Poem: The Grainer’s Art

The Grainer’s Art.

It is less popular now, the applying of paint
over paint, dark lines over light, layers
on layers, faux grain, a way once popular
to make poor wood rich, or just as often
to create marble out of wood. A poor man’s
path to rich decorating, or for the rich,
a way to say you have the money to redo
every wall a few years, as the paint aged and cracked.

The grainer’s made a circuit, knowing when
they last were in a town and the paint would be
cracking and peeling, in need of new layers
to make it new, make it authentic. Oddly
the post popular grainers made sure
you could tell their art was not the real thing,
allowing you to make the statement of riches
and taste, while the itinerant grainers
who wandered the countryside often make their art
indistinguishable from reality. Both artists
in their own way.

It is slow work. I learned the craft as a boy,
on spare boards and stairways. Peeling, sanding,
matching nature’s colors, seeing and painting
under the grain first, then combing
the new layers. Not too perfectly. Nothing in nature
is perfect. Learning the true colors of different
trees, how each grain swirled differently, graduating
from spare lumber to stairways and doors, to
churches and the homes of the rich before
abandoning it for “real work”. Missing it now
in my old age, creating

different fantasies, made of truth and the paint
of imagination, creating richness out of pauperness
simply because I believe it can be done. A grainer still,
perhaps, or perhaps I am just flattering myself
that I have grown when part of me has not,
abandoning myself just as I get good, but not yet great,
either content, or afraid. I cannot know
unless I start again, grow proficient and then,
instead of moving on, move beyond.

About this poem

When I was young, I learned the art of graining. I got quite good at it. But I haven’t done it since I was a young man. Now and again, I wonder how much I might remember. And how much of what I do now is like what I did then, creating something almost real, and yet, sometimes, more real than the details of the reality.

The picture was taken at the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, New York.


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