Thursday, May 5, 2011

Revisiting America

Attending the Bible study class on Monday morning we were introduced to Kathy Williamson, owner of the local ice cream parlor-chocolate shop.  She suggested an interview with Jeff Eason, editor of "The Blowing Rocket".  He called, came over to our condo, interviewed us, and we made front page news.  He said it really was because there were no murders that week.  We expected several paragraphs, but were given space on two pages.  We were talked to by some in town who read the article.  There are no more copies,
 we bought them all. Don't know whether one made it to the Washington County News or not.
Meeting and talking with Jeff led us to two more wonderful people-artists
We were told by Dina Lutz, another wonderful lady we met at church, not to leave Blowing Rock without viewing some fresco paintings by Roger Allen Nelson.  We were given his number, we called and he invited us to meet with him on Monday at 9:00 and he would take us to see some of his work.  Well, that turned into a whole day of winding mountain roads, in Roger's Toyota van(with 300,000 miles on it) going it felt like 60 miles an hour, maybe not quite that fast, but he did know the roads.  What a special gift.  He is truly an artist beyond any thing I could have ever imagined.
Roger is an accomplished artist, trained in classical realism, led by his talent and passion into the demanding, meticulous medium of fresco.  Earned degrees in Fine Arts/Art History from the University of Minnesota, he first studied under Richard Lach and Ives Gammel and began developing a taste for larger work and public art, when commissioned by the City of Minneapolis  to design and paint murals.
After buying land and a home in North Carolina he turned toward carpentry and renovation, then plans, renderings and elevations for local architrects, then set designs and drawings for movies.  All of this led to the turning point in his life, when he met the world-renowned fresco master Ben Long.  Roger signed on as a volunteer assistant to work  on a fresco already begun at St. Peter's Church in Winston Salem, North Carolina.  This led to Roger being named Chief Associate Artist to Long, working with him on frescoes in North Carolina and France, also becoming an instructor at The Fine Arts League of Asheville where he teaches Artistic Anatomy and Life/Figure Drawing.  Roger began accepting solo commissions in 2000.
Fresco painting is said to be the most ancient of art forms, and perhaps the most arduous.
Pre-dating recorded history, fresco came to be known during the Renaissance as "The Mother of All Arts"
because learning to master the pure pigments and natural elements of fresco painting gives the artist insight into every aspect of art.  Fresco means ":fresh" in Italian and refers to an art form with a canvas of wet plaster.  Pure pigments, suspended in distilled water, are drawn into the surface as the plaster dries.
Though refined, the methods used today are similar to those that have been practiced for many millennia.
Lime is quarried, kiln-fired, slaked, and applied to the fresco.  Soon, a chemical reaction takes place between the calcium hydroxide plaster and the carbon dioxide in the air.  During this time, the colors must be applied, since they will adhere to the new limestone crystals that are forming.  The lime then dries, sealing the pigment in as it reverts to its original rock-solid state.  Before any work proceeds the artist spends many months planning and committing the design to paper. 
Figure studies, cartoons, figure types and poses all must be meticulously executed along with the overall logistics and preparations.
Depending on their size, frescoes are painted in sections with each portion completed in a single day.  Being an unforgiving medium, if mistakes are made, the plaster must be removed and the entire section begun again.  Many frescoes are created by a team of collaborators because of the multiple steps in the process, the magnitude of work, and the importance of timeliness.  This could include the artist, an assistant, an associate artist, the mason, and the architect.
When completed, the fresco is "married", so to speak, to the building that houses it, creating a permanent masterpiece for the ages.
The nearly 20-year restoration of the Sistine Chapel at the end of the last century brought renewed interest in fresco painting.  The technique's skill level and use of natural materials is appealing to new generations of art lovers. 
Roger believes fresco is the best medium for painting on a grand scale.  Vast surface areas can be covered.  Because of the fundamental plasticity of the lime plaster it conforms to many platforms, such as curved or domed surfaces, flat walls, or odd shapes.
Modern building methods and materials have greatly improved the stability of the fresco wall, preventing cracking and moisture problems.  Also, new pigments have greatly enhanced the colors of the fresco artist's pallet.  Today's heating and air conditioning, and air filtering systems provide the ideal environment for fresco, something unknown by the masters of the past.
Now to  another part of the story.  We were able to view a fresco in the chapel at an orphanage in Crossnore, then on to frescoes in private homes, built by a friend of Roger's.
Brett Schwebke, a builder of Tynecastle Builders, and Roger are friends and artists together.  Brett builds homes on a mountain of about 500 acres, owned by his family now into the third generation.  Having spent the better part of the last three decades in the mountains, Brett sees the mountains, still, through a child's eyes, sharing with everyone about the enchantment of the land.  Tynecastle, tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains between Banner Elk and Linville gives the builder challenges unlike any other building process.
Brett considers timing the key to his building-a shorter building season, months to get the foundations to grade, choosing a proper sight and orienting the house properly, and most of all, understanding the lifestyle that the owners' desire.  The many craftsmen and artisans in the area give Brett and his team the opportunity to offer their client a home limited only by their imagination.  Each home is entirely unique.  Centuries old timbers, native materials, Old World style frescoes, hand-forged, iron, custom, one-of-a-kind light fixtures, and custom cabinetry give the owner this uniqueness.  Brett says he builds only one home at the time so he can devote all of his time to the project.  We were taken into three privately owned homes by Brett to see the frescoes painted by Roger.  I can't describe the beauty of the homes or the paintings but hopefully some pictures will be forthcoming.  Brett designs much of the furniture, or shops for it, designs the light fixtures, the whole package.  After viewing the homes they  took us to the top of the mountain, the highest peak in the area, which is in the Tynecastle estate.  Brett's grandfather owns a barbeque restaurant on the property, so we were treated to lunch, wonderful barbeque and banana pudding for dessert. 
My, this was an experience.  Janie and I "oohed" and "aahed" until we were tired, and never did come up with adequate words to express what we had seen.
And that wasn't all.  We then went to Roger's home and studio where he again explained the process of fresco, showed us many of his paintings in progress, and allowed us to ask many questions. 
We were home, finally, around 4:00, absolutely worn out, amazed at what we had seen and heard, realizing too, that we were the only two people that had ever been given such an awe-inspiring gift.  We will certainly remain grateful for the time these two talented artists spent with us.
Now you can see why we were reluctant to leave Blowing Rock.  Our time there was truly unblieveable.
Can't imagine we will ever forget the people or the places .

1 comment:

  1. Ladies! I just turned to your blog and was sorry to read that you had left Blowing Rock. We are going to be there this week with our two grand-nieces, one living in South Africa and the other at the University of Miami.
    Getting on with the purpose of this note. My late sister, Anne McKenna and I were Agents for Ben Long for twenty four years! The church you mentioned, St. Peter's is not in Winston Salem but in Charlotte and due to blasting for the construction of a bank, the entire fresco fell off the wall! My son posed as one of the apostles. I have know Roger for many of those years and have always appreciated the way he tries to keep up with us. I shall call him this week in Blowing Rock and tell him of our encounter at Kojays! My husband, Harley, sends his very best wishes as do I.
    Kitty Gaston