The Ryder Moon

Albert Pinkham Ryder's Moonlight, 1887

It must be a dozen or more years since the night I took a ferry ride with a friend across Long Island Sound. Hilda Morley, a poet from the influential Black Mountain School, and I were returning from Provincetown, Mass., to her house in Sag Harbor, Long Island. We had been driving, but on this last stretch you could take your car on the ferry and walk around the boat a bit. It was very late, the sky was as dark as the water. It was summer but there was a chill in the air. Hilda tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Look behind you, the Ryder moon." I turned and there it was, a beautiful yellow-white disk against a blue-black sky.

From that time on I've always had a fondness for Ryder. Albert Pinkham Ryder was a descendant of Cape Cod families, which may have been why Hilda had been thinking about him. For me, he's probably the most important American painter from the late nineteenth century, and his work is well represented at SAAM. Head to the second floor and find your way to the Ryder room. His interest was the sea, mythology, and religious parables. He painted beautifully with what I can only describe as a fragile strength. He seems an heir to J. M. W. Turner, but totally American--a Herman Melville of the canvas. Among my favorite Ryders that are on view are The Flying Dutchman and the appropriately named Moonlight.

There's just something about the Ryder moon that captivates me and makes me return to view these paintings again. And they bring back that wonderful evening when I was tapped on the shoulder by a poet who was a master at teaching others how to see.

You can keep your sunlight; I'm staying in the company of painters, poets, and the Ryder moon.