for everyone and spots to paint in away from the crowd.) I especially enjoyed where we stayed, as McGrath’s Cove, though a short drive from Halifax, was quiet enough that it felt much more remote. I’m sure we’ll go back for another retreat.
Speaking of retreats, I am putting together a very special retreat for August 12-17, 2018, in Lubec, Maine. This retreat will have participants lodging at West Quoddy Head Station, a beautifully renovated US Coast Guard station. Stay tuned for details!—
Michael Chesley Johnson, AIS PSA MPAC PSNM