Puzzle, puzzle, on the wall ...

... putting the picture all together

by Stringer Don Norris

Here's a puzzle for you. I'd like you to look at the four pieces of my painting on this page. And when you feel you are familiar with them, in your mind I want you to put them together, and then picture what the whole looks like.

In your mind.

I have no real point to this exercise, but it is fun, if you're into art and puzzles.

You see, I found this matted painting in a drawer when we were cleaning out, but most of the picture was covered by others. All I could see was a corner of number three -- below -- and I was quirked. Here was this little piece of art, no connotation to it, no reference that I could see. But it was good.

And when I uncovered the whole work, it was like finding an old buddy, a favorite warm shirt or those old sneakers from years back. I remembered everything then. I saw it in the whole, and it was a favorite.

Actually, what it was is a pen and ink drawing -- well, markers, anyway. It was done when our group was "doing" Lowell or Lawrence, before everything got made over, before much history was lost. At the time there were a multitude of old mills, lots of them abandoned, most in a state of sad disrepair.

It was a shame, for here were dozens of these beautiful old mills, right on the banks of the Merrimack River, tall lifeless smokestacks everywhere, rails still in the streets, a zillion windows to catch the breezes. In the 1800s, there were thousands of workers here, but no more.

We painters had a license to go anywhere (we assumed), and so we poked into riverfront factories and abandoned storefronts, and tenements, boatyards, rusted old bridges, railyards, even some canals that served as a source of power for these very mills.

Lowell (yes, it was Lowell) was deteriorating fast then. There wasn't even a market that warranted re-investment in the old mills -- no need for apartments, no need for condos -- which term hadn't been invented yet. The people had moved away, to the 'burbs.

It was while I was poking in behind one of those old river mills that I found this contraption sitting in an open space that was littered with the stuff that was used to make other stuff. Wheels, steel beams, gears, corrugated sheets of tin, more wheels, engines, motors, old wooden beams, pallets of oak, pieces of machinery.

All from another time.

It was all rusted. Not a new rust, but a really deep rust that indicated this place hadn't made anything for an awfully long time. I put my heavy artist case down and began climbing over and around all that stuff. I was amazed at the endless variety of shapes and sizes.

Everything was all rust colored. The bricks of the nearby mills matched the rusting machinery. The faded planks and platforms were moldering away, and heavy steel things with smokestacks listed heavily, ready to collapse at the nudge of a breeze.

I was fascinated. And no one, no watchman, no policeman, no one came out to question my presence. I was alone to wallow among the million shapes that surrounded me.

And then there it was. A super special scene -- the pieces of which you have in our puzzle. Only for me, it was all together. But there it was, roofless, bolted to a tilting oak platform, its dozen wheels motionless, its gears frozen in time and space. No smoke belching from this old stove pipe, no hissing of steam, no noise of spinning machinery.

The only sounds I hear was the background of the city -- and even that seemed far away.

I got my sketchpad out, and set it up on the paint easel. I dug several gray and black markers out of my kit and laid them on a piece of -- rusted something. And I began sketching. It didn't take long.

I have a good sense of spacial relationships, and making this simple sketch was easy and took but twenty minutes, as I remember. The watercolor was added later, I think, at home.  

I liked what I had done, and eventually I matted it and wrapped it in heavy cellophane -- no money for proper framing in those days. It was displayed at perhaps a half a dozen "art-in-the-park" shows, and maybe with the Reading Art Association -- I later spent two years as president of that worthy organization.

But now, let's see if your mind-picture is the same as my painting. Click the link below, take a look at it, and tell me what you think. My email is plastered all over the Mirror.

Puzzle, puzzle, on the wall ...

June 3, 2005

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