Wet Paint

The canvasses weren't even dry when the water began to rise

by Wayne Christeson

During the months before the storm, our Leiper's Fork neighbor Rachael McCampbell, an artist, was working in her home studio on a commission for the Parthenon in Nashville: a dozen or more large canvasses depicting the lives of women in Greek mythology. It was going to be an impressive show.

Rachael bought her house/studio just last summer. It's an old building, built around 1910, which sits about 200 feet from the edge of the little creek which gives Leiper's Fork its name. The creek floods a few times every year, but Rachael's neighbor, who has lived there for ninety-two years, said the house itself had never been touched.

This year, the house did flood, in water higher than Leiper's Fork has ever seen.

When the waters started to rise, Rachael called me in alarm. I wasn't worried—I was sure the house wouldn't flood—but I headed over anyway. I discovered right away that our own road was blocked by a couple of feet of fast water, so I took a circuitous route to get to Rachael's house and arrived just as the water was lapping at the foundation.

Inside, Rachael was in a panic, trying to get her paintings upstairs. The canvasses are quite large, and the staircase was very narrow, so it was difficult work. Many of the paintings were not yet thoroughly dry, making the process all the more delicate. We got them upstairs to safety and then tried to figure out if there was anything else that could be saved. By then, the water was in the door and over the floor and rising rapidly, so Rachael grabbed her telephone and computer, and we retreated to a neighbor's house on higher ground.

When the flood waters finally retreated two days later, Rachael's house was in ruins, her studio devastated, but the paintings were safe. Everyone has pitched in this week with cleaning, repairs, and the search for lost valuables, and finally we located a neighboring barn where Rachael can live temporarily and continue her painting for the Parthenon. The show, after all, must go on.

Published Friday, 7 May 2010