Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Window on an Adirondack Holiday Tradition

Kathy and Lonnie Ford own a small hillside home in Saranac Lake. They’ve lived there for three decades, raising two sons along the way. The dominant feature of the 1931 Sears catalog bungalow is a large plate glass window installed by the original owner to support his wife’s cultivation of African violets. For the past 25 years Kathy, who is Production Supervisor and Senior Designer at Adworkshop in Lake Placid, has used the picture window for pictures: as a temporary canvas for her annual holiday greeting to neighbors and passersby.

The tradition was inspired by memories of smaller holiday window paintings made by Kathy’s mother. Since December 1987 Kathy has painted colorful images, from outdoor snowscapes to warm indoor scenes, across the eight-by-six-foot window. Lonnie, as chief window washer, is also in charge of setting up the floodlights that keep the mural visible after dark.

Over the course of 25 years, the composition of Kathy’s paintings has grown increasingly complex and detailed. What began as an image of a goose nested in a wreath had developed by year 20 into a three-point perspective Victorian streetscape, complete with carolers and a horse-drawn carriage.

As she swept this year’s mural sketches out of view, Kathy suggested that the 25th installment may be the most ambitious yet. For a project that most years takes up to 50 hours to complete, Kathy expects to spend over 60 hours this year.

The trick to this unique holiday offering is in the technique. As the windows are painted from the inside to be viewed from the outside, Kathy must apply the opaque acrylic paint in reverse sequence, moving from the finest detail to the most general shapes. It is an artistic discipline dating back to the Middle Ages and goes by the name “verre églomisé,” or in German, the appropriately tongue-twisting “hinterglasmalerei.” In any language it is an artistic challenge roughly similar to reproducing a Vermeer upside down and behind your back while gripping the paintbrush between your toes. The result—in Lonnie’s words—is “a Norman Rockwell from the outside and a Van Gogh from the inside.”

For all the effort, these ephemeral works of art remain only through the holiday season. Early each new year, Lonnie, as self-described art assassin, scrapes the paintings off the window in long acrylic ribbons.

To view the completed mural, drive or walk by the Ford’s at 194 (formerly 91) Lake Street (the hilltop section between Lake Street’s two intersections with Petrova Avenue) after the end of the week, but before the New Year.

To see some of Kathy’s paintings from previous years, see the following post.

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Mark Wilson's editorial cartoons - under the pen name MARQUIL - appear in newspapers and online across New York State. He also provides editorial illustrations and occasional commentary pieces for The Sunday Gazette of Schenectady and regularly chimes in here at the Almanack, particularly at election time and during the annual Adirondack Bracket. Mark lives in Saranac Lake.




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