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RYDER ON THE STORM

TO ANNIHILATE MYSELF IN THE SUBJECT—to become ONE with it.

Marsden Hartley, “The Mountain and the Reconstruction,” 1928

WHEN I WAS in college in the Midwest, Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847–1917) was never mentioned. Coming to New York, my introduction to Ryder still took some time. I was in East Hampton visiting the artist Herman Cherry. That night there was a full moon with clouds racing overhead. I was sleeping in my truck and Herman came outside and said, “Oh, look, it’s a Ryder sky!” And I thought, “Oh, it does look like a horse and rider by the moon!”

One month later, I started my teaching job at the Brooklyn Museum, and after class, I would wander through the galleries. One day I rounded a corner and discovered five small Ryder paintings hung salon style. I felt as if I had been hit by lightning. I had never seen paintings that had such presence.

I was struck by a light that seemed to

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