My brother Mark creates art from heart pine lumber in his studio in Ballston Spa, New York. The studio was once a barn that once shoed horses and repaired buggies. There are nicks for blacksmith tools and for the horseshoes in planks and rafters. He paints his art, some of it furniture, some of it paintings, the colors of the earth— brushed browns, and deep reds and yellows, allies of zinnias and sunflowers. Mark is a gentle giant of a guy with a beard going grey and retro glasses, reminiscent of the glasses our father wore all his life, and I wonder if he wears them because they are cool and hip, or because they remind him of our father, who was neither?
The wind stirs in through the open windows, and the studio is a mixed scent of green wood and dog or horse and wildflowers from his plantings out front— and bad eggs, the sulfur from the springs that feed this upstate New York town. The art is substantial— a fish, three-and-a -half feet long, a carved rooster, its tail flaring, weighing four or five times the weight of a living rooster; the smooth flesh-like wood of a horse painting over four or five hands high. I wait to hear the rooster crow or the horse rear back or the fish, let’s call it salmon, splash out of its river toward to the sun, returning to spawn in the riverbed were it was born. The light dapples in and plays with the art.
My brother and I are only together for a few days until we return to our own, lonelier lives. On Sunday night, we flick on an old movie in his loft above the studio. “How Green Was My Valley,” won the Oscar in 1941 famously beating out “Citizen Kane,” is on Turner Classic Movies. As we watch, we both agree: our father would have liked this John Ford movie about a Welsh family of coalminers, a workingman’s tribute— and then there’s the ending. He would have hated the ending. He liked movies in which the good guys win: the American beat the Nazis; the average guy overcomes odds to find love and happiness. I don’t want to ruin it, but the father in the move dies tragically in his son’s arms, close enough to what happened with Mark and my father that we can’t talk when it’s over that we sit there on his couch in the dark next to one another, the silence running through us.
Once, we spent long summer days at our games: kickball, ring-o-leavio, red light green light one-two-three, one-two-three. We were four latchkey children without keys, the house on Daisy Farms Drive left forever unlocked by our father since it was easier not to dole out a key to each of the four of us kids.
Anyway, we were always racing inside and outside, shouting for one another—our father booming at us: What the hell are you doing? Do you think you live in a barn? Close the door— playing freeze tag or hide and seek on languid summer nights until it was dark, and we could no longer hide or seek —Get in the house! You want to get killed by a car playing in the street at this time of night?
After another threat or two, we’d come running, shouting too. He’d scuff our heads, his form of love, which we will never forget. My father never understood how he got a son, an artist, and a daughter, a writer, but he always had the same advice for the four of us —the way you make your bed, is the way you’ll sleep in it—which we didn’t understand until we did.
Finding Inspiration… Writing Prompts…
-Is there one locale (like my brother’s studio) in which all your senses feel alive? Write about that place.
-Do you have a sibling that inspires you? Write a short scene you and him or her as an adult… and then another with you as a child.
IF You Want To Visit...
Ballston Spa, New York, it’s about five minutes from downtown Saratoga Springs, just north of Albany. Ballston Spa has an array of antique and craft shops, and yes, Mark Louis Gallery.