The large and cold room, where I made my first drawing after moving into the farmhouse, was our bedroom. The windows looked out across cornfields. When Kim and I removed the cheap paneling that covered the walls, roses appeared. They ran in vertical stripes from floor to ceiling on original wallpaper glued to plaster mixed with horsehair. I was enchanted.
The wallpaper was faded and water-stained. When I think of it now, its color reminds me of the dried tea rose I once found wedged in the strings of an old piano dumped at the edge of a field. A playing card was also lost in the piano strings – a Jack-of-Hearts. As I tried to pick them out with my fingers, I plucked the strings and the piano came to life. It became, again, a sound box for a harp that played a tune, muffled and lost in the expanse of the open air.
This first drawing - The Entry – became part of the Rita Rich collection of works on paper. In 1987 there was an exhibition of selections from the Rita Rich collection at the National Academy of Design in New York. Elizabeth Carpenter, in the catalogue essay, wrote;
The entry invites contemplation. It demands and then rewards the lingering eye. Emerging from the half-light is a figure standing beside a window. Light comes through the window, but nothing can be seen through it; there is no indication of a world outside this room. Vertically patterned floral wallpaper and lace curtains hang motionless. Lack of specific contemporary or period detail contributes to the feeling of timelessness.
The romantic vision in Bermingham’s work comes directly from her way of life. She lives with her husband in a Victorian house in the farmlands of upstate New York. All of her work is done in the house and retains a keen sense of its history. (She)expresses sadness for the loss of neighboring houses that are rapidly disappearing along with their histories (and) feels a responsibility to the others, to speak for the houses and lives whose pasts are being forgotten.
After I made - The Entry/ 1983 - more hazy graphite drawings followed. In every one, a solitary figure either stands or sits in a sparsely furnished room in silhouette by a window. Later, I included our grey cat, Willie, who always sat patiently while I worked, unlike my other models. Willie was a cat that followed me, along with Moses and Shorty our dogs, into fields behind the house where I would sit for hours and paint. The dogs always got bored and ran home but Willie stayed, sleeping on my coat while I worked. When I was finally finished, she would run -in sudden bursts- back to the house where Moses and Shorty would be waiting for dinner.
In the drawing - Visiting Esther 1984 – Willie posed on the lap of my childhood friend, Jane, in the farmhouse parlor. As I drew, I watched minute changes in rendering transform Jane’s features into the face of her mother or her sister. I knew them all so well, I could see their faces clearly, as they appeared and then disappeared as I drew.
Now, Willie is long-gone. In a journal dated June 18, 1993, I wrote;
Willie’s tail looked like it was wagging as Kim carried her to the orchard out back to bury her next to (our dog) Oboe.
Jane, too, is gone. Though she’s not buried out back with Willie and Oboe in the orchard, she lives a different life from mine and I haven’t seen or talked to her in years.
Like as the birds that gather in the trees of afternoon, then at nightfall vanish all away, so are the separations of the world. --- Ashuhoghosha
Visiting Esther1984 was later purchased by Sarah Roby from a gallery in Massachusetts. It may or may not be part of the Sarah Roby Foundation since no one has been able to trace it.