the table and the chair next to the window
While in Florence three years ago, a fellow artist, Jenny Pitt, invited Margaret and I up to her home in England. Jenny took us all over the countryside, from Salisbury to Stonehenge to a massive natural park with wild horses rambling around. One of our stops was at Jane Austen’s home, Chawton Cottage, in Hampshire. The grounds were pretty, the bricks were pleasantly aged, the roses clambered over doors. We rambled through her house, which looked much like any other old house- pretty porcelain, a bucket, that’s where Jane Austen brushed her teeth, here is where Jane Austen used to put her clothes, here is where Jane Austen played with dolls as a child. I actually started to dislike the tour of the house, it began to give me that uncomfortable feeling I used to get as a child on field trips: welcome to Historic Old Bethpage Village, team up with one friend, go see the blacksmith at the forge, be back on the bus by two.
We rounded the corner, and came into a small room with a window that looked out over the street. At the base of the window was a simple table, and a chair. On that table was an inkwell, a pen, and a piece of paper.
A small plaque read “This is where Jane Austen penned many of her major works. She would look out this window overlooking the crossroads of the small town, and write her novels. She did not reveal to all of her family members that she was an author. To hide this fact, she mandated that the servants not oil the door leading to the room, so that the door would let out a loud squeak. This would give her enough time to close up her papers and hide them.”
I stood transfixed for a few minutes. That was it. A chair. A round table measuring about two feet across. A pen. A piece of paper. This is where she created worlds. I was stunned. It was that simple. No laptops, no fax machines, no daylight lamps to make her feel happy during the dark winter months, no rollout desk with swivel chair, no engraved pen from her Alma Mater, no iPod to listen to her favorite author’s podcasts, no destresser ball to knead her hands with, no calendar with tour dates marked in red. Just a chair and a table. I stood and stared for the longest time.
You see, I was actually on my way back to America. Margaret stood beside me, five months pregnant. We had left Italy early, due to her pregnancy, and were leaving from England. I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was so terribly overwhelmed by my soon-to-be child, my mortgage awaiting me back home, my truck, my gutters filled with leaves, my… art career that I had to begin. I would stay up at night, wondering where I would paint, how I could afford the $3,200 Santa Fe easel (every serious artist has one), the paints, the palettes, the brush holders, the pencil holders, the holder for the brush and pencil holders, the draughtsman table, that cool little magnifying glass swivel thing that every serious artist has attached to his draughtsman table, the brush cleaning machine, the slop sink with the heavy-metals filter for the brushes, the tube of vermillion paint that has real mercury in it (every serious artist paints with dangerous paints), some canada balsam so that I can “paint like the old masters”, the special malette stick with the leather thing on the end, a portable malette stick that you can fold up like an antennae, a field easel for painting outdoors, a solar reflective umbrella to shield the direct light as you paint outdoors, the drapery for the background of my models, the wooden bases for the models, a high powered Mac computer for super graphics, some cool web program so that I can make a super-sexy-flashy website, a “Webdesign for Dummies” book so that I can do some cool graphic thingy with my signature that comes across the screen when you go on my website, some cool edgy music that starts playing when my signature flashes across the screen, a super digital camera so that I can capture the weave of my canvas from 45 feet away and have enough resolution to print the painting as big as a the side of a building, a super printer to print the super high resolution, some super inkjet color thingy pods for the super printer, some super gloss paper for the super inkjet color stuff, a file cabinet to put all this super cool printed media, the subscriptions to all of the top artist magazines in the country, the press list so that I can contact all the major art papers and newspapers, the… the…. the…
…table, and the chair, next to the window. There is nothing else that is needed.