Flotsam and GetSum
Ashford/Willington (Google Maps Location)
May 21, 2017
For those of you unaware who may happen to care, there’s a CTMQ facebook page. I pretty much only use it to post new pages when I publish them. I’ll spare you my facebook hate for now. Because sometimes it actually does something good.
Kerri Provost from Real Hartford has been a blogging friend for nearly a decade. When she caught wind that I was “completing” Ashford, she sent me a note: “Did you see the fairy houses in the woods at the end of Amidon Road?”
No. I had not. Nor had I heard of them. But really… was this something I should care about?
A few emails were exchanged wherein Kerri went on to explain further. The fairy houses were made by Lance Arnold; a well-respected artist who lives nearby. I Googled. I noticed he had a gallery at his house and that I liked his style.
I emailed him.
And then we visited.
(One must make an appointment to visit his gallery, so don’t just show up unannounced please. Of course, please DO make and appointment and visit. You won’t regret it.)
Suffice it to say that not every Connecticut artist with a loft studio will qualify for CTMQ status. Not even close. But Mr. Arnold has been at this for decades and he is interesting and talented and… well… he built a fairy house trail in the woods at the end of his road.
Note: his road, Amidon, is dirt road #235 in Ashford. We drove there via the dirt Seckar Road (#234). I love this town.
Mr. Arnold warmly greeted us and we chit-chatted in his driveway by his garden. Within 30 seconds, we had to begin to explain a little bit about Damian’s unique behaviors that he was displaying, but he cut us off (politely), saying, “I know. I see it. I have a pretty good sense of who he is already.”
Turns out Mr. Arnold has many years of (biology) teaching experience behind him. He has worked with special needs kids and notices some of the tell-tale signs that may not be so obvious to everyone. Damian was stimming and repeating words in a monotone, so it’s not like Mr. Arnold is supernatural or anything, but it was rather nice to have someone just look us in the eyes and say, “I get it. Don’t worry about it. It’s cool. All are welcome here.”
I already knew I liked him.
We were invited to his studio above the garage up some very steep stairs.
If living on a dirt road in the woods in Ashford isn’t quiet enough, his custom built studio space certainly is. I loved it and immediately began daydreaming about a writer’s loft of my own where I could just “escape” and think and write and stuff.
Then I remembered I have a job and kids and came back to reality. Sigh.
If I didn’t already like the artist, I certainly did upon seeing this:
We biology degree holders know what’s up. (And what’s not up “there”. Well, perhaps we don’t KNOW but rather have yet to be shown any evidence for such things.)
Damian immediately found a comfortable chair, Calvin a swing, and Hoang and I… Yeah, that’s right, there’s a swing in the studio. Why? I don’t know, but Calvin enjoyed himself on it very much. This allowed Hoang and I to peruse the space.
We were awed by the variety on display. Even better, pretty much everything had a story – and was for sale. Mr. Arnold calls himself a “flotsamist” among other things. In his words:
Found objects from seashore, road-sides, woods and deserts are incorporated by flotsamist sculptor Lance Arnold into one-of-a-kind wall sculpture, table sculpture, and unique mixed media stained glass panels.
You should read his artist’s statement.
Now, this could go wrong very quickly in the wrong hands. Fortunately, Mr. Arnold’s hands know what they’re doing. The pieces never looked like trash or junk; rather, they looked like art. Much of it very beautiful. Even the pieces that used road gators.
Hoang had no idea what a road gator was. In case you don’t either, they are the giant pieces of steel-belted retread that fly off of trucks on the highway that will destroy your tires/car if you run over them. Even AllState has a page about them.
Sea glass, driftwood, plastic mesh bags, spools, and other sorts of everlasting found objects are worked into the pieces. But Arnold’s sculptures often incorporate natural items like nut shells, date palm petioles, various husks, pods, and stones.
Moving on to his paintings, both Hoang and I knew we’d be purchasing some. I love his use of color and shape – often on a found object like a cutting board or pieces of mylar. His art is whimsical and almost always invokes nature.
Calvin found an octopus painting (he finds all-things octopi) and declared it his favorite. Damian kept playing his game in his chair.
I was shown a little anteroom with a ladder. The room was painted as a sky at dusk and there were “starlights” on the ceiling. But as cool as that was, I was shown the super secret private quiet space up the ladder. A chair, an easel, a mattress, and a glass-domed space for the artist to just escape to.
Again, Ashford is an escape. Amidon Road is an escape within Ashford. The studio is an escape from the house. And this celestial secret turret chamber is an escape from an escape from an escape.
We returned outside to go hike the Fairy Trail. Amidon Road’s eastern arm ends in a cul-de-sac and just beyond it is officially Willington. The fairy houses are indeed in Willington. But that’s okay, I still liked them.
The trail is down an old woods road and it would really behoove you to have the artist walk with you. Though cool, the “houses” are small. And they’re not really houses, but rather painted and decorated stones (etc.) hidden among rocks and stumps.
Once we knew what to look for, Calvin and Damian had a blast trying to find the next one. Damian found a couple, actually. There are 15 altogether. It’s really fun to walk to path with Mr. Arnold and hear his stories about his grandchildren out here or what inspired him to do this in the first place.
Calvin had brought his periscope for some reason and as you can imagine, a guy like Mr. Arnold loved it. He couldn’t stop smiling at Calvin trying to “spy” on the fairies through his scope. (I admit, it was pretty cute.)
When Calvin found a green gall, the world of entomology and parasitism opened up before him. It was a wonderful moment. Gall wasp lay eggs in the trees (usually on various oak trees) which create the galls. The larvae grow inside the galls and while doing so, “change the genetic structure of the section of the tree to accommodate them.”
He sliced open the gall to show the boys the wasp larvae. This, my friends, was a moment. I loved it, Calvin loved it, Hoang was fascinated, and Mr. Arnold was overjoyed a whole family seemed interested in such things.
The trail is an out-and-back affair so on our return trip. I was asked to explain myself and how the heck I came to bring my family from West Hartford out here.
I did my best, but can never really get the whole story out. I like to write. I have this website. And I’m doing lots of stuff in Ashford because of this thing, and I do this stuff for my son back there to try to raise awareness and money for research and… let’s get back to your studio so Hoang and I can maybe buy some stuff.
And that’s exactly what we did.
Hoang and I poked around a bit before settling on a couple paintings. I told Lance, “you could charge a lot more y’know!” to which he beautifully replied, “I want people to be able to buy my stuff.”
Y’know, as a guy who spends hours and hours a week writing this free content for people so “they can read stuff;” I just dumbly stood there and said something like, “Yeah.”
Here is what we chose:
Of course it was. Actually, truth be told, after I paid Mr. Arnold for our paintings he surprised Calvin by gifting him the octopus painting. I probably shouldn’t be writing this, but I have a hard time not gushing over Lance’s generosity. (If you’re curious, our purchase was under a hundred bucks).
Calvin has it proudly hung in his room and will hopefully remember this visit to Ashford. He wants to be an artist when he grows up (for now) so it’s fun taking him with me to meet some artist friends every now and then.
We all loved our visit; the kindness, the conversation, the walk, the artistic skill. Don’t be afraid of the dirt roads of Ashford and reach out to Lance Arnold (details on his website below) and make the trek yourself.