At Large : Seeing beyond the canvas
As long as I've lived here, there have been Whites and Wests in my life. The two intertwined families with deep Vineyard Haven roots have included a variety of richly diverting, passionate, talented, and determined exponents. I've crossed paths with many of them.
For instance, Pat, unflaggingly amiable, an engineer, sailor, a storyteller, and masterful ballroom dancer. His wife Isabel, whose memorial service took place recently; she was the gracious goal and inspiration for Pat's terpsichorean artistry. Son Dan (Nathaniel), teacher, newspaperman (we were, thanks to my entreaties, colleagues for a very pleasant sojourn at the Vineyard Gazette, pleasant for me at least), marine businessman, kayak designer, artist, sculptor. Dan's daughter, Alex, a lawyer and occasional staffer at this newspaper. The longlived and imperious Sydna White, artist. The longlived and indomitable Gratia Harrington. And so many more, in whose White-West pedigrees I must not indulge here.
For years, I went sailing with Pat and Isabel, aboard Pat's beloved, ancient, but very capable Venture. We three had a very successful racing career, negotiating courses in Vineyard and Nantucket sounds, as Venture leaked (but not frighteningly), Pat commanded (sometimes frighteningly), and Isabel supplied boiled eggs, tuna sandwiches, and admonitions. "Now, Pat, you be careful." He mostly was, but not wholeheartedly.
I can't recall when I met Christine, Pat and Isabel's daughter, Dan's sister. Christine is a professional opera singer. She has lived most of her life in Vienna. She is not on the stage at the moment, but she teaches aspiring singers in the Viennese apartment in which she and her husband Dietmar Goessweiner have raised three sons. She teaches her students opera mostly, but she occasionally sings Gershwin.
When, the other day, someone said Christine West is on the phone for you, I knew immediately who was calling, although I hadn't seen her for years. She had something to tell, something she would not be drawn into revealing until we met. When she visited the office a little later, it was with a remarkable tale, with extensive and suitable props and carefully planned staging. It had nothing at all to do with arias or coloratura. It was the astonishing story of The Goessweiner Discovery, documented in a handsomely printed book, published in 2002, in German, by Mr. Goessweiner. The title, translated by the author, is I See the Head of the Panther in the Dark of the Night: the Goessweiner Discovery (ISBN 3-950 1381-1-0).
What Christine West's husband has discovered are the "unconscious picture contents" in paintings by 23 masters, among them Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Durer, Michelangelo, Picasso, Chagall, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Chagall.
For instance, in Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks, shown here beside Mr. Goessweiner's detail, you see the hidden content, in this case a ... well, I'll leave that to you. As Mr. Goessweiner explains, "I hold the book at a distance, I close one eye and wait, two minutes, five minutes, 15 minutes" and then the hidden image is hidden no more.
Besides Christine, the chief Vineyard connection to Dietmar Goessweiner's discovery, there is another, eminently arguable, and even inverted connection. Herr Goessweiner made his discovery in his wife's absence, while she visited her family on the Vineyard. (Of course, I know that as Vineyard connections go, this is an unusual, rather indistinct one. A true Vineyard connection would be a discovery made while Herr Goessweiner was visiting the Vineyard himself, but such are the vagaries of art criticism.)
Nevertheless, alone in Vienna, Herr Goessweiner, a businessman who is unaccountably devoted to song writing and to art, had time on his hands. One afternoon, he placed a book with a large color plate of Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin of the Rock on the window a few feet away from him, as he sat on a sofa in his living room. Or, perhaps it was Durer's Self Portrait at the Age of Twenty-eight. Let's imagine it was. "I hold the book at a distance," Mr. Goessweiner explains. "I close one eye and wait. I see the unconscious picture content, a face, a facial structure, the head of an animal." In the case of the Durer, it was the head of a bull. Describing all this, Christine stood in the doorway of my office, holding her husband's book. "Close one eye," she said. I did.
"A part of the unconscious - an essential factor in the creative process - has become visible and recognizable as an image," Mr. Goessweiner explains in notes on his work, written in English. "The picture contents are not intended illustrations of the unconscious. They originated unconsciously during the creative process. Therefore they remained invisible, unnoticed by artists and viewers ... Seeing what is hidden. The dream, the wish, the threat, the memory - a part of the unconscious."
Christine's goal, in describing her husband's extensive and painstaking work to someone widely regarded as a hopeless Philistine, was to spread the word of her husband's revelations. His work has been acknowledged by art experts in Europe, though sparingly and even grudgingly. One might worry, as she does, that one day a few years from now someone other than Mr. Goessweiner might claim for his own the revelation of the hidden pictures.
Christine resembles her earnest and excitable father. As she told, with practiced stagecraft, this unexpected tale, I remembered him, as on more than one occasion he took me by the arm. "I want to talk to you," he'd say, pulling me away from the others, his face an inch from mine. "I've been working on an invention, something big. It will make Venture faster than ever." Then, he'd nod and grin toothily, eagerly, and raise a finger to his lips, "Faster than she's ever been. Wait till you see it. Don't tell anyone. Not yet. Not till I've perfected it."