Sometimes a story demands to be told, a photo begs to be taken, a painting insists on being created.
About a year ago I painted a few decorative items, just gifts, of a colourful village – my Gaudy Hamlet.
They were pretty and colourful, the flip side depicting a different season of the year. So I thought why not paint a progression on a canvas, through the seasons of the year. And so was born, A Year in a Gaudy Hamlet.
But you would need to know a little about this place I live…The Rock…The Easternmost Province of Canada…This Island in the Atlantic. We are known for our colourful houses, and most famously for Jellybean Row in St. John’s. Check out the link for some lovely photos and explanations.
Many of the houses in the small towns outside the city (the smallest, clinging to the shores of the island, called Outports) are made up of Higglety-Pigglety houses that sprung up as sons and daughters built by their parents over the 600 years of our existence. (Yes we are the oldest inhabited place in North America.) Usually not as colourful as “Sin Jawn’s”, there were more white houses with green or blue or black trim, or brick red houses with yellow ochre, or yellow houses with white.
I loved my whimsical work, with it’s bright colours and comical fir trees. The apple tree was one of the few fruit trees traditionally planted here. Occasionally someone had luck with pear. And my friends and family loved it too. I don’t paint to sell, but people wanted prints of this one! However it talked to me. “There’s more to the story,” it whispered. I told my husband, who said, “Why would you want to paint something that isn’t happy?” And so I left it alone for about 8 months. But it wouldn’t leave me alone.
You see, Newfoundland and Labrador has seen a constant move from rural to urban. Outports were isolated, often with no roadway to reach them and transport by boat alone. This made services and supplies difficult to access. There was a natural drive to move to where these things were available, but in the 1950’s the government began to initiate moves, because health care and municipal services were so difficult to provide. People were paid to move. Some floated their homes across the bays. Hearts were torn out of families as communities were abandoned. There are many internet sites that deal with resettlement but here is one to give you a taste. Resettlement
Shortly before Christmas the whispering got too loud and I started on Resettlement in a Gaudy Hamlet. The first houses are still inhabited, but soon there is no one to mow the lawns, or rake the leaves, or clear the rocks off the road. The houses are shocked and surprised. Why is it quiet? Where are the lives that once filled them? Why is there no one to close the doors? To fix the shingles? To paint their greying clapboard? It is sad, as glass breaks and timbers rot. But it is not ugly, nor without hope. The trees that were once cut for firewood grow up. The flowers, wild and gone wild colour the fields.
These are hidden places, and I have come upon them myself over the years. Coves where the only indications that someone once lived there, are the square mounds of rocks that were the foundation of homes. Where the furrows on the hill denote a garden that once held drills of potato and carrot.
“This is the land of dreamings, a land of wide horizons and secret places. The first people, our ancestors, created this country in the culture that binds us to it.”