Sasha

Nine years ago we bought an artist’s summer cottage as our new home. The artist who had created this space was Nell Blaine, and despite being confined to a wheelchair and limited to the use of her left hand, she left a catalogue of beloved paintings of her view and her gardens, with the help of gardeners and landscape designers. When we moved in Nell had been gone for sixteen years and the remaining garden designer gave us a tour of the acre property. There were rare native plants, a “fan garden,” hosta collection, a babbling brook…so many lovely things that met their demise when I took over, but that was just half the property. The rest was wild. And not just wild…angry wild.

The lower half of the property was full of things that poked, and stung, scurried and slithered, and itched. So we ignored it for seven years. As long as something didn’t grow high enough to block the view, it stayed. Iain and unlucky family members occasionally attempted to bushwhack through the brambles, which resulted in nothing more than stories of…”Remember that time we tried clearing your property?”

In the spring of 2019 I decided to have a go at pruning the gnarled and neglected apple tree which lived at the top of the dreaded lower property. Iain had cleared away the greenbrier that had covered it so there was room to work. I noticed some bushes hidden under scrubby trees and brambles that had peeling reddish bark. After we moved in a neighbor had asked us in passing, “Are there still blueberries over there?” I said, “Ha! NO.” I supposed there was a chance these were waaaay overgrown half-dead blueberry bushes, so I cut away all the dead wood I could find, threw it in a pile with the apple trimmings and forgot about it. A few months later brought The Great Blueberry Emergency of 2019. I stood in the middle of an ocean of blue with my phone, sending panicked texts to friends to get over here ASAP with whatever containers they could find. There was food on this property, and from that day on I was going to find it.

When I completed the last I Am More: Massachusetts portrait and scheduled the final exhibits, I found myself home alone with some rusty, dull garden tools, a half acre of mysterious plants and nothing but time. I found a phone app that identified plants and began learning the ways of my enemies. Now that I knew who they were, what to do with them? Enter Sasha and Sean.

Permaculture was a word that came up often in my reading, but I couldn’t define it for anyone if they asked me. It seemed to fit me, though, so I searched the web for more and came across a YouTube channel called Edible Acres. The videos were by a husband and wife in upstate New York who ran a small-scale permaculture nursery. They were not slick or self-promotional videos, many consisted of just Sean’s gentle voice and his hand pointing, but they made me believe our property, or your property, has the potential to be healthy and productive with simple tools and permaculture principles. “Chopping and dropping” has changed my world.

The greenbrier horror show becomes mulch that feeds the soil, and hey, there’s a stone wall in there!

The majority of the videos are Sean in the garden, but occasionally there is a special cameo of Sasha in the kitchen preparing the food they grow. Fermentation is a common theme and there are crocks of veggies and counters full of dough bubbling all over the place.

A few weeks ago I was watching a new video and I thought, god, they give so much of their knowledge, I wish there was something I could give back to thank them. The answer was obvious, at least in my world, so when Steven came down Sasha went up. I didn’t have any photos of them so I started digging through their video collection and remembered Sasha’s sauerkraut demonstration. Re-watching it I noticed the bonus of a beautiful green apron to go with the green homegrown cabbage. Could I work from a video screenshot? I started playing and pausing, playing and pausing, which turned into playpause…playpause…as fast as my fingers could move until I found the image.

One thing I failed to mention in the piece about Steven is that I challenged myself to do it with three colors. Not red, blue and yellow, but the “true” primary colors as my research has discovered – magenta, yellow and cyan. Our printers don’t lie. After identifying which Prismacolor pencils these colors were (True Blue, Canary Yellow and Process Red), I drew Steven’s portrait with these three pencils on white paper:

Here’s another look:

I decided to do Sasha’s portrait on grey toned paper instead of white so that the light on her eyes would pop, but I knew just three colors on grey wouldn’t work, so I began with a black and white drawing to establish the lights and darks. Here’s the progression:

Black and white
Adding yellow
Starting magenta
Magenta and yellow
Starting cyan
Sasha, 2021. Colored pencil on paper, 16×20 inches.

I’m happy to report that the mysterious tube they received this weekend was well-received and I received a beautifully written note from Sasha. Maybe they will inspire you to see your enemies as biomass to feed your soil for the food you will grow and ferment and enjoy.

Dylan in the garden

30 thoughts on “Sasha

  1. Amazing work Amy! The detail is stunning. We moved to Cape in in 2011 and I am always surprised by the amount of these crazy invasive thorns bushes or vines that strange trees lol

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  2. Wow! Amy, this is an incredible post. It is amazing to see the progression of one of your portraits. And to read about the transformation of your property. You are amazing!

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  3. I am so honored, I only wish I lived closer so I could take some drawing lessons from you. It’s crazy you did this with just this handful of individual colors; looking at the drawing I would have thought you used 100 separate colors! Sean and I are both very grateful and also so glad you found the channel useful;) Thank you!

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  4. Excellent garden story for this time of year. Dylan and the garden look great! It was amazing to me to see the portrait of Sasha come to life. Both new portraits are terrific but seeing the evolution of Sasha was especially interesting. Planning on looking up Edible Acres, thanks Amy!

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  5. That is awesome. You’ve come a long way from the quiet little girl that sat in the back of my classroom. Dylan is a beautiful young lady.

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  6. I am in awe of your talents Amy. Watching the progression of your art was a luscious treat. Reading your Chronicle was thing of beauty.

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  7. Most dear Amy,
    Both portraits are stunning, as is your writing, and as for the sequence showing the progression of the Sasha portrait it’s a triumph! Why did I have to wait for 86 years to see an artist do that? Well… not just see an artist choose to show such a series but have that series culminate in such a matchless portrait? You’re amazing. And as for the fact that you used just three colors; well, there are no words.

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  8. Not only a wonderful, talented artist, but a great storyteller as well! I really enjoyed your story and the progression of Sasha’s portrait. Your yard is looking great, keep up the good work.

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  9. Dear Amy and Iain,
    I was just sitting here on this snowy day, reminiscing about Kerry’s and my stay at the cottage a few years back….it was so magical. We visited Iain’s office, loved the snot-bot, saw your exhibit at the library and enjoyed LOTS of blueberries from the berry patch. We loved our stay.
    But then came COVID. We left NewJersey for a more secluded environment in Asheville NC (I’m high risk) we stayed 6 months, returned and bought a perfect house in Lake Lure NC on 5 acres with trout stream, open fields, 5 old apple trees, sturdy red barn. An isothermic area. All very beautiful & magical.
    So as I’m planning my first gardens down there here I am reading your post about permaculture….exactly what I need to learn about! Will check out those videos.
    And Amy, what a gift to see the progression of this beautiful portrait. You are incredibly talented…not only with your draftsmanship but with the feeling, heart and connection that comes through.
    Be well!
    Gauri and Kerry

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