In the Walter Persimmon Museum of 20th Century Art, hangs a painting by Joseph Fredrick (1865-1930). The painting is done of a flock of waterfowl in a pastoral setting on an unmanned pond.
The painting is unremarkable but for two things. One: that the clouds behind the hills - that surround the pond - are hiding the sun and are painted in the soft colors of lavender and magenta. The edges of the clouds are lined with an almost melancholy haze of gold. The entire setting leaves one to speculate the time of day the painting was crafted. Was it morning with sun’s promise just peeking through to light the day ahead; or was it eventide, the restful colors used to sooth a day of trials.
The other: that among the waterfowl (the Goldeneyes, Mergansers and Eider Ducks) swims a lone Trumpeter Swan. She is just left of center of the pond and something in her solitude draws your eye to her. Her stilled countenance is majestic with her arched neck and quiet eyes – yet there is something else. A flaw, some might imagine. Her right wing so eloquently curved, seems mottled, soiled as if splashed with mud. And, behind it, peeks one tawny gosling.
These two things, sets the Fredrick painting apart. So much so, that a bench is placed before the work that visitors may sit and contemplate the artist’s intent and possibly find peace in the inner reflection and self-discovery such meditations allow.
In the small village of Amherst, Pennsylvania, a farmer approaches the village smithy and asks for 5 pounds of ten-penny nails to forge from his livery. It is 1845 the convenience of a general store has yet to find its hold in the town, and the smithy obliges his customer.
“To build your new home?” the smithy enquirers.
“Aye, on a knoll by the large bird pond beyond the bend in the road.”
The nails are forged from slit iron bars stocked in the livery. And, within the day, the farmer returns in his buckboard to the knoll to build his home.
Years later, the farmer builds a new home far distant from the knoll. As the nails are costly, he burns down his present home; and, in the cooling ashes, collects the iron fasteners for reuse. And, as it were, some nails are overlooked and left among the gray-white ashes of the abandoned knoll.
It is now early June, 1910, and Richard with his bride, Annabelle, have decided to load their Ford Model T with a picnic basket and blanket and take a tour of the peaceful countryside outside of Amherst.
“A friend speaks of it as a lovely drive,” he tells his wife. “And in Amherst there’s a town square with a band where we can picnic. It will be jolly, I’m sure.”
At a bend just beyond the road leading into town, Annabelle notices a flock of birds circling a large pond. “Let’s stop,” she pleads.
“But only for a moment,” Richard agrees. “We’ve got to make time to hear the band in Amherst.”
Annabelle clasps her hands in glee as Richard pulls the car upon a knoll overlooking the pond. “Oh, look, a swan. Isn’t she majestic?”
Suddenly there’s a loud pop followed by a slow hiss. “What the devil?” Richard jumps from the car to find a puncture in the left front tire. “Drat, there goes our day.” He looks closer to the offending tire. “A nail? Now how in the devil did a nail get out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Now we’ll have to picnic here.” Annabelle leaps from the car to run down to the edge of the pond. “This is glorious, Richard. I’m grateful for the puncture,” she teases. "I must tell Cousin Joseph about this place. You know how he enjoys painting waterfowls. And look the swan has four goslings, there among the bulrushes by the bank.”
Richard joins her just as a streak of red blurs past them to their right. “A fox!” Richard shouts.
“The swan, her babies!” Annabelle screams. Her cry lost in the raucous battle of life and death at the edge of the pond.
“Joseph,” Annabelle explains to her cousin the next day. “You must go out to the knoll to paint this lovely swan. She was so noble in her fight to save her goslings. Only one survived I’m afraid; and she may be injured. It was difficult to tell even as we chased the fox away…”
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