by Terry Wieland
We at Gray’s Sporting Journal would like to introduce you to our newest columnist, Teresa Mull.
Teresa is an accomplished hunter, shooter, wielder of fly rods, breaker of clays, and downer of whitetails, formerly of Idaho and now back in her native Pennsylvania where, in between writing assignments, she is turning a musty (and venerable) deer camp into a personal refuge.
Equally as important, of course, Teresa is a fine writer who studied literature at the University of Dallas, began in newspapers, and is now an assistant editor at The Spectator—the world’s oldest, and one of its most respected, publications. Can’t do much better than that. You can Google Teresa and get a look at all the places she has been published, so we won’t go on about that.
Her outdoor background? She “grew up under the watchful eye of a caribou and bighorn sheep, who have graced the family home since her great-grandfather brought them back from Canada to central Pennsylvania.”
Teresa learned to shoot in the “strippin’s” (abandoned coal strip mines) in the Pennsylvania backwoods. She now shoots trap with a Browning BT-99, although she says she prefers her Remington 870 for more general work. Deer? A Ruger Scout, borrowed from her father.
We are calling her column on the Gray’s website “Camp Files.”
No hunting camp is complete without art work on its walls—and if you don’t believe that, take a look at any Field & Stream cover from the old days. Sporting art is the first subject she tackles here, and we hope to be reading her work—on hunting, shooting, fishing, art, deer-camp renovation, the adventures of her Norwich terrier, Pitkin, and anything else that catches her fancy—in Gray’s Sporting Journal for years to come.
An Artist of Character
Cecil Aldin’s humorous sporting art transcends time
by Teresa Mull
Around this time last year, I became reacquainted with a man who first caught my admiring eye as a kid. The intervening years saw him fade to that special place in our memories where enchanting childhood things go for safekeeping, and when our reunion happened at the same place I had initially “met” him—a Colonial tavern in Pennsylvania that serves, appropriately, wild boar stew, Cornish game hen, and Forfar bridies on special occasions—it was as if no time had passed. I was older and wiser (ha!) and better able to evaluate him, yet unlike so many things placed aloft in youth, only to fall from grace under the critical eye of adulthood, my perception of him had not changed at all.
As I got to know him better, things progressed quickly. Before I knew it, he had become an ever-present influence on my daily life, at first setting a definite tone as a permanent inhabitant of my dining room, then commanding the attention of company gathered in the living room, and at last sparking remarks from visitors beguiled by his presence at the staircase.
Cecil Charles Windsor Aldin took his last breath 88 years ago, but his spirit is very much alive in the artwork he left behind (and which animates my little house). Primarily a sporting artist, Aldin’s prolific output is rife with fishing and hunting scenes, quaint English villages, horse races, and dogs—so many dogs!—an assortment of which are contained within his personality-packed book, Dogs of Character. Aldin’s illustrations, paintings, and sketches are invariably imbued with a liveliness and sense of humor that transcend the ages—and in my own experience, having loved his work for essentially my whole life, age itself.
What sets Aldin’s work apart is the obvious delight he himself took in the entirety of the sporting life. Rather than simply document the fundamentals of a fox or rook hunt, for instance, his paintings of these pursuits convey the whole experience— from the frenetic rush of a pre-hunt breakfast, to midday befuddlement surrounding a lost scent, to the rollicking good time that caps off a successful day in the field.
Aldin’s art is also decidedly egalitarian: A pompous, well-heeled gentleman is just as susceptible to landing in an undignified tangle of thickets (and to lose his toupée in the process) at the whim of a strong-willed steed as anyone else; and a respectable elder statesman in tails is tempted to ignore a no-fishing sign at “a likely spot” just as much as a rascally youngster is.
Aldin lived and breathed the sporting life. Roy Heron, author of the biography, Cecil Aldin: The Story of a Sporting Artist, tells us, “He was just as likely to be seen sketching from the saddle as chasing the fox, the hare or the stag.” So Aldin knew better than most that just as nature treats everyone equally, she is also as equally enjoyable to every generation and class of person. This is a truth, says Heron, that the “kindly, energetic” artist hoped to relate to his audience—particularly young people—and thereby inspire them.
What captured my imagination as a child viewing Aldin’s work, and what continues to charm me to this day, is the playfulness in his pictures. The memorable details, found in the expressive faces of clever animals outsmarting buffoonish sportsmen, and in warm, familiar-seeming places, are presented with affection by someone you can tell cherished his subject matter. (Indeed, Dogs of Character is dedicated by Aldin to “Absent Friends: a silent toast to the row of little tombstones in my garden.”) Though his characters are doubtless chilled and damp, and sometimes muddy, one can’t help but get the sense that their sporting pursuits—plucky prey, mischievous pups, and madcap incidents included—are wildly entertaining and well worth the while.
Each time I glance at the Aldin pictures displayed around my home, I am reinspired to aspire to a life, like Aldin’s, full of outdoor adventure and friends—four- and two-legged alike—of character.
“From an early age Aldin’s aspiration was to hunt, and he resolved that his art would pay for his pleasure,” writes Heron. I hereby resolve that my writing will pay for the same pleasure—and for collecting more of Cecil Aldin’s art.
Gray’s contributor Teresa Mull is running out of walls in her 1920 bungalow for more Cecil Aldin artwork and is considering implementing an at-home rotating exhibition.