Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Sangre de Cristo Mtns© Durga Yael Bernhard

This painting was done from a ski slope in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of Santa Fe, NM.  The year was 2006, and I was visiting my cousin, now of blessed memory.  Steve walked with a limp, and could not climb the steep slope with me.  He gave me an hour to paint while he waited at the bottom, reading The New Yorker.  I climbed quickly with my bulky art supplies, knowing the steep slope would quickly afford a glorious view.

I was not disappointed.  It was June, the weather was perfect, and the ski slope was a mountain meadow devoid of human presence.  An hour in heaven it was for me, as my soul drank the mountain air.  I sketched out the landscape, blocked in basic colors, took photographs – and before I knew it, it was time to leave.

Back in New York six days later, I finished the painting at home.  It’s 30″ wide, a study in greens, and in tonal contrast – some trees dark on light, others light on dark, still others both!  It was also an exercise in receding textures – that is, the diminishing scale of the forest.

Then I noticed the mountains were darker at the top.  This is counter-intuitive, as a valley generally gets less light than the top of a ridge, and would normally be more shadowy.  But here, unseen clouds cast a diffuse shadow on the mountaintop, while unobstructed light floods the lower flank of the ridge.  Could I make that look natural?  I think I pulled it off somehow, because as I stepped back from the painting, the brightly-lit valley gave way to the receding mass of mountaintops.  This was one of those moments when I felt like something was acting through me as I painted, guiding my hand invisibly.  In such moments I feel like a servant, compelled to bring into visual form something ineffable.  (Such lofty imaginings – must be the high altitude getting to my head!)

I loved New Mexico, and thoroughly enjoyed my time with Steve and his wife, who is also a painter.  This painting now hangs in my living room, and reminds me of my dear cousin every day.  The day after he died from lung cancer, I dreamed I was back in those mountains, walking in a  lush green meadow.  Suddenly a horse appeared, a beautiful dark bay horse, and galloped toward me.  It came to a stop in front of me, breathing hard.  It looked me straight in the eye – then with a toss of its mane, turned and galloped away, free.

Cuz Steve loved horses.

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Order Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a POSTER this week, and get a free greeting card (of the same image)!   $10 for the poster and card, shipping included.  Order your poster here.  Your can also order a six-pack of cards for $15.  Order greeting cards by filling in the title here.

A good week to all,

D Yael

Author / Illustrator of
THE LIFE OF AN OLIVE – forthcoming in September
THE HUNGRY HAGGADAH: A Passover Story in Rhyme
THE JEWISH EYE – 2016 /5776 calendar of art
JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE: Exploring Trees Around the World
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review;
winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and National Jewish Book Council Award
THE DREIDEL THAT WOULDN’T SPIN – A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING – A Children’s Book Council Notable Book
GREEN BIBLE STORIES FOR CHILDREN – Nat’l Green Book Festival Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – An American Bookseller Assoc. Pick of the List
– and more!
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