A Pirate Tale
41.25977° N, 72.75261° W
Oil on canvas
When my oldest son turned 5, I had a pirate-themed birthday party for him with his father dressing up as a pirate. I also gifted him a hand-painted bookshelf with scenes from the famous novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I gifted the Treasure Island themed bookshelf with an actual hardcopy of the classic novel for him to read - But what does this have to do with this "Wheeler Island" landscape? A work of art, writing in this case, can spark imagination and transform the stories myth and legends all across the globe. Wheeler Island, a remote island off long Island Sound, is poionted out on local tours as an island where treasure is hidden. Is this an original idea, or an idea to captivate the imagination stolen from the very popular novel of Treasure Island?
Wheeler Island has a legend surrounding its existence. It is believed by many that Wheeler Island was the inspiration for the 1883 publication of Treasure Island. Treasure Island is a coming-of-age adventure fiction that tells the story of an impulsive and adventurous young boy named Jim Hawkins who comes across a treasure map. Jim goes on a journey to recover the treasure that once belonged to the famous Captain Flint. Stevenson uses layers of ambiguity and deception to produce a tale that can be interpreted in various ways by many different audiences. It interrelates myths, legends, and fantasies, which are symbolic representations of reality. The novel became so popular that soon, every Island in the Thimble Islands wanted to claim it as inspiration.
The “Thimble Island Legend”- while has its differences - is an adaptation of the iconic novel. According to local folklore, in the 1600s, swashbuckling pirate Captain William Kidd buried a chest of gold somewhere in the Thimble Island chain as he fled pirate hunters. The treasure has yet to be discovered. The idea of treasure, pirates and adventure stir up story ideas and dopamine release mechanisms drawing added intrigue to any island, including the one in the painting. Wheeler Island is named after Frank Wheeler. Frank was a passionate yachtsman who acquired the rock in 1885, with his family owning it until 1998. The Island features an eight-bedroom house and was acquired by a new owner this past February. Is it possible they will find the buried treasure? Probably not. As I painted, I couldn't help thinking about adventure and hope as I looked intently at the little Island in the middle of Long Island Sound off the coast of Connecticut. Just as Wheeler Island is unlikely the same Island where the real-life Pirate Kidd buried his treasure, why let the truth get in the way of a good story? Especially when a story makes us feel so good.
Do you ever wonder why we all crave a good story? The answer is relatively simple and involves the chemical dopamine. Listening to a good story lights up the same part of the brain as when one experiences pleasure, and excite neurons that make dopamine. A good story has a significant impact on the brain, as the brain reacts to characters in a story similar to when we experience a real-life interaction. For example, when hearing a story about someone jumping, the motor cortex lights up and goes through the mental motions of jumping. The “experience” of going through the struggle, actions, and solutions that the characters are going through, enhances the viewer's memory.
For hundreds of years, artists have used myths and legends to inspire works of art. But can a painted landscape evoke the same pleasure chemical release as a novel? Joseph Mallord Turner (1775-1851) is perhaps the best-loved English Romantic painter. His atmospheric landscapes are often set in stories from classical mythology. Spectacular mountains and dramatic skies form the background for battles between heroes and monsters. I would turn to his painting as proof that yes, art can be transportive in the same way a good book is.