BY WILLIAM MANSFIELD
This series of five drawings is a memorial series about my parents, George and Mary Mansfield, who passed away in January 2008, and October 2010 respectively. It depicts five views of my parent’s property, interior and exterior, where they lived from 1980 to 2010. It is intended as a memorial to the space they left behind, and to their spirit that is embodied in that space.
My parents lived on a beautiful and unique property on the outskirts of Bloomington, Indiana. It was situated in a landscape of Midwest rolling hills, and their house was at the top of one of the hills. It was originally a farmhouse, built around 1900, two story wood frame, and registered on the list of Bloomington historical structures. My parents first bought the house in 1980 from a farmer, and for years the land around the house was a cow pasture. The farmers kept a herd of cows in the field, which was ruled over by a massive black bull. Although it was only a short drive from downtown Bloomington, it felt like it was miles out in the country. Eventually the surrounding farmland was bought out by a real estate developer who turned it into a suburban sub-division. But my parent’s property remained the same, approximately one acre of land with large, majestic hardwood trees with the old farmhouse overlooking the scene at the top of the hill.
I did not grow up in this house, and never lived there on a regular basis, because my parents moved to Bloomington from Colorado after I graduated from high school in 1980. I went off to college, and I only lived there on a temporary basis, staying there during breaks from college. I lived there for about a year after I graduated, before I could find a job and get my own place. After that I visited regularly, 3-4 times a year on average, but I never lived there again. But although I did not live there full time, my parent’s property became very meaningful to me. I came to view it as a type of sanctuary, and most of the furniture, books, dishes and other items in the house were objects I had grown up with, so it felt like my childhood home even though I had not grown up there. It was very quiet and peaceful, set back from the road so any traffic noise was off in the distance. In my mind I always called it the monastery, because it had the feel of a peaceful, spiritual oasis where I could escape from the challenges of daily life.
When my Mother passed away in 2010 I knew we had to make major changes. We needed to move out all the furniture, clean out the house, and do repairs and remodeling, in order to get the place ready to rent or sell. But I wanted a record of how the place was set up when my parents lived there. Before I touched anything I set about to photograph my parent’s property, inside and out, in order to have this record. This was very important to me in the first few days after my Mother passed away. I took extensive photographs of the property, both interior and exterior, and I was lucky because fall of 2010 featured excellent weather. Beautiful autumn sunlight splashed across the property throughout the time I was taking photographs.
Because it was built on top of a hill, the house and surrounding land always caught the best light, at all times of day and in all seasons. The sunsets were often spectacular, with the sun glowing behind tall trees and over the rolling hills. There was a huge oak tree in the middle of the cow pasture which was a powerful, almost regal presence. It dominated the view as if it was king of the field, and it was both tall and wide, with a thick trunk several feet across. The sun would set directly behind this oak tree, casting it in a bold silhouette with long, intricate shadows spreading across tall grass toward the house. The kitchen window faced directly west, and my Mother would regularly call us in to the kitchen while she was making dinner to see one of the sunsets.
Both of my parents had a very strong aesthetic sensibility which was expressed in the place where they lived. My Father was an artist, painting and drawing in a realistic style. He also worked a variety of other jobs, including several jobs as a railroad dispatcher, and running his own art center. My Mother was a registered nurse, and also worked as a school librarian. She was very well read, and always had a book in her hand. Both of them wrote copious letters throughout their lives. Their sense of taste was very rustic and old fashioned, and they loved antique furniture and collectibles, historic buildings, and trains with old steam locomotives. As an artist my Father was steadfastly committed to realism, and he firmly rejected abstraction, surrealism, or any other form of modern or contemporary art. Their highly traditional aesthetic sensibility was strongly reflected in their living space. They set up the old farmhouse and surrounding property as a beautiful environment, a peaceful sanctuary, and I have attempted to capture their spirit in their space through this series of drawings.