THE way to the studio lies through a stretch of pines, whose green arms, uplifted, seem to pierce the intense blue of a southern sky. You tread a narrow, needle-strewn path, drinking in deep breaths of sweetness, until you reach the house on the hill. Its exterior gives no hint of the owner; any one might live there. Within, a winding stair brings the visitor up to an open door near the landing, and a cheery voice pipes, ‘Come in.’
You pause on the threshold in astonishment. Here is no studio proper, with its column of light descending upon the rich furnishings, the collection of beautiful pictures, and the easel holding some half-finished sketch that shows in every bold stroke of the brush the master hand. Here, instead, is a bedroom, having all the distinguishing features of a back bedroom. The floor is rugless. A gaping chest of drawers, refusing to keep its back to the wall, stands in one corner. The faded glories of a poppy field cover the dry, brown breadths of a screen, which half-heartedly, and not at all successfully, attempts to hide a washstand. A pitcher with a broken nose, and a jar encircled by a border in imitation of an autumn sunset, are shamelessly exposed. Another glance reveals a bureau doing duty for a writing-desk and a magazine-rack, a tall bed, and two sewing machines drawn up near the window. Newspapers full of ancient history, scattered in every direction, flutter their pages hysterically whenever the wind seeks entrance. An incompetent, round-faced clock points its idle hands to six-thirty, and stares vindictively at its gaudy cousin across the room. The latter is ticking industriously. The walls are decorated, not with rare paintings, but with newspaper clippings; one fully describing the proper methods of preparing fruit punch and stuffed tomatoes, another commenting on streetcar manners in Buffalo. The only pictures arc those of women in autumn frocks.
And the artist ? She is a tight little woman, spare of face and form, carelessly dressed. Her black hair stands up in defiant spikes, and her gray eyes snap behind steel-bowed spectacles. But you can see traces of good humor round the mouth, and a vagrant twinkle behind the spectacles.
This is Miss Vermeil Crimm, our village artist.
‘Artist!’ you cry. ‘Am I in some futurist dream where all my ideas of law and order are upside down, my conception of the beautiful twisted out of shape until past recognition, my visions of an artist and his workshop totally destroyed? Are not one’s surroundings indicative of one’s self? Surely, this untidy room, which lacks a single lovely object, speaks loudly of the absence of any artistic taste. Artist, indeed! Why, Miss Vermell would not make a half-way housekeeper! one can see by the whirlwind look of the room that she is always rushed. Even for a hungry, home-coming husband she would not have dinner on time, and the appearance of her parlor would shrivel the soul of a New England housewife.’
It is a natural conclusion, a just criticism. But look again. Over the bed lies a fluff of diaphanous fabric, exquisite in texture and shade; here are lustrous satins and silks, shrouded from the dust, partly concealed in the gaping drawers; the machine needle is running a scarlet thread through the bright folds of a serge dress; this finished waist of lavender flecked with amber was brought to its state of perfection by skillful fingers. These are the materials with which our artist works; the needle shares equal honors with the brush. Moreover, any lady whose pocket-book is not in the habit of undergoing a fast, or does not exist chiefly upon a nickel diet, can serve as a model.
Yes, the soul of an artist burns within this little gray wisp of a woman. What matter if she turn scrubwoman, and scour the kitchen floor by candlelight? In the morning she is the artist, — planning, arranging, stitching, mixing her colors with a fine discrimination, fashioning garments of beauty and grace. She nods gravely at a middle-aged black silk, but watch her eyes sparkle over the possibilities of an evening gown. Her hand caresses its delicate, shining lengths, while her mind is busy weaving it into wondrous attire for some stately débutante. To her the making of a dress is a labor of love. She delights in the subtleties of color and effective contrast, the flow of drapery, the gleam of ivory satin, yet no detail is too small for painstaking treatment.
I look at the room, and then at my little gray artist bending over her task, reveling in the joy of creation. The two are incompatible. Yet I believe that her workshop is not so much an expression of herself as is her art, — that is the breath of life to her. She will not stop to rest, even on Christmas Day. She lives spiritually and mentally as well as financially by her needle, and the stamp of her individuality is upon each completed work of art.
I am sure that her soul ‘goes clad in gorgeous things’; that the dexterous fingers and keen eyes are guided by the same beauty-loving soul. Whatever the stuff of souls, I know that the Great Artist fashioned hers in the early bloom of the morning, and gave to it all the radiance that one misses in her strange little person.