Elizabeth Whelan, the artist painting Howie’s portrait, planned to come to the Vineyard to talk to Howie on the Monday after I told him he would be getting his portrait painted for a Christmas/birthday/anniversary present. She lives on Nashawena, one of the chain of Elizabeth Islands that lie between Martha’s Vineyard and the mainland. She and her husband Bill, a boat builder, are the caretakers of the island, which has an area of about 2.7 square miles, and a population of two. Along with deer, cows, and coyotes, they are its only inhabitants.
The only way to get to our island from hers is by boat, of course. But that day, Monday, the wind was blowing a fierce nor’easter and even the big ferries that run regularly throughout the day from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard were not sailing.
Howie was not looking forward to the visit, and I heard him say something about the favorable wind direction. A wind from the northeast means we’ll have stormy weather for several days — wind, rain, hail, sleet, snow, everything nature can toss our way.
Elizabeth e-mailed to say they wouldn’t be able to make it. “We’ll come over on Wednesday. You can pick me up at the Gannon and Benjamin boatyard. I’ll call you from there.”
“They won’t be able to make it on Wednesday,” said Howie, pointing to the radar image on his iPad. Even I could see the mess of weather hanging over Cape Cod and the islands.
All day Tuesday, Howie kept checking weather reports, and I could tell from his pleased expression that the weather would continue to be foul. The reports promised winds from the northeast for several more days.
Wednesday morning, Elizabeth called. “We’re here.”
“We’ll be there in fifteen minute.” I hung up and looked around for Howie.
He’d been listening. “Not we. You go. I’ve got to shower and shave. Put on clean clothes.” He headed for the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes later when I turned in at the boatyard, Elizabeth was waiting for me. Her long blonde hair whipped around her face. Wind was blowing spray off breaking waves in the normally calm harbor.
“What’s it like out there?” I asked, holding onto the hood of my yellow storm jacket.
Originally from England, Elizabeth still has a British accent.”Not too bad,” she said. “But it’s quite foggy. We could barely see the bow of the boat.”
Like Howie, Elizabeth is quiet. We didn’t talk much on the way home. When we pulled up in the drive, Howie was waiting at the door. Courtly, even when he’s stuck with something he’d rather not be stuck with, he asked Elizabeth about the cruise over, helped her off with her foul weather gear, offered coffee. He was dressed in his black trousers and white sweater. He’d slicked back his hair. Normally, it is flyaway, like Einstein’s.
Elizabeth and he went into his lab and sat on the ancient couch. “I’ll spend about three hours talking to you and taking photos,” I heard her say.
“It’s usually quiet here,” Howie said. “We won’t be interrupted.”
At that point, the kitchen door opened and Chris Decker, the owner of Tisbury Printer, came in. “Anyone home?” he called out. “I’ve got boxes of your new book.” It was Chris’s suggestion that Elizabeth paint the cover art for the book, and I knew he hadn’t seen her for some months. Therefore, interruption was necessary.
While Chris and Elizabeth chatted, with Howie looking on, the kitchen door opened and Evan Fielder, our nephew, entered. Like most Islanders, Evan has three or four jobs. Carpentry is one of them. “I wanted to look at the roof again. Johnny Hoy will be here shortly.”
“Johnny Hoy?” I asked. Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish is a major musical group on the Cape and Islands. “What’s he doing here?”
Evan looked at me quizzically. “Looking at the flashing around the chimney.”
“Hunh?” I stood there, holding the wet dishtowel I’d been using to mop up the refrigerator’s tears (see my post on appliances).
“You didn’t know? He’s one of the best masons on the Island,” said Evan.
I wrung out the dishtowel and tossed it into the sink, and just then, the kitchen door opened and our niece Dionis, known by all as Dinny, entered with a basket of greens. “Here’s something for you and Uncle Howie.”
“Evan’s here,” I said. “So is Chris of Tisbury Printer. And Elizabeth Whelan from Nashawena.”
“She came over in this weather?” Dinny put the basket down. “I saw Evan’s truck. ”
Chris was standing at the door of Howie’s lab about to leave. “Hey, Dinny. Evan. What’s with the roof?”
“You don’t want to know,” said Evan.
Someone knocked on the kitchen door. “Come on in,” said Evan.
Johnny Hoy, himself, entered. He shook my hand and nodded at Chris. “What’s the best way to get upstairs?”
Chris pointed toward the front of the house.
“Follow me,” said Evan, but before they could head toward the front stairs there was a gentle rap on the kitchen door, and Lynn Christoffers, the photographer, entered. “Good morning, Evan.” She turned to Dinny. “I see everyone’s here. She turned to Johnny Hoy. “I got some good photos of you at the Ag Hall. Let me have your e-mail.”
While Johnny Hoy was noting his address on a scratch pad, Chris said to Lynn, “Come on into Howie’s lab and meet Elizabeth.”
In her past life off Island, Lynn acquired contemporary art for major corporations in New York City. She and Elizabeth compared notes, and found a half-dozen colleagues in common.
After several minutes of this, Lynn apologized to Howie. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Not at all,” said Howie.
The UPS truck pulled up. The driver got out carrying a large box. “It’s for Howard,” she said. “I’ll bring it inside. It’s pretty heavy.”
During the remainder of the three hours, Howie and Elizabeth were closeted in his lab. I passed by the door and could hear them talking. And laughing. Both of them. Quiet Howie and quiet Elizabeth.
Elizabeth joined us for lunch, corn pudding and sausages. Howie’s hair was back to normal, softly fluffing around his head.
“How did it go?” I asked, turning from one to the other.
“Lovely,” said Elizabeth.
“Fine,” said Howie.
“There seems to be quite a bit of activity around here,” said Elizabeth.
Howie smiled and glanced at me.
After I returned from delivering Elizabeth to the boat yard, I asked Howie about their time together.
“She took at least a hundred photos. I raised the shades.” Usually his lab is dark and gloomy. “We talked about you.” He smiled again.
The next step is for Elizabeth to make a small oil sketch showing roughly what the elements in the finished portrait will be. She showed us one of her sketches. The subject, a man, was facing away from the viewer, looking over the Vineyard Haven harbor. The light behind him seemed to be coming, not from the paint, but from some source outside the painting.
“And this is only a sketch?” I asked. ” It belongs in a gallery.”
She looked pleased. “I’ve learned to manipulate the density of the paint. That’s all it is.”
Sheer magic, that’s all it is.
♥ ♥ ♥