This mandolin (20″ x 30″ — Oil/Canvas — 2009) was made in the 1890s in Sicily by Luigi Fenga. I posted a picture of me working on this painting in April here.
In 1919 a young man named Robert McPherson was serving as a medic in the Canadian 29th Infantry Battalion during WWI. He picked up this mandolin second hand in Belgium before he returned home. In 1965, as an elderly man, Mr. McPerhson befriended a young man and his family who were renting a cabin on the same property he lived on and eventually gave them the mandolin as a gift. My connection… I know the sister-in-law to the once young man in the 60s who received the mandolin from Mr. McPherson. He was kind enough to lend me it as a subject for painting.
I’m fascinated by the lineage and connected stories objects can have. It’s easy to conjure up visions of a young soldier playing the mandolin, likely one of few momentary escapes in what would have been an unimaginable time.
I did some research and found these two photographs of the 29th Battalion. There’s no way of knowing if Mr. McPherson is in these photos or knew these fellows, but they give perspective to the time, place and atmosphere.
Yesterday I went to the library and headed for the fine arts section. It’s a place I spent many hours in as a teenager. I loved it there. Of course this was pre-internet. Every art related magazine is there. Countless massive, glossy books on any artist. A friend of mine used to work at the library and said it’s shocking and sad how the place has become a ghost town. Rarely do people show up to borrow books like they used to. Kids almost never show up to reference books for essays.
I’m guilty of abandoning what was once a favourite place. Along with almost everyone else, I browse the web for info and inspiration, which is obviously fantastic, but I would put it in third place, behind books, and actual paintings in first place if you want to look at art. Books and catalogues have been put together with painstaking consideration in colour correction and detail.
I borrowed Andrew Wyeth: Memory & Magic, along with several other books and browsing through them was completely inspiring. So, if you’re looking for some fresh air and inspiration and are not near any major galleries, head to the library. I recommend it.
Here’s an aerial view of me working on the mandolin. The mandolin is drawn nearly exact to life size. Starting next month I’ll be posting actual completed pieces.