My artist conversation with Carole Ferro of Frog Pond Farm continues. We discussed so much that sunny day in July when I was in central NY. It has truly been fascinating learning about their family, life lived as artists and their travels. While standing by a gigantic sculpture Tino (her husband) made, the end of our conversation lead to reminiscing of a house they used to own in Portugal. They had sold their little house in 2007, saying after 9/11 traveling by plane became more of a nuisance. The house, built into a red limestone mountain, was of traditional style in the small town that they fell in love with. They would travel there during the year for multiple weeks or even months at a time. While having a large family with 6 kids, all very talented and artistic in their own way, they would take the kids over in shifts. Carole’s mom would move into their place to take care of 3 kids while the other 3 went to Portugal with their parents. The kids would switch off so they all got to spend time there. She said, “we took the kids out of school to do this, they (the school) weren’t happy, but they all graduated so it’s all good”. To experience a different culture and place, and to be able to do it with your parents at such a young age is a truly a gift. One, that might not be fully appreciated until looking back.
Carole talked about life in Portugal and how their neighbors would watch out for their place when they weren’t there. She said their home was literally a cave carved into the mountain with just a couple small rooms. Their neighbor’s husband was a fish monger and his wife would take baskets of his fish to the center of town while he rode around to the surrounding areas to sell his catch. He would sell fish from their stoop when they weren’t there, Carole said she didn’t mind. While living there, the Ferro’s would travel to France, Spain and Cyprus. Carole talked about visiting a town that had a sculpture of a tree, in the town center, made of old war helmets, canteens and other wartime artifacts. It caught their attention, where it had just become a piece of the scenery to the local folks who would just pass it by without a glance. The historic piece, grand in size, was made of found or reclaimed items. It was in the same style of Tino’s work. Taking something ordinary from everyday and creating something extraordinary, giving old things new purpose, beauty and life. Inspired by the memorial tree, you can see the grand piece Tino created here in Little York. So grand in size I couldn’t get a picture capturing it all.
Carole looked over to the “tree” Tino created and I could see how having this sculpture here on the lawn of their studio, at the base of the entry way up to their barn, would call to mind fond memories of the far away place they no longer visit. Who knew I would get such a lesson on the life of an artist’s family and the far away land of Portugal. Amazing things can be learned just by starting a simple conversation, allowing someone the time to share a small piece of their story. It made me more curious on Portugal and the homes built into the mountains. It was nice to see how an artist’s design style can be inspired by far away lands. It was evident that Tino had great fondness for the creator of the sculpture (without even knowing who it was), maybe thinking of how it related to the work he was creating. He also seem to care that the locals seem to look past it. The artist eye catches things that others tend to miss. And it is clear he has a deep admiration and respect for other makers.
From what I learned from her that day it is was clear that they’ve been living the “true artist” lifestyle for their entire lives. It is in their blood. Creating and making with their hands is clearly at the forefront of their day to day life. To keep in the spirit of learning, food can also bring you together. I asked Carole what her favorite dish to make or enjoy from her time in Portugal was. Carole’s answer was street cooked sardines or Zarzuela de Mariscos, a Catalonian shelfish stew. While visiting NY this Christmas, my mom and I were fortunate enough to have Christmas Eve dinner with the Ferro family, the entire large family. It was lovely. Carole loaned my mom a cookbook of Spain and Portugal recipes to get some ideas for a dish we can cook together on her next trip to Maine, where, like Portugal, seafood is fresh and bountiful. We found a favorite shellfish stew marked with a bookmark, so we’ll give it a try. It will be nice to make a dish to honor my time spent with Carole and to get a taste of her far away sweet spot, Portugal.
To find more about Tino and Carole Ferro and Frog Pond Farm Studio you can visit their website and if you are ever near Preble, NY, go into the hamlet of Little York Lake on Route 281 in late spring to early fall and be sure to stop by the studio. You can’t miss it. It’s the one with all of the metal sculptures in the yard and there are sculptures down the road leading up to it too. You’ll be glad you made time for a visit, it is quite the experience for your eyes. And, who knows, if Carole is there you may hear about some of their other travels.
I can’t help but share one final shot. Behind the “tree” sculpture was a tall stack of old wrought iron fence pieces from the pre-civil war era. Tino reclaimed and restored many of the fence sections, that needed the touch of an experienced Metalsmith, for a large commissioned project. He left them in as much of their original form as possible. Just to feel the heaviness of it and to look at the craftsmanship was amazing. Even one piece would be too big and heavy for me to take back to Maine (which might be a good thing); however, it was fascinating to look at and capture a few photographs. How often can someone say they got to see and touch something forged so many years ago; just another treasure from the afternoon spent with Carole. Now… how they got to purchase their house in Portugal is a whole other story; one I hope to share one day. Until then I will be flipping through Carole’s cookbook and selectiong a recipe to share with you later this winter so we can experience a little piece of Portugal through our taste buds.
Until next time, cheers!