"Morning Sun on Phelon Hill."
The 300 acre Walter Phelon Conservation area in Granville Massachusetts is comprised of wide variety of terrain and has wonderful diversified wildlife habitat. But when the Sportsmen's National Land Trust first aquired it, the land had a mostly barren forest floor. Tall mature trees with dense over head canopy kept light from reaching the ground preventing low level vegetation from growing. The kind of plant life that provided natural food supplies was missing. Very few if any wildlife species used this type of forest, it was in need of a major overhaul. A forestry management plan was designed by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and implemented to maximize early successional forest growth by letting light in, thus increasing browse for deer and moose. New meadowlands were cleared increasing song and game bird numbers. "Bunny" piles were made from clippings in hopes of regenerating eastern cottontail rabbit numbers, also providing bears a place to make a den.
As an artist I wanted to show the habitat project in it's completed state. It is now flourishing with both habitat cover and teaming with a variety wildlife. The actual Phelon "hill" is much larger than I depicted it. I had to use artistic license to bring the entrance of the field to the center of the hill. Additionally, the background hills cannot be seen until you are on top of the field, and the distant mountains are only visible near the bottom. So my mission was to tie the foreground, middle, and background areas together to get a feel for the entire scene from one vantage point. That line of sight begins from the deer's point of view, as if you the viewer are there with the deer looking out at a beautiful vista.
But, I did not want to simply compose a panoramic view of the area, I felt a story based on a natural wildlife interlude would be necessary for the painting to qualify for what I consider to be a work of art. The buck I portrayed is not the main subject of the artwork, although he is an important foreground element, and neither are the other creatures of the composition; this is a portrait of the Land. Land that has not been lost to development and will continue to be improved for wildlife and stretches as far as the eye can see. This area is part of a twenty mile corridor of linked open space extending from the far opposite reaches of the Cobble Mountain Reservoir in Massachusetts, on down through to the Barkhamstead Reservoir in Northwestern Connecticut. (Seen in the distance.)
While the scene is basically a composite of artistically combined elements, that includes trail cam photos of the deer, it is based on realistic land features and real experiences. While hiking throughout the vast 300 acre forest I was searching for ideas to formulate a compositional plan. I had in fact jumped the buck and another time several does saw me. I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing one of the whitetail does blowing a loud warning call. This sounds much like a thunderous sneeze with a whistling sound mixed in. I could see the vapor cloud of her breath as it rolled out of her snout, and this made the experience all the more special as it had involved more than just a distant static sighting. Her tail went up full standing, displaying the white hair underneath, the visual signal to run! I have set the scene in the painting just as her tail is rising and the steam from her breath is evident.
The eight point buck is the same mature deer I depicted on the new fund raising license plate, but brought into his natural setting. He is in the process of making a "ground scrape". These are made as a way for him to mark his territorial breeding grounds. Opposite him, another doe is gazing back as if she is curious about what he is doing. But, she too will hear the snort and see the white tail signaling danger. Along with him they all will disappear into the forest.
Although I was the invading predator in my personal experience here, I wanted to show a more natural foe in my painting. So, I did not want to paint a person into the scene. On a seasonal basis a deer may never encounter a human being in this vast area. But there is evidence that many large black bears make this place their home. A deer would be more apt to encounter a bear, and a bear is considered a predator to be wary of, so the scene is one that probably takes place regularly. Although, you as the viewer may never see this scenario unfold.
It is a very fleeting moment, and so is the landscape depicted with delightful fall colors unfolding. This was not done simply to impart a visual treat for the eye, but to be more accurate with the timing of the fall rutting season for whitetail deer. This is when the velvet covering is now rubbed from their annually developed antlers and territorial battles for dominance ensue. The season is changing and so are the temperatures. With the rising of the sun warming the morning air, steam from the almost frozen stream bed below fills the valleys and rises on the distant mountains. I witnessed this scene after walking almost a mile up to the summit, where I and now along with you, have experienced the "Morning Sun on Phelon Hill."
Edward J. Snyder