The Piano

A year and a half ago, I opened a pop-up gallery in Chatham and after my first show was hung, fantasized about hosting concerts in the gallery space I loved so well. The events came together as if pre-planned. Writers, painters and musicians stepped through my door, eager to share their talents, and the Campbells generously loaned their 1929 Chickering piano, no longer played by their daughter Izzy. I remember the night it was brought in, drawing back the cover, tears flowing as I plinked out a few notes. Was this really happening? That gorgeous instrument drew musicians in for the shear pleasure of playing it. It was a time of expansion and joy, bringing the community to my work, my table, and I felt whole and blessed.

The gallery closed as planned and although sad, knew I didn’t want to continue in the same way. A week later, my Mom, who I loved more than anyone on this planet, developed pneumonia which very quickly stole her ability to breath. Rather than being intubated, she courageously chose to let go. I signed the DNR, and my brother Chris and I held her as she struggled with her last breaths. The immense grief experienced was further weighted by a series of losses, each one taking me deeper into an already dark cave. 

For months I sat in solitude, trying to heal and find the light again. On good days, the memory of the gallery concerts reminded me the darkness was not permanent and some day, joy would return. In the mean time, I toyed with the idea of hosting exhibitions and concerts in my upstairs studio and invited musicians to assess the sound. It was gorgeous, the gambrel roof providing a resonate chamber for strings, but was likely too loud for piano. Although well-received by the musicians, I feared the events might feel small rather than intimate, so I put the idea to rest and moved my office back into the space.

This spring, in an effort to help clear the energy of the past, I began selling unused items on-line. One day as I was posting, a piano showed up in my feed. It was a 1927 Chickering. OK, it wasn’t a 1929 as I’d had in the gallery, but my Mother was born in 1927, so I felt compelled to inquire. I should point out, beyond a few lessons as a 9-year-old, I don’t play the piano, wasn’t shopping for one and had no reason to inquire. Except it simply felt good. The piano was still available and I asked my friend Bob, a pianist who played in the gallery, to come with me to try it out. A series of wacky emails followed with the seller (not the owner) whose name isn’t, but sounds like Tina Theresa Piccolino, to determine if the piano would be seen at the owner’s house or the seller’s, and I was given an address in Millerton, about an hour’s drive from my house. And by the way, would I be taking it with me if I liked it and would I mind if the legs weren’t on it?  I assured her that the move would need to involve an actual piano mover and also urged that the legs were important to assess the sound, but knew there was a chance Bob would be playing on the floor, and just hoped it wasn’t a thick shag.

As we pulled into the drive, there was the piano -- on the back of a flatbed trailer hooked to a large diesel truck parked on the lawn. They said because I had insisted on the legs, they had transported the piano upright from the owner’s house in Connecticut and that’s why they thought I should agree to cash and carry. Laughing, young Bob hopped up on the trailer, opened the top and took it for a test drive. For nearly 30 minutes, with a broad grin, Bob serenaded us, the surrounding forest and fortunate cyclists passing on the nearby rail-trail. He expressed enthusiasm while playing and we quizzed the seller about its history, the obvious restoration and its lack of tuning. Very little was known and no paperwork could be found for either the tuning or restoration. Although the work all seemed to be well done, Bob thought it should sound better than what was said to have been a recent December tuning. So I walked away with the understanding “many others” were in line behind me.

Yet I couldn’t leave it. Every time I thought of the piano, something stirred, something closing in on happy. Bob expressed he liked playing it and I had to admit, it felt good just to be next to it. I asked if I could come back and bring a professional piano tuner with me to check it out. I was told another buyer was bringing their tuner early the next day. Again, with no real pony in the race, I suggested they proceed with that buyer and wished them luck. Not surprisingly, that other buyer’s piano tuner had an emergency and couldn’t make it, and I made arrangements to come with mine. The owner of the piano also clarified the latest tuning had been in December of 2017, and it had apparently been transported to Maine for a concert at their daughter’s school. The story of the timing and transport made the lack of tuning more reasonable. Who knew if either were true.

I told the tuner she might be assessing a stolen piano. She rightly pointed out pianos would be difficult to steal, but as she climbed up the step ladder I’d brought, mumbled, “Okay, could be stolen,” and began to tune, check the pin block, pads, strings, and pedals. She asked me to remind her the asking price, and confidently said it was a steal. At which we both laughed, because it might have been exactly that. But what was I doing? I don’t need a piano, and just as I wavered, Tina Theresa Piccolino, casually mentioned, “It’s sad, really. They bought this piano and had it fully restored for their daughter Izzy, who then decided she wanted to ski instead.” “Wait,” I said, “Is this the Campbell’s piano, because they bought it for their daughter Izzy who I hear is a strong skier?” “No,” Tina Theresa Piccolino said, “This belongs to clients of mine in Connecticut. I can’t tell you who they are to protect their privacy. They’re moving and just want it gone.” 

I know what you’re thinking, but this was a 1927, not a ‘29. The Campbell piano was very special, so special, I had it insured for more than my artwork. This piano was dusty, wildly out of tune, what were the odds... and for several days, told friends and neighbors about buying this piano that was meant to be mine because the Universe delivered a second Izzy whose parents bought her a Chickering, had it fully restored and then each Izzy decided to ski instead. Crazy, right? 

My piano mover blinked like a frog in a hail storm when he saw the piano and said of all the pianos he’s moved, none were from a flatbed trailer. As he started to remove the pedals, he casually said, “It’s missing a stick.” “What?” I asked. “It’s missing a stick, one of two that help stabilize to foot pedals...” “I know what the stick is, because that’s the second time you said those exact words to me when moving a piano. The Campbell’s piano also had a stick missing.” And I recounted the story of the Universe delivering a second Izzy, and now a piano with a missing stick. I know what you’re thinking, but this was a 1927, from Connecticut and this Izzy went to school in Maine, not Massachusetts... “This is Izzy’s piano,” proclaimed the mover. Then I became a little nervous. Did the Campbells know? Maybe they’re traveling and these people cleared out their house. Maybe that’s what all the wild stories have been about. I had no cell service in the barn, but thought, “Well, if their house was cleared out, at least they could have their piano back.” I let it be loaded into the moving truck and drove away, after photographing the seller’s license plates. At the first corner I turned around because I had forgotten to get a receipt. The sellers were already gone. 

As soon as I had service again, I stopped to text the Campbells: HOPE YOU FOLKS ARE WELL. UM, ARE YOU MINUS A PIANO? IF SO, I BELIEVE IT’S ON ITS WAY TO MY HOUSE. The response came immediately:  OMG, WHAT ARE THE ODDS?! WE MOVED AND GAVE THE PIANO TO OUR CLEANING LADY, TINA. WISH WE HAD KNOWN, WE WOULD HAVE GIVEN IT TO YOU INSTEAD. Were they kidding? This story alone was worth every penny.

Tears flowed as I drew back the cover and plinked out the first few notes and chords. Was this really happening? What are the odds this gorgeous instrument, the same Chickering that brought music, art, community and joy, would end up in my living room in this circuitous, wacky way, no longer Izzy’s piano, but mine?

It’s like Idaho, simply because it feels good,

Ellen

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Good Morning

In the predawn darkness, the earth is cool and still. The frogs, nighttime animals and even the wind are finally at rest. With sights and sounds dampened by the night, the smells of grass, dew and horses permeate the air. My mind and heart slow. I feel the effortless space between breaths.

The silence is softly stirred by a movement in the grass, followed by a stillness, like the pause between musical notes. A few moments pass before a distant robin calls to its mate who answers from the branches above. A gentle breeze rustles the trees, joined by other calls, and in the still dark night, almost feeling before hearing, are low, soft nickers. 

As the blue of the sky emerges, an unnameable silhouette appears, eventually taking form as a mare. She lazily scratches her nose on her leg before resuming her standing sleep. A second mare emerges from the tall grass, cocking back onto her haunches to stretch her front legs, then each hind leg stretched backward in turn. Lowering her head, she shakes the sleep from her full body, the dew and dust outlining her form. The growing orange in the east illuminates three more mares, and as the sun breaks through the tree line, on cue, five foals awkwardly rise, short tails flapping, a hind leg scratching a molting face, a bit of jostling play. Again silence, as they stand sideways to the warming sun before taking their breakfast.

Reaching into my camera bag, I remember why I‘ve come. Although it now feels secondary.

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Back in the saddle

After a six month hiatus from photographing horses, I stepped back in the paddock last week, excited to start a new series of horses of the Hudson Valley. Walking into the barn, the smell was intoxicating—for those of us who like that sort of thing—the familiar scent of hay, horses and leather eliciting unapologetic tears. My eternal, internal home.

It wasn’t my intention to photograph that day as it was quite gray and rainy, and I was aware of a sense of relief that I could start this project simply by being around my subjects without the pressure of imaging them. Christina, one of the boarders, introduced me to the residents, describing the idiosyncrasies of both horses and owners so I could approach safely, bring a long lens or a grain of salt. It felt good just to be among the herd.

As we were finishing the introductions, the sun found a hole in the clouds and I couldn’t resist asking Christina to bring her Warm Blood to an outdoor arena where I could practice shooting. As her magnificent Syldra raced around the arena, the rest of the world fell away in a beautiful state of absolute presence. I watched the mare’s beautiful form, the swiftness of her movement and the afternoon light coalesce in perfect moments of photogenic splendor. It was thrilling to witness, and that’s a good thing, because my photographer self largely missed it all. Among the blurry, blown out, and completely missed-the-subject collection, I had one barely passable image to offer Christina.

It was humbling, and a reminder of the imperative of practicing any craft. When I mentioned this to Christina, she rolled her eyes and validated my remark with, “Please, I’m a cellist.” It reminded me of the Heifetz quote, “If I don‘t practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.” I take photographs nearly every day, but trees and the Hudson don‘t move in the same way, and never run straight at me. The experience provided a huge appreciation for what I often take for granted. With current technology, nearly everyone takes photographs. Yet it’s different for those of us who practice the craft. Hats off to those who do.

SPRING CLEANING

After three successful solo exhibitions, the decks are being cleared for emerging work. Of course not all Images sold out of their three-edition sets. Therefore, available images are being offered for far less than the original gallery cost. Please visit EQUINE SALE and EARTH SALE to view the images and new pricing. If you'd like a different size, please contact me regarding availability and pricing. And honestly, if there is an image that speaks to you, and you just don't have the funds right now, please contact me. I'd rather that image enrich your wall than my pocket.

ELLEN LYNCH: COMMON GROUND

A NEW EXHIBITION OF PHOTOGRAPHS

OCTOBER 6 – NOVEMBER 13, 2017
OPENING RECEPTION, OCTOBER 7, 4 – 7 PM
34A Main Street, Chatham, NY
Thursday – Saturday 11 – 6, Sunday 11 – 3, and by appointment
208.390.9088
studio@ellenlynch.com

Ellen Lynch’s newest exhibition, COMMON GROUND, pairs separate photographs of humans and horses as an invitation to seek connection between seemingly disparate subjects: the wildness of a stallion racing down a Cornish beach meeting the passion of human conviction during a political rally; the unilateral play of the wind making no distinction between mane or hair; or perhaps a quiet understanding between elders. Her large-scale compositions provide a heightened sense of realism, savoring fractions of seconds with wonder and reverence.

Horses have always ignited her imagination. Lynch is fascinated by their duality—their wild spirit and power coupled with their gentle, grass-eating ways. They are mythical beings yet grounded firmly on the earth. They have been easy partners and subjects in her work due of her deeply felt connection with them.

Images of people proved a greater challenge, until this past year, when political rallies gathered individuals of varying, age, race, and economic backgrounds, in support of a common good. “At the first women’s march in New York City, I experienced thousands of people who perhaps had never crossed the same streets, now chanting in one voice, their shared passion beautifully apparent.” In a deep sense, Lynch found her herd, and her way in, photographically. “Finding connection at this divisive time in the world, embracing duality and celebrating our differences, allowing them to grow toward a higher purpose, feels so important to me. We are all connected, and don’t need to be the same to find common ground.”

Ellen finds inspiration nearly everywhere, whether at her ranch in Southeast Idaho near the Teton Mountains, or her home in Columbia County overlooking the Hudson River, or on her many travels. “The Earth is a beautiful place, and especially at this time of change, it feels important to record it and honor it.”

After her well-received show in Chatham last October, she is thrilled to be returning for another solo exhibition on the town’s Main Street.

Ellen Lynch, Common Ground, an exhibition of photographs
34A Main Street, Chatham NY 12037.   208.390.9088 . 
Gallery hours: Thursday – Saturday, 11 – 6 and Sunday, 11  – 3.
EllenLynch.com

To Learn from Animal Being

To Learn from Animal Being

Nearer to the earth’s heart
Deeper within its silence:
Animals know this world
In a way we never will.

We who are ever distanced and distracted
By the parade of bright
Windows thought opens:
Their seamless presence
Is not fractured thus.

Stranded between time
Gone and time emerging,
We manage seldom
To be where we are:
Whereas they are always
Looking out from
The here and now.

May we learn to return
And rest in the beauty
Of animal being,
Learn to lean low,
Leave our locked minds,
And with freed senses
Feel the earth
Breathing with us.

May we enter
Into the lightness of spirit,
And slip frequently into
The feel of the wild.

Let the clear silence
Of our animal being
Cleanse our hearts
Of corrosive words.

May we learn to walk
Upon the earth
With all their confidence
And clear eyed stillness
So that our minds
Might be baptized
In the name of the wind
And the light and the rain.


- John O’Donohue

In offering images...

In offering images, I share my veneration for our home and that place in myself that is of the Earth. I offer a reminder to look up, to look down and to look within. A reminder that we are all of the Earth. And as the Earth is, we are.