I started working on the first Hendrickson Farmhouse painting about 2003-4. As soon as you cross the railroad tracks going north on Lumber Lane it’s hard not to notice this beautiful old farmhouse on your left with it’s half round gable window and Italianate style porch. I’d driven by there many times before I took an interest and probably many more times before I actually committed to the idea of painting there. One afternoon I set up across the road and started painting, then finished the first one in the studio.
The house was built in 1866 and is still surrounded by it’s barns, chicken coups and other buildings on the property. I wanted to paint on the property but first I needed permission. I mentioned it to a close friend, Gary Kephart who happened to know the owner, Dr. John Anton, who accepted my request. The house, buildings and farm sits on 67 acres and still exists today much like it looked 100 years ago. After I met Dr. Anton and started working there he mentioned something about his farm in Vermont and said he intended to keep this farm just as it was, undeveloped. Before Dr Anton arrived, Richard Hendrickson lived in the house most of his life. He born in Bridgehampton in 1913 and grew up here on his family farm. Beside his duties as a farmer collecting eggs, milking cows and cutting hay he is the record holding ’80-year member’ of the Weather Service’s Corps of Cooperative Observers. This network was established in 1890 to help track meteorological data, usually consisting of daily maximum and minimum temperatures, snowfall, and 24-hour precipitation totals, required to define the climate of the United States and to help measure long-term climate changes. Mr Hendrickson died in 2016 at the age of 103.
A few of these old farmhouses around Bridgehampton and the East End and the views of the landscape we used to take for granted are gone now. Some have been torn down or the land around them sold and subdivided. A field I used to look across from Town Line Road and see farmland with Strong’s barn in the distance is now fronted by a 75 yard long row of 12’ privet hedge along the road that blocks my view. This popular planting is used to create a fence like barrier that blocks passersby from looking in, offering the owners a little privacy and blocking their own view of the landscape around them. They have their privacy and a view of their own backyard. This hasn’t happened at the Hendrickson farm. You can still see the stars at night all the way down to the horizon.
The first time I painted here I sat behind the house. I tried to capture the essence, none of the grounds around the house or the trees in the background. The house has a very elegant yet simple architectural appeal. It sits on a stone footing and has a storm entrance to the basement, usually open to let the air circulate. The house is beautifully proportioned, made almost monumental by the wide molding underneath the eaves and around the overhanging roofline. The shingles show off an almost luminous texture that becomes more apparent by the shadows created as the sun moves past it’s zenith, their color reflecting warm and cool shades in shadow or full sun. But what interested me the most were the windows. They’re weathered inside and out from over a century of harsh winters, warm summers and sometimes violent winds.
I tried a closer view on the next one, looking up toward the peak of the roof on a blue sky day. In my own mind’s eye the experience of looking at this perspective for hours and days wasn’t unlike looking up at the oculus of a James Turrell piece. Light and shadow create some interesting emotions when you’re focused on one point in space. There’s a quiet reflection in panes of the old windows. They offer an opaque look into the house, the interior empty at the time, but they reflect enough of the sky, the old electric lines going to the house and the silhouette of an outbuilding across from the house that redirects my thought away from the flatness of the canvas.
One summer night I decided to try painting there under a full moon. I worked from about 10pm until almost 2am. The reflection of light on the house against a dark sky was a study in contrasts. Painting under the light of a full moon is almost as easy as reading a book under the same conditions. It is possible but a strain on the eyes. Colors don’t appear in the dark as you would see them in daylight, even with the help of my Coleman lantern to set up by. But I thought I’d done a decent painting considering. What I didn’t notice until the next morning was how my stigmatism affected the way I laid in the vertical lines of the composition. Apparently in the dark it’s worse. The structure was leaning dramatically to the left, like the house was about to fall over. It is what it is none the less and seemed to capture a nocturnal mood.
Day or night you can see the Hendrickson Farmhouse when driving by. I would strongly advise not coming onto the property for a closer look.