Peculiar ice

Late February is an especially fine time to see ice in Maine. This landscape element might be underappreciated by some people; for the artist, it’s got its charms and challenges.

I found peculiar ice while driving north on Rte 15 in Winterport, Maine along the Penobscot River. I was so startled by the sight of immense blocks of ice, shaped like thick tables, furniture of giants, that I went back to photograph and paint these. I still like how the painting, “Ice Out, Penobscot River” resulted, and find it hard to put that one up for sale. But I did, and it sold soon after.

Ice Out, Penobscot River, by Alison C. Dibble

Meanwhile out on Salt Pond, the tide lifts the ice twice a day, and angular pieces of salty ice cluster around the rocks that get exposed at low tide. I think of these clusters as castles, but they’re more like sculptures, as though the artist had flung the pieces out onto the rock and said, “There, good enough.”

Some years ago I tried to paint such a castle, with a full moon in the distant sky above, and a suggestion of spruce treetops to anchor it in reality. Though the moon seemed to shine, overall that painting did not seem to resonate; the ice castle feature was hard to interpret unless one has seen the actual phenomenon. It’s from 2012; I think I would take a different approach today.

This brings to mind some other ways to think about landscapes:

The remembered landscape: I can recall a place where something happened, or I felt a certain way. If I try to go back to that same place on the ground, it’s going to look and feel different, and sometimes that difference is jarring to the point where I might choose to stay away and just hold the remembered landscape in my mind.

The anticipated landscape: if I am in Google Earth planning a hike, I develop an expectation of what the landscape will be like, but once I get there, nothing is the way I imagined it would be. It’s not a bad thing; actually it’s exciting and I’ve learned to welcome the experience of switching over from my expected landscape to the real one.

The imagined landscape can still be a landscape even if it’s made up (see Greenland Ice Sheet Imagined, a series I’m developing, some representative paintings are on this site, search by “Greenland”). I’m a fan of fantasy illustration. If a person could imagine herself walking around in a fantastical place, then it’s a landscape, right?

So, back to peculiar ice. It’s floating on the sea at the mouth of the harbor, it’s got a refrozen path through the solid river where the icebreaker went through last week. It’s the ice-scape in that incredible early movie, Way Down East (1920) with Lilian Gish, and how did they make that movie, anyway? (Read more here.)

Today those ice castles on Salt Pond are calling me. I must shake off some of this pandemic lethargy and get myself out there to try again to tell their story. There I’ll be, easel set up on the ice, oil paints congealing on the palette. I’ll be painting the patterns made by light and shadows in an icy landscape that is far from the Greenland Ice Sheet, but offers plenty of challenge nonetheless.


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