Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Alexander Mann

One of my assignments in Scotland was to select a painting in the National Gallery and not only sketch it, but to recreate a scene that would occur prior to the original painting and a scene that would follow the original composition. And if that wasn't enough, we had to compose a story that could coincide with our sketches.

I roamed the halls of the Scottish National Gallery which featured paintings by some of the Glasgow Boys like James Guthrie or the photorealistic work of Peter Graham. But, ultimately, I decided this painting by Alexander Mann was the most evocative I encountered. Can you feel what I felt?

Do you sense the grief?
I based my story on the topic of grief and the beautiful intuition that animals express when someone is struggling with loss.
(To preface the story I must admit that I completely ran out of steam while I wrote the story and subsequently worked the most on the first two drawings and rushed through the final frame to make the midnight deadline. Nevertheless, here is the story which is also featured in my articulated book.)
A Story in Three Illustrations inspired by an original painting at the National Gallery of Scotland painted in 1905 by Alexander Mann, entitled The Sheepfold.

"A wee south of Berkshire, the Blytons owned a farm.  For 33 years, Mr. and Mrs. Blyton worked their fingers to the bone tilling the 26 acres of fertile soil and maintaining a healthy flock of sheep.  Shortly after their five children had left the nest and long after crow’s feet had webbed its way around both of their eyes, the Blytons realized they had grown tired of each other. More or less they were just tired of their relentless life, but either way, the Blytons began to direct their dissatisfaction with their lot in life towards each other. On the good days, they bickered coarsely. On bad days, they were thankful the closest neighbors lived at the far end of the road. They behaved as if they made the mistake of marrying too young and bitterly regretted their spontaneous immature so called love. Both claimed that the years had changed them severely for the worse and neither hesitated to blame the other for the point at which the marriage began to decline.

                One autumn evening when the Blytons’ anger was reaching uncharted decibels, the neighbours who lived at the end of the road surrounded their Border Collie, Molley, as she gave birth to puppies. The last one born was unlike the rest. Not only was he the only boy, but he was as black as chimney soot and wore four distinct pure white stockings.

                Once the puppies were weaned, the neighbours’ daughter thought she’d introduce the wee pup to Mr. Blyton, the sheep farmer. When she found Mr. Blyton at the fence, he had been terribly angry for having just been scolded by Mrs. Blyton for trampling mud across her freshly washed dry store.  But as soon as Mr. Blyton met Molley’s youngest pup, his anger dissolved and he knew he had made a friend for life. He made arrangements with his neighbors to buy the black Border Collie from them. The little girl was ecstatic to learn that the puppy that her parents had been warning must be given up would remain so close to her if he was able to live at the very next farm. She would be able to see the Collie grow into a proper working dog!

                Over the years, Bennett, for that’s what they named the ebony coloured dog, brought the Blytons closer together. Bennett was a champion herder. He kept those sheep in line and was fierce when any predator attempted to infiltrate the Blytons’ pastures. The Blytons became very attached to Bennett, especially after they nursed them back to health when he had trapped his paw in a trap. Mr. and Mrs. Blyton grew to not only love Bennett, but they remembered how to love each other. Then one ordinary April evening Mrs. Blyton went home to be with Jesus. Mr. Blyton was so grief stricken that he did not know how to cope without his wife. Bennett knew something was terribly wrong and tried to cheer Mr. Blyton up, but he was inconsolable. Still, being the good dog that Bennett was, he stayed by Mr.Blyton’s side and was a constant reminder of how Mr. Blyton’s love for his wife had been redeemed.

                Not long after Mrs. Blyton passed, Mr. Blyton went to be with her and Bennett missed both of them, but had played an important role in the couple’s relationship. Bennett mourned for his friends, but was a smart dog. He ran back to his birthplace and to his mother’s family and alerted the family that they should take care of the Blyton’s farm."

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