This week I roamed along the White River with my camera, in my ongoing quest to match the perspective in Edward Hopper’s watercolors and drawings. My focus this time was Hopper’s Windy Day, which shows an area of the river with rocky ledges, probably near Sylvester’s Rocks or Pinch Rock, along Route 14 just outside of South Royalton.
In the summer these rocks are a jumping-off place for swimmers and a launching pad for tubing — and for stretching out in the sun to warm up after a dip in the always-cold water. This area has now been conserved, through an innovative program of the White River Partnership and the generosity of a local landowner, Peg Elmer. A crew from the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps recently set stone steps into the river bank so that the sprawling ledges are easily accessible to everyone. You can read all about the wonderful community project in our local paper, the Randolph Herald.
Thanks to the new steps, I was able to climb down to the river without worrying about my aging knees or how to keep my balance carrying camera, book, and backpack. Standing on the ledge in the river, I took the shot looking back toward Route 14 and the steps in the river bank. The electrical wires crossing the scene are an unfortunate intrusion, evidencing Hopper’s good judgment in leaving such lines out of his paintings. His wireless poles give a nod to reality but don’t interfere with the picture.
We’ve had very little rain this month, and so the water’s low in the White River and the rocks are fully exposed. If this is the place in Hopper’s painting, the water level was much higher when he was here. I shot lots of photos, trying to capture Hopper’s perspective and puzzling over whether this was indeed where he painted Windy Day. That goal became secondary, however, as I reveled in the gorgeous fall colors. The autumn hues were just beginning to appear when Hopper made his paintings, so his palette is much cooler than mine.
The next day I explored another area of the river where there are more rock ledges, along the edge of the Vermont Law School campus and below the Chelsea Street bridge, which leads into downtown South Royalton. This is the area where the First Branch enters the White River. The Hopper watercolor that’s reproduced on the cover of my book shows the First Branch just a bit to the north. Looking at the profile of the mountains to the southeast, toward Sharon, I realized that this may actually have been the place where Hopper stood on a windy day in 1938, painting the White River. I’ll just have to keep looking — and taking more pictures.