By Walter Hansen
“Bruce portrays the seasons and geological ages of Cape Ann by his process of painting, scraping, painting, sanding and painting again.”
I follow Bruce on a black muddy trail under a thick canopy of early-spring oak leaves still dripping from last night’s thunderstorm. He points to blankets of grey-green lichen on granite boulders and sunlight illuminating pools of silver rainwater in shallow basins. After I stop for a moment to catch my breath and lean against an oak tree, my hand bears the imprint of corrugated bark. I breathe in the pungent fragrance of the wet forest bed of previous years’ leaves, decaying logs, and rich soil. We hear a melodious birdsong, and Bruce guides me to see a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. “That’s a rare sighting in our woods,” he says. As I employ all my senses to take in the forms, colors, sounds, songs and textures of the woods by the Great Ledge of Cape Ann, I begin to love Bruce’s garden home.
Walking the Ledge with Bruce, I observe layers of life and death. Newborn trees rise out of rotten logs decomposing into the ground covered by a carpet of Canada mayflowers with tender green shoots and delicate white flowers: a fresh, exuberant beginning, a slow, inexorable ending and everything in between. And below this annual cycle of life, I see the exposed bedrock of Cape Ann granite. This granite dates back to the Silurian age, about four hundred million years ago.
Bruce portrays the seasons and geological ages on Cape Ann by his process of painting, scraping, painting, sanding, and painting again. The complex layers created by the advance of the painter and the retreat of the sander reflect the topography shaped by the advance and retreat of glaciers and tides. The texture of the paintings points to the presence of creative and destructive forces at work shaping landscapes to bear the light of the springtime and the weight of the Silurian age.
During his years of creative work and teaching in Orvieto, Italy, Bruce often found peace, renewal and communion with God in its cathedral, the Duomo. While walking the Great Ledge on Cape Ann, he points with awe and delight to show me the wonders of his garden sanctuary: immense walls of dark brown oak intermixed with silver white birch, stone floors of lichen-covered granite, and a high, cathedral ceiling of sky blue behind celadon leaves. This is a place to be quiet and to listen for another voice.
This article is an excerpt from a book-in-progress by Hansen and Herman, Making and Breaking.
G. Walter Hansen (on left in photo) is a professor of global theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and the author of numerous books and articles. He coauthored “Sacra Conversazione” (2009) with Bruce Herman in the journal Image.
A professor of art and professional artist, Bruce Herman (on right in photo) was awarded the first fully-endowed Distinguished Chair at Gordon in 2006, made possible by a grant from Walter and Darlene Hansen.
The Great Ledge: Heaven and Earth is one of a cycle of paintings titled Presence/Absence. (Detail: Oil on wood with silver and gold leaf; diptych, 23 x 30)