Mary's Farm: Painter Albert Quigley
I love many things about this area, but one of my strongest pulls is from the legacy of art that underlies this and our surrounding towns. Beautiful landscape paintings seem like the very earth beneath our feet here, or at least this earth is the sustenance out of which these paintings have grown. Many artists have lived here. Their life stories are as fascinating as their works.
Albert Quigley lived in the nearby town of Nelson. He died in 1961, so I never knew him, but I’ve heard so many stories that I feel as though I did. He lived in a tumbledown house near the town green. There he raised his family, clearing off the kitchen table in order to paint and trading his paintings for groceries and odd jobs he needed done. The births of all three of his children were paid for with paintings. “Quig” could do many things–he was a master fiddler, and when he wasn’t painting, he worked long hours at the local woolen mill–but he’s also remembered for his gentle nature and good heart.
His son, Barney, lives now in New York City, but each spring, he and his wife, Nancy, return to a remote cabin beside one of our beautiful lakes. With floors that seemed they might give way with each step and a roof that sagged and sometimes leaked, their first cabin was at the edge of the lake on a little spit of land–nothing in sight but water and the trees on the other side. All those years, Barney rented from an old fellow who owned a lot of lake frontage and leased out camps to eager city folk. He kept them the way he kept his own house and his clothes: threadbare, to say the least.
But Barney didn’t mind; in fact, I’m pretty sure he liked it that way. More like home. But, as is the way in this life, the old man of the lake died and his land went to his heirs, and there were many changes as a result. One of those changes was Barney’s camp. One summer, Barney and Nancy stayed somewhere else while the old cabin was torn up and rebuilt, a new version of the old. They looked forward to the time when their old place, now new, would be ready.
Quig’s paintings have an evocative, almost elegiac, palette of grays with hints of pink. He seemed drawn to the edges of the season, the cusp of change. Last fall, Barney and Nancy’s new Shangri-La was ready, and they asked me to dinner, late one October day. Walking into the new place seemed like a shift out of time–little reminiscent of the old place except the general layout of the rooms and a few familiar pieces of furniture. New appliances shone, and the smell of freshly cut pine lingered throughout. They invited me out onto the big new deck that all but hangs over the water. An unobstructed view lay before us. The trees on the other side of the lake were bright with their end-of-summer colors, reflected in the dark water as the sun set. Loons made their mournful calls. We sat out there until the last faint pink colors on the water faded to black, and we then went inside, where Barney and Nancy laid a feast on the same old table whose legs now rested on solid floors.
Then we raised our glasses in a toast to the next several generations of memories. And to the tipping point of October.