Thursday, July 31, 2008

Unexpected Treasure

The cousins from Nebraska quickly caught on to my fascination with calligraphic marks and graffiti, so when I started climbing up the staircase at Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands, a stop on our Uncle Sam boat tour, every cousin I ran into on their way down the stairs enthusiastically urged me to keep going up to the top floor to see the graffiti. Boldt Castle lay vacant for years before the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority took ownership and embarked on preserving and refurbishing the beautiful landmark in 1977. You can read about its romantic and tragic history at

For decades, boaters had stopped at the abandoned building, had parties on the grounds -- and left a remarkable amount of graffiti on every wall. The majority of the ceilings, walls and floors have been cleaned and restored with beautiful woodwork and the rococo plasterwork that was popular at the turn of the century. While the restoration work is impressive, more exciting to my artistic side were the amount of marks that remained on these walls and the sheer volume of layered signatures that comprised them.

Names and dates as far back as 1937 and as recent as 2007 fill every surface. If you consider all these layers of signatures and then imagine an entire four story castle filled with such marks, the vast number of people who visited the space and left their signatures and messages over the years becomes truly amazing.

I couldn't help but appreciate how fascinating the layers of text, the different styles and types of handwriting were as well as the pops of bright color on the layers of black and white.

Note the broad strokes painted on this surface with drips running down.

The marks left by the elements on the plaster wall surfaces have created a language of their own as well, one that almost appeared to have been carved into the surfaces. They too have a gestural quality that forms a wonderfully pleasing repetitive pattern.

I mentioned in an earlier post that inspirations creep in wherever we are and whatever we are doing once we are attracted to a particular subject. Seeing the faint earlier writings covered by additional layers of writing, the variations in scale, the broad strokes of paint brushes over layers of pencil created numerous combinations that form amazing compositions. How's that for a bit of inspiration to help transition me back from vacation mode to the studio?

1 comment:

  1. Jeanne
    As a young child we used to go to Thousand Islands and rent a cottage. I can't remember which island at the moment, but I have a packet of picture postcards of the castles and places of interest there that must be from the late 40's or early 50's. Boldt Castle is among them and I've always been fascinated by it. Thanks for the link to learn about the history. I haven't thought about it in many years, now living in NC for 40 years.
    Jenny in NC