Sprawled across the seat of the small rocker is an adorable plush brown doggy. At the base of the rocker you see a beach bucket, its treasures emptied out onto the porch floor: sea shells (clam, mostly, but also a few periwinkles), sand and, if you look very carefully, a shiny penny washed by the ocean.
And, everywhere there are flowers. One side of the porch has as its border an ornate, rectangular planter overflowing with purple flowers. Two round planters hold other annuals, including one with a cascade of gray foliage falling below the lip of the porch. A terracotta sign in one of the pots says ‘Bees Please’.
Behind these objects is a peek at the house: light gray siding and white trim. A classic New England style. There’s the lower part of a window, but it’s too dark to make out anything inside.
A few feet from the porch, a four- or five-year-old girl, explains the scene to her mother. “The little girl was down at the beach and has come back to sort her shells. They’ve had something to drink and her grandmother has promised to read to her, but they’ve gone inside to take a nap.”
The little girl is probably too young to read the small sign at the edge of the porch: August at my Grandma’s cottage, but I couldn’t have described it better myself. Mother and daughter then walk a few steps to admire the floral designs and the horticulture while, fifty feet away outside the barn doors, there’s bright sunshine and a fair going on.
My lone disappointment is that they didn’t pause to look at the blue ribbon appended to the scene and the name underneath it: mine.
There, she pressed the 2018 Marshfield Fair schedule into my hand and said, “You are going to enter this year.” There may have been a nominal question mark at the end of that statement, but what I heard was more or less a command. I pored over the schedule and found an interesting competition: ‘The Front Porch’ A 4’ x 8’ vignette’. No other specifications or conditions. How hard could that be? It even carried a cash prize! I signed up.
I can honestly state that I started thinking about my vignette almost immediately. I wanted a backdrop of an actual house. I wanted to tell a story with objects. It shouldn’t be cluttered. It should have container gardens filled with flowers.
My problem was I didn’t have any of those things. Sure, Betty would plant up containers in May and I could nudge a few smaller ones into the production line. Everything else would have to be scrounged or borrowed.
Fortunately, Medfield is blessed with a ‘swap meet’ at its Transfer Station. People bring stuff that’s too good to throw away with the hopes of those objects finding a new home. Betty and I became habitués of the three-day-a-week meet when it opened in May, looking for cast-off treasures. They slowly accumulated: the child’s rocker, a cute sippy cup. Betty planted up more containers than she had otherwise planned and I watched them grow.
In mid-July I began tackling the backdrop. There was no requirement for one, but I felt that, without it, my ‘stage’ would look empty. I purchased lumber and a 4’x10’ piece of heavy muslin cloth... and discovered I knew nothing about painting a backdrop. Betty, who has theater in her collegiate background, walked me through the process of priming the canvas. I discovered many interesting things along the way, including that muslin shrinks when painted. I would guess I spent two weeks creating that simple panel. I was disappointed in the look of the siding and so purchased gray artist’s chalk to create shadows and depth.
|The mock-up in front of the garage|
When it was done, I discovered it would never fit into a Prius. I would have to disassemble it at home and quickly re-assemble it in Marshfield. Another learning curve to master.
At the beginning of August, the perfect ‘adult’ rocker appeared at the swap meet along with the plush doggy. A neighbor supplied beach toys; we combed our paperback shelves for the right volumes. I staged the vignette in our basement, rearranging elements with Betty as helpful critic. The final dress rehearsal, with container gardens, was held en plein aire against our garage.
Every artist ought to have the opportunity to sign his or her work, and so I appended mine. If you look carefully at the stack of books on the table, between Elizabeth Peters and Dorothy Sayers, there is a copy of A Murder at the Flower Show by yours truly.