EDITOR’S NOTE: We occasionally feature testimonials from recent Quarry Farm Fellows, which combine conversational illustrations of their research and writing process with personal reflections on their experiences as Twain scholars, teachers, and fellows. Applications for Quarry Farm Fellowships are due each Winter. Find more information here.
Wynn Yarrow is a professional artist focusing on the connections between nature and human nature. Her work has been exhibited in a dozen museums and as many colleges and universities. Some of the venues at which she has exhibited are Kyoto International Community House, Kyoto, Japan; Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, NY; Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, NY and Penland School of Craft, Penland, NC. Yarrow’s work is represented by West End Gallery, Corning, NY and Artful Home, Madison, Wisconsin. Her public art comforts patients and families at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, PA, the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN and other hospitals in New York and Pennsylvania. She has been a teaching artist for programs funded by the US Department of Education and by The National Endowment for the Arts.
I was slow before “slow” was cool, so I enjoyed the unfolding of Quarry Farm over two weeks in a way it could never be revealed in a short tour. As the days crawled by, I continued two notice details. The barley twist coat stand in the hall caught my notice immediately, but the elegant carved finials on the curtain rod over the door nearby escaped my attention for a time. As lighting changed, as I became more familiar with the rooms, my focus lit upon a view out a certain window, a hand printed pattern on a fabric, the brushwork in a painting, or the medallions by which a mirror hangs.
Outdoors the landscape was putting on a slow motion show of its own, at least slow measured by standards of human patience and attention. It was April moving into May, and the weather was cool and wet. It was fascinating to sit on the porch watching storms move across the valley. Frequently I could see the dangling striations of distant rain hanging from clouds, and fog softening one or more ridges at a time. The light bouncing off water vapor gave odd reflections of light, sometimes making it appear that the source of light was low between the ridges and shining out and up. One midmorning I went to the porch for a tea break, and to take some time to observe the hills. Three cups of tea and two hours later I went back to work, deeply nourished. I understand how this has always been an inspiring spot.
But when I looked back on Twain’s era, an era associated with a slower pace of life, I saw something else. Tremendous speed. Yes, life felt slow to them as they lived it: even frying an egg took time and effort. But in a few decades America became a vastly different world, physically and socially. It feels like overnight in hindsight.
The detail of the house that stays with me most powerfully is the ceiling in the parlor. Looking up at the massive width of the hardwood panels, I was in awe imagining what these forests once looked like, the trees too big to wrap your arms around. I imagined virtually every forest on every ridge visible from the porch harvested within Mark Twain’s lifetime. That’s a lot of trees. I grew up in a Pennsylvania lumber town; my great grandfather was a lumberjack; I’ve always known the native forests were felled in the 1800’s. But being at Quarry Farm knocked the reality of this quick change into me.
This time to work and to reflect showed up in my work. The place, the ideas, and the weather all had an influence. I found my work as an artist taking a turn toward subtlety, perhaps picking up on the ambiguity, the nuance, and the poignancy of other lives from a different era.