I was hiking one day through a wooded area near where I live. I wanted to start a new series of artwork, but I was stuck. I was looking for inspiration, and was deep in my own thoughts, not paying attention to the path I had taken, where I was going or how to get back. The trees were dense. I could only see what was directly around me and just a glimpse of the sky beyond the silhouette of the leaves above.
I looked up from the ground, from my thoughts, and up ahead, I could see a speck of bright red mixed in with the dominant brown and green of the woods. I was curious and headed towards the stand-out color.
As I came closer, I saw a person wearing a red jacket. It was a woman around my age (fifty-something, the new forty-something) with gray hair and glasses like me. She did not look startled or surprised to see me and called out, ‘hello’, as I approached. Although this was our first meeting, I felt like I knew her from somewhere. I’d probably seen her in town shopping at O’Neill’s or eating at the Keswick Diner. Glenside is a small town and you see the same people time and again.
“Hello”, I said, “I think I’m lost”. “Where are you coming from?” she asked. “Militia Hill Road,” I answered. “Hmmm…”, she said, “I don’t know how to tell you to get back.” “Can you get me to Bethlehem Pike? I can walk back along Bethlehem ’til I get to Militia.”
“Sure,” she said, “This a-way.” And we started walking together through the woods. We were off path and honestly, I was feeling more and more lost with every step we took.
We began to talk. She’d lived in this area her whole life – had never left, not even to go to college. She was a potter. “I’m an artist too” I said and told her that I was a mixed media painter and book maker. That I taught art workshops out of my home studio and at workshops around the country. That I had just had a book published called “Journal Spilling”, which is a guide to different journaling techniques – a great book of ideas to get your creative juices flowing. (A book intended for someone just like me – who felt stuck – and lost! – and was out for a walk in an attempt to get unstuck – ironic.)
We had a lot in common and talked for quite a bit. I was surprised when we came to the end of the woods and upon a settlement of small, well-built cabins, some with screened – in porches, some with small decks, others with just a stoop out front to sit on. There were no manicured lawns or fences. Just houses sitting in an over-grown field. A large, hand-built wood-fire kiln sat in the field. I noticed a man tending the fire in the kiln. When he saw us, he waved and shouted for us to come over.
I began to see other signs of life. A cat’s food and water bowl sat under the kiln. A large orange cat just like my beloved kitty, Teddy , lounged in the mid afternoon sun. I could hear the shouts, cries and laughter of a group of children playing somewhere beyond the tree line. An occasional bright fabric could be seen streaking through the trees.
Where were we? What was this community called? It was so strange, set in the middle of the woods, close to Glenside, where I live, but seemingly, so far away. It felt isolated from the world I knew. A little village onto itself.
I introduced myself to the man stoking the kiln, and asked, “What town are we in?” He replied, “The Northeast Kingdom”. “Huh, I’ve never heard of it,” I said. “What township is this considered – Abington or Cheltenham?” He looked at the woman and back at me. “We’re part of Montgomery County.” Evasive.
The woman brought me some tea and we sat near the kiln. She showed me her ceramics and introduced me to her neighbors. They were predominately artists and tradesmen – a fiber artist, a carpenter, a plumber, etc. We sat and talked for a long time. I looked at my watch. My husband, John, was probably starting to worry. I pulled out my cell phone to call him but I had no coverage. A young woman sitting on my right said, “Sorry – we’re off the grid.”
It was getting late. I thanked them for their hospitality and company and said goodbye. The kiln man offered to walk me to Bethlehem Pike and point me in the right direction. When we arrived at the highway, I told him I was interested in visiting again. “How will I find you?” I asked. He took a piece of paper out of his pocket and drew me a topographical map with where we were standing as the starting point.
Diana finished her account. She was explaining to a group of fellow artists the inspiration behind her recent series of mixed media paintings.
“I want to go there. Can you take me?” I asked.
She shook her head, “No Melissa. I made it up. There is no Northeast Kingdom.”
Do I believe her? I don’t know. Maybe she wants to keep the Northeast Kingdom all to herself. Her story seemed so real – maybe because I wanted so very much for this idyllic, off-the-map place to be real.
The slideshow at the top of this page contains work from Diana’s Northeast Kingdom series. They are whimsical and fantastical mixed media works of art. If Diana is to be believed, they are also mythical. Artists look around and inside themselves and find inspiration in many places. Diana accesses her imagination as effortlessly as an un-encumbered child. When you look at this work, even without hearing the back story, they incite your imagination … make you feel like a child again. That’s the wonder and beauty of original art.
The Northeast Kingdom reminds me of another legendary, off-the-grid, people. I’ve always been intrigued by the Pineys who inhabit the Pine Barrens of South Jersey. A notoriously anti-social bunch (who can blame them – constantly battling the Jersey Devil and the Weekend Warriors driving through the Pine Barrens on their way to the Jersey shore for a weekend of hell-raising?) Or even of “The Others” in the television series Lost. Only more friendly and less deadly.
To purchase Diana’s work, visit her Etsy site. To enroll in one of her workshops, visit her blog. Looking for inspiration? Weekly, Diana has a special feature on her blog called “Nudges”, which offers weekly tips to spark your own creativity. (Diana – you certainly sparked mine in the writing of this blog!)