Norns at a Well

Norns at a Well – Oil on canvas – 24 x 36 inches.

The darkest and longest nights of the year are happening now, at the end of December. Although our ancient ancestors had many names for these days, we call them the Winter Solstice.

In the tales of Northern European peoples, the three figures in red are called Norns: Urd represents What Has Happened, Verdandi personifies the Now, and Skuld is the agent of What Will Be. Like the Fates in Greek stories, they are maidens, and they embody the most powerful forces in nature. Even gods must obey.

In the painting, dusk approaches and they gather at a well. The deepest roots of life come from wells like this one, deeper than churches, deeper than trees, deeper than Decembers. What they say to one another no one knows. I like to imagine, on this cusp of a new year, with days of longer sunlight coming, that they wish peace for all of us, who live in a world where peace is often difficult to find.

First Snow

First Snow, Kane County, Illinois – Pencil and opaque watercolor – 16 x 22 inches.

The undulating hills of Kane County spread out over 500 or so square miles to the west of Chicago, and they share the same weather patterns as the city: hot and humid summers, brutally cold winters. Perhaps I should have said, “used to share,” because global warming changes have affected local weather patterns in unpredictable ways, no matter where you happen to be. However, I imagine Chicago and Kane County still share at least one thing in common: growth.

What captured my imagination years ago when I painted this image, were the shapes of the fields and rich black dirt, two ravens flying west, patterns of newly-fallen snow, and clouds massing on the horizon for another storm. Most of the animals that used to live there — rabbits, foxes, squirrels and pheasants, for example, aren’t visible in the painting. But in the distance you can see tiny, mechanical, rectangular shapes, like little teeth. At the time, they were the edges of waves of housing developments that spread relentlessly over the hillsides of “greater Chicagoland,” as it was often called.

As a boy, I sometimes wandered over those fields. For many years I haven’t wanted to return to them again, to paint them. Probably this is fear that they no longer exist.