No one from our New World life would ever accuse Tom of being normal. Up at 4 am to start painting, asking dinner guest to leave some time around 9:30, eating peanut butter and potato chip sandwiches, and goodness knows what other quirks.
But imagine being French with Old World sensibilities and trying to figure out this crazy man. He doesn’t drink a drop of alcohol, he has no interest in foie gras, nor an appreciation of most other culinary specialties of France, he never hangs out in the local cafe and now to top it all off he is building a structure in wood.
For Tom is making great progress on his new art studio. And what a studio it is going to be.
It all started with leveling out the entire football field-sized lawn to the west side of our property. With the bonsai collection moved out of harm's way and into their new garden room, the ground breaking could take place. Never was anyone so happy as Tom as he gouged out soil on his beloved tractor.
With the constant noise of tractor work the neighbors began to take notice. What was going on in the Vieth’s garden? Word spread through the village that a new studio was being built by the artist-- a wood structure, and he’s doing it by himself. Is innovation or anarchy? Or is this what American's do?
And then neighbors started stopping by. Most of them retired. Some we didn’t even know were neighbors. To Tom’s chagrin, all of them are absolutely sure of their expertise in building matters. (Never shy even if they have never been closer to a wood house than the span of the Atlantic ocean.)
Now Tom’s idiosyncrasies were more out in the open than usual. Construction noises came from the work-site from first light (no heading off to the local cafe for a quick shot of espresso and a small glass of pastis to get the work day going), right through lunch (no time for a hot meal and a nap), to after sunset (just in time to clean up before a big American style dinner). Actually the work/noise seemed to go pretty much nonstop seven days a week, rain or shine, even Sunday’s day of rest. How could he have chosen to live in France and not understand that life is not a big rush, food is important, and going to the cafe is fun?
Then the wooden frame went up and suddenly the foundation seemed way too insubstantial to hold up such a big building. The questions now turned to veiled criticisms of stone versus wood construction. Doesn’t he know the story of the Three Little Pigs? How can that thin layer of wood possibly provide insulation? What does one do to treat the wood siding?
Lately the few breaks that Tom gives himself during the day are prompted by the next visitor to the work site. He carefully explains that volunteering for Habitat for Humanity taught him a lot about building. That wood is light when compared to stone or cinderblocks so it is no trouble moving things around alone. And well, he grew up with wood houses and just simply likes the look and feel of it. His nod to the local architecture are the wide corner boards and window trim. These echo the way masons use cut stone and mortar to reinforce walls that are made of field stone, mud, and stucco. To top it off, all the boys were relieved to see local tile go onto the roof.
For being a one man building company he’s made a lot of progress. Someone stopped me in the village today asking about the progress of the project and told me how brave she thinks he is. The tone of the questions has shifted from veiled criticism of folly to becoming tinged with admiration for a job well done and the gusto to keep it on track.
Tom might not join in the daily parts of French life, but his love of the countryside, the beautiful villages and daily life will soon be coming to life on canvases painted in his new wooden studio building. The future neighborly questions will involve which corners of the village will be the inspiration for paintings to come.
Regardless of the sanctitude of repose in France, it is always entertaining to get caught up in the unpredictable whirlwind of a energetic artist/lunatic.