Thursday, January 4, 2018

Deja Vu All Over Again

Last month I drove down to Virginia for a second crack at photographing some the hunts I've been assigned to for the upcoming AAEA exhibition. I had been planning to go to the joint meet between Princess Anne Hunt (PAH) and Deep Run, two of the hunts I didn't visit on my last trip in March. I couldn't believe my good luck when I discovered that Loudoun was hunting on Saturday, the day before the joint meet. If everything went according to plan, I could catch Loudoun way up north in Leesburg on Saturday morning, then drive down to the Richmond area in the afternoon and be ready for the joint meet on Sunday morning. I could maybe even take a detour and see Colonial Williamsburg all decked out for Christmas, before heading home on Monday. E-Z P-Z, right?

I don't know if you read my post from my visit to Virginia last spring, but a late winter storm around the 10th of March crippled most the Northeast, as far south as Virginia. It wreaked havoc on my meticulously (sort of) laid plans for which hunt I'd be visiting on which day of my ten-day visit. So I didn't get to photograph two of the five or so hunts I was planning to on that visit. No need to panic. After all there was still a full year in which to go back and visit the hunts I'd missed.

Fast forward to December 2017. A rare, early season winter storm blew in for the weekend of December 9th, and I was pretty much sunk. Loudoun canceled early on Saturday morning, just as a light snow was beginning to fall. I talked to the huntsman, Ronald Johnsey the night before and was given permission to come to the kennels in the morning to see the hounds anyway. I had a wonderful visit. Ron explained so much about kennel life, breeding and feeding that I thought I'd died and gone to hound heaven! There were new puppies, 2-year-olds and old veterans, and he patiently explained over and over, their names, breeding and characteristics. I strongly urge all sporting artists to take every opportunity afforded them to learn about hounds and kennel life. Kennel life is at the very heart of the sport.
Loudoun Hunt's "A" puppies eating breakfast

"We want to go out and play in the snow!"
Joint Masters, Mr. Lawrence Dale, Mrs. Mary Sell, and Mr. Donald Johnsey (Ron's twin brother) and a few other intrepid souls arrived soon after the hounds were fed, and we walked out. The kennel is situated on the edge of Leesburg, and new McMansions have gone up all around the kennels. I took lots of photos of hounds in the kennel being fed, walked and returning home, so I consider it a very successful outing. There are a few photos I'd like to work up as paintings, especially some of the very first photos I took - the ones of the 6-month old puppies at the feed troughs. There's something to be said for first impressions. I can't quite figure it out, but perhaps it's the immediacy of taking photos before I have time to think about what I'm seeing or what's happening. Of course, I've taken some good photos of scenes with stories behind them, like the one of the puppies standing on their hind legs looking out of kennel fence. Their eagerness and curiosity would make a great subject for a painting, but I consider the first few photos among the best of the lot.
I always like to pick out favorite hounds too, the ones I feel connected to in some way. That would have been Argo. His presence was so compelling. Sitting on a "bench" (a shallow-sided box filled with straw) with his brother beside him, he quietly observed me, while his kennelmates jumped, whined, barked and scrambled to get my attention. I couldn't get a very good photo of him through the doorway, but it's enough to jog my memory of him and his brother Aspen. Elegant and graceful, almost pure white, they don't look like your typical foxhounds. I just couldn't take my eyes off them. I'm already planning the painting I'm going to do of them!

Did someone say "Cookie?" (That's Aspen, Argo's brother on the left with the blue collar.)

I got to ask Ron all sorts of questions, like is there a pecking order in the pack when they're hunting? Don't ever be afraid to ask questions, because you never know what the answer might be! Apparently there is a pecking order, where certain hounds get to lead the rest of the pack. Or certain hounds are more reliable than others when finding a line. It's all about understanding the sport and all it's nuances. One could spend a lifetime with hounds and still learn something new every day.

To end my story, the next day the joint meet with PAH and Deep Run was canceled. I thought I might have a chance to visit Deep Run's kennels, but the huntsman was sick and I certainly didn't want to have him get out of his sick bed just for me. So there I was, on Sunday morning in Richmond with no place to go and nothing to do. I decided I'd go to Colonial Williamsburg to see the place in all its Christmas finery. I've always wanted to go around Christmastime, and this seemed like it was just meant to be. I had gone once before, in the unrelenting heat of a Virginia summer, and it was quite miserable, so this seemed like a great way to save the trip and come away with something for my troubles.

Colonial Williamsburg interior. I wanted to capture that thin sliver of light.
I took a tour of the Governor's Palace, the Christmas decorations on Duke of Gloucester Street, had lunch at the Trellis restaurant and ended with the Illumination of the Capitol ceremony at 5:30 p.m. It was really wonderful. (Sadly the snow which had canceled all hunt activities melted or never materialized in Williamsburg. I was a little disappointed, but not too much!) I started the long drive home and stopped for the night in Fredericksburg, which is about halfway between Richmond and Washington, D.C. I slept late so as not to catch all that commuter traffic and was home by 1:30 in the afternoon.

Williamsburg is famous for its Christmas Decorations
All in all, I'd say it was a successful trip. I don't know what to do about PAH and Deep Run. The weather is always a roll of the dice after Christmas, and with my luck, I can't say I wouldn't get snowed out a third time. It's a long drive from the Jersey Shore (over 8 hours) and I'd rather spend my time painting, so I'll just have to wait and see. I'm in the middle of an early winter blizzard as I write, and the weather forecast is something right out of North Dakota (0 degrees with -20 below wind chill for the next two days!)

I think I'll make a nice big pot of Scotch Broth and get into the studio for some uninterrupted painting!

Last year, I made a New Years resolution to join the Pastel Society, The Oil Painters of America and Society of Animal Painters. I didn't get in last year, but will try again this year. Hope springs eternal! Remember, don't be discouraged by rejection. I know that sounds impossible to do, but don't take it personally either. Just keep trying!

On a more positive note, I rejoined the American Academy of Equine Art (AAEA), exhibited one painting in the annual fall show in Aiken, SC and have been elected to the Board of Directors. I hope to make a difference to the organization by leading by my example, teaching workshops and inspiring young artists to submit work to our shows, attend the workshops offered throughout the year and aspire to becoming juried and signature members of the organization!

Here's a few links for great Scotch Broth recipes. I usually make an amalgam of two or three recipes to get the best results. I recommend following the recipe as written the first time. After you taste the results, you can change or amend it to your own preferences the next time you make it. The important thing to remember when making a good Scotch Broth is to use lamb shanks, pearl barley (not the pre-packaged, parboiled variety) and let it sit/cool overnight to skim off the fat. Yum!

Happy New Year!